Thursday, 30 October 2008

My Network is Down

Yesterday, in the middle of downloading the Radio 5live Daily Mayo podcast (with Gok Wan, in case you care), a little icon popped up in the bottom corner of my screen, saying "A network cable is unplugged." I saw it happen. The podcast stopped downloading. A window popped up from Outlook: "Failed to connect to network - check your server." Mozilla told me it couldn't find Google any more. All the clues were there.

I went upstairs to check Mr A's Internet access, hoping it was an ISP problem. While that would be worse in the short term, at least I could be pretty sure it would recover eventually. The Internet was still there. Back downstairs, under my desk, the lights were flashing optimistically on the network connectors, and the plugs that route the signal through the house (wireless doesn't penetrate our Victorian walls), and on the router upstairs. But my computer thinks that the network isn't there. A network cable is unplugged.

You take something for granted until it isn't there. I can't believe how much I rely on having a permanent, always-on connection to the world, even though such a thing was almost unimaginable ten years ago. I can't update my podcasts or get the next instalment of my audio book, let alone download lectures from the university system or catch up on my blog reading. I can't even print - the printer is upstairs and I need the network to connect to it. I started researching my new laptop computer options straight away.

I can do most of the important stuff from university, where I am now, or from another computer at home if I can borrow one. But I can't download anything for my ipod without major reinstallation and messing about, and that's my life support system.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Search terms

I love that I can see the search terms that have been used to reach my website. Obviously, 99.9% of them were looking for something else, but I get some entertainment from it anyway. And now, so will you. If you find it entertaining, that is.

The most common hits, used seven times, are:
  • digestion facts, and
  • sushiya leamington
closely followed (with three) by:
  • facts about digestion.
None of these is particularly fun or unusual, in fact I'd say my blog wasn't a bad place to go for the answers to these queries. Some of the others are more traditionally entertaining. Obviously, food and biology feature quite a bit:
  • kilojoules in porridge (I'll look it up)
  • food labeling in hospital food service (interesting question, there wasn't any that I saw)
  • porridge every meal (not a great idea, but breakfast - yes)
  • hospital food as treatment (it should be classed as such)
  • why doesnt trypsin digest the intestine (because trypsin is synthesised and secreted in an inactive form (trypsinogen) and is only activated when in the intestinal lumen, plus the intestinal epithelial tissue is protected to a certain extent by mucus. But actually - it does digest the intestine a bit, the gut wall is sloughed off at a huge rate and must regenerate itself on a daily basis)

Some random ones:

  • diagonal board welchman (that was the trip to Bletchley Park)
  • chubb lock stuck (fixed by the wonderful Dennis)
  • dennis the locksmith canada (oh no, he can't have emigrated already)
  • lab coat rotherham (don't remind me)
  • i love my dentist (well I don't, even though he is a very nice man)
  • leam on me (must be a typo, but quite a nice one)
  • fancy that background history (indeed)
  • turning point in my life mark twain reading (he's good, but not that good)
  • i love leamington (so do I)
  • science news monkeys 10-07-08 (my favourite of this batch, I wonder what the news was?)

There are several people looking for various members of the Lola family:

  • lola winchester
  • lola 13 yo
  • marcus de lola
  • lola certificate
  • lola snowboards
  • lola easy living

and my personal favourite

  • tommy lee lola

And lastly, one solitary searcher using the term

  • lola life.
Just a little snippet to end with, which the distinguished government body the Food and Standards Agency notified me about. Some food can be dangerous. I shall be much more careful with my selection of supplier for any chocolate flavoured nipple spread I might be needing in future.

I hope that 'chocolate flavoured nipple spread' turns up in my search terms before too long...

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover
The Mark of a Murderer
by Susanna Gregory

Narrated by Andrew Wincott
On St Scholastica's Day in February 1355, Oxford explodes in one of the most serious riots of its turbulent history. Fearing for their lives, the scholars flee the city, and some choose the University at Cambridge as their temporary refuge. Within hours of their arrival, the first of their number dies, followed quickly by a second. When Matthew Bartholomew and Brother Michael begin to investigate the deaths, they uncover evidence that the Oxford riot was not a case of random violence, but part of a carefully orchestrated plot."
Compared with other historical thriller books, this places the characters in the 14th century but doesn't really set the scene there - they could be walking round a dirty version of a modern town. For all that, it's pretty good. Apparently it's one of a series featuring the same characters, but the other books aren't available from Audible.

Image of the book cover
The Omnivore's Dilemma
by Michael Pollan

"What shall we have for dinner? Such a simple question has grown to have a very complicated answer. We can eat almost anything nature has to offer, but deciding what we should eat stirs anxiety. Should be choose the organic apple of the conventional? If organic, local or imported? Wild fish or farmed? Low-carb or low-cal? As the American culture of fast food and unlimited choice invades the world, Pollan follows his next meal from land to table, tracing the origin of everything consumed and the implications for ourselves and our planet."
This was interesting - it is a very well-known book in the foodie literature canon. The trouble is, I'm now on my way to being quite a well-read academic in the area of food and nutrition, and it spoils the enjoyment a bit. Every now and then he pulls a statistic or factoid out of the hat, and I am brought up short because I know something, however little, about the subject. For example, the idea that fish oil makes children cleverer (either in the womb or in infancy or childhood). The data just isn't conclusive, but there's enough on each side of the argument to make it easy for an author or journalist to say "Evidence shows..." and make a case for whichever he wants. So I've read the book, and it's interesting and a good read, but now I'm going to get rid of it. If anyone wants me to post it to them, let me know! UK or overseas - Bloggy Giveaway!

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Just some stuff about the last week

Thank you for your views on the damp wall - I'm tending to agree with those who think it's rising damp. The external wall doesn't appear to have a damp course, and it's where the outflow from the shower, sink and toilet are situated. It's even possible that one of the pipes is cracked. I'll try to get round to calling a builder to have a look at it.

This has been a long and busy week, including much intellectual and physical exercise. The lectures have certainly been much more challenging so far this year compared with last, and the difference between the good lecturers and the less good ones is striking. But I didn't do much work at home last week, and our first two coursework deadlines are next week, so I need to get down to it.

After being disparaging about the standard of play at the badminton club, we won our match last week! The downside was that it didn't finish until 10.30 pm, which is well after my normal bedtime. Another evening last week I actually went to bed with a high temperature, which thankfully had dropped by the morning. Last weekend I was in London for family fun, and I'm doing it again this weekend. Along with everyday chores and a couple of visitors, there isn't much time for homework.

That will have to do for now - blogging has had to slip down the priority list, and I've got to pack for my trip, and perhaps glance through my Metabolism notes. I'll take the books with me, there's always plenty of time on the train journeys to do a bit of work.

Building and trees
View of the Food Science building

Monday, 13 October 2008

Home maintenance

The house continues to need looking after. Of course it does, it's the single biggest possession we have, but I do wish it would look after itself.

When a critical event occurs, we can usually deal with it. The replacement of the kitchen roof, repairing the hall roof, and insulating the attic went pretty well. We've decorated three rooms: Mr A's office, my 'study' and the bedroom. The rest is looking very shabby indeed, inside and out. And the shower cubicle is still leaking, despite my sealant efforts. Not drastically, but enough to need more work.

The latest thing to happen is that black mould is growing on the wall of the shower room. The upper walls and ceiling of the shower room are papered rather than fully tiled or painted. Some of the paper showed signs of damp a while ago, but that was before the roof was fixed, and it didn't seem to get any worse afterwards.

View of the wall outside and inside
Mr A and I went out to look at the outside of the wall with the mould, to see if any damp was obvious there. The external wall looks pristine, so maybe it's condensation. From the outside it looks as though the wall has a ventilator opening, but there's no sign of it on the inside. Maybe it won't be a huge deal to add an extractor fan, but I want to know if that will solve the problem.

My other question is whether perhaps the damp is rising from ground level and only showing up on the wall above the tiles. Can it do that on the inside and leave the outside surface untouched?

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Social life

This blog has been a bit heavy on the university stuff for a week or two, but after such a long holiday I felt I had to put everything else on hold to focus back on studying. I'm enjoying it as much as last year, so that's good too.

Life goes on outside university, though. I wouldn't like you to think that's all I've done. I've played in a badminton match, for example. Mr A and I have been to the pub. We've watched some DVD's at home. Both of the car headlight bulbs had to be replaced, and unfortunately not at the same time.

Badminton matches with my current club are not very successful. While everyone at the club is lovely and there's none of the unpleasantness I've encountered in other clubs, it has to be admitted that the general standard is pretty low. I played a few matches for them last season, and I think my partner and I won just one game altogether (each match contains between six and nine games per pair). I doubt that this season will be any better - my partner dropped out unexpectedly shortly before the match; his replacement hadn't played at all for a few weeks and this was his second match ever. Needless to say, we hadn't played together before. A whole season of getting beaten in every game can be quite dispiriting, so I set us the target of getting 5 points in each game - and we even managed it in four out of the six games.

Street in June 2008I haven't said much about the pub recently, but it continues to be successful. There are regular music nights and quiz nights, wine tastings and other events, most of which we avoid in favour of a quiet pint. One evening a clairvoyant had set up shop in one corner, but had no customers at all in the hour or so that we were in the pub (she should have known that would happen...) Smurf continues to take care of a small range of very good beers, currently Timothy Taylor's Landlord, Wells' Bombadier, and Saddleback beer from the local Slaughterhouse brewery in Warwick. Of course there's always a bit of sport, and Smurf warned us that for the match against Kazakhstan today he will be wearing a Borat-style mankini. I sincerely hope that he won't.

Our subscription to Lovefilm provides as many DVDs as we need - and we have over 150 titles on our online waiting list - they are sent through as we return previous titles. Mr A's choices are either black and white classics or war films or both, and I encourage him to watch them when I'm out. My choices are more suitable for both of us - we've recently watched The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (good), Mississippi Burning (very good), The Bourne Ultimatum (good), Wait Until Dark (OK) with Audrey Hepburn playing a blind woman, and Sweeney Todd with Johnny Depp. Actually, Mr A didn't hang around for Sweeney Todd, too much singing (it's a musical). I liked it, although there was a bit too much graphic throat-cutting. We're also getting through all the episodes of M*A*S*H, right from the very first season.

And I've been to an aerobics class in Leamington, which was great fun, even if it seems to have crippled me further. To be able to use the campus gym I now need to buy silver sports membership rather than bronze, and even though the price is subsidized for students, I'm not there for half the year. If I can play badminton once or twice a week and go to an aerobics class every week, I'd much rather do that than sweat on a treadmill or static cycle.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

I'm working quite hard now

Blog posts are taking a few days more than usual to mature, because I'm actually doing quite a lot of school work already - this time last year we were just finding our feet, and it was quite an achievement to work out where to go at what time with what equipment. Obviously we're expected to know the ropes by now and there's lots to get through this term.

One of the new first year mature students grabbed me in the library yesterday. The panic in her voice was quite disturbing, and I did my best to reassure her. She was going through what most of the older students in my year endured in the first term, wondering whether they had made the right decision, would they actually be able to get through the work, was it all a big mistake? In her case, the questions were presenting themselves a little early.

One difference I've noticed this term is that there is a lot more competition for library books. Last year, the students living on campus used to disappear back to their rooms at the end of lectures, because the library was only a minute away and open until 8pm. Now most of them aren't living locally - some in Kegworth, some in Nottingham - so they have to be a bit more organised about what they will need. I get the feeling that they are taking the work a bit more seriously too. When I'm after a library book, as often as not all copies are already on loan. I still have the option to request a recall, so that the person who has currently borrowed it has a week to return it to the library. But it's not as good.

Stuff we've covered so far:
  • Nutrition, Metabolism and Disease: we've looked at how we store/burn carbs, fat and protein in normal circumstances and in starvation conditions. One interesting thing I learned was that for the first couple of days without eating the body uses protein as fuel, but then conserves protein by switching over to burning fat. The trouble is that the brain can't use fat (other organs can), and we can't convert fat to glucose, so we make ketone bodies instead. I expect that I'll understand the physiology and the pros and cons of the Atkins diet once we get a bit further into this subject.
  • Psychology, Sociology and Nutrition: much better than I was anticipating. This week we talked about the social networks that provide people with support - not directly related to food, but important when we start to think about changing eating habits and the counselling role of dietitians.
  • Biochemistry: not actually done any yet. It's the first time the module has been run in this configuration, and a bit too much time has been spent setting it up. This week all that happened was that the coursework was explained, when we'll be tested on our comprehension of a proper grown up scientific paper published in a journal. We have to go away and read it, following up references and citations, and make sure we understand it - much more difficult than you might imagine, with subjects undergoing "hyperinsulinemic euglycemic clamps for 6 hours with iv infusion of either saline or a 20% intralipid emulsion."
  • Immunology: Second load of lectures today, three full hours of rather complicated stuff about blood proteins, inflammation and haemostasis (blood clotting). Luckily it was all delivered by one of the best lecturers, unlike last week's and next week's lectures, which are delivered by one of the worst.
  • Molecular Pharming: second lecture is tomorrow. The first one was just an introduction, describing different types of genetic modification - for insect, herbicide, bacterial or virus resistance, nutritional supplementation, improved processing qualities, to remove allergens or toxins, and for salt, drought or cold tolerance. There was also a bit of discussion about whether we felt that GM technology was a good thing or not. I suspect that most of the module will focus on the details of the methods used to create transgenic plants and animals, rather than the ethics of it. But I don't know for sure.
  • Endocrinology and Metabolism: still hasn't started, although the timetable has been posted. Lectures are on Friday afternoons, sometimes starting at 2 pm, but in the worst weeks there's just an hour from 4 to 5 pm, and I have no idea why it should be like that. Perhaps we'll find out tomorrow. Talk about the worst time for me to travel 50 miles on the motorways to get home.
On the bright side, I had lunch with three friends today after the marathon Immunology lecture, and it put me in a surprisingly good mood. But it also meant I got home later than planned, and it didn't seem worth starting any difficult work, so I blogged instead. My loss is your gain.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Food Commodities or Molecular Pharming?

Portsmouth skyline with weather vane and Spinnaker Tower
I haven't taken any photos for a while, so this is another one from Portsmouth, when the weather was still showing the last vestiges of summer. It has been raining all day today so far, preventing me from working in the garden. So that's good.

I did go in for the first lecture in the GMO module on Friday, catching the bus from Sutton Bonington (SB) to the University Park (UP) campus. It was also very interesting, leaving me with a dilemma about whether to continue with this one or go with Food Commodities.

Inherently the GMO subject matter ('Molecular Pharming') is likely to be more interesting, but also likely to be harder. Food Commodities is taught at SB, the multiple choice exam is 60% of the module, and the coursework consists of two academic papers to summarise in one page each. The exam for Molecular Pharming is 50% of the total and comprises two essays out of five and the coursework requires one 2000-word critique of a research paper. Both schedules include visiting experts from the leading edge in the field - the last lecture in Molecular Pharming is from Professor Keith Campbell, who had a hand in the creation of Dolly the cloned sheep.

After much thought and a look at past exam papers and asking the views of a couple of my tutors, I'm going to go with Molecular Pharming on Friday mornings at UP. The other consequence is that I will have a late start on Tuesday, which makes playing badminton on Monday nights less of a problem. But that's not why I'm choosing it.

Interesting to note that my two particular uni friends went to the first Management Science lecture (the module I took against, that has caused me all the trouble about what to choose instead). They both hated it and are now scrabbling about trying to work out what alternative options to try.

So that's the first week over; just ten more until the Christmas break. I haven't had to sleep in the afternoon again, but I do have to go to bed earlier, ideally at about 10 o'clock. I've been sitting on my new exercise ball instead of the office chair, which has helped with the back/leg pain, but is a bit too low for writing or typing at my desk. I can't sit on the ball for much more than an hour, though, and that's OK too because it makes me get up and walk around for a minute or two.

Thursday, 2 October 2008


On Wednesday I was exhausted. Three early starts in a row with more to come, badminton on Monday night, plus the return of my bad leg (caused by a bad back) had wiped me out. So I went to bed in the afternoon and slept for two hours, and when I got up I felt like a different person. It was amazing.

The Food Commodities module started on Tuesday, and was very interesting - we covered a little bit about milk and cereals. This is one of the two optional modules I'm trying out - the alternative GMO one is Friday morning. The trouble is that the first Friday afternoon session doesn't happen until next week - I would love to have the day off, but that would mean skipping the GMO session and committing to Food Commodities. I'll see how I feel later on.

The first lecture about Psychology, Sociology and Nutrition was also interesting, although we did very little except meet the lecturer and consider the question "Why do we eat what we eat?" Then on Wednesday morning we started the next lot of Biochemistry, which looks like it will be as technical as the previous year's course, but no practicals. In fact, it looks like there will be only two practical sessions this semester, which suits me fine.

Today was the start of the Immunology module, unfortunately taught by one of the worst lecturers. He did a couple of lectures in the Biochemistry module last semester, and although I followed his train of thought in the lectures, it proved impossible to revise from my notes and his handouts. Luckily he only teaches four out of nine weeks of Immunology, of which one was today and was a very broad overview.

Having been introduced to five of the six modules for this semester, it looks as though it's going to be pretty demanding. Many students in the year above have told us it's much harder in the second year than the first, and a couple of the lecturers have said so too. I need to find a routine that gets me working during weekdays, rather than in evenings and at weekends. And I need to make sure I don't have to take a nap in the afternoons!