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Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Black Screen of Death...

Well its happened, the thing I've been dreading as my trusty desktop enters it twilight years

"Cannot find boot disk. Press ctrl alt del to restart".

My almost 5 year old AMD Duron is starting to fade.

I've had this machine since October 2000 an eternity in computer terms. Over the years I've upgraded the video card, increased its memory from 64Mb to 192Mb to 704mB. I've kept the original 15Gb hard disk but a year or so ago supplemented it with a 120Gb disk for my music and videos etc. Its operating system has gone from Win98 to Win2K to WinXP. Over the past 2 months its started to take more time to boot up and is unusable for the 20 minutes after logging into my regular profile. Something hogs system resources for those first 20 minutes that I can't identify. VirusScan and 3 flavours of spyware detectors and various system tuneup utilities cannot identify the culprit.

The main reason I keep it is that it is now my wireless access port for my laptop, and because my building's admin won't recognise more than 1 MAC ID so that even if my laptop's network card worked (and no TINY.COM have still not replied to my tech support emails - I refuse to pay a £1 minute phoning them) it wouldn't let me on to the network. The downside of it being a wireless accessport is that it tends to get left on for longer periods than it would do normally, such as over a whole weekend. The deathly slow bootup also discourages me from rebooting anymore than often.

This morning, I picked up the laptop and switched it on and was unable to connect wirelessly. Wandering into the lounge I found a blackscreen facing me. Switching on and off failed to alleviate the problem. I looked in the BIOS and found that the system clock had also reset. This doesn't look good.

Rebooting revealed a potential source of the problem. The computer recognised the CDRW and DVDROM drives on the secondary IDE, but not the 2 HDDs on the Primary. Now I'm no technical whizz, but short of a generous 3 year old deciding to feed a can of Pepsi Max to my PC via the ventilation holes, I find it unlikely that 2 hard disks from different manufacturers 3 years apart in age, could fail simultaneously. A quick look around the flat revealed no 3 year olds, generous or otherwise, hiding under the bed or in the wardrobe.

This in itself is good news of course. I'm as bad as anyone at backing up my data. The most critical stuff is covered, but there's a lot of other crap I don't want to lose if I can help it. However it does look as if the motherboard is going. I had hoped to keep the desktop going to next year, when I plan on using the case, monitor and peripherals as the basis of a completely new system. Being my first home build, I was intending to spend at least a month or so perusing the various trade journals and online help tutorials to build myself a nice new Windows media system. It looks like that schedule may be bumped up.

In the short term, I figure that the Primary IDE has died on me. I've switched the two hard disks to the secondary and redesignated them as the boot disks in the BIOS. I can live without the CDRW and the DVDROM, now I have the laptop. Windows does at least boot now, although it takes about 15 minutes just to get to the login screen. Worryingly, the Admin profile also takes 20 minutes to fully load, a problem that didn't afflict it before. The wireless connection is back. This week I will buy a new 200Gb Hard Disk and a cradle to convert it to an external back up drive. I'll then use that to back up both the desktop and the laptop. With my data safe and at least some functionality back, I'll just sit tight and see how long until the motherboard finally goes and I have to buy a new system.

Here's hoping...

Friday, January 28, 2005

Questioning my commitment

I had an unexpected (and as ever, unwanted) meeting with SWMNBN today. For some reason, she had come over to watch our journal club. Having been in the lab until 2am this morning I had hoped to get a bit of crafty shut eye in this morning's journal club, however the presence of SWMNBN meant I had to stay awake and even ask a couple of intelligent questions.

After the meeting she collared me.

"How is it going?"
At this point I was sitting in front of my laptop with a big, bright, impressive graph on the screen.

"Have you finished the southern blots - you said you'd do them last year".

The short answer is "No". I didn't have time before christmas, having already worked myself to the point of near clinical exhaustion. Unfortunately I started to do them this week. A colleague had generously agreed to show me what to do, and most importantly help me do some isotope work. I am fully licensed to use radioactive chemicals, and used to use them years ago. But I am a little rusty, so not wanting to turn the back of the lab into another 3 Mile Island had arranged for this person to not only help me with the blot itself but to refresh my memory on the correct procedures for using isotope. An eminently sensible decision, I'm sure you'll agree.

Unfortunately my colleague, in his enthusiasm to help me, forgot a critical step in the procedure and hence the blot failed long before I got the chance to play with radiation. Rather embarrassing for him and irritating for me, since I now have to work over the weekend and it will be impossible to get results before Tuesday's scheduled meeting with SWMNBN. Although unwilling to tell tales out of class, self preservation takes precedence in these matters and so I had to explain what had happened.

"Why didn't you follow the procedure in Maniatis?"

Maniatis is the molecular biologist's bible - rather like the Haynes guide is for car mechanics. Unfortunately the guide we have is almost 10 years old - technology moves on of course, and whilst the techniques in there are tried and tested, they have often been superceded by newer, more efficient techniques - which my colleague is well-versed in. So no I didn't follow Maniatis, I followed my workmate.

"What else have you done?"

I showed her my piece de resistance. A series of brightly coloured graphs that I had been working on for two weeks. Interesting, she agreed, promptly demanding that I do another dozen or so superfluous experiments. *Sigh*, anything for a quiet life.

Then she dropped the clanger.

"Is that all you've done? Those graphs won't have taken very long."

WTF? Is she having a laugh?
Each of those 2 day experimental runs produced nearly 10,000 data points. I then spent several hours after each run manipulating those datapoints to produce not only pretty graphs but a wealth of statistical data. In addition to cutting and pasting the datapoints into a sensible order I applied some 2,500 formulae to each spreadsheet. To be sure, EXCEL's fill columns function has been heavily used here, but most of my data is not contiguous and so I couldn't just drag the cursor and have everything done for me. After finally generating each graph, I analysed it by eye before applying yet more mathematical formulae to what I judged to be the most interesting part of the graph. To give some idea of how much work was done, the raw data out of the scanner was contained in a 53Kb spreadsheet. By the time I had finished the spreadsheet had swelled in size to 87Mb. It's so large that my new laptop, with its 3.2GHz chip and 1 Gb RAM is the only machine capable of opening it without crashing. This of course means I couldn't print it in colour (another gripe for another day). Not only that, I have done this 4 times.

The problem with SWMNBN is that not only does she have little comprehension of the amount of actual work required to do a job, she also expects everything to work first time, which of course never happens. She is also absolutely paranoid that people who aren't in her direct line of sight at all times are messing about and not doing any work. Even those who work in her lab are regularly accused of not taking their work seriously enough. That's pretty galling when she leaves at 6pm - and you are only halfway through your days work.

Unfortunately, as is too often the case, I had to open my big mouth and mention that I had been writing an indepth essay that I intend to use as the starting point of any future papers we write.

"That's useful - can we see it Tuesday?"

So, no my friends, I will not be able to go to the cinema this weekend like I've been promising for the past month. I will be in the lab and in front of the computer writing a critical assessment of all of the literature regarding my project. I should have said nothing and stuck with my original plan - to produce it unexpectedly at a future meeting when things are looking even bleaker. Bugger.

The hunt for other employment goes on...

Orders of Magnitude

Molecular Biology really distorts your sense of numbers.

As a molecular biologist I deal with some truly massive numbers - and some incredibly small ones. Take a few random numbers from my lab book and you'll see a truly mind-boggling range of numbers. Take DNA for example. I was recently extracting some yeast DNA to perform a procedure called a southern blot. Speaking to the colleague who was holding my hand as I performed the procedure for the first time, I questioned how much DNA I would need.
"How much have you got?" he replied
"I've got a couple of hundred microgrammes"
"Blimey, that's shit loads, you'll have no problems".
A microgramme is one millionth of a gramme. I therefore had two hundred millionths of a gramme. That is the most DNA I have ever had, by a long shot. Normally, I regard 100 nanogrammes (100 billionths of a gramme) as loads. When I start a PCR reaction to amplify some DNA of interest, I routinely start with as little as 1 nanogramme (1 billionth of a gramme), yet the machine I use can be seeded with less than a picogramme (1 trilionth of gramme). The total genomic content of brewers yeast is about 0.9 picogramme per cell. In standard index form that's 9 times 10 to the -16 grammes or a 9 with 15 zeros between it and the decimal point.

Take the other extreme. I grow yeast cells overnight in a flask containing 50 millilitres of nutrient broth. I take a tiny pinhead of white, slimy-looking cells and add them to the broth. By the following morning I have a cloudy broth about the consistency of a strong cup of coffee with plenty of milk. If I leave them growing, by the same time the next evening I have a yellowish solution about the same consistency as tomato soup. At this point there are about 300 million individual yeast cells per millilitre. That's about 15 billion in total in a 50 ml flask. In standard index form that's 1.5 times 10 to the 10. Some coworkers use fermenters. They run them for days at a time. The largest fermenters we have on our bench hold about 2 litres. By the end of the experiment they have almost 1 billion cells per millilitre of culture times 2 litres. That's 2 x10^12 cells in total.

In just one lab book I can range from experiments involving numbers to the negative 16th power to numbers with a positve 12th power. That's 28 orders of magnitude in other words the difference between the number 1 and the number 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000). With the sole exception perhaps of high energy particle physicists who talk about planck lengths (10^-35 metres) and in the next sentence discuss Giga Electronvolts (10^9), I doubt there are any other scientists or indeed workers whose daily vocabulary encompasses such a wide range of numbers. And where the hell else would one regard 200 millionths of a gramme as "Shitloads"?

Whilst we're on the subject, drug dealers have nothing on biological suppliers when it comes to charging lots of money for a piddling amount. In a recent TV documentary, someone claimed that a gramme of decent cocaine on the street costs about £35. I have no idea how accurate that its, but it basically puts class A drugs in the ballpark of £10's of pounds per gramme. Last week I ordered a special enzyme from a standard biological supplier. It cost the British taxpayer the princely sum of £192. This is sightly above the average cost for this class of enzymes but not so much that I took a sharp intake of breath - unfortunately it was essential that I bought this specific enzyme (I did try to get a cheaper one honest!). For your money I received a tube containing 20 microlitres (that's 20 millionths of a litre or two raindrops) of clear fluid. Assuming that 1 ml of that fluid weighs one gramme (it doesn't since it isn't pure water - but its close enough) that means that a well-known (at least to biologists) supplier of enzymes had just charged me the equivalent of £9,600 per gramme for a clear liquid.

But it gets better - that clear liquid is just glycerol to protect the enzyme when its stored in the freezer. In actual fact, the amount of enzyme (the stuff I actually want) is so small to be almost immeasurable. If I were to remove all of the liquid and weigh the enzyme, the cost for one gramme would, I estimate, exceed the entire federal budget of the United States for a year.

What a shame they can't wrap it in tinfoil and sell it on the street...

PS I would just like to point out that these companies are not duping dumb biologists into paying breathtaking amounts for something that costs pennies to make. The cost of extracting just a few molecules of this stuff, then refining it and testing it is astronomical. These companies make a healthy profit to be sure, but their profit margins are no bigger than any major food or soft drink manufacturer.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Perusing the blogosphere again

Well, I've just installed the new Haloscan thingy and so it seems as good a time as any to list a few more blogs that have gotten my attention.

First up is Paranoid Prom Queen, another lucky soul who spends her nights lying awake staring at the bedroom ceiling calculating how many hours she has left until the alarm clock rings and she has to haul herself out of bed without any sleep. I can of course sympathise entirely. I was doing rather well until the middle of last week, when my body clock suddenly slipped again. Now it is between 4 and 5 am before I finally get to sleep. Since I am not under any enforcement to attend the lab before lunch, I have been crawling in at 1 pm. Since I'm busy I'm not leaving the lab until 8 to 10pm. By the time I've done my housework, blogged a bit, surfed the internet and perhaps watched a DVD its 1 am and I'm full of beans and raring to go, so its 4 am before I settle down again. And so the cycle repeats. Aside from the nagging guilt at turning up so late, its also a rather lonely existence at times. Most of my workmates go home before 6pm and those that are left are just trying to get home themselves ASAP. It is also difficult to justify a leisurely tea break mid-afternoon doing the communal crossword when you've only been in a couple of hours. Normally I would try a big reset by staying awake all night, but I've been doing some sensitive experiments (and will be using radioisotopes soon) so a decent kip is more important than getting into work at a decent hour. Oh well. Perhaps when I've had my meeting with SWMNBN next week I can get some downtime and try a reset.

On a more fun note, the ever excellent Copper's Blog has recommended a similar kindred spirit in The Law West of Ealing Broadway, the blog of a British magistrate. Like Copper's Blog and Random Acts of Reality it sheds a little light on the amusing events in the most serious of jobs and gives a little insight into who these often anonymous public servants really are. I recommended Copper's Blog and The Law West of Ealing Broadway, to a friend of mine who is a junior solicitor and I suspect the link will be doing the email rounds first thing tomorrow. She particularly enjoyed the story about the Magistrate being called "Your Majesty". I don't want to give away any more read the post yourself (Sunday, January 09, 2005).

Being a professional scientist, I subscribe to the notion that plagiarism (technical term nicking a good idea) is not really plagiarism if you give full credit to the person whom you stole it from. The technical term for this is "Citing". Therefore it only seems right to cite the hilarious The Mighty Crumb, whose brilliant Friday Fuckwit I have adapted and transmuted into The Tuesday Twat. This week's Friday Fuckwit was the simultaneously both obscure and ubiquitous Michael Fenton-Stevens. Who? Read and find out! (Friday, January 21, 2005).

Managing to be both funny and moving at the same time is Cancergiggles, the blog of a colon cancer sufferer. I'm not going to blather on about how brave or inspirational he is - he wouldn't appreciate it, even though its true. I'm just going to wish him and all his loved ones the best for the future and keep on tuning in to his witty and funny posts.

There are plenty more out there, and as I come across them I'll collect them and do another post in the future.

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Tuesday Twat(s)

No 2. BBC Radio One.

BBC Radio 1

Well, where to begin? The presenters - twats every last one of them? The play list - chosen by twats? Or the fact that I am forced to listen to it every day - making me want to twat someone?

For those fortunate enough not to have experienced Radio 1, it is the UK's "Number one radio station". Being part of the BBC its sole saving grace is that it doesn't have annoying commercials every few minutes - perhaps the main reason why its so popular. Scientific tests have shown that 98% of people, upon hearing an advert for a local double glazing firm for the hundredth time, will finally crossover into insanity and start shouting at inanimate objects, threatening random passers-by with extreme violence or actually eating at McDonalds out of choice.

The most irksome thing about Radio 1 is the playlist. Some suit somewhere decides that 20 or so songs are worthy of the exclusive attention of Radio 1 and decrees that they should be played ad nauseum 24/7. This weeks' list include songs such as Gwen Stefani's latests single. The song itself is relatively inoffensive, but upon hearing it for the 3rd time in one afternoon, I can't help but develop a twitch below by right eye and often find myself subconsciously doodling "Die Stefani Die" on my lab book. There are songs which I detest that I have actually listened to more times than my favourite compilation album.

Then there are the presenters. Imagine the most annoying twenty-something individuals you can think of. You know the sort. The type who drive past your house at 1 am with the car windows down and a CD consisting of heavy thuds played repeatedly on full volume. They probably think "Bling Bling" is a good thing and that clubbing in Ibiza is going abroad. The station has spawned some of the biggest twats ever inflicted on the British public. Chris Evans, Zoe Ball and Sarah Cox all became famous on Radio 1. More recently, Chris Moyles - worthy of a Tuesday Twat Award all of his own - is the current darling of Radio 1, having replaced most of the listeners turned off by Sarah Cox's Bolton braying. The fact that his Radio 1 breakfast show's listening figures are still a fraction of that enjoyed by Terry Wogan on Radio 2 speaks volumes.

Some years ago, Steve Wright invented the "posse". Basically, he got a bunch of mentally-challenged, unemployed mates to sit in the studio and laugh loudly and annoyingly at his every utterance. Nothing was too banal, nothing too unfunny to give these fuckwits a shrieking laughter fit. Sadly, the posse is here to stay, with countless presenters since getting the British license payer to keep their otherwise unemployable friends in Burberry.

Listening to Radio 1 in the lab is a relatively new phenomenon. Our boss was never too keen on music in the lab, believing it distracting. He never outlawed it outright, but as a courtesy it was left turned off or kept to a quiet whisper on someone's bench during working hours. In the evenings, people usually listened to mutually agreed upon CDs. Recently however things have changed. The Boss' office is now down the corridor and we are left to work how we see fit. The radio is turned on first thing and stays on until the last person leaves - assuming they even remember to turn it off. Amazingly, despite my best efforts, the tuning dial seems to spring back to Radio 1 whenever I try and tune it to something more soothing - like static. Permanently damaging it would be bad manners since it isn't mine - and besides I might want to listen to Dido at 4 am when pulling an all-nighter.

The obvious solution would of course be headphones, but Health and Safety frown upon us wearing them whilst in the lab area. The only time we can get away with it is if we are sitting static in front of noisy equipment and wouldn't be able to hear someone shouting "Fire in the Hold" anyway.

So, for all of these reasons and too many more to list, I nominate Radio 1 for the second Tuesday Twat Award.


Retail Hell...

I hate shopping!

Ok, I'm a bloke so that revelation is probably not as exciting as, say the data coming back from Titan or the news that Kilroy is no longer part of UKIP (How many political parties is this man going to be kicked out of?). Nevertheless it needs stressing. I am not one of life's shoppers.

All I needed was a few odds and sods, so it was time for one of my brief forays into the town centre on a saturday. First to Jessops to buy a case for my new camera. Whilst there, I decided to kill 2 birds with one stone and also buy a cakebox of DVD-Rs to backup my laptop before I get mugged. I selected my discs (25 for a tenner - will I regret this?) and queued at one of the 3 different counters. After waiting for several long minutes for the clueless couple in front of me to choose a camera I finally got served.
"I'll have these discs, and do you have any cases suitable for a Nikon CoolPix?" I asked brightly.
At this point I would just like to emphasise that there was a large sign saying "Official Nikon accessories" - and there was a Nikon CoolPix displayed proudly in the glas case behind him.
"No we don't."
"We do have some generic camera cases that would be suitable though"
"Well that'll do"
I'm not a brand fiend, and I figure there is less chance of me being mugged if I don't display "Nikon Digital Camera" in large letters on my belt. This is the same reason why I didn't buy a laptop briefcase with "Tiny Computers" on it - why not just write "Mug Me!" in flashing Neon lights on my forehead?).
"They're over in the corner, you'll have to go to that till".
Great - more queuing.
I schlep off to the far corner and choose a nice imitation rucksack case. The padding is generous enough that I figure it will probably protect the camera against all but the most determined drunk.

I queue again. This time I am at the "Professional equipment" till. The younger man in front of me wants to buy a telescope. The older man in front of me already has a telescope and wants a tripod. The younger man is clueless and is asking questions about what he wants to buy. The older man is more knowleadgeable than the sales assistant and is conducting a masterclass on which laptop systems are best. I am losing the will to live.

Eventually another sales assistant appears and tells me that the till isn't working. I follow him back to the first till and get back in line. I am close to going all American on him and complaining about the crap service, fortunately he barges into the front of the queue and eventually they take my money and let me out blinking into the sunlight. Much to my surprise it is still January.

Next - a recycled black cartridge for my Inkjet printer.

As said before, I am not a regular shopper. Therefore it is my belief that all of the regular shoppers, who traipse around town each saturday and most lunchtimes, could at least do people like me a big favour and "get out of my goddamn way".

I go into WHSmith and am surprised to find that the own band cheaper alternative cartridges to HP "recommended" cartridges are actually more expensive. Chuckling at the illogicalities of our post-twentieth century existence I leave in search of Dixons. Fighting my way through the crowds of feral children that seem to inhabit most major shopping centres these days I enter the technological Mecca that is Dixons. I decide against taking the Mecca reference any further and throwing 7 stones at the widescreen TV in the window - besides which I'd never seen Kylie Minogue's bum quite so large before. Finally I locate the recycled print cartridges, tut a little bit at the price and go to choose the correct one.

Error! Brain Freeze!

I cannot for the life of me recall what my printer model is! I can list all 4 of the networked printers in work, plus the two old ones we keep in the cupboard and can't bring ourselves to chuck. I can remember my parents' printer. I can remember my first black and white printer and even the colour printer that I stopped using last year. But can I remember the Printer/Scanner/Copier that I bought last year to print my thesis on and which sits, in front of me every day as I surf the net? No chance. Dejected and feeling a slight wally I leave. Being dressed in a large woollen coat with a big bag I almost expect a suspicious security guard to ask me to accompany him back in the store and show me the contents of my bag. Fortunately I have an honest face.

Thoroughly pissed off now I decided upon one last stop- the cheap toiletries place. I'll admit to being as tight-fisted as anyone who has spent 8 years at university, so I tend to buy my toiletries every couple of months in bulk. Today, I have plenty of shower gel from christmas but I need Head and Shoulders. After 5 minutes searching in vain I give in and ask where it is.
"Bottom left aisle, sir"
Fair enough. After all, on the previous occassion it was on the top right aisle. Before then it was in the centre aisle, and before that I believe bottom right next to the deodorant. I suspect that next time I should start looking at the front left - or just perhaps ask as I walk in to save time. I buy some shampoo, marvel at how much they charge me for some razor blades and head for the bus stop.

As I sit there on the bus, breathing in the mingled odours of pig shit and stale beer, a random thought flits through my mind "Hewlett Packard PSC2100 series"... same time next week then?

Friday, January 21, 2005

Stuffed like a christmas turkey

I can't move. No I haven't been doing anything silly like going to the gym or helping people move house - instead I have been eating. A lot.

A workmate of mine had an operation shortly before christmas and 2 of us from work went around this evening to cheer him up. I visited him shortly after the accident that precipitated the need for this operation and so I knew what to expect. Accordingly, I skipped breakfast and ate lightly for lunch. On entering the house, I was met by the smell of delicious food wafting from the kitchen. The missus had been busy. After filling him in on all the gossip in the lab, playing with my new camera and formulating strategies for him to miss his next meeting with SWMNBN (I'm tempted to have an accident myself), dinner was served. Two dinner plates the size of small dustbin lids arrived plus sundries and we tucked in. I'm not versed in the intricacies of Egyptian cuisine, so I can't name the dishes. Suffice to say that there was a sort of halal lasagne without cheese, a lightly grilled pasta and lamb dish, some very tasty lamb kebabs, a type of breaded fillet (species unknown) and chinese spring rolls. Plus lots of chips.

I am English and as such have been brought up not to leave anything on the plate when dining at a guest's house. By the end of the meal I was almost crying with relief. The food was outstanding, but I felt as if I had eaten a bowling ball. After the food, I was asked if I would like some peppermint tea. I have heard that it is a good way to reduce bloating and readily agreed. A few more shouted instructions in Arabic, and the tea arrived - along with a plate each full of cakes and biscuits. No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I considered slipping a few of the biccies to my friends 3 year old child, who had been eyeing the food jealously. However, I had overheard a previous conversation between my mate and said child that - depite being in a foreign tongue - was definately the universal "you've had your tea and its nearly bedtime, leave daddy's friends alone". On balance I felt it would have been bad manners to undermine daddy's authority.

Perhaps I should have pleaded ignorance and slipped him the lot. Never have I been so pleased to get a lift home. Recently, my family delved into our genealogy and as I suspected we appear to be descended from large snakes such as Boa Constrictors. After a large meal, the last thing I am capable of is a brisk constitutional. I have been known to watch an entire episode of Eastenders rather than risk a heart attack reaching for the TV remote control. Possibly the worst thing I can imagine is eating christmas dinner then settling down in front of the TV, with the remote on the far side of the room, to be confrronted by a 2 hour Harry Hill Christmas special. I might just risk that heart attack.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Smelly bus, smelly bus, where are you smelly bus?

This evening the weather was crap and I had my laptop with me, so I decided to catch the bus home after work rather than walk. Thus I clambered aboard the "pig shit bus". One of the buses doing the route past my flat is known to regulars as "The pig shit bus", on account of the fact that it smells of silage. The first time I caught this wiffy mode of transport was 3 years ago. I assumed that some unfortunate farmer had been forced to take his Landrover to the garage in the city and had decided to see the sights whilst he waited for it to be serviced. Nobody looked particularly rural, but I figured that even yokels had access to the mobile phones that everyone seemed to be yakking on that morning.

A few days later I clambered aboard the same bus, only to find the odour even stronger. Now I may be a townie, but as a child I regularly visited relatives in Devon. Anyone who has traveled the M5 south knows that the overriding sensory experience when passing the blue sign proclaiming "Welcome to Devonshire" is a sudden smell of pig shit, or "Porcine faeces" as we biologists term it. This isn't a reflection on the county or the people who inhabit it, merely an observation that the local farmers prefer natural fertiliser. For the past 3 years, whenever I catch the bus I estimate that there is a 1 in 10 chance of being unfortunate enough to flag down this particular bus. The smell, if anything, seems to be getting stronger. The bus itself is deteriorating. The seats are now a patchwork of different sizes and upholstery options. The driver's cab and luggage rack are now made out of wood. Yet still, no one has decided to call it a day and have the bus refurbished or taken off the road. Hope is in sight though. Tonight there was no one yammering inanely on a mobile phone, since the horrible metal on metal grinding noise coming from the engine made conversation impossible. Perhaps soon I will be able to take a deep breath on the bus and smell only body odour and stale marijuana - the way it should be.

"Celebrity" Big Brother.
I have been rather remiss lately in my commentary on the Z-listers. A brief recap then. Jackie Stallone, predictably, was first out after her and John were up for eviction. She is definately mad and the house breathed a collective sigh of relief. Second eviction was John. The other housemates had somewhat warmed to him and gotten used to his ways. The Great British public being what it was had voted out the only truly entertaining member of the house and have now turned off, causing a plummet in the ratings. John, for his part, was glad to be out and still hasn't gained a sense of humour or a sense of perspective. He sat stony faced through both the "Diet Coke break" ad parody and the, admittedly unflattering, montage of his best bits. When questioned on the subject he insisted yet again that BB had breached his contract and he lost his temper again. Now he is definately playing up his bigotry and misogyny and is gleefully enjoying his star turn on Big Brother's Little Brother as resident twat. The much maligned Booby has made an appearance and seems as vacuous as we were led to believe.

There has been some criticism that the BB camera men seem to be obsessed with Caprice, spending long minutes panning the camera slowly along the length of her body as she lies in the sauna in a skimpy bikini. Well who the hell else are they going to film? Brigitte seems to be taking her top off at any chance, but to be honest Caprice in a full length burkha is always going to be a nicer sight than Brigitte flashing her thru'penny bits. Lisa is out and Bez, after having a temper tantrum over being nominated, clambered up the wall to have a look around. Ho hum.

Assuming neither are kicked out, it will be interesting to see if Caprice decides to "slip" when changing in the sauna or if Brigitte decides to really push the boat and show us her "kebab" as Jade Goody would say. Time will tell.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Tuesday Twat

Well as promised, today sees the start of my homage to (or blatant plagiarisation of) The Mighty Crumb themightycrumb. His weekly post "The Friday Fuckwit" always makes me laugh, and seems as good a way as any to lance the festering boild of hatred that certain people seem to engender in me. Its nothing to be proud of , I'm sure you will agree, but if it gets me through the week who cares? Perhaps others could take it further? How about the Monday Moron, or the Wednesday Wanker?

The Tuesday Twat
Harry Hill


There are those that describe Harry Hill as a comedian. Bear in mind, however that there are also people on this planet who still think that the earth is flat, Elvis celebrated his 70th birthday this week and that Intelligent Design is, well, intelligent CNN.

Harry Hill is described in TV guides as "Zany". This alone should tell you all that you need to know about this big-collared, bald headed, humourless twat. He presents shows such as "Harry Hill's TV Burp" a trawl through the week's TV, typically highlighting the least amusing bits in the least amusing programmes on British TV - namely the soaps. His "act" largely consists of the use of the phrase "Hmmm", the occasional waggle of an eyebrow and something to do with a stuffed badger. Apparently, he used to be a doctor - and before you get all excited, he's no Patch Adams or Hawkeye Pierce. In fact, having watched one of his shows (I say one - what I actually mean is that 3 times I sat down and managed to watch about a third of one show before turning over and watching something funnier - like a documentary on the humanitarian crisis in Darfur or teenage bulimia), I find myself wondering if in fact he wasn't a dentist instead. Watching him bounce around stage in bad fancy dress is as painful as having one's wisdom teeth removed without a gum full of lidocaine.

However, just when you thought he couldn't get any worse - or at least if he did, his presence would be clearly advertised in the TV guide so you could avoid him - the bastard started advertising Boot's the chemists' christmas gift range. I managed to avoid his smug, grinning visage on ITV1 by dint of not watching ITV1 - unfortunately some other commercial channels such as Channel 4 actually have programmes worth watching, so I couldn't help but come across him several times in an evening's viewing. Shouting "You fucking Twat! Get off my screen, you aren't funny!" relieves some of the anger, but unfortunately was frowned upon by my parents during the Christmas Day screening of "Goodbye Mr Chips" - although they did agree wih the sentiment.

So here we have it - the inaugural Tuesday Twat. I can't think of any one more deserving of the accolade. Rest assured that when I do however, I will be sharing it with you in next week's blog.


Monday, January 17, 2005

Booze Booze Booze

Well, the birthday went well, although it started off ominously, I was supposed to be going to a "Happy Hour" at work. Now, I realise that the concept of a "Happy Hour" at work is a contradiction in terms, however they were selling drinks at 50p a go (about 27c for those on the wrong side of the Atlantic). Further, there really are some lovely young ladies who work on the otherside of the building... I arrive - and they have run out of booze. Oh No! The Bioinformaticians got there first and drank everything (they are kept locked in a dungeon most of the time and only let out if they promise not to talk about Linux or how Apple Macs are better than PCs). I tried whining "but its my birthday", however the girl in charge of the drinks stall was either a heartless bitch, or we had indeed run out of booze.

Of to the pub then. This went better, with everyone feeling compelled to buy me beer until they all turned blurry. Naturally, on the way home I decided to stop by Tesco and buy some more flour to try and make some Pizza bases again. I fell into bed at 11pm, resolving to get up again in an hour to start cooking.

8am the following morning, I awoke with a headache and the dry tongue one associates with either licking several hundred of those new adhesive stamps - or just perhaps drinking 6 pints of Carlsberg Export then night before. I had resolved however to make those bases and besides, my flat still looked like I had been subletting to the local travelers community (thats Pikeys, Gypos or Thieving Bastards to the less politically correct of you).

After 4 hours of cooking, cleaning and tidying, my flat was positively gleaming and suffused with the pleasant aroma of lightly cooked bread and industrial strength bleach. My parents and grandmother duly arrived and commented "it's a bit better than last time". My mild irritation soon turned to joy, however, when I was presented with several birthday cards containing pieces of paper with the Queen's head on them, that I am told I can swap for beer. Even better, I got a digital camera! WooHoo!

After a leisurely meal with my parents (the serving staff were leisurely - we were bloody starving) we returned to my humble abode so I could prepare for the party. I had spent a long time choosing the nibbles etc, but really the piece de resistance was the crate of lager I'd bought from Sainsbury. I figured, as long as there was music and beer the party was guaranteed to go well, what with most of my guests being Kiwis. And that it did. Between us we sank 2 bottles of wine each and most of the crate of beer. The fun really started however when a friend, fresh back from Eastern Europe, produced several thousand bootleg MP3s. Fantastic! Name that tune seems much more fun after so much alcohol. Finally 4 am rolled around and it was time for beddy byes. The flat was back to its usual state and my second hangover in 24 hours was kicking in. Even better I had managed not to kill any of my friends with my cooking. This is not an idle boast, one of my guests was described by a Harley Street specialist as "the most allergic individual I have ever met". He left at 3.30 with a decided wobble in his step, but no apparent difficulties breathing.


Stay tuned - tomorrow I will be unveiling my homage to

Friday, January 14, 2005

Woohoo! A temporary reprieve!

My day started with two bits of good news today. Firstly, my next meeting with SWMNBN has been postponed indefinately. Yesterday I arranged a meeting with SWMNBN and the rest of the project team for next week. Today however, it transpires that one of the key participants in the meeting forgot to update his diary and is unavailable for the meeting. This has thrown a huge spanner in the works and eventually it was decided to postpone the meeting to a time when everyone can get together, probably in a few weeks. This of course gives me time to actually get some work done. It also allows me to celebrate my birthday this weekend without a sense of dread and feeling guilty about not being in the lab at the weekend.

The second bit of good news is that whilst SWMNBN is definately going to share lab space with us - it is unlikely to be before the summer. My contract is up in July and I am already looking around for a new job. I may have dodged the bullet!

Cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning
As I mention in the intro to the blog, I am currently single and living in a bachelor pad (calling it a shag pad would be false advertising I'm afraid). Therefore, I live in what could be kindly described as squalor. This weekend, I have foolishly decided to invite a few friends over for beer nibbles and music to celebrate my birthday. Being as organised as I am, I have decided to leave cleaning the flat until the last possible minute. Although it is thursday today, I am going out on the piss Friday night, so won't be doing any cleaning obviously. To make matters even worse, my parents and gran (who are coincidently my harshest critics on matters of cleanliness) are visiting on saturday so I won't be able to clean or prepare much before people start arriving saturday evening. Not only do I have to clean the flat, I also need to prepare the food. With that in mind, I decided to make one of my "famous" pizzas. I like to make my pizzas from scratch starting with flour. I then add garlic and herbs with a little olive oil to make a truly lovely base. Tonight, things were going well. I had made one, smallish pizza base and was preparing the second when disaster struck! I slipped when adding the warm water and flooded the bowl. Suddenly the decision not to buy more flour "because there's loads in the old packet" seemed reckless, foolish and needlessly tight-fisted. Result? What could be best described as carpet paste with bits of oregano stuck in it. The shops were closed by this point and even if they weren't my fingers had pretty much glued shut - I wasn't going anywhere.


Looks like I am going to have to buy pre-made pizza or, if I am lucky, some pre-made bases.

"Celebrity" Big Brother
Nominations day. Entirely predictably the misogynist and the bride of Frankenstein are up for eviction. If I were a betting man, I'd say Jackie is most likely out. Although very funny, she is also phenomenally spoilt and irritating with a whiny voice. John on the other hand, has found his voice again and is back at the top of his game entertainment wise. I'd hate to be stuck in a house with him - but I certainly get pleasure out of wtaching other people cope with him.

I'm probably not going to have time to update before sunday. If I do update before then, I will almost certainly be as drunk as a skunk when doing so - apologies in advance...

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Tiny.Com suck!

Well, being back at work after 3 weeks holiday doesn’t appear to get any easier – I’m knackered! I spent most of the day in front of the computer choosing restriction enzymes for the southern blot I have to do. There are so many factors to consider. I need an enzyme that can cut the DNA surrounding the marker gene that I want to study. It needs to cut either side of the gene but not within the gene. It also needs to work at 37C, not require a weird buffer or pre-treatment and mustn’t cost an arm and a leg. I am studying 7 different genes at the moment and the whole process is tedious in the extreme. Nevertheless, it’s finally completed and I’m simply awaiting the delivery of the enzymes I chose.

I have the date for my next “progress” meeting with SWMNBN. Obviously I knew that the meeting was in the offing, but confirmation of the date still put a dampener on my mood and I’m already starting to obsess about what I am going to say and feel defensive about my recent progress. It’s definitely going to be a hot topic in my upcoming career development talk.

“Celebrity” Big Brother.

The arrival of the Bride of Frankenstein aka Jackie Stallone, in the BB house has caused a serious stir. It’s rare that I feel any sympathy for the publicity-seeking inmates of the BB house, but I do feel that placing Brigitte Nielsen’s former mother-in-law in the house with her was a real low blow. It’s obviously deeply upset Brigitte and is very cruel. As funny as it seemed at first (and it has to be said that Jackie is very funny in a “howling at the moon, inhabiting her own planet” kind of way), I have started to change my mind. As Brigitte pointed out, it took her many years to get over her divorce to Sly and the press are going to have a field day raking over 20 year old wounds.

The stunt was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Germaine, who finally walked. Shame really, she was certainly one of the more interesting housemates. John has broken his sulk however, and is back to his outrageous self. However, he ably proved to be utterly without a sense of self-ridicule after the boys played a practical joke on him, pretending that BB had locked his hard won diet coke in the fridge. To their credit, Jeremy et al refused to back down and accept that the joke wasn’t funny. I suspect that John may feel even more humiliated when he watches the videos back and sees what a twat he has been. On a related note, Jeremy’s lack of presence in the house seems to be helping him – he is now the bookies favourite to win.

I’ve broken my new toy :-(
I’ve .owned this laptop for 6 weeks – and already I am having to get it ready to send back to Tiny for repair The network card has inexplicably stopped working. Unfortunately, being a laptop I am not allowed to open the case and have a play inside. Fortunately, the wireless card still works, so I have set up a temporary peer to peer network in the lab to allow me to share the internet connection of one of the lab’s other laptops. Rather annoyingly, I don’t have administrator privileges meaning that I can’t change the power saving settings, so the work machine keeps on going into hibernate mode and I keep on losing the connection. Grrrr! At the moment I am communicating with Tiny via email since I refuse to pay £1/min (including 15 minutes on hold!) to arrange for their shoddy workmanship to be repaired. Having my own laptop has revolutionised work. No more fighting over the sole computer with quantitative PCR software installed and no more need to use Pegasus Mail, the shittest excuse for an email client since the telegram. Say what you will about Microsoft, but Outlook pisses on the competition. It is also compatible with my smartphone, so I can keep all of my contacts and calendar items synchronised by simply charging the phone.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Back at work

Yuck. Yesterday was my first day back at work. I managed to stay awake and strolled into work a little before 10. In my lab that is largely regarded as "the crack of dawn" so I felt rather proud of myself. Of course I wasn't the earliest, and the first thing I did after getting through the security doors (naturally I had left my security card at home and my locker key) was join 3 exhausted looking colleagues for nice cup of coffee. They too were on their first day back and after being in work for almost 30 minutes were recharging with caffeine and wishing they were back in bed.

Obviously the firs thing to do after coffee was plug in the laptop and open my email... 69 new emails. Joy. My Dad of course scoffed at this - after all he had 250 when he opened his mail after christmas - but I'm not a middle manager and actually have to work for a living. Email is supposedly a useful communication tool for me, not my raison d'etre. Half of the mails I had already read, since I forward stuff to my hotmail account. Most of the rest had been filtered by hotmail as junk - and rightly so. Remember I said that I hadn't received any Nigerian begging letters or won any lotteries lately? Wrong - they just hadn't made it past the filters. Naturally the University doesn't filter mail so they were all waiting for me. Most amusing was the $100,000 I won in the "Mother Theresa Games" - which conjured up images of a raison in a habit doing the long jump.

Well, the rumours are true. SWMNBN is hoping to move to the office by our lab. When I started this job I was aware that SWMNBN was... difficult... to work for. But I comforted myself with the knowledge that she worked on the otherside of campus with her own group and our paths would cross once every couple of months. Well that was a naive thought. Our "progress" meetings have escalated in frequency to once every 3 weeks on average, meaning that if experiments don't work first time (all too common I'm afraid) there is no time to correct the problems and repeat things - leaving me feeling like a slightly backward chimp as I try to spin things in a positive light. Having grown accustomed to the "tell me what you are going to do and let me know how it went" style of management practised by my PhD supervisor, the "we are having a meeting on this arbritary date and I expect results" style of management was something of a culture shock. Now that SWMNBN's lab has shrunk from several postgrads and postdocs to Me, myself and I it looks like micromanagement from over my left shoulder will be the order of the day for 2005. Time to dust of the CV...

The rest of the day wasn't too bad. At the moment I am remaking some engineered yeast strains which I inadvertantly killed before christmas. I see no reason to bother SWMNBN with this cockup, I think I'll just discretely recreate them. Moral of the story? Freeze all new strains immediately in long term storage instead of leaving them on agar plates on the bench to die. Bugger.

The rest of the day was spent trying to find a comprehensible, lead-me-by-the-hand, website explaining how to perform the statistical test ANOVA. I used to have a great little book aimed at A level biologists (High school level for non-Brits) that showed how to perform all manner of basic statistical tests. Some would argue that a book that explained basic maths with examples such as "Ranjit and Selena were catching insects down by the river..." and showed their working could be a little patronising for someone with a doctorate in molecular biology - but the damn thing proved so popular that some bugger "borrowed it" and I can't find it.

Good news however on the insomnia front. I nodded off shortly before midnight last night and am sitting here refreshed at 7am. Looks like I am going to shock my colleagues again by coming into work before 10am for the second day in a row. Wonder how long I can keep it up?

"Celebrity" Big Brother
I was asleep before the live feed so I have no idea how the new housemate is faring. In what may well be a stroke of genius, big brother has thrown a ninth housemate into the mix. The 71 year old astrologer and pet psychic... Jackie Stallone. Yep, Brigitte's former mother-in-law. The 2 haven't spoken since 1987 apparently, when Brigitte and Sly divorced. The woman is patently mad as a hatter, and apparently capable of telling a person's fortune by looking at their arses. You couldn't make this stuff up. Apart from the obvious frition between the former relatives (Jackie wished for Brigitte to fall in an earthquake crater apparently), I look forward to some fireworks between her and his sulkiness John. Kenzie looked shell-shocked and Germaine looked as if she had just fallen through the looking glass. Bez seemed unaffected, he probably assumed it was just a drug flashback and she'd be gone in the morning.

BBC Online


Monday, January 10, 2005

Microsoft AntiSpyware is officially crap

OK, so I've just downloaded and installed Microsoft's new anti-Spyware tool. Its still officially Beta-test, and by the results so far it has a hell of a lot of work necessary before it is of any use. I use the internet for both banking and shopping, so I am always keen to ensure that both my desktop and laptop are free of spyware and viruses. Like all microsoft products, it's attractive and has lots of buttons to press and twiddle - and doesn't do anything of value that free software already available can't do much better. I scanned my laptop - deep scan all disks and memory. After grinding away it finally highlighted a solitary bit of spyware - one of those irritating things that hijack your browser to make you use their search engine rather than the one that you have set as your default. That's it. Nothing else.

I have Download accelerator plus intalled - I know for a fact that it comes bundled with a shitload of adware, but I put up with it since the program won't work without it. Sure enough, a scan with spybot search & destroy identified a further 37 threats. Half of these were tracking cookies, browser extensions and other miscellany in addition to DAP. I deleted them. I then ran ad-aware and identified a further 60 tracking cookies which I also deleted. Some of these programs were listed as High-priority. Why the hell didn't MS pick them up? Microsoft are rumoured to be considering charging for the service in the future. You're going to have to do a hell of a lot better than that Bill to get my money!

"Celebrity" Big Brother
Well, as promised I have been watching the Z-listers as they sit around and drink booze. First impressions don't appear to have been too far off the mark. John McCirick is even worse than I first thought, the man really is a boor of the worst kind. At first I thought that maybe he was playing up to the camera - but his outbursts are too frequent and spontaneous to be anything but real - he really is a class A misogynistic twat. How his wife "Booby" has put up with him all of these years is a great mystery. His fellow housemates are all fully disgusted with his attitude and quite rightly so. Brigitte in particular has been the brunt of some seriously below the belt jabs. It looks like the housemates are going to grant his wishes and nominate him ASAP. But I have news for them, the British public love nothing more than an arsehole revealing his true colours on TV - unless it comes down to a vote between him and either of the totty, he'll be kept in for entertainment value alone.

Caprice is essentially harmless. She's unlikely to be visiting Sweden to receive a medal off the King anytime soon, but she's pleasant enough and easy on the eye. She'll do well. Germaine is the mother of the group. She has bonded well with most of them, particularly Bez and Kenzie, who despite (or because of) them being the thickest of the bunch are quite taken with her and seem to be enjoying her more intelligent brand of small talk. Kenzie is a typical pleasant 15 year old (yes I know he's 19, but he's in a boy band - hardly designed to stimulate neural growth). He's doing his best to get on with everyone. Bookies have him as favourite to win - probably a reasonable bet.

Brigitte seems to have calmed down. I guess whatever she took before she went in has worked its way throughher system now. Lisa is irritatingly bossy and definately thinks more of herself than any one else. Jeremy seems to have gone AWOL.

Back to work
Yup, the loafing is officially over - back to work this morning. Resetting my biological clock has been a dismal failure. I just hope I can resist temptation and stay awake for the next few hours before going into work. Once I'm there I'll be fine and hopefully I will nod off tonight at a decent hour. It'll be nice to see my workmates again after the christmas break. However, my to do list is scarily large and a "progress" meeting with "She Who Must Not Be Named" (herein referred to as SWMNBN) is looming on the horizon. The fact that I haven't been in work for 3 weeks is unlikely to be regarded as adequate excuse for a lack of positive results. After all, working 80 hour weeks doesn't satisfy her so how the next meeting will go is anyone's guess. No doubt I will vent my spleen in the near future.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

As promised, a few Blogs I like

Well here are a few that have caught my eye over the last few weeks.

The Policeman's Blog
This is the first blog that I seriously perused after seeing it on the BBC online website In fact it finally crystallised a growing idea and made me sign up to blogger. Its amusing and provides a cynical look on policing that the Bill etc just don't give. He's a little pro-Gun for my tastes, I suspect that if he lived surrounded by the fuckwits I do he might not be so keen to let them own a gun. I mean its bad enough that criminals have the bloody things - but if some of my neighbours, who are too dumb to get hold of one illegally, were able to buy them as easily as in the US... god help us all!

Random Acts Of Reality :: Main Page
Another blog featured in the BBC article, this one charts the life of a London Ambulance Driver. As cynical as the Policeman's blog, with obvious similarities of course, it still gives an often humerous insight into a side of life most of us would rather not have to experience first hand. Most amusing though are some of the commenters who fail to notice that 95% of the people discussing the issues raised in the posts are medical professionals and so, despite not having any medical knowledge in the slightest, are willing to chip in and give advice. I suspect that most of us have a friend like that...

JonnyB's private secret diary
This is briliant. Its a great blog charting life's inanities from a man in Norfolk. Wonderfully written, it conjours images almost of John Peel or The Royle Family. I've read all the archives and laughed at every one of them.

the mighty crumb
Very witty and amusing blog, the perfect partner for JonnyB's diary above. Particularly amusing is "The Friday Fuckwit". I've read about half of his archives so far and have yet to find a nomination I disagree with.

HE LOOKS LIKE.... The Morbid Game of Psychoanalyzing Strangers in Pictures
Cruel and unnecessary site taking the piss out of total strangers - I highly recommend!

Randomly perusing the Blogosphere

Well, tonight I have been randomly scanning the outpourings of my fellow bloggers, by means of the "Next Blog" button. I probably clicked that little button a couple of hundred times finding the great, the good, the scary, the weird and the incomprehensible. The main reason I guess was to get some ideas for what I can do to liven my own site up. I was also curious to see how long (on average) it would take for my own blog to appear. Actually, that was the primary reason, but since that sounds rather arrogant and egotistical I decided to try and claim I did it for sensible reasons.

I've garnered quite a few nice ideas that I will adapt/shamelessly plagiarise in the near future. However, since praising people is not my style, I have instead decided to bitch about things I don't like. Of course I have no intention of being crass enough to name names - particularly since I've been here less than a week and am using a free template...

1) Removing the NavBar so the nextblog button disappears. It seems rather bad manners that if someone else is able to find your blog randomly, not to extend the courtesy. It also means that I had to move the mouse pointer to navigate back to the preceding page. I am lazy, I don't like to do that.

2) Which brings me on to my second gripe. Twenty minute page transitions. OK a bit of an exageration, but I have a 2Mbit connection (nyah nyah nyah) and am used to instant gratification. Nothing is worse than having to sit through an excrutiatingly slow page transition before I can even hit the Next Blog button. This is doubly irritating if you have just had to return to the page because the next blog had no nav bar (see above).

3) Unreadable fonts. I'm not talking about other languages, after all I don't expect my browser to correctly parse simplified chinese or Hebrew (although I was a little surprisd to see it did understand Arabic, don't recall installing that - oh well, if I'm feeling generous I can lend my laptop to my muslim friend). Indeed the blogs I refer to often have page elements, such as the profile, written in english. Rather I'm talking about people who use obscure fonts that only 3 computers in the world can read (and 2 of those belong to the font's author). I even saw one where the blogger had reduced the fontsize of the default font to 6 point to fit more on a page. Ouch! Disability legislation obviously hasn't reached blogger yet!

4) Dialog boxes when you leave the site. This is so not funny when you only changed your virus scanning software this week and the Dialog box informs you that you have just downloaded a virus. Oh Ha Ha Ha! My sides were splitting! And 5 boxes in a row, each one with an increasingly inane message, is just bad manners.

Next Post will include blogs that I actually like!

Friday, January 07, 2005

Blade Trinity - well that's killed the franchise!

Well, continuing my life of loafing, I decided to go into town to spend some vouchers and go to the cinema. Of course, after choosing a couple of new pairs of jeans and a scarf then queuing to buy them, I discovered much to my embarrassment that Debenhams is one of the few stores that my "Highstreet shopping vouchers" aren't valid in. Doh! Nevermind, I'm sure that I'll find a use for them somewhere. On a more positive note, I managed to buy Lost in Translation, Starsky and Hutch and Donnie Darko for £20 in HMV - not bad at all. Now I just have to figure out what the hell I'm going to spend £35 of NEXT vouchers on. Maybe they'll find their way into somebody else's birthday card....

Blade Trinity

Bloody hell, what a waste of 2 hours of my life! OK, fair enough, the first 2 films hardly had Wesley Snipes skipping down the red carpet clutching his Oscar acceptance speech - but still, the films are great fun after a couple of beers. There was so much wrong with this film, its difficult to know where to start:
The Acting:
Even by Snipes' modest standards, he really phoned in his performance on this one. He just delivered his lines and hid behind his sunglasses. I've seen more conviction and passion from the bored college kids that have been performing in the attractions at EuroDisney 5 times a day all summer. Kris Kristofferson was just bored by the whole affair and obviously there just to pick up his cheque and fulfill his contractural obligations. Parker Posey (and the rest of her gang) didn't know if she was meant to be evil or camp and so cleverly combined the two to give us Widow Twanky plays Count Duckula... Bad Bad Bad. Jessica Biel did sultry quite well - but then that's hardly difficult, since she'd raise my pulse rate dressed in a dirty apron asking if I would like chilli sauce and salad on my donner kebab. The guy who played Drake delivered a performance worthy of Arnie - before he came to Hollywood! Perhaps the only person worth praise is Hannibal King who delivers his many quips with excellent comic timing. He alone of all the cast seems to be giving it his all. Natasha Lyonne is criminally wasted - I hope she at least got paid well, because she won't be reminiscing proudly about this film in the old people's home.

The Story:
Very simple and straightforward with absolutely no twists and turns to keep the audience guessing. Sure, its an action movie but that's no excuse to give us a plot that could be written on the back of a serviette - after you've scrunched it up and used it to wipe the chins of newly weaned triplets with a dribble problem.

Cinematic masturbation. 'scuse my French, but that's the only way to describe it. Overly long, lingering shots of Blade looking mean and frankly boring, uninspired and repetitive fighting scenes.

Granted I was tired, having been awake for 20 hours at this point but I simply lost the will to keep my eyes open. Eventually I figured that nobody was near enough to be disturbed if the odd snore slipped out. The final fight went on for so long and should have finished so many times that I just wanted to leave.

All in all 1/5 - not quite as bad as Resident Evil but probably on a par with KillBill Volume 1.

Oh well - plenty more films are coming out over the next few weeks. Maybe I'll see if anyone wants to go this weekend.

"Celebrity" Big Brother

Well, the experiment in resetting my biological clock was a resounding... failure! I nodded off at about noon on the sofa and reawoke stiff and grumpy at 8pm. I am definitely nocturnal now! I'll try again today.

One advantage of a semi-nocturnal existence is that I get to watch late-night crap on TV. And I'm amply served by the start of another series of "Celebrity" Big Brother. Well, the first thing to note is the bizarre and weird selection of so-called celebrities that they have picked this year. It really beggars belief what some of these people were thinking.

I tuned in a little late and snorted half a can of Pepsi Max out of my nose when I recognised the well-known feminist author and academic Germain Greer. WTF?! Dr Greer is a regular on highbrow cultural and political shows such as Latenight Review - what on earth is she doing on tawdry trash like Celebrity Big Brother? I can only assume that the good doctor has decided to write a book on the subject and as such has blagged her way onto the show to get first hand data. It is also well known that she eschews underwear - that horrifying thought has left me cold and sweating and not in a good way.

No doubt the subject of a chapter all of his own in Greer's book is the horse racing pundit John McCririck. Gems from this phenomenally hirsute troll so far have included the eating of one's own snot as a medical cure-all; how attractive women have it easy and that men should only date ugly birds. This particular point was aimed squarely at the model Caprice. If it turns out that she is more than just a bimbo (she's obviously the token totty), I am going to be hard pressed to predict if she or Germaine will be the first to castrate him. Well done Big Brother - you've certainly guaranteed fireworks (and no doubt a lucrative column in a lads mag for McCririck).

Another surprising contestant is the actor Jeremy Edwards. Whilst he may no longer be in Holby City, I always thought his star was in ascendency - can we assume that he is no longer in demand? Obviously the token male totty (Davina may well have ejaculated when he hugged her) I was a little disapointed to see that he has obviously fallen on hard times - well good luck Jeremy, hopefully the career won't be too badly mangled bythe stigma of BB. On the bright side, the tabloids get an excuse to publish pictures of his ex-girlfriend Rachel Stevens - I expect she will be falling out of her dress in front of the papparazzi sometime before the News of the World goes to press this sunday.

Sometimes actress and full-time roadcrash Brigitte Nielsen is having another go in the UK, after being voted out first in her native Denmark. She has already promised (threatened?) that her towel will go missing in the sauna. The woman is a walking advert for why women with implausibly large breast implants shouldn't automatically get them replaced as they get older. Her pneumatic pumpkins were just about tolerable back in the days of Red Sonja when the rest of her was similarly voluptuous - now however she has chicken legs and too much botox and just looks like she is about to fall over. It will be interesting to see how much of her "personality" is an act and how much is bona fide psychosis.

The remainder fall well into the "Who the fuck are they" category of celebrity. First up is Bez of Happy Mondays "Fame". Bez is the next door neighbour of Shaun Ryder, and became the Monday's official Mascot when it was noticed that he dances like an absolute twat. This cunningly distracts attention from both the Happy Monday's godawful music and Shaun Ryder's singular lack of sex appeal as a frontman. Bez's sole creative input appears to be playing the maracas. Whether the mike in front of him was ever turned on will forever remain one of those unanswered musical questions, along with "did they plug Linda McCartney's synthesizer in when she played with Wings?" and "Will Victoria Beckham ever get the hint?". He is now a professional Mancunian and suffers from the same speach impediment as Ozzy Osbourne, Shaun Ryder and Shane McGowan.

Lisa I'Anson, it is said, left Radio 1 in 1999 after missing her show because she partied too hard the night before in Ibiza. I grew out of Radio 1 shortly after entering puberty (that may have been because I saw a photo of what the sultry-voiced Liz off the Bruno Brookes show actually looked like - it put me off my stride for weeks). Therefore I have no idea who she is and care even less. Her promo video showed her pretending to do kick boxing and talking about how she knows she is sexy. With no work of note for 5 years I am at least glad to see she that she has kind friends and family who are willing to lie to her and make her feel good about herself.

Finally we have BB's youngest member (19 today - bless), Kenzie from Blazing squad. No I don't know who he/they are either. Blazing squad have 10 members, yet remarkably their combined age is still considerably less than that of the Rolling Stones. Since I am not a 14 year old girl (at least not outside of chatrooms) I don't know any more trivia about the band, nor did I recognise any of the songs BB played over his video. First impressions are that he is a pleasant enough young man, but (and this may just be his London accent) as dumb as a bag of spanners. I suspect he may try to win over fellow housemates my lending them his razor and shaving foam, since he probably doesn't need them. However, in the interests of health and safety he should probably keep them away from Caprice who has already cut herself with a razor. I would also give them to McCririck rather than lend them to him - I really wouldn't want them back - christ knows what you might catch.

Unless I suddenly get a life between now and next week, expect more commentary on how the housemates fare.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Damned Insomnia...

Well its 7am as I write this and I have been up all night cleaning my flat. I am one of those unfortunate souls whose body clock runs to its own, inexplicable diurnal rythmn. Since it is one of my new years resolutions to get into work before midday on most days - after a good nights sleep - I am in the process of resetting my errant sleep patterns by staying awake for more than 24 hours. I will hopefully nod off tonight at about midnight, awaking tomorrow at the same time as everyone else in this time zone.... we shall see.

As you can probably guess I am not back at work yet. I have decided to take some much needed R&R over the christmas break. The only holiday I have had this year was a few days in Paris over the summer. Owing to my inherent inability to record important events such as conferences in my diary, I rather cleverly booked my summer holiday to take place at the same time as an important conference - one which I had not only agreed to go to, but had already written a bloody abstract for! In the words of the philosopher Homer "Doh!". Obviously, by the time I had realised my error, had gotten their grubby little paws on my money and weren't about to give any back or let me change the dates. So not only did I have to miss 2 days in Paris, I also had to pay for a single return flight. Grrrr. Of course to add insult to injury I also missed an entire day sightseeing with a nasty bout of food poisoning. What's the matter with these bloody French - can't they cook properly?

Of course, the University is now officially open for business again - as witnessed by the torrent of undiluted crap that has poured into my email account since yesterday. On a cheerier note, I don't appear to have won any Dutch lotteries that I never entered nor do any illiterate Nigerians with the Capslock Key jammed on require my assistance (and a bank details) to help them embezzle hundreds of millions of dollars of international aid.

By the way, should you wish to respond to any of these begging letters in an appropriate manner (from a disposable email account of course - you don't want them to mark your normal account as "active" and flood you with porn), please feel free to use the following template:




Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Welcome one and all!

Welcome everyone to my first attempt at blogging. I'm a twenty-something English bloke living in the North West of our grey and dreary land. By day I am a biologist, cloistered in a dark corner of a well-respected English University. By night I am a sad and lonely bugger, with no responsibilities living 10 minutes from said University. I have no idea how often I will be updating or even what I want to say. Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to sharing my thoughts and rants about life, science and academia, whilst sounding off about what I've read or watched recently.



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