Tuesday, 5 October 2010

SORTED and a dog house

The building on the left is Glaxosmithkline, shown in the actual place it would be relative to my building, which is in Boston Manor, West London.
I am a supergeek, I spent ages on this. Also shown on the top are the motorway exits and car parks. Super. The dog house is more fun...

Saturday Summary 3

It's not Saturday again and I have many months to summarise.
I've had mostly a very nice time this summer, I am really a very lucky guy. I had the time and money to go on three holidays, to Malta, Holland and France, on top of my trip to Budapest in Easter and my upcoming adventure in India at Christmas.
In very few words;
Malta is lovely, sunny, friendly and full of ornate and beautiful catholic churches. There is so much to see on this tiny island, and we never even got to the ancient (really ancient; before the pyramids.) at Ggantija and Tarxien. We tried but Ggantija wasn't open on a Sunday. I'll have to head back sometime. Maybe when I'm middle aged like most of the other thousands of tourists.
Holland is always fun and we were blessed with perfect weather for a week. I went with my brother and a good friend and our bikes. We played lots of ping-pong and saw an art museum in Utrecht, walked around Amsterdam, had some heinekens in nice bars, went to a pre-season friendly at ajax, smoked a few spliffs and met some cool Finns and Americans.
France was very lovely, staying with my girlfriends family and seeing their many friends and her very cute guadaloupien cousins. Listening to French and occasionally trying to speak it kept my mind very active too. I do appreciate that nice language. Another decade of this every summer and I'll be fluent! Well, hopefully before that. I might be swayed to moving there with my lady at some point...
Budapest seems long ago now, a long weekend in a really wonderful city. It's got amazing old buildings everywhere, a massive palace come art museum, great views over the danube to the enormous parliament building. Nice food too and cheap accomodation in a cool hostel (the maverick hostel, if you're thinking of going), where we got tasty home-made liqueur and met a friendly German. On top of all this is the profusion of fantastic spas, some many hundreds of years old. Rudas is the best I think, although I've not visited the many small ones around, it is really remarkable, so old and solid and beautiful.
Also I went to bestival, which wasn't too great, but I was volunteering, so at least I didn't pay for tickets. I enjoyed the world cup despite England and won a few squid on it too... And I got a car! She's called Valerie Mabel Yersinia, and she's a lovely green skoda fabia. It's so nice to drive and so liberating...
Much other funness happened over the summer, but I also took an exam. I got 60% in it, so that was pretty cool. I didn't think I'd do that well, and I should have prepared more, although in the three hours I had enough to write that I couldn't finish in time. Anyway, 60 is OK. If I get a good mark in the project (more about that soon) and courseworks then 60 at the end of this year may well be enough... but of course I can do better than that, if I do my job of learning much better this year.
Fortunately my modules appear to be much more interesting. One of the example questions for the exam in Infectious Diseases and Their Control is "Discuss the global importance of infectious diseases". That is just perfect for me, I was thinking of possibly doing a masters in something like that... And this year we have a whole half of a module devoted to virology (viruses and all that), which I really want to get more into. I'm gonna post on here the work I did on a poster about virology last year; it was about the only piece of work I was quite proud of, and hopefully someone might find it interesting. Hopefully I didn't lose it on the memory stick that's escaped my pocket with my keys...

This is a model of a Sattelite Tobbaco Mosaic Virus virion.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Saturday summary 2

So what's been happening is exams mainly. Skip the next bit if you don't want to hear that whole sorry saga.
I haven't really studied much. Even the day before my pharmacology exam, I didn't get started until after 6pm, and after that I only concentrated on it inconstantly.
This is strange and disconcerting; leaving it until the last few days to do revision is pretty bad, but leaving it until the last few hours is really bad, and quite unexpected. Where's the rush of adrenaline? Or cortisol or whatever should be bathing my brain in order to give me focus and impetus. Some dopamine maybe? I don't know, but seriously I even surprised myself in the way I avoided looking at what I needed to learn. I could've done better in that exam; it didn't go very well. I'm about 70% sure I passed.
Yesterday the same compulsion to avoid the necessary action happened again; I'm a bit hideously unprepared for tomorrow. I'm writing this with the knowledge that I will come back to read it next year.
Next year counts for three times as much as this year, so even if I have to do retakes, I should still be able to achieve about 63 next year to ensure a 2/1. This is going to be hard though, I will clearly need to have a different mindset; I will have to actually study over the whole course of the year, as well as work hard on my project. I'm actually still confident about this happening though. Why not? It'll all be brand new; I've got a great house lined up, I'll have a car, everyone else in my year will be working harder...
I will be having fun once these exams are over, in a few days, and I'll try to forget about my marks until they are released. After that though, I will attempt to start the year before it even begins, doing some researches. I will actually post stuff on here too. If anyone's still reading now, you're going to be in for a treat, I promise.


OK here are my titbits of my recent life.
  • I've eaten jackfruit, from a can. It's pretty horrible, really stringy, and not very pleasant tasting, although not disgusting, just fruity in an oddly bland way.
  • I've also eaten blueberry and strawberry chocolate. Which is marvellous.
  • I've bashed my knee again, slipping on the step in my flat, which was extremely angering. Although it wasn't better anyway, I probably have set back the recovery. Still yet to see the doctor. Must go on Tuesday.
  • I've actually made some songs, and they're OK sounding. This was many weeks ago, but now I will put them up on here too.
  • I've designed a building, that looks really nice, to house the university I would one day build in an ideal world. The Schifferes Open Research Trust for Education and Discovery. SORTED. I will post pics...
  • I've read many interesting things, some that I've forgotten, that now I sorta wish I had of written down to put on here. Some I can remember, like penrose tiles, probably the nerdiest thing I've ever been interested in.
  • I've planted a spider plant, in a nuttela jar. Another set of clones is on the way soon, from the battered old mother plant, but no sign of any flowers as yet.
  • I've walked around in a big thunderstorm, getting absolutely soaked. This was most excellent.
  • I've thought way too much about the world cup, before it's yet begun. 
Something cool...

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Some RNAs are bigger than others

Using this blog for revision hasn't been my way of doing things, because I don't want to put loads of stuff on here that's kind of unaccesible, but the majority of what I need to know is a bit unaccesible, therefore hard to write about too. I'm just reading stuff and not taking much notes at all.
Anyway I made this picture a day or two ago to illustrate the roles of RNA. Everyone's heard of DNA, but really, it's the very similar but much more dynamic RNA that actually get some stuff done. OK last time I said that proteins were where the action is, and that's true, mostly. But you're not gonna get any proteins without RNA first. RNA is both the messenger and the constructor of proteins.
In fact, RNA was quite likely the first molecule of life, since it can catalyse reactions on it's own. Protein formation would've been the next step, creating more efficient enzymes, before evolution then settled on DNA as the most stable carrier of information. Which puts a different perspective on things I think. I won't get into the wonder that is the origin of life for a good while yet though, it' just really mind boggling.
Anyways, I'm sure no-one's really reading but here's the picture. All those RNAs have different role's and are different shapes and sizes. We're still learning a lot about what they all do and how they might be used. For example, RNA interference (RNAi; the effect of short, double stranded RNA effecting genes after transcription) was only discovered in the early 90's and was a complete surprise.
Fun fact: small nuclear RNAs form complexes with proteins to form snRNPs. My textbook tells me these are pronounced 'snurps'.

These are the essential processes in turning biological information into action, and that's why  they've been called the Central Dogma. Although I don't like the word dogma used in science, it's clear that this stuff needed an important sounding name.

All that metabolism shit will be covered soon. That's what my second exam is about. Joy.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Number 3

A few months ago when I started this blog I wanted to write a bit about why certain things interest me, to establish the purpose of this place. It seems a good time, what with all this parliamentary palaver to post something I wrote last year about politics, that I wanted to get in the Uni magazine. They didn't respond, and then this year I went off the idea of publishing in it when it went out of print. It's wholly online now. I never thought it was very good anyway, to be honest. There were loads of typos. If I come up with something good I probably should try get it on there though, it'll look good on a CV. Oh god, that's a dreadful reason for doing things...

A little bit about little things that do stuff

What is protein? Well, most people think of meat, and maybe milk and cheese, or baked beans. Foods that are rich in protein, that we need to live. In fact the vast majority of people in the western world over consume protein, but we can talk about that another day. Anyways, really we should say, what are proteins? 
The whole of biology is concerned in some way or another with what proteins do. If a living thing is like a car, proteins are the engine, and the hydraulics, and the wheels and the headlights. They are the doers in the situation, the moving parts. I guess the DNA would be the driver, and everything else would be the frame... 
OK so it's hard to make analogies with something as complex as a living thing, but basically proteins are a remarkably diverse collection of molecular machines. And yet the elegant thing is that they are really fairly simple. They're composed of 22 possible basic ingredients (Amino acids), which are put together in chains, which then fold up around themselves. These are then sometimes garnished with a few extra bits, called aesthetic groups. And then they can all play together and with pretty much any other kind of molecule and make stuff happen. Let the whole thing go for a few billion years and abra-cadabra, you have life as we know it. 
OK evolution is a bit more complicated, and yeah DNA is what carries the instructions, but really, the double helix can bugger off out of the limelight. The science guys on TV seem to be very impressed about the whole code-of-life story, but I think that misses the point a bit; it's proteins that are the actual prose of life, DNA is more like the alphabet. I think it's more exciting that we're now figuring out what the words actually mean, rather than the fact that we managed to get what the letters sounded like. How's that for analogy? At least now I'm slightly more excited about the funny things life is made of.
So my first exam is just all about these tiny little buggers, how they do business with their co-conspiritors the nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) and how we study them. It's really important, fundamental stuff, and there's alot of it. So I need to get down to the details today, hardcore. But it's doable... it's the other exams I 'm more worried about.

This odd shape is the structure of my favourite protein of the moment, luciferase. It's what makes the light in a firefly. It's name is just a name for the devil plus -ase, which means a protein that makes a reaction happen. In this case, a pretty cool reaction, which I can talk about more when I go into pyrosequencing; using flashes of light to read a strip of DNA... 
Yeah, this revision thing'll get done, no problem...

Here is the best acronym I have ever found, which I came across during my brief time I actually did, sorta, revise. If you want to know what that unexpected protein was in that sample, you can just check if it's cRAP. Science is for people who like cool names.

P.S. This post counts as yesterday, because I haven't been to bed yet. So I'm not due a facial poke. This counts as revision, doesn't it? No?

Friday, 7 May 2010

Fruit flies like a banana.

Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.

This is a fruit fly. They're nice little things, and very important too. They're model organisms, scientists' bestest friends.

Anyway, about the time flying... I must have put in a bent shot somewhere, because my arrow's really off target. That counter keeps counting, but I don't seem to be learning what I need to be learning. 

If I were really interested, clearly, I would be soaking it up, like I''ve soaked up other miscellaneous interesting things I've read. But wierdly my interest is hard to muster when it must be mustered. I am more interested in mustard, right now, than my six exams. I guess because it scares me, revision, if I'm honest.

So all the next posts from now are me convincing myself about some topics being interesting. Hopefully learning about them at the same time.

If you're not me, this will give you an idea of what I've 'studied' this year.

All the things I need to learn are related to human health, but it seems to me not organised as a comprehensive look at that enormous topic. It's more like a hodge-podge look at a bit of chemistry and a few diseases. But that is how it has to be I guess, and when you're missing 40% of lectures it'll probably always seem a hodge podge.

 P.S. No-one called to berate me after last week's non posting of revision notes. I mean, my girlfriend tries, but berating goes against her kind nature

P.P.S. If there is not a revision posting everyday for the next two weeks from now, you can poke me in the cheek. Hard.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

A comic I drew last night

Last night I had a nightmare about doing an exam I knew nothing about, and then I woke up at 1:30 today. I remember my alarm going off at 10, but I only remember pressing snooze once. I wish my lover was here to wake me up.
Later today I will have posted revision notes on here, and if I haven't you can ring me up and berate me hard.

Monday, 26 April 2010

It is difficult to be alive

I saw this phrase on a hoodie design a while ago and admired it suddenly. There are more articulate and poetic aphorisms, but this really is a simple summation that struck me. It's not that life is nasty or uncomfortable (for fortunate people like me, and most people, I imagine), but it's not usually very easy, even when it seems like it should be. All in all it's difficult, as well as wonderful or frustrating. But this is kind of reassuring; it's difficult for most people, so we can be magnanimous. I would like this hoodie also because the zippered hoodie is probably the best type of clothing ever made; body temperature can be controlled with ease...
The design is from the creator of this great comic of surreal melancholy; pictures for sad children.

 This is my very poor attempt at graphically interpreting the phrase. But I also wanted to show another thing; this program that I used for the writing is pretty cool.

In other news I attempt an explanation of some of my actual difficulties, for the entertainment of future me and the most dedicated of my friends and lovers. Under there...

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Saturday Summary 1

I've decided to make saturdays my day of reckoning. Every week henceforth I shall make some record of my activities, successes, failings and short term plans. So it begins, in simple form.

What I have done:
Lived without tobacco for a third week running
Went to a market research session for free ice cream and £3 in vouchers. Bonus.
Exchanged my penny jar for scratchcards. Didn't win. Bummer.
Threw water balloons off a very high balcony. Glad that we didn't hit any people but did hit cars.
Went to the doctor. Filled in a form. Complimented on my blood pressure and pulse rate. Sadly no cure for my injured knee other than weeks of rest.
Went to the gym. Tried to exert myself on the crosstrainer, after three and a half minutes felt faint. Threw up soon after. Weights felt good, but muscles were sore for two days after.
Spent hours and hours reading the internet, finding loads of new comics to read
Uploaded a photo album to facebook.

What I haven't done:
Developed melanoma (that's what that pic I took is of, a skin section.)
My microbiology coursework, nor any revision or research.
Any amnesty organising

This week I will: 
  • Do that microbiology coursework. Hand it in on Monday.
  • Give a presentation on Friday about Krabbes disease.
  • Organise an amnesty meeting and hopefully a new committee. 
  • Go to all my lectures. 
  • Go to the gym again but avoid cardiovascular overexertions.
  • Make a song.
Let's see if this writing it down helps these things happen.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

A comic I have maded

I have made a comic. I always wanted to make one, and the fan submission month on this excellent webcomic made me think I might be able to get an audience for it too, so I thought of this one below. Hope you like it.

I made it when I should of been doing my guinea pig hypersensitivity formal report. That report sucked, for reasons I can hardly fathom, but which I might explore here soon.
But also interesting stuff coming soon!

Tuesday, 23 February 2010


The Science and Technology select committee (a group of MPs) has just published a report into the efficacy of homeopathic treatment, suggesting it shouldn't be provided on the NHS, and that products with no active ingredients shouldn't be regulated by the Medical and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. I think this is really good, because it makes so much sense.

I quote:
'By providing homeopathy on the NHS and allowing MHRA licensing of products which subsequently appear on pharmacy shelves, the Government runs the risk of endorsing homeopathy as an efficacious system of medicine. To maintain patient trust, choice and safety, the Government should not endorse the use of placebo treatments, including homeopathy. Homeopathy should not be funded on the NHS and the MHRA should stop licensing homeopathic products.'

Media coverage of this report seems to be trying to present a 'balanced' viewpoint. Much as has happened in the climate science 'debate' in the media, cranks and quacks are given as big a platform as the credible science is, because the newsmakers chicken out of making any judgements.
For example the BBC's article is titled "NHS money 'wasted' on homeopathic remedies." Rather than the more sensible "WTF! do our taxes really get spent on magic water?" The woman even explains how it 'works' - not mentioning placebo at all...

This kind of stuff gets right under my skin and makes me squirm with incredulity.

Here's how it doesn't work

Monday, 22 February 2010

Time spent being greatly mundane

OK so this blog project is kind of stalling, much as I expected it might; no posts for a while. Gladly no-one is dissapointed by this. In any case for my future self I want to leave more fragments of my history behind... So what's been happening?

I've stopped smoking. Last Saturday night I decided it was time, when my girlfriend was exasperated by my chimneyism and asked me when I would stop... I thought about it and realised I could just do it then, that the excuses for carrying on didn't really make sense.
I'd been meaning to quit at Christmas; I know how wasteful a habit it is in terms of health and money. I was on about 10 a day. I bought some patches as a precaution, in case I got bad cravings, but honestly I haven't yet, just a slight urge.
But it's early days yet. I was quite drunk last night, and I did have one. Actually it was only three quarters of a rollie. And it was nice. But not great, not worth doing again.
I was happily smoke free for a year and a half before, this time I want to stay off for good. I know there'll be a few tough challenges in the next few weeks, but I don't see myself giving in.

There have been other things happening of course, here and there in my life. But I'm really not getting the blogging habit to record all those things. It'd be nice to write interestingly about them all, but mostly that would take the time that I now dedicate to napping, which is a much more pleasurable activity. 
In any case I hope this blog will eventually be filled with explanations and links to clever and fascinating things, a sprinkling of my insightful opinions and creative concoctions and only the choicest of anecdotes.
But for now I think I can allow myself some bemoaning of my failings: maybe it's just February being a crap month, but I've been especially unproductive these last few weeks. Either that or I'm unusually bothered by my unproductivity... Probably the latter actually. I've just got the feeling I need to sort my life out. I'm no stranger to this feeling, but I still have hope that I can keep it at bay by beating back my apathy; being useful every day. Too often I just spend the whole day with the radio, the TV, wikipedia, blogs, facebook... It's not only that I'm staying in all day that's a bit rubbish, but I'm not even doing anything. I'm probably learning something, but I'm not studying my course. I'm fiddling on the piano now and then, but I'm not making songs. I haven't even been out to buy any food today. I'm a bit... lame... Maybe I need to go cold turkey with napping like I have with smoking. 
Anyway, tonight I'm gonna do a few things I've been putting off. And soon I'll upload some of my archive...

In the meantime as a reward for reading all that, I have a quiz for you. See if you can figure out what these pictures are. I'll tell if you ask..... (OK the answers are under the link...)

Friday, 5 February 2010

Architecture Fantastic

So I was thinking of writing a health article for the student magazine, that I would post on here. Of course I haven't got round to it yet, but such is my life. In any case, to keep this unloved blog a little bit fresh, I thought I'd post some pics of one of my architectural fancies.
Sketchup is great for making these sort of fantasies tangible, although this is the only one I've ever done that is an good.

I call it hung house. It's a giant mansion with a giant swimming pool, on the outskirts of London. The flat roof is a garden with a circular window in the middle, and plants feature heavily all over the building. It's mostly open plan inside, with a few enormous windows, plus windows between floors. Under the water line of the pool is a window into the cellar.
I think architecture is always a kind of fantasy, a massive embodiment of someone's idea of living. It's a constant shame that the art form has in so many cases been dulled down to dissapointing mediocrity around the urban landscape. I'm a rationalist, but I still think aesthetics are worth the investment.

If you've never used it, here's sketchup, which is really great as a free program that's fairly simple to use. The best feature is downloading the enormous array of other people's models that you can place in your own.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The medicalisation of Mind

I stumbled accross this debate, concerning the expansion of psychological therapies in the U.K.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Number 2

About music, a constant source of solace.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010


I don't think whys is a real word, it looks like the name of a welsh village (I guess reasons would be the proper word, but it doesn't convey the same sense of having lots of questions, rather than answers/motives).
So for my early posts I will try and explain some of my whys; why I find things interesting and why they might interest you.
I think everyone wants to convey their interests, at least their acceptable ones, not truly bizzare fetishes. You secretly think your interests should interest everyone else, even if you might be tactful enough not to press them upon people. And as my interests are the foundation of this site, I figure I'll lay them out clearly to begin with.

Number 1: Science...

Monday, 11 January 2010

A story from the archives

Here is one I wrote earlier. Very rarely, usually in dead of night, I think of stories and try to write them. If you venture to read it I think you'll agree that it is not particularly entertaining, but at least not really badly written.

Number 1

I've been thinking about starting this bastard for ages, so now I have. And for my first post, I will be making a socialist republic style 5-year plan:
1st year: 50 posts, 30 visits, 5 comments, endure final year with reasonable sanity
2nd year: 100 posts, 250 visits, 20 comments, graduate with options, find gainful employment
3rd year: 150 posts, 2000 visits, 80 comments, engender envy amongst acquaintances
4th year: 250 posts, 6000 visits, 200 comments, master the piano, publish in a journal
5th year: 250 posts, 15,000 visits, 800 comments, construct lair, cultivate genius.

And so I shall eventually be a good man, and look back wistfully upon this beginning...