22 October 2005

Happy Trails

I'm packing my bags and getting ready for 19 hours of total travel time (including buses, taxis and layovers) between here and Salt Lake City. Hopefully I won't bring any avian flu to the USA.

19 October 2005


  1. Poster: completed, printed, stashed in a protective tube.

  2. WTCCC analysis: completed, summarised.

  3. WTCCC meeting in London: attended, presented to.

  4. Conversation during train ride back to Oxford with important Stats Prof: carried out intelligently.

  5. Celebratory drinking: planned, about to be undertaken.

The Final Frontier

While at least it wasn't sent as a MS Word attachment, I think this person got a little carried away with whitespace:




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





Friday 21st October

At 12.30 p.m.

All Welcome

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.

Croatia: Finito

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

Friday night and the lights are low

The hold music for the conference call I'm on is a muzak version of Dancing Queen. On endless loop. I've only been on it for 30 seconds and already I want to gouge my eyes out.

10 October 2005

Social Archaeology

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


Croatia pics are now available. Third and fourth trip reports will appear once my arms are no longer tired of typing.

Croatia, Part Deux

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

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

Croatia, Part I

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.