Manuscript submitted. Now the waiting begins...
15 December 2005
Today has been a frustrating day.
First of all, I fucking despise openoffice. What an absolute and unmitigated piece of shit. It never renders MSWord docs properly and it just croaked after I had finished reviewing a really crappy paper that I really don't want to have to read again to re-evaluate its crapitude. Screw the stupid review form, I'm sending my comments back in plaintext.
Second of all, I'm not going to be submitting my manuscript before flying to Boston tomorrow. There just wasn't enough time to get Lon's revisions back in time and to write requisite cover letter, etc. The current plan is to submit on Monday, from Boston. If we make that deadline, then all will be well, but I'm a little worried about being able to effectively coordinate submission while separated by 3000 miles and 5 time zones.
Damnit. Damnit. Damnit.
For those of you who ever have to write papers in the fields of medicine or biological science (which is probably precisely zero of you), this site allows you to search PubMed, but returns the citation in BibTeX format. It saves a lot of time and drudge work.
13 December 2005
A coalition of conservation groups calling themselves the Alliance for Zero Extinction has published a report detailing 800 species on the verge of extinction. They have previously staved off extinction for a few species, including the pygmy hog (Sus salvanius, pictured left). My question is, "Why bother?"
This isn't a popular argument, I know, but I've become more and more Darwinian the longer I work in this field. We're the only species in history to actively try to affect the fortunes of our co-earthdwellers. Why should we aim for "zero extinction"? Extinction is a part of evolution and has been happening constantly since the beginning of life on Earth. Without the help of a great many extinctions humans would never have evolved.
Don't get me wrong, I don't want the whole planet to be paved over, but we're not yet close to the same order of magnitude inflicted by the known mass extinction events (which purged 50-90% of existing species tens or hundreds of millions of years ago). Why do we draw such a distinction between our typical "industrial" existence and the separate "natural" world? We're merely a part (admittedly perhaps too big for our britches) of the greater environment.
08 December 2005
Here I am at the Grad Dinner at BNC last week. I broke a port glass on my hand after dinner, so I accented my tuxedo with a bright blue bandaid and a little dried blood smeared on my thumb. I also decided to smile like a doofus. The food was really nice, as expected, and it was a good chance to talk with people at college one more time before we disperse for Christmas.
I'm still busy at work (desperately trying to submit this paper before I go back home) but I've managed to do social things almost every night. Monday night we played Scrabble here at the house (I won even though David was cheating). Tuesday we went to the Turf for the Pub Quiz. We had come in the money (top 3 places) for two weeks running. This time we finished 5th, but we won the bonus question prize, which is a gallon of beer. Last night I went for whisky, cigars and Cranium with some BNC peeps. Tonight I may have to say in and do laundry and work on the paper, though.
01 December 2005
It's been a busy week here amongst the dreaming spires. I've been busy at work preparing for the latest of our fortnightly WTCCC Analysis Group meetings at the Wellcome Trust Building in Euston Square, London. Last night I took a break from my frenzied preparations for the meeting to go to Blurbs at BNC. Blurbs is the very silly name for one of my favourite college activities. One of the fellows and one of the graduate students each gives a 30 minute presentation on his field of study, followed by dinner and 2nd desserts. There's copious wine available from start to finish, and the dinner is high-table quality, which is actually really excellent (especially compared to the crap they serve in hall to the students).
I love Blurbs both because it offers a high quality meal and lots of wine for only a couple of quid and because it's one of my only opportunities to hear about people studying topics far afield from my own. Usually the two presenters are from vaguely similar areas of study, although never exactly the same (mostly due to the finite number of Fellows in the college). Previous nights have included Economics, Gender and Place in Medieval Romance, Contemporary Character Analysis in Macbeth, Suicide and Self-harm in the British Prison System, Eliminating Legal Fictions, and the Future of Renewable Energy in the UK. Last night was a little closer to home, with Branwen Hide presenting on protein folding and the Principal, Roger Cashmore, presenting on Dark Matter and the origins of the universe.
The talks were good and dinner was of the usual high quality (the first course was this fabulous dish of quails-eggs on some kind of mushroom stuffing) and I got to catch up with some BNC folks I don't see that often. At 2nd desserts (basically port & chocolates in the common room) the principal broke into his private stock and shared an '83 Warre's vintage which was definitely the best port I've ever tasted. I couldn't stay for more than one glass, though, because I had work to do before my presentation at 9:30 AM today in London.
Back home I was up until about 2 putting last minute tables together and trying to keep my voice down while I cursed at my computer so that I wouldn't wake my housemates up. I actually enjoy getting up at 6:45 and cycling down to the rail station while it's still dark out (as long as I only have to do it once every two weeks). Jonathan (from the Stats department here) and I rode first class again (Lon had gone on an even earlier train to meet with other people in London at 8:30). It feels a bit weird to be surrounded by high-flying business types, but the cushy seats and tables meant I could use the hour productively instead of being crammed in the back with the plebs.
The meeting went well (I'm 3 for 3 now on not embarrassing myself in front of any of the important people who attend these meetings). The only down side of such success is that it always means more work for me to do for the next one (which thankfully isn't until after New Year's). Lots more work to do in the next two weeks before I head home for the holidays, but for today at least, I deserve a break.
Luckily tonight is the end-of-term graduate dinner at BNC, where there will be more free wine and post-prandial port. It's a black tie affair, so expect to see photos of me in my DJ and gown soon.
Finally, props to my man Gayaume for blasting across the NaNoWriMo finish line.
27 November 2005
I've used up almost all of my Thanksgiving leftovers. We've all been eating turkey sandwiches (today's variety was a delicious open-faced melt with gruyère cheese) and today I used up the extra vegetables and the more carcass-like bits of the turkey to make soup. I had one hearty serving for lunch and save enough for another hearty lunch tomorrow.
See, I'm as good a cook as Amrys!
26 November 2005
I decided to cook a mini-Thanksgiving dinner for my first winter here in the UK. I had originally considered inviting lots of people over for dinner, but rather quickly backed off from that idea once I had more carefully considered the amount of work ahead of me. So on Tuesday night Becky gave me a lift to Tesco, where I bought the fixings for our meal (the new, sane guest list was just the 5 of us living at 43 Osler).
I got a 5.4kg turkey for 50% off, plus numerous other things needed to make stuffing, gravy and a roast vegetable medley which comprised the menu. The stuff that's hard to find in stores here always surprises me; this time it was dried cranberries (for the stuffing) and apple cider of any kind other than Scrumpy's, which they only sell in a 1.5L plastic bottle, usually to homeless people.
I foolishly left the turkey in the fridge to defrost on Tuesday night, disregarding the info on the label stating that it would take 40 - 48 hours to defrost in a cool room! I took the turkey out after I got home from work on Wednesday, assuming it would be completely thawed. Well, it was probably 40% unfrozen at that point and it needed to brine overnight (the ultimate secret to a moist bird). I left it on the counter for a couple of hours before coming back downstairs to prep the brine in the big 3 gallon bucket I had procured for this purpose. One interesting problem with completely submerging a turkey in brine is that turkeys float in water which is at the proper saltiness for brining. I weighed the bird down with the remainder of my bag of cooking salt, covered it up and left it to do a combo thaw/brine overnight.
Thursday morning I had to lead the group meeting at work at 10:30AM. After that was taken care of I came back home to start cooking. I had two very similar recipes for cranberry/apple/sausage stuffing but unfortunately they differed in relative proportions of some of the ingredients by as much as twofold! At first I tried to figure out which one was safer to follow, but I later decided that what it really meant was that even if I really screwed up I could almost always be claiming to be following one of the recipes. I also at this point realised that instead of buying rosemary, sage and thyme I had bought sage, sage and thyme. So from this point forward it was gonna be "Sage Turkey ala Geoffrois".
I sauteed the sausage, onions, celery, apples and cranberries up into a nice mix, cubed and toasted my bread and then mixed them up in what was turning out to be a very nice smelling beginning (there was a strong aroma of sage). I pulled the turkey out of his bath, removed the giblets and the "neck" (what the hell are you supposed to do with that thing?) and arrayed the bird on the roasting tin. I had mixed up some olive oil with herbs, spices and garlic, so I liberally applied to ensure a moist, evenly browned turkey. I stuffed it with about half my stuffing, inserted a meat thermometer and popped it in the oven.
A little more than three hours later, the bird was at the right temp and looking deliciously browned. The vegetables (onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots and courgettes) were roasting (kudos to the MRhé technique of liberally applying olive oil, salt and pepper) and the extra stuffing needed a few more minutes of baking. I pulled the bird out, and siphoned off some pan drippings to mix with chicken stock and the giblets to cook up some gravy (another thing I'd never done before). I never really got why people always complain about lumpy gravy before, but I finally understood the difficulty of breaking up the clumps of flour while trying to thicken same. Also, in case anyone is wondering, you can use self-raising flour (all we had in the house) to make gravy.
When all was ready, Becky and I carved the bird (which was mangled, despite my sharpening the knives) and everything turned out to be delicious. The turkey was moist and tender, the stuffing was great, the veg were a nice medley that didn't require too much effort (how does anybody actually do a full version of this?!) and the gravy (I don't even like gravy) was really nice. We had home made berry crumble (with homegrown redcurrants and brambleberries) for dessert, which was actually really good (although not exactly traditional Thanksgiving fare).
All-in-all a successful feast; and for that, I am Thankful.
23 November 2005
The phone on my desk is a 1980s era ASCOM Berkshire Select. I wanted to use it on a conference call today so I wanted to be able to mute the phone. Unfortunately the only three buttons (beyond the number pad) are labelled R, LR and S, none of which sound promising for mute functionality. A web search revealed that the "S" button is, in fact, the mute button. Why "S" you ask? Because it stands for "Secret".
While I found that tidbit amusing, I was not amused by the actual functionality of the Secret button. Modern phones toggle on and off so you can set it on mute and ignore it until you want to contribute to the call. The Berkshire series, however, requries you to hold down the Secret button whilst discussing your secrets. I was about halfway through designing a complicated system consisting of some tape, a pound coin and my RAPESCO brand hole punch to keep it depressed, but allow me to toggle it off, but instead I decided to use the phone in Lon's office (he's out of town).
18 November 2005
David Irving, a British "revisionist historian" is currently sitting in an Austrian prison for publicly denying the holocaust while in that country. How is it possible that 10 countries, including Austria, can have such harsh laws against advocating such beliefs? The maximum punishment he could face is 20 years in prison!
Irving seems to have taken an "Intelligent Design" style approach to the Holocaust; he avoids the oft-mocked hardline claims such as complete denial of the Holocaust and instead focuses on supposedly rigorous "research" claiming things like: the death toll was much lower than is currently supposed, Hitler had no knowledge of the ongoing extermination of Jews, there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz, etc. His works have become much-touted by neo-Nazi and neo-fascist groups, further tarnishing his once impressive academic reputation.
But surely his decision to say stupid things shouldn't be punishable by imprisonment? People deny history and reality every day, but we don't expect them to go to jail for it. Partially this illustrates one of the differences between American jurisprudence and that of European democracies. The founding fathers of the United States considered freedom of speech to be so paramount that it is featured in the very first amendment to the Constitution. I'm certainly not saying that European governments are rampantly censoring their citizens, just that such a law (banning belief or non-belief of anything) could never be passed in the US, where the right for any nutcase to say what he pleases is considered to be the ultimate safeguard against tyrrany.
17 November 2005
It's getting cold here now, and my attic room is worse than the rest of the house (between my radiator being the last place that the hot water gets circulated to and the lack of decent insulation out to the roof). Becky's mom generously offered me her 1970's era electric faux-fireplace space heater, which keeps me warm and adds some kitschy style to my room.
15 November 2005
11 November 2005
This weekend's forecast: hosage.
I'm going through many iterations of the same analysis these days, each correcting a little problem from the previous try. I think this is typical of the scientific method, but I was feeling a bit run down. I presented some of the results on a conference call today and it went alright, so I feel better, although it also meant a hellacious workload from now until Wednesday morning (when I need to present in London at 9AM).
It's OK, though, since I never get anything done without a little pressure on me. It might mean that any updates on SLC arrive late (or never) but I should put some pics up from Zion/Bryce, since they're fairly awesome.
09 November 2005
06 November 2005
Here I am back in Merry Olde England again, after about 3 weeks in the USA. Several parts of the trip deserve lengthy posts, including:
- ASHG conference in Salt Lake City
- road trip and hiking through Zion and Bryce
- hanging oot in Beantowne
Also, I have some money pics from item (B) which should be posted soon. For now, I'm gonna unpack my bags, read my mail and try to get back on BST.
22 October 2005
19 October 2005
- Poster: completed, printed, stashed in a protective tube.
- WTCCC analysis: completed, summarised.
- WTCCC meeting in London: attended, presented to.
- Conversation during train ride back to Oxford with important Stats Prof: carried out intelligently.
- Celebratory drinking: planned, about to be undertaken.
While at least it wasn't sent as a MS Word attachment, I think this person got a little carried away with whitespace:
PLEASE NOTE TIME CHANGE
DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN ANATOMY AND GENETICS
RESEARCH SEMINARS: MICHAELMAS TERM 2005
Dr Deborah Goberdhan and
Dr David Meredith
Department of Human Anatomy and Genetics,
University of Oxford
PAT transporters and nutrient sensors - novel players in cancer and
DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN ANATOMY AND GENETICS
Friday 21st October
At 12.30 p.m.
13 October 2005
I realised that I almost never write about the reason I'm in the UK: to study genetics. Wednesday was the first public demonstration of the work I've done here so far: a presentation to a joint meeting of the South/North of England Genetic Epidemiology Groups (S/NEGEG, or since both groups were there perhaps just EGEG?). I was the first of four speakers all slated to talk about aspects of whole genome association studies.
There are a number of good things about going first in a situation like this. The most obvious is that you get the presentation over with and then you can relax for the rest of the meeting. It's hard, though, to sit still for two and a half hours after you get all jacked up for your talk. The audience is still fresh and interested if you're first (nobody's fallen asleep yet). This is extra important for these themed meetings where everyone's likely to overlap a little bit. I got to say everything first and thus didn't have to worry about repeating what had already been said.
In the end I think the talk was fairly well received. There were about 100 people in the crowd, so not a massive house, but still a decent number. I was (of course) writing the presentation until 3AM the previous night, and had mixed feelings about the practice runs I had done beforehand (I kept editing my sentences out loud while practicing in my room) so I was unsure how it was going to come out. In the end I managed to explain all my points fairly clearly and managed to keep my pace even and my enunciation clear (experience on stage helps with that part). People were writing frantically while I talked, which usually means I've said something they didn't already know (a good thing) and I got some well-informed questions at the end, which means at least some of them understood what I said (another good thing). In fact, the worst feeling for a technical presenter is getting zero questions at the end because it almost always means that nobody got the point.
I got some positive feedback, but such things are always tough to interpret. Nobody walks up to you and says, "That talk blew goats." Still, you can pick up the difference between sincere compliments and empty flattery if you're careful, and I think some people actually meant what they said.
Well, I gave my presentation at Leicester yesterday and it was well received. This means I've got 9 days before heading to Salt Lake City for ASHG in which to convert it into a shorter talk and a poster. And to do all the other stuff which has piled up on my desk. But today I'm granting myself an easy day and finishing my reporting on my holiday (before I forget everything that happened). Here we go...
When we last left our heroes they were bombing along the empty Croatian mega-highway at 160kph. We passed the time by trying to tune in various shitty Croatian and Italian radio stations. This is a good time to highlight a few of the bizarre covers we experienced during our trip, which included:
- A bluegrass/country rendition of Eric Clapton's After Midnight
- An adult contemporary version of Heard It Through the Grape Vine
- An acoustic orchestral version of Prince's Kiss
- A croatian-language version of the Ronette's Be My Baby
We also played general trivia contests, rotating one person as the moderator/questioner. I discovered that I had a hard time finding reasonable middle ground for difficulty, either being far too easy or far too difficult. Plus it was hard to do categories like Sports (one of my questions that neither person could answer: "The New England Patriots have won three of the last four Superbowls. Name one of the teams they defeated.") where none of us had knowledge in overlapping sports (except that Dave and Rob both watch cricket). Among the facts that I knew: the capital of Switzerland, the nuclearly stablest element, and the artist who recorded "Spin the Black Circle".
We arrived in the southern city of Split in the later afternoon. The outlying areas of the city are dominated by a nasty industrial port and some hideous urban sprawl, but once inside the old city it's actually really nice. We were scheduled to ferry over to Brac that evening, so we had just about an hour to wander around the old city and eat a slice of pizza. The ferry to Brac featured a nice sunset, which meant that the drive across the island to our destination of the resort town of Bol was done in the dark. More curvy roads up and down the mountain in the middle (all these adriatic islands jut very steeply out of the water) and we looked for a place to stay for the night. We investigated the classier resorts, but even this late in the season they were booked solid with German pensioners. In the end we were glad not to stay there as we found a cheap apartment near the town centre.
The town was fairly dead that evening as the tourist season was mostly finished. We shot a couple games of pool in a bar called "Moby Dick's" and were resigned to a fairly quiet night when Rob found out from a couple of local girls that a band was playing an outdoor concert that night. We headed out and wandered aimlessly in the direction of the music until we found a fairly big crowd grooving to the sounds of some Croatian pop act. It turned out to be an end-of-season party for locals, which was pretty cool. Shortly after we arrived the group broke out into a Croatian version of No Woman, No Cry, something I never expected to hear in my entire life.
THe next day finally turned out to be bright and sunny, so we headed down to the beach. We first tried a hotel beach, but some attendand shooed us away after a little while. It turned out that the public beach was nicer and less crowded, anyway. Rob & I went swimming and we just hung out for a while. It would've been nice to stay for another night and day, but by this time we had to get back on the road to bring Dave to Trieste so he could depart.
We spent the afternoon in the car and stopped in Opatija, which was evidently the resort destination of the pre-WWI Austro-Hungarian Empire. We hung out in a club for a while, then Rob got hit on by a crowd of 40 year old German women, then we retired to the hotel where we discovered that after 11PM 50% of Italian TV stations show soft-core porn and the other half show football highlights.
We got on the highway the next morning and spent all of our Croatian money except for a few lipa (the completely worthless hundreths of a kuna) at a gas station on cokes and chewing gum. This became problematic when we were faced with a toll booth en route to the airport. Dave luckily had 10 euros on him, which they accepted, giving him about 60 kune he will probably never use in change. We made it through Slovenia and into Italy before hitting another toll (now that we had spent the only euros we had on us) but thankfully the toll plaza took credit—what a country!
After ditching Dave we drove to Venice where we encountered the ridiculous price differential between Italy and Croatia. We spent more parking the car and ferrying to the island than we were accustomed to paying for a night's stay! It was drizzling by this point so we visited the Doge's Palace and walked through the Bridge of Sighs; a nice bit of culture for the trip. We spent the afternoon wandering around, but decided it was too expensive to stay in the city so we headed out in the evening.
We went to Padua, which isn't too far away because Rob had heard from a friend that it was a fun city. It turns out he was confusing it with Perugia, but it was a fairly nice town. It poured rain for the two days we were there (so much so that it was headline news every night). We looked aroudn the basilicae in the city but there wasn't much happening at night. We found what seemed to be the only bar open, which was a cheesy Australian bar with a fake crocodile on the ceiling (actually, now that I think of it, it was a fake alligator, which means it wasn't even an accurately cheesy Oz bar).
We spent the last day driving around northern Italy a bit aimlessly in the pissing rain. We first tried some thermal baths, but there didn't seem to be anything between the expensive hotels (filled with, you guessed it, German pensioners) and what amounted to a public swimming pool. We then tried to drive through some of the relatively nearby Dolomite mountains, which at first looked like they might be impressive but disappeared as visibility dropped to zero. Rob was tempted to ride the funicula up to Belluno (which was vaguely our destination in the mountains), but by that time I was thoroughly sick of walking around in soaking wet Italian cities.
We did luck out that night in a small town near Trieste (from which we were flying the next day) where we found a relatively cheap restaurant with delicious food. I'll tell you, it's not possible to get tomatoes and mozzarella like that in England. The flight home was uneventful and I was immediately hosed at work (until now, basically) but all told a very worthwhile adventure.
11 October 2005
10 October 2005
Email sent to the social mailing list at work today:
Subject: DVD's for sale
Go Carp Fishing Part 1 with Julian Cundiff as new condition £3.50
Go Carp Fishing Part 2 with Julian Cundiff as new condition £3.50
Carp from the start with Kevin Maddocks as new condition £3.00
Russian Fishing Adventure with Kevin Maddocks as new condition £2
ALL 4 DVD's for £10
I wonder if somebody just broke up with her fisherman boyfriend?
08 October 2005
We woke up in Krk town and decided to island hop via the southern ferry to Rab island and from there back to the mainland. We drove from Krk town on the west side of the island down to the southern port of Baska. Thus began the first of many drives on the winding, ill-paved roads of Croatia at roughly 2X the local speed limit. We frequently ended up stuck behind rickety trucks belching out black smoke reminiscent of the Winnie's exhaust system or Germans towing campers at 40 kph. These obstacles allowed us the enjoyment of madly overtaking on windy one lane hill roads. Scotticus would not be happy driving on the roads of Croatia.
We got to Baska only to discover that the ferry doesn't run after August, so we got to relive the drive back up the hills, across the interior of the island, over the bridge at the northern tip and then down the coast (imagine a big U). Coastal driving was pretty but inefficient as the road hugs every inlet and headland, making it a lot longer than it looks. We spent even more of this drive staring at the back of a huge truck right in front of us until Rob would pull another white-knuckle passing maneuver (you'd fit right in, Dad).
One of Dave's biggest goals for the trip was to visit Plitvice National Park, so we decided to head that way and check it out in the afternoon. It's somewhat inland so we had to drive up the switchbacks ("serpentina" in Croatian) over the coastal mountains and back down again. We arrived in the early afternoon and bought two day tickets (they were only a few kune more expensive than single day and we wanted the option of coming back in the morning if it proved worthwhile).
The real attraction of the park is the series of lakes and
waterfalls that have been formed by erosion of the soft chalk in the
valley. It's been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979 and that really shows; this was one of the best planned natural tourist destinations I've ever encountered. They manage to allow thousands of tourists (mostly fat Germans) through the parks every day without completely ruining the natural beauty. You start off at the park entrance at the top of a ridge which forms one side of the valley of the lower lakes and falls. Your first vista is a spectacular wide-angle view of the biggest waterfall and several of the lower lakes. Minerals in the local soil give the lakes a variety of green and blue hues. As you walk down the path toward the bottom of the valley you're presented with wooden walkways passing over the lakes and around the falls. There are a variety of hikes up to different points of the valley walls offering a chance to see the area from many viewpoints (Dave insisted we do them all). It's a really cool experience to see the same geological and aquatic formations from so many perspectives. The lakes are also filled with thousands of tame fish who hang out along the tourist walks in hopes of getting some food; they must be the only species left, because they seemed incredibly apathetic about life. Somebody should toss a few killer sea bass in there to kick-start the ecology.
After exploring the initial lower lakes area we hiked along the middle lakes to where a ferry (about 15 minutes) takes you across the largest of the lakes to the upper falls. This area was of a different nature than the lower falls: more waterfalls of less individual height, presented as a series of terraces. We spent an hour investigating these (as it started to rain) before deciding to head out for the night. By this time I had about had my fill of waterfalls, but David was keen on coming back in the morning to see the final uppermost area of the park and the increasing rain wasn't too inviting for a long drive so we decided to stay in one of the local hotels.
Since we had been fairly frugal so far we opted to splurge on a bit of luxury for the night and stayed in the Hotel Jezero (Lakes Hotel). Interestingly, the Plitvice region was the first flashpoint in the recent Yugoslav civil war, so this area had been extremely heavily damaged only ten years ago and the local hotels had been co-opted as barracks by Serbian insurgents. Give its place as one of the key tourist attractions in Croatia, a lot of effort went into rebuilding the hotels and services, meaning that they're all fairly new now, although occasionally suffering from side effects of hasty construction (like a leaky roof in part of the hotel). David opted for a massage after we checked in, while Rob and I headed to the pool, which was a small affair (shaped like a quarter of a circle with a radius of about 15 feet) without much room to swim. It was equipped with neat-o water jets, which could be configured to gently massage or to provide enough force such that you could swim comfortably in the stream while remaining stationary. We dined in the hotel restaurant (mediocre), closed out the hotel bar (less exciting than it sounds—populated by our friends the fat Germans) and then hit the sack.
We got up early the next morning to do our final hike so we could bomb down the coast that day in hopes of finding some beach weather in the South. The pool time and those few drinks the night before had set me up nicely so I really enjoyed the upper lakes hike. It's the least accessible area, so there were far fewer tourists, especially that early in the morning. The changing colors of the trees an the more typical water color of the upper lakes actually reminded me a lot of New England. This upper area had fewer falls and larger lakes, but it was a nice change of pace. We had finished by late morning and hopped on the ferry back to where the car was parked only to realize that we had just hopped on the ferry to the lower lakes. With nothing to be done but to enjoy the ride we landed at the other end, got some lunch at the cafe at the ferry stop and then ferried back across to get the car.
From here we encountered the other kind of driving experience in Croatia: the massively empty, brand-new superhighway. My suspicion is that there are some infrastructure requirements to EU entry (Croatia's currently in EU admittance talks) so they built this huge highway down the middle of the country. It has fancy electronic signs warning of weather conditions and upcoming traffic and is signposted in unbelievable detail. Fortunately for us, nobody actually drives on this road, making the electronic traffic warnings a bit superfluous. The quality of the drive is better than you might expect: there are boring stretches, but also lots of really nice views and none of the grotty industrialized towns that the more local roads wind through.
Next update: the Beach and beyond.
It's a weird thing to watch (or listen to) an important game without anybody around you that cares. I watched a Tottenham football match with Becky's boyfriend James a couple weeks back and we sat mostly in silence since I didn't feel comfortable asking stupid questions and he didn't feel comfortable being a hooligan in front of me. Toward the end of the match he remarked, "It's a bit strange for me to watch this and not be screaming obscenities." I listened to last night's Sox elimination game by myself on MLB.com internet radio and felt similarly adrift.
Thoughts during the game with whom I had nobody to share:
- While Joe & Jerry were doing their pregame song and dance (lineups, trying for the 1000th time to sound convincing that these two old farts actually enjoy Mike's Hard Lemonade) you could hear "Don't Stop Believing" on the Fenway PA system.
- The bomb by Ortiz
was an adventure on Joe's call: "Swing and a drive, but he got
under—wait, the wind is pushing it, Rowand back to the wall...GONE!" The inverse of his typical "THIS BALL IS DEEP, BACK TO THE WALL, WAY BACK...and caught." spiel that Mike loves to hate.
- Francona let Wakefield go just a little too long. It was clear that the only thing keeping this klunky-but-serivicable start from being a blowout by the sixth was a series of
brilliant defensive plays (Trot's sliding catch, Renteria's grab,
Olerud's diving stop, Trot's plucking a ball out of the stands). Tough to lay it all at Terry's feet, I know, but you can't afford those "Oops, should've pulled him an inning earlier" mistakes in the playoffs (c.f. P. Martinez, G. Little. Game 7, ALCS. Annals of Bonehead Management, 2003.)
- That being said, Ozzie definitely shouldn't
have let Garcia start the 6th. The Manny homer was almost inevitable.
- Marte's three batters started the most exciting series of at-bats since
last year's ALCS. It's a bit depressing not to have people to high-five
when they drew those two walks but I was still muttering things under
my breath like, "C'mon Billy ballgame, just wait for your pitch, make
this fucker throw a strike, c'mon."
- I really started freaking out during the break when they brought El Duque in. I started having horrible visions of getting zero runs out of a bases-loaded-no-out situation. I hated the Varitek substitution (although Mirabelli was 0-2) because Tek has been slumping and has a habit of weak outs or the dreaded GIDP when he's off. Unlike Big Papi, he seemed unlikely to make a 400 foot sacrficial out. I even started thinking, "Just don't hit a double play grounder."
- I really thought Graffanino
was going to work a hit after he kept fouling off those tough two
strike pitches. It seems like hitters get the advantage in long at-bats like that. The pitcher's forced to keep hitting his spots and the pressure is on him not to make a mistake pitch. Tough series for Tony G, who filled in admirably for Rob Schneider for the second half of the season.
- Prize for heart-attack inducing moment goes to Jerry's call on the 3-2 pitch to Damon: "Start the merry-go-round,
everybody's running, Nixon from third, Mueller from second, Olerud from
first, HERE COMES THE PAYOFF PITCH—SWINGANDAMISS!
That's the ballgame, right there. I wrote it, then erased it, then wrote it again, then erased it. Baseball seems to have those moments where you know that the game is decided right there. I didn't want to believe it this time (hey it was still a one run game with 3 innings to play, right?). The morbidity of the Red Sox batters after that was utterly predictable, especially that ridiculous 3 pitch strikeout for Ortiz in the 7th. I was surprised to see Chicago look so weak (until the beautiful suicide squeeze in the 9th) since momentum seemed to be massively on their side. Shows that Papelbon's got some guts that we was able to keep it close, I guess.
If you want to read today's Globe coverage, stay with the always solid Bob Ryan and avoid the perpetually melodramatic Shaughnessy. It's too bad the Sawx won't still be playing when I'm home at World Series time, but we'll always have 2K4.
07 October 2005
Well, I've been waiting to hear from my advisor after my trip so he can comment on the draft manuscript I gave him just before I left. He was supposed to have met me in person on Thursday, but evidently he's in Seattle. He did just call me to talk, but unfortunately it was not to give me comments but to give me more work. He's going to ring again on Monday to give me the necessary comments. In the meantime it's FULL TOOL MODE. Maybe I should write it in permanent marker on the roach highway like Phrank did. Oops, don't live there any more, do I?
Photos/Description of Croatia coming soon.
06 October 2005
Well, I'm back in Oxford again after my holiday around the Adriatic. Pictures will be edited and uploaded soon, hopefully. In the meantime, some details on the beginning of the trip.
Dave, Rob and I left Oxford early after rising at sparrow's fart (a colourful Anglicism meaning very early). We managed to avoid any really bad traffic between Oxford and Stansted (the smallest of the three major London airports). We managed to get through the security check despite Rob's tent stakes, which definitely have more weapon potential than a pair of cuticle scissors. Ryanair lets you pick your own seats, so we managed to get the very first row, which has loads of leg room. A quick two hour flight later and we touched down in the thoroughly grim Friuli-Venezia Giulia airport outside Trieste.
Rob surprised me with a bit of fluent Italian at the Hertz desk and we were on our way. We didn't want to spend too much time driving on the first day, so we zoomed through Slovenia and into Croatia (this map will give you some idea of the situation). We spent the night on the island of Krk (connected to the mainland via a bridge). It's evidently a popular Italian summer destination, but the high season was very much over by the time we got there. It had a nice old European city feel to it (tiny streets winding around aimlessly) but it was almost totally empty.
We got some food and went looking for a place to stay for the night. Rob's Italian (he studied in Bologna for 7 months) proved very useful at this point, since we found a small room being let by a guy who only spoke Croatian and Italian for 100 kune each (Croatia's not yet in the EU, so we had to deal with their currency, the kuna, at a rate of about 6.20 kune to the dollar). We found a bar that had a little bit of life in it and had a few beers before making an early night of it.
More to come soon.
28 September 2005
I'm leaving tomorrow to go to Croatia for a week with Rob and David from work. In my absence, enjoy the amusing email that Becky's boyfriend James sent me on places to see and avoid in Croatia (he went there a few years ago):
Split - medieval town with walls and stuff, quite good bars etc. Stunning women from what I remember.
Brac - this is an island just across from split. If you go there, you want to go to Bol, which is a seaside resort on the south coast of the island - a bus can take you there from the ferry port. This was a really good seaside resort - perfect for relaxing but not really that much to do during the day apart from hire pedalos etc. Again, good bars and clubs, but don't go to the big club called 'Faces', which is owned by ex West Ham and Derby footballer Igor Stimac. No one goes.
Hvar - didn't go there (it was just south of Brac) due to time but people we met in Bol said it was better than Brac
Plitivice Lakes - we had a chill out day here as a break from the copious boozing we were doing. Very nice National park place, camping was good. I remember England played Croatia that day in a friendly, which incidentally I think we won 3-0. You need good footwear to do the walk as I found out when I slipped down a slope in my reebok classics and busted my hand.
Rab - another island - this was a bit more croatian than Brac. Some geezer started on us for no reason in a bar. Wasn't a great deal to do, I wouldn't bother.
Rijecka - spent a few hours here - I don't think people hang around here, it seems to be an entry point from where people go to other places.
As well as these I would have liked to go to Dubrovnick, but its right down south and we were flying from Trieste so didn't really have the time.
Another thing - the roads are really bad - windy and bumpy - so allow yourself extra time to get between places. We arrived late into rijecka and missed the bus to trieste so basically had to go on a EUR75 taxi ride that took us through 3 countries.
23 September 2005
I'm about halfway through Guns, Germs & Steel and something's nagging me about the author's style. I just realised what's bothering me: he (intentionally, I think) blurs the distinction between hypothesis-generation and experimental validation. Specifically, his argument is largely based on anecdotal evidence and Gedankenexperiments. He'll present a series of known archealogical and anthropological facts and then make a few fairly reasonable logical processions to "prove" his explanation for some phenomenon. To be fair he frequently points out that his views aren't proven beyond doubt, but always with a wink and a nod that says, "But my explanation just makes sense doesn't it? So we all know I'm right."
Really the entire book is about the first phase of science: generating hypotheses. We take some facts we know and combine them logically to think up a plausible explanation. The next step, however, is the most crucial: we set out to prove our hypothesis wrong! We try to think of some way to definitively prove that our guess is wrong and thus refine our guess. Absent other evidence, the path of the sun through the sky lends itself to the logical explanation that it's movign around the earth.
Most of his arguments are plausible, but it irks me that he doesn't seem to be able to offer much convincing proof that they're actually true. I think I'm especially bothered because he does use actual data to demonstrate some of his founding principles and then drifts into the realm of conjecture without really acknowledging the difference.
Today's cool scientist of the day is Edward Mills Purcell, who worked at the Rad Lab during WWII on the team which developed radar. He subsequently discovered NMR in 1946, for which he shared the 1952 Nobel Prize in Physics. All of this is meritorious enough to overlook the fact that he got his PhD at Harvard.
20 September 2005
I'm importing loads of flat text files into a DB I just wrote and the first version of the importing tool doesn't really make it obvious when the thread that's executing the SQL queries has finished. So instead I'm judging when to start it on the next directory by listening to when the hard drive stops grinding. I can't tell if I'm being clever or if I need to buy a new hard drive.
16 September 2005
- Check out this dude who was a technical advisor to Top Gun. The question is, did J.K. Rowling just find his name on IMDB or did she once date an American fighter pilot?
- The New York Times has an article today about a recent survey of American sexual behavior. Lead researcher's name: Dr. Jennifer Manlove.
14 September 2005
I've never met Daniel Falush before, but today he's my hero. He sent out this term's schedule for Mathematical Genetics Seminars. Not only did the entire schedule appear in plain text in the body of the message (total message size 5kb) but he also provided links to both PDF and HTML versions on the web!
12 September 2005
I've been spending a lot of time listening to, watching and reading about sports lately; the NFL season just started, the baseball post-season is heating up and a very exciting Ashes series just finished (England reclaimed the urn!). I've also been rereading several of the early Harry Potter novels and I've come to a conclusion: J. K. Rowling is not a sports fan of any kind. Her invented sport of the magical world, Quidditch, just isn't realistic at all.
I know, I know, I'm griping about realism in a book about kids
traipsing about a secondary school for wizards. But part of what makes
the series so delightful is the way in which Harry's fantasy world
feels so real. You can really tell that Rowling labours to put polished
edges on so many of the minor details of her imaginary universe, so
it's a shame that she is clueless about sports. To wit:
- The game is essentially two completely separate competitions
happening simultaneously: Firstly, several players fly around on
broomsticks and try to score goals (essentially flying football) worth
10 points each. At the same time one player from each team (the "seeker") is
responsible for finding a tiny, fluttering ball-creature, the golden
snitch. Capturing the snitch ends the game and awards 150 points to the
capturer's team. These two activities are weakly leaked by a third group whose job is to swat balls at opposing players of all shades in order to distract them. I can't really think of any major sport where there are two completely distinct and divisible goals being pursued at the same time. It only serves to make the game incoherent.
- The scoring system is clearly conceived by somebody who just likes big decimal numbers. We can divide all the scoring increments by 10 and not lose any granularity. Real sports have non-unity point values only when it serves to distinguish between types of scoring (touchdown vs. field goal or shots inside or outside the 3-point ring).
- The real damning complaint, though, is that the game is horrendously unbalanced. Rowling paints pictures of teams who are incredibly competitive at this sport, but they all act as if they dont' see the glaring inconsistencies in how the game is scored: the team which captures the snitch always wins. There are only two relevant categories into which the pre-snitch scores falls: a disparity of greater than 150 points or a disparity of less than 150 points (ignoring the potential for a draw, which isn't discussed). If your team is ahead by any amount or behind by less than 150, you grab the snitch and you win. If your team is behind by more than 150, you can't grab the snitch, because the game ends and you lose! Thus the activities of 6 of the 7 players on a team are practically meaningless compared to whether the seeker gets the snitch. There is a slight issue in that league results in which more than one team has the same overall record is decided by score, but this doesn't cover up the fact that the game is insanely unbalanced. A clever team captain would divert all his resources to finding the snitch and put up only a basic defense. Plus, the only exciting thing to ever happen during a game is the finding of the snitch (with the exception of plot devices added by the author) so the whole game is always condensed to a page or two of Harry (who plays seeker) flying around until he grabs the snitch. The fact is, the rest of the game is incredibly boring and meaningless to the outcome!
In fact, I just read a descriptiong of the video-game version of Quidditch, and it seems like they split the two phases of the game into...two sequential, unrelated phases. You play the basic scoring game and then at some point depending on how the game is going the snitch is released and the game completely changes modes for you to chase after the snitch.
Don't get me wrong, all this doesn't take away from the neat-o! aspect
of a game played by kids on brooms. It's just a shame that Rowling
bothers to include so many Quidditch details (Ron's favourite team, the
visit to the Quidditch World Cup at the beginning of Goblet of Fire,
the annual school competitions) but that her conception of sporting is
so misguided. If she were a sports fan (read: a man) then Quidditch
would have a set of rules that actually make it an interesting game to
11 September 2005
I've been trying to write about this year's Ashes series, but I can't figure out how to do it without also explaining the entire game of cricket, a feat which took me 5 months of living in England to accomplish. At the very least I'll need to give some historical perspective on the Ashes (those interested in more depth can read the lovely wikipedia article on same). The Ashes is a biennial Test Cricket series played between England and Australia which began after the English team lost a Test match for the first time to the Australians in 1882. Local media bemoaned the "death of English Cricket" for having lost in embarrassing fashion to the colonials. The trophy taken back to Australia supposedly contained the ashes of a set of burnt bails (part of the wickets used in Cricket) representing the cremated remains of English pride.
The series is played as 5 Tests spread over the whole summer, each of which lasts 5 days. Without getting into too much gritty detail (although this article is a good one for Americans trying to figure out cricket) it is important to realise that each Test can either result in a victory for one side or a draw if the requisite number of wickets aren't bowled in 5 days' time. Also important is that the trophy is retained by whichever side currently possesses it if the overall series ends in a draw. Well, we're in the middle of the last Test now (today is day 4) and England is currently ahead 2-1 in the series. This means that if this final Test ends in a draw or an English victory (2-1 or 3-1 final results, respectively) then England regains the Ashes. In the case of an Aussie victory the final result would be 2-2 and the current champs (the Aussies) would retain the trophy.
The last tidbit of information required is that time lost to rain/inclement weather is not made up. So if you lose a couple of days to rain the match is likely to end up a draw, which in this case is good for the English. Cricket can be stopped due to rain or "bad light" where the umpires literally walk around the pitch with a photographers light meter to test for how bright it is. Under failing light conditions (like heavily overcast skies) the game is thought to be unfair to the batters who have a tough time picking up the ball coming out of the bowler's hand. So in this case they "offer the light" to the batting side who can elect to sit down for a while until it brightens up.
English fans at the Oval all started opening their umbrellas to encourage the umps to stop play, while Aussie fans took off their shirts in protest that it was a lovely day (in truth it's not raining, but it is a pretty grim day). The Aussie team took the field in sunglasses to show they were ready to play. At the moment play is indeed stopped and looks to remain that way for the rest of today (they stop the game at 6PM in any event). Barring an amazing display of bowling tomorrow, it looks very favourable for England to recover the Ashes.
Unfortunately it's hard to explain much more of the excitement of watching the match (this morning featured some brilliant bowling by England's Andrew Flintoff). The strategy of Test match cricket is so subtle that yesterday morning I went from thinking England didn't stand a chance to thinking that the Aussies couldn't possibly win. Anyway, Sox-Yankees in an hour, so I'll have had my fill of bat & ball sports today.
08 September 2005
06 September 2005
I went with a couple of housemates last night to see a (professional) production of The Importance of Being Earnest at the Oxford Playhouse. It was a decent production of one of the most linguistically titillating plays I've ever seen.
The acting was a bit of a mixed bag. The guy playing Algy was just a
little too stiff, especially in the first act. Jack was better, but
both of them spent a lot of time crossing back and forth aimlessly and
holding their arms behind their backs. I never got the feeling that
they slipped into character (again, especially during the first act).
Gwendolen and Cecily were both better, and both gave off a much more
continuous vibe of personality. Cecily especially seemed to develop a
real character and stayed there for the whole show.
The play's brilliance relies, however, on executing Wilde's sparkling dialog, and only Cecily managed to consistently pull it off. The gentlemen spent too much time squaring 'round to address the
audience and ponderously doling out Wilde's elaborate witticisms. What the text truly requires is a light-footed, dextrous handling akin to fencing: attack — parry — attack — retreat. Lady Bracknell was a further disappointment since she seemed to frequently get caught in mid-tirade, trying to remember what to say next. She (perhaps more than all the rest) needs to have an unperturbable cadence bred in by a lifetime of English society. The others had similar issues (where they'd lose the train of thought for no apparent reason) but not as often. One particularly bright spot was the bloke who played Lane (the servant in the first act) and Merriman (the servant in the second act). His invented story about the inability to procure cucumbers "even for ready money" was one of the few times when Wilde's text was done justice.
The staging was mostly simple and well done. Doors were flown in and out mid-scene to arrive just in time for entrances and exits. It was a nice bit, providing a mix of open space and demarcation when needed. I was annoyed that the doors were so poorly made as to shake and shimmy any time somebody touched them, however.
All told a very nice night at the theatre.
Imagine you're faced with an employee who has failed miserably at his job. You call him in to take him to task and he replies, "I did the best I could." Wouldn't your only logical course of action be to sack him? If you're paying him to do a job and his self-admitted best isn't enough, then clearly he should be fired, right?
Shouldn't we hold the President to that standard?
04 September 2005
For a group with so much legitimate ammunition available, left-wing pundits are irritatingly inept at making their case against President Bush's policies. Their folly is epitomised for me by their inability to write an editorial without referencing the "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" banner on the USS Lincoln in May 2003. Every time someone writes a piece demanding that the President be brought to task for mishandling the war in Iraq they snarkily gloat about how absurd that moment seems now. Confidential message to Maureen Dowd: your argument would be more cogent if you allowed the readers to occasionally make their own leaps of logic instead of repeatedly slapping them in the face with the blindingly obvious.
The left isn't going to win anybody by being pedantic about the President's weaknesses. More and more Americans are becoming disenchanted with the President's bland reassurances about the war, our readiness to deal with domestic emergency and about the economy. It is obvious to all of us that Iraq is a mess, that New Orleans was left in the lurch and that gas prices are skyrocketing, yet Democrats only want to smugly murmur "I told you so" in our ears. Where are the alternatives? Why aren't they taking advantage of public desire for different solutions by actually presenting some?
02 September 2005
I'm going to be attending both the IGES and ASHG conferences in Salt Lake City this October, giving a talk at the first and a poster at the second. After the meetings I'm spending two days hiking in some of Utah's scenic national parks and then stopping in Boston for a few days on the return trip. Some relevant dates:
- 22/10: LHR → ORD → SLC
- 01/11: SLC → DFW → BOS
- 06/11: BOS → LHR
31 August 2005
I agreed to webmaster the HCR website at Brasenose, so I had to cycle into the city today to get a login to the server. Of course the bloke I was supposed to see was playing some FPS when I came in and he had to sheepishly mash the keyboard until he found some combination that made his screen go blank. Whenever I feel lazy at work I should just think about all man hours being wasted by IT departments around the world.
I like cycling back up the hill on a hot day. We're getting a last-minute taste of summer here, with temperatures around 30° today, so the trip definitely makes you break out in a sweat. For someone who never got much regular exercise it feels good. It feels like a worthwhile accomplishment. It makes me feel better about myself as a person. I wonder what kind of chemicals get released when you exercise that makes that happen.
Anyway, now I'm just enjoying my slow cool-down at my desk and having some water.
23 August 2005
The New York Times recently featured a beefy two-part article about the debate between scientists and proponents of "intelligent design". The spooky thing about this most recent attempt to insert religion into science is the way they paint their perspective as a scientific alternative. By publishing popular books and an occasional paper in a scientific journal (the reviewers must've been asleep at the wheel) they have created the illusion that there is actual scientific debate concerning the validity of the theory of evolution.
The proponents of intelligent design try to fool the public into believing that this is a scientific debate by presenting a series of scientific-sounding arguments against evolution. All of their points are straw men couched in mixed metaphors, but they seem convincing to non-scientists. This mendacity is illustrated by their use of the term "neo-Darwinists" to describe their opponents (who comprise essentially all of mainstream biology), as if Darwinism is a cast-off relic of an earlier time recently resurrected by crop of crazed atheists.
These quacks become insidious when they try to push their agenda on the American education system. They encourage school systems to "teach the controversy" and let students make up their own minds. This position is dangerously agreeable to lots of American parents: It has a certain free-speech air of reasonable discourse about it, which makes it seem very American; furthermore most Americans do believe in God so they're relieved to have some compromise which apparently reconciles science and religion.
If this attitude becomes widespread it represents a deadly threat to science education. The academic window-dressing of intelligent design is immediately transparent to a scientist, but not so to a 7th grader curious about biology. Presenting intelligent design as a scientifically viable alternative to evolution is a criminal deception of the young. This is made worse by the fact that many scientists dismiss intelligent design in crass terms that offend faithful people who don't really care that much about evolution anyway. Discussion of the nature of the Creator belongs in churches, mosques and synagogues, not in biology labs.
New photos available from sporting events on either side of the pond. First some pictures from the epic day I spent at Fenway waiting for 5 hours for them to finally call the game vs. the White Sox because of rain. Laurie, Mike, Amrys and I slowly moved to better and better seats as people gave up and left the park. Alas it was to no avail since they never restarted the game.
The second set is from the Charlton-Wigan football match I went to last weekend with Javier, Shailen and Xiayi from work. It was a good group because the guys are knowledgable but willing to put up with my ignorance since none of them care that much about these particular teams (or English football in general, since they're Spanish, New Zealander and Chinese, respectively).
We got lost in London (Charlton is in East London) on the way there so it took us 3 hours instead of 1.5 to get there from Oxford. Thankfully we had left early (planning to stop for lunch) so we arrived 5 minutes before the 3PM kickoff. Unfortunately this meant lunch was in the form of the grimmest burger I've ever had sold by some woman with a stand in her front yard around the corner from the stadium.
The match was fun to watch, although the second half was somewhat boring. Charlton took a 1-0 lead on a cross to the striker who headed it in late in the first half. Wigan's a pretty miserable attack team so Charlton just shut them down with stiff defense after the break. It was different from watching any American sporting event because the action essentially never stops. A fifteen minute break between halves is about all you get to go chug a beer (you're not allowed to bring beers back to your seat) and pee.
I think watching football is a slightly different social experience than baseball or American football. There's the same hooligans chanting and supporting the local team to gross extremes, but there are other traditions that are different, like singing. The teams all have these long songs (some with multiple verses etc) that the crowds all sing together during the game. It's a bit more complex than just screaming "LET'S GO RED SOX!" Plus there are a lot more teams per capita than at home (not all in the Premiership league, but the other leagues are followed pretty strongly) so lots of people have season tickets and spend every Saturday with the same group of rubes at the Stadium.
17 August 2005
I've returned to the UK after two relaxed weeks in the USA. It feels weird now, because everything here is familiar (people, places, habits) but I still feel like I left my "real" life back in Boston. It will also take an adjustment to get used to being completely separated from everyone in Boston because there's no impending visit or return trip looming. For my first few months here I had 4 different visits and a firm date for the next trip back. Now I've got Salt Lake City at the end of October, then probably another trip home at Christmastime, but nobody's scheduled to come visit in the meantime.
26 July 2005
25 July 2005
I have been recommended several times to read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, a set of "young adult fiction" books set in part in Oxford. Being without anything to read lately I wandered down to the local library on Saturday to see if I could get a copy. The Headington branch of the Oxfordshire Library System is typical of small-town sub-branches: two or three rooms in an old brick building, big kids section, lots of crappy romance novels.
The only available copy of the first book in the series, Northern Lights, was a large-print edition in the children's fiction section. I tracked it down and then stood sheepishly in line behind a guy taking out about 400 books about Billy the Big Red Fire Engine for his two 4 year old daughters. I must've been showing my discomfort because the librarian behind the desk which came up to my knees (presumably so little kids could see over it) gave me a smile and said conspiratorily, "This one's well worth venturing into the children's section."
22 July 2005
My boy Tom Friedman backs me up today, while trotting out one of his favorite horses:
We also need to spotlight the "excuse makers," the former State
Department spokesman James Rubin said. After every major terrorist
incident, the excuse makers come out to tell us why imperialism,
Zionism, colonialism or Iraq explains why the terrorists acted. These
excuse makers are just one notch less despicable than the terrorists
and also deserve to be exposed. When you live in an open society like
London, where anyone with a grievance can publish an article, run for
office or start a political movement, the notion that blowing up a
busload of innocent civilians in response to Iraq is somehow
"understandable" is outrageous. "It erases the distinction between
legitimate dissent and terrorism," Mr. Rubin said, "and an open society
needs to maintain a clear wall between them."
Pictures of Am & Scott's visit are now online. Scott's photos are travelling across the ocean as we speak. Once he receives them you should expect maybe a half dozen scanned and posted to the interwang some time in 2007.
If you're in the mood to laugh at me, start with this one.
21 July 2005
Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, is a retard. In a BBC interview this week he said,
"Under foreign occupation and denied the right to vote, denied the
right to run your own affairs, often denied the right to work for three
generations, I suspect that if it had happened here in
England we would have produced a lot of suicide bombers ourselves."
When asked if he denounced the London bombers (what kind of lame-ass question is that?) he also denounced:
"those governments which use indiscriminate slaughter to advance their
foreign policy, as we have occasionally seen with the Israeli
government bombing areas from which a terrorist group will have come,
irrespective of the casualties it inflicts, women, children and men."
What is wrong with him? It isn't three generations of repression by white guys that's fueling this culture war. It's 50 generations of repressive Sultans followed by 3 generations of repressive white guys, followed by 2 generations of repressive monomaniacal dictators and religious fanatics. How can someone get elected to public office if he relies so heavily on trite anti-establishment repartee?
18 July 2005
Scott and Amrys visited this week and now they've both departed. We had a good time taking our leisure (walking tour of Oxford, punting, barbecue and college ball) and the weather cooperated to an unbelievable extent with sunshine and temps in the 80's all week. Pictures will be up once I send them back to Amrys and Scott (hers in digital form beause her CF card filled, his in developed film form because he didn't want to expose his rolls to the x-ray machine at LHR).
Today at work I'm hosed and trying to catch up since I haven't got much done in a while. Group presentation on Thursday which will be an interesting waypoint in the development of my work so far.
12 July 2005
11 July 2005
The weather in the UK has been really nice so far. I was thinking about this unexpected observation while cycling to work on a beautiful blue-sky morning with temperatures comfortably in the 70's. It's actually more to my liking than summer in Boston, where it's often oppressively hot and muggy. I've been lucky so far in that it has rained a ton (don't get me wrong, it rains a lot, but it's been tolerable so far). Of course, I'm warned all the time that the winter is dark and rainy and suicide-inducing, so I should wait until I've made it through that before passing judgment.
The weather certainly cooperated this weekend for our housewarming barbecue on Saturday. Living with 4 brits meant that I was in charge of the grill for the entirety of the party. At first blush one might think it a bit shackling to cook all evening, but grilling is different than being stuck in the kitchen making Chicken Kiev. For one thing the party ebbs and flows around the food in general, so there's always a scene in the vicinitas of the grill. For another thing, I'm fairly adept at wielding tongz in one hand and a Stella in the other.
I had originally intended to buy the Instant Lite (i.e. doused in gasoline) variety of charcoal, just because I knew I'd have other stuff to deal with besides trying to coax the coals into ignition. Unfortunately I grabbed a 10kg sack from the wrong pile and had to get some "lighter gel" at the last minute. Yes, for some reason they sell lighter fluid as a goopy gel here instead of just raw accelerant in a can. Now, my partner in grilling from A-Side can attest that above all else the key to grilling is patience. People think you just touch a match to the coals and they explode into flames, ready for grilling. The proper technique, of course, is to build a pyramid of coal, goad it into ashing slightly at the edges and building a hot red center that begins to burn the rest of the coals. This requires careful knowledge, occasional reapplication of lighter goo and about 5 beers while sitting around waiting for the coals to heat.
The limeys all assumed we were going to have to get a flamethrower to get the coals going, but I managed to keep them distracted and soon enough I had two grills going with an ideal layer of hot coal for cooking. The only trouble we had was that the grills were the right height for foods which require high heat and fast cooking, such as burgers and sausages. We also, however, had some really money marinaded chicken which is hard to cook on the same grill, since it requires longer cooking on a lower heat. In the end the outside of the chicken was burned crispy and black by the time the inside was cooked, so that was a slight defeat.
Finally, the best part of being the chef during the party is that I can then excuse myself from my most hated of all chores: cleaning up afterwards.
07 July 2005
06 July 2005
Pics are up from my punting excursion on Sunday. We managed to get a little sunshine that day, and after two attempts now, I think I'm ready to call myself a Master Punter (a title I already had once, back in college). On Monday I took a 1/2 day at work and rolled down to London to go to a Yank party chez Vicki and Allison (Huggins). A bunch of Americans they knew (plus the occasional Scot) were there and it was pretty Claude; we played Kings and drank a lot of really grim San Miguel.
No fireworks, but not a bad weekend all told.
02 July 2005
The latest deal at Somerfield? Two cases of 20 of Stella for £14. Also note that a 6-pack of Stella at the same store costs £6.38. This means you get 2 cases for roughly the same price as 2 six packs. It's 35p a beer! They advertise it as "Our Best Beer Deal Ever!" which I can believe, but why does this make any sense for them?!
01 July 2005
Bullshit, you can be mine.
When did Tom Cruise become such a maniac? Doesn't he have PR people who tell him that he instantaneously changed from a slightly washed-up actor to a raving-mad Scientologist pedophile? First it was the whole Katie Holmes thing with him jumping around during interviews like a lovesick 15 year old, then he started pushing his whole Scientologist schtick too. Evidently the "history of psychology" culminated in L. Ron Hubbard. Yeesh.
Man I could really go for an engram right now.
29 June 2005
28 June 2005
I stopped by Frederick Tranter, Specialist Tobacconist today. I hadn't even considered the fact that I was now living in a country unburdened by antiquated protectionist measures w.r.t. a certain Caribbean nation. So this afternoon I enjoyed a G&T and a Bolivar Habana #3, which was a fine smoke, let me tell you. Plus I got it in just under the gun, as I just heard the first rumble of this evening's threatening thunderstorms.
I've been following some of the stories (made publicly visible by Nicholas Kristof's NYT editorials) of honour rapes (women raped by the village elders as a punishment for certain "crimes") perpetrated in Pakistan (as well as other places). In a BBC story today appeared the following:
A village council allegedly ordered the rape because her younger brother was seen with a woman from a more influential tribe.
It's practically a self-parody. Is it actually possible that places like this still exist? The article goes on to say that the victim in this case is being prevented from travelling abroad by the Pakistani government because they're worried she might "undermine Pakistan's image". You think?!
Last week at Somerfield I saw a sale on 6-packs of Coke. The regular price is £2.19 and the advertised sale price is "3 for £3.50". I did the math in my head and decided someone had made a typo, since the sale implied that the 3rd 6-pack was not only free, but taking it actually refunded you 88p on the 2nd one.
Yesterday it was still there and since I drink a lot of Coke anyway, I loaded up with 3 rigs. Lo and behold the sign actually was correct. Somebody tell me, does this sale make any sense? I know they like to encourage volume with these schemes, but why not make it buy-2-get-one-free instead of making 3 of the item less expensive than 2 of same?
Plus, don't even get me started that one-way flights are twice as expensive as getting a ticket on the same exact airplane with a return at some random future date.
27 June 2005
I haven't had to use calculus since probably Spring term of my Junior year at MIT. Today I needed to bust out some old school differentiation while studying Maximum Likelihood Estimators. I forgot how satisfying it can be to scribble down lines of calculus and algebra and actually end up with the answer you're looking for. It's too bad the maths in 8.059 weren't so easy...
23 June 2005
Oh man, the rampant stupidity of spammers has reached new heights. I received a spam encouraging me to donate to the world-renowned charity "Medicins" from its director, Mr. Sans Frontierers.
Meanwhile, in the Real People with Funny Names department, there's a guy in my college named "Nashville Toledo".
20 June 2005
Today, the BBC reported that Heinz is buying the HP Sauce Company. The article had the following insight on how Heinz is staying ahead of the market:
The purchase from French group Danone is the latest
stage in Heinz's current strategy of focusing on ketchups, condiments
First of all, I hate people (or crappy grad student organizations) who send out their announcements as MS Word attachments to email. Second of all I hate OpenOffice, which is so incompatible with all MS Office products as to be almost worthless. Behold the typical mess that OO makes of this already hideous Word document. Word is a useful tool...for creating documents! It (along with PowerPoint and Excel) is consistently abused and coerced to do things at which it fails miserably. It's also become an unfortunately acceptable final format to deliver to the public. This message was sent as a 738 kb attachment to hundreds of grad students. How is it that intelligent people are so unaware of the myriad better
ways to transmit this information? How about a link to a web page? How
about a PDF? Of course, there was nothing in the text of the email, despite the fact that all relevant information could've been duplicated with 250 bytes.
Don't even get me started on who decided that people would want to attend this event because they have a gay-pride/targeted-aspirin logo and curved lettering which was hip in 1997. Is design sense really this rare?
19 June 2005
It's been really hot this weekend. I've made the most of it by working in the yard. After David turfed I cleaned out the shed, and installed the bbq, the pond and our first 6 fish. So far they're all still alive. I've also put some pictures of the house up for your viewing pleasure. The first few are from a month ago when Dale visited and we had a big fire in the back yard. They give you some sense (although without any panoramic views, alas) of what the yard used to look like. After that are some shots of the inside of the house and the yard as it looks today.
16 June 2005
David is installing turf in our back yard (it's really starting to look awesome) and it needs to be heavily watered for the first week or so or else it just turns yellow. Since our landlord graciously agreed to buy the turf, we figure we'd better not spend his money and be left with nothing to show for it. I was tasked last night with getting a hose so that we could execute the requisite watering. I achieved this goal, but was frustrated by the extremely crappy Hozelock brand adapter to attach the hose to our kitchen faucet (there's no external tap). Hozelock makes some nifty fittings, including a whole set of quick disconnect style adapters.
Unfortunately, their design team must be a bunch of boobs, because the adapter has asymmetric openings, allowing the faucet in one end, but not out the other. The expectation is that your faucet isn't of the particular shape and size which would require it to poke through the adapter, but of course my faucet is of exactly that shape and size. I modified my Hozelock 2274 MultiTap connector like so. The annoying thing is that it would've worked exactly as well if they had molded the plastic in this fashion to begin with.
After "fixing" the hose, I raced off to work to go to a group meeting (which was delayed from 10:30 until 10:45, further crunching my available time to get to Brasenose by 12:10 for Matriculation). I snuck out of the meeting at 11:35, biked home, quickly changed into subfusc (doing a fairly good job on my first ever bowtie knot, if I do say so) and ran out to catch the bus into town.
I met up with the Brasenose Dean of Degrees and the one other student, Verena, who arrived this term and thus needed to matriculate at this odd time of year. We proceeded to the Convocation House (frequently used in films as an 18th century parliament room) where we, along with about 20 or 30 other students and the Deans of Degrees from their colleges sat and waited. The Provost carried in the big gold mace, followed by the Chancellor who formally accepted us into the University (in Latin) and then gave a short speech about how this marked a rite of passage and so forth. I really wish I could've got pictures inside, 'cause the room is really cool and everybody (especially the Chancellor) wears fancy duds. I did get a couple of photos back at Brasenose, though, including this one, which nicely shows the Radcliffe Camera in the background.
15 June 2005
Does anyone else find the name Wily Mo Pena to be really funny? Also, the MLB player search is really dumb. They only allow you to search on the player's last name, which means if you're looking for, say, someone named Martinez, you get about 20 results. Would it be that difficult to enable searching on first and last name?
13 June 2005
Oxford life involves a lot of formal occasions. Just being a student requires white-tie attire (which along with the cap and gown constitutes sub fusc) for matriculation, examinations and graduation (as well as less savoury events like being summoned before the domestic bursar). Beyond these requirements are lots of formal social functions like college balls and dinners which are all either white tie or black tie affairs.
My own social calendar includes the following formal events in the near future:
- Matriculation, 16 June, sub fusc. I have to go to the Convocation House and promise not to bring a naked flame into the Bodelian or herd my cattle in Christ Church meadow.
- OUANZ Dinner, 22 June, black tie. My kiwi friend Shailen wanted a crew of us from work to go to the Oxford University Australia-New Zealand society dinner. Their mailing list is "email@example.com".
- Green College Ball, 16 July, black tie. I missed the BNC ball this year and Green (an all grad college) always has the last ball of the season. Another group-from-work type event, which should be quite fun.
- Caryl's wedding, 31 July, black tie. Well, technically I'm sure a suit would be fine, but why not live it up?
So in light of all this I decided to buy a dinner jacket and trousers so that I'd be properly attired. This is also a good time to mention one of my favorite Oxon anecdotes to date. There's a store around the corner from my house called PRONUPTIA which I always parse as PRON UTOPIA. It makes me giggle every time. Even when I looked carefully I pronounced it in my head as prawn-up-tee-ah and I couldn't figure out what the hell it was supposed to mean. I didn't even know what they sold until Laurie asked and I looked in to see formal wear. I still didn't get the name. Then it dawned on me that it's PRO NUPTIA, as in "for the wedding". Heh.
Anyway, I did not go to PRONUTOPIA to buy my suit, because they're expensive and have a stupid name. I went to a place called Ballroom that has an extensive array of 2nd hand items on the first floor (by which I mean the second floor—the UK is 0 offset) I managed to get a matched set that fit me perfectly for only 70 quid. I'm quite pleased. Pictures of all the aforementioned events will be forthcoming when they happen.
12 June 2005
Miro and Ehren have had some companions in their travels lately, including at least a couple each of English and Scots (note to Ehren: I get confused about who's who in your narration, I think you need a dramatis personae for reference purposes). They both talked about how confusing it is to have such a menagerie of accents, a sentiment to which I can readily relate.
A centre of learning such as Oxford tends to attract people from lots of different places. In this particular case it seems to be a sampling of all the different locations in the world that at some point were subjugated by Her Majesty's armed forces.
Here are some of the flavours of English I've observed so far:
- Locals. In Oxford you're either "town or gown", i.e. a local thug or affiliated with the University. The streets are littered with local yobs who speak with a blue-collar commoner's accent and terminate every sentence with "innit". Exempli Gratia:
- Yob 1: 'at's a righ' flash car, innit?
- Yob 2: Eh, le's fook it up, innit!
Proper English. This is especially typical of the undergrads, who all come from upper class stock. This is probably the easiest accent for an American to understand because they mostly enunciate all of the syllables you'd expect. It's not as common in the graduate community, because the departments tend to draw from a much more international pool.
Much like MIT, any good day spent punting on the Isis involves drinking a bunch of beer. We featured some Stella, the rhythm and spirit of Jamaica, and some Pringles. John and Shailen took the first couple of turns doing the actual punting and I unwisely sat in a seat facing away from the place where you stand with the pole, so I gained absolutely no useful information about technique before I actually took my first turn. After crashing into other boaters and the shore several times I finally got the hang of how to push and then drag the pole in the water to steer. I also began to wonder what moron decided it was a good idea to steer a boat with a 15 foot pole instead of something sensible like a rudder.
The real beneficiary of my adventure is you, dear reader, as I'll be able to take you punting the next time you come to visit me in Oxford.