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Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Milk of Human Madness

Car lands in home's upper floor

Cracking photos on the BBC. It seems that last night a group of people in a BMW lost control and "Took off". The car crashed through the upper floor study of a couple's house in Hampshire. Mercifully, the couple were in the other bedroom at the time.

The police have said that the cause of the crash is under investigation. Now I don't want to pre-empt the findings of what will no doubt be a rigorous and professional investigation by Her Majesty's Constabulary - but I suspect that the cause of the accident will be attributed to "Driving like a Twat".

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Tuesday Twat(s)

No. 14. Rent-a-Reviewer

Right, this really pisses me off and turns me into the world's worst cynic. How the fuck, does even the worst ever movie manage to find a reviewer willing to give it 5 stars and spew more superlatives than Michael Jackson's personal arse-licker?

Take a truly dire movie. I mean fucking awful. Its had critics walking out, customers demanding a refund plus compensation for emotional trauma and the organising commitee of the Razzies dumbfounded and searching for a new award to present. It makes $35.52 at the US box office before finally hitting our shores preceded by sort of press that would normally greet the news that Gary Glitter has a new job as a school photographer.

"Fantastic! A must see film" News of the World.
"Surely, this year's Best motion picture academy award" The Sun.
"The best film in decades" Empire.

These are the sort of gold-lettered banners adorning the top of the posters for such shite as Gigli and Blade Trinity.

What the fuck? Who are these Twats reviewing the movie. Did they see it? You never hear of these august journals suing the studios, so one assumes that they aren't complete fabrications. A few years ago Sony was sued after it emerged that two, supposedly independent, reviewers were in fact employees of Sony. Yet the names attached to these reviewers are kosher film critics.

Now I realise that taste is a personal thing, but when every other critic and cinema-goer in the world is moved to tears by the sheer awfulness of the film - you have to ask, "was a blowjob involved"?

These reviews seem to be spread pretty evenly among all of the big names in film reviewing. It's almost as if they take turns. Do the features editors of these magazines meet with studio execs in a smoky room once a month and hammer out a deal?

Exec. "OK, we have a real turkey on our hands. Jaws 17 took negative money at the US box office, and its so dull even the French won't watch it. Who'll take this one?"

E! Online "Not our turn -Andy Jones agreed to call Resident Evil 'A killer thriller!', he's still getting his house fire-bombed twice a month and he has to employ a body double".

Cinefantastique. "We'll take this one, but the reviewer demands that he gets to run the casting couch for a film of his choice. And he refuses to actually see the film. Write the synopsis on the back of this matchbox and he'll deliver two gushing soundbites by the end of the week".

Exec. "Excellent. Who's going to give us 5 stars for Kill Bill Vol 3, there's a free car in it?"

Scraping of chairs and angry mutterings "Hey, we stil have some frigging morals".

So, this week's award goes to all of those "reviewers" who are willing to accept free invites to the pick of the parties at Cannes and the Oscars, in exchange for a part of their soul and a chance to help movie studios fleece Joe Public.



Make your own Tory Poster

Fun, Fun, Fun!

Why not Make your own Conservative campaign poster?

I got the idea from Oeillade's blog.

So, here's my modest effort.

And before you ask, there will be a Tuesday Twat, Mad Dog ;-)

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Are head transplants free on the NHS?

I'm not one to suffer from hangovers too often - mostly because I rarely drink to excess. Typically a pint of water, 2 ibuprofen and a long hot shower will banish any woolly headedness.

But not this morning. Oh boy, not this morning!

I went out to the pub last night, and decided that my drink of choice would be Budvar. This is the original Budweiser, brewed in the Czech Republic for centuries, until an American brewer decided to mix diluted sheep piss with barley and steal the name. After an unwise amount, it was time for a curry, complete with pints of Cobra. I awoke this morning fully clothed, with my shoes still on, lying atop the bed sheets. And possibly the worst headache I have ever had. Indeed, when I stumbled into the bathroom to get a glass of water and some asprin, I was amazed upon looking in the mirror that there was no outside evidence of the traumatic brain damage I apparently suffered duting the night. I expected at the very least to see evidence of the baseball bat that had apparently thumped me repeatedly between the eyes. Perhaps a tyre track going across my forehead?

I lay back on the bed and closed my eyes. The throbbing in my head allowed me to count out my pulse. After almost an hour there was no improvement. Bugger the instructions, I went and got 2 heavy duty paracetemol/aspirin pills. I decided to get undressed - I got my trousers down as far as my ankles but ran out of steam and couldn't face bending over to unlace my shoes. Fuck it, I thought and just lay back on my bed. It's probably just as well that I live on my own. People may have got the wrong idea.

It took over 3 hours for the pain to subside. I would have cried but that frankly would have hurt also.

So I have learnt my lesson. Time to be more sensible. Don't go for a curry.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Noting my particulars

Its job hunting time! WooHoo!

So far, I have identified precisely 1 job that I am interested in. The deadline is this week, so I have dusted off my CV (resume to those over the lake), drafted a suitably grovelling cover letter and downloaded the University's standard application form.

The form is an object lesson in political correctness (and bad design). It runs to 3 pages.
Page 1 is all about little old me. Who I am, where I live and whether I am getting it on a regular basis (or failing that, married).
Page 2 contains space for 3 referees. Fortunately, only 2 are required, so I won't be asking for a glowing reference from SWMNBN! If the interviewer asks why I have only volunteered 2 and not included my 3rd supervisor, I can say with all honesty that I have never physically worked under the supervision of SWMNBN, so she didn't seem appropriate. Our experimental officer has known me for years, and drunkenly agreed to do the honours if necessary at the conference last week, if a 3rd referee is required.

Page 3 is a hoot. Its detachable and "purely for statistical purposes". Three-quarters of the page is taken up by tick boxes describing my ethnicity. At the end of it it says "Other". Over the years I have worked with something like 40 nationalities and am aquaintances with a similar number more. Just about every single one of them was covered and more. I would dearly love to know just what people would write in the "Other" box. Klingon?

The last question cracked me up though: "Do you consider yourself to be disabled?".
I was so tempted to write "No, I firmly believe that more than one of each limb is excessive and wasteful".

My biggest gripe though is that we are encouraged to fill in the forms and send them by email. Suits me, I am forever trying to lick those new adhesive stamps so pressing "Send" is a far tastier option. Unusually, the employer have had the foresight to supply the form as a Word document. But the mindset is still very much that of a handwritten form. Most of the options are tick boxes, requiring me to make a tick mark drawing object (Word doesn't have one strangely). They also ask for your Signature at the end.

Oh well. If I get offered an interview I'll keep you posted. Meanwhile the search continues...

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Heil Papa!

Ok, Ok, cheap gag I know.

The Cardinals have voted and we have a new Pope. Or more likely, more of the same. Step forward, Cardinal Ratzinger - or Benedict 16 to his mates. Hoping for a more progresive papacy was probably a bit much to hope for, given that PJP2 elected practically all of the Cardinals voting, but it would seem that if his past form is anything to go by, BXVI will be a huge step backwards.

Jokes about his Hitler Youth connections are probably a bit unfair. Joining the Hitler Youth was pretty much mandatory back in those days and kids were signed up by the class-load for what at first glance seemed little more than Germany's answer to the Boy scouts. To his credit, he refused to join the Nazi party and defected from the German army during the war. His 25 year friendship with the Pole PJP2 suggests that he wasn't a Nazi by nature. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt on that.

But, unless he has a complete volte face, he is going to be a real hardline bigotted bastard.
Condoms to Africa to combat AIDS?
Nope, not a chance. Everyone knows that God thinks contraception is more dangerous than HIV.
Acceptance of homosexuals as equals?
Nope. God hate's fags. He may have made them and they may be doing nothing to harm anyone, but they'll still burn in hell. Although it must be noted that He is infinitely forgiving when it comes to buggering choir boys.
Reaching out to other faiths?
Courting the Lutherian's aside, BXVI believes that Judaism lacks that certain something - namely christianity. I shudder to think what he thinks of Islam.
Women Priests?
Women have a special role in the church. Namely doing the cleaning after mass.

Well, at the risk of condemning my eternal soul to the fiery pits of damnation (and I once vistited Bilbao before it became the European city of Culture, so I know what hell is) - role on the next conclave, and see if you can't take a little longer next time boys.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Tuesday Twat(S)

No. 13. Spendaholics.

OK, this one really gets my goat. The BBC has a show about spendaholics. Being in the "dead zone" - that dreadful TV period between 7 and 9 pm when it's wall to wall home-makeovers and soaps, I don't watch it very often. But I've seen about 3 of these shows and they get my blood boiling.

The format is simple. Somebody with a stonking amount of debt and no common-sense whatsoever is given a lifestyle makeover by a couple of financial experts. I can't fault these experts. I reserve my wrath for the stupid fuckers on the show.

These people have 10's of thousands of pounds worth of debt. Now I'm not talking about unfortunate people who have lost their job, or been the victim of tragic circumstances. No, I'm talking about people who take home £375 per week - but spend £750 per week on clothes, clubbing, alloy wheels for their top-range BMW and CDs - not including their mortgage etc. They borrow money off relatives and pretty soon end up owing £46,000 (£23,000 to their parents), like the stupid bint on last night's show.

A good case in point. A young woman working as a bus supervisor (you know, those morons that stand on the side of the road in a fluorescent jacket at the bus stop). I worked out that my take-home-pay is about 60 percent more than hers. How is it then that she feels able to spend 30 time as much as I do on CDs, clothes and shoes?

Sure, we all have months where the outgoings are more than the incomings - but when money is tight do we go and buy 3 pairs of £100 trainers (sneakers to those over the pond). Do we spend £200 on CDs? How about going out to a night club and buying all of your mates their drinks for the evening? Do you then go and badger your Mum - who earns less than you do and runs her own house - to lend you money?

I suspect not.

It's the breathtaking arrogance that gets me. They seem to see it all as a big joke. Their parents and loved ones are beside themselves with worry as their little darlings repeatedly open new credit cards and run up the maximum debt. One man, very clearly was responsible for his father's stroke, and eventual death. No question. Bastard.

Now I am, perhaps somewhat sartorially challenged - but even so I am horrfied when they open their wardrobe doors. The aforementioned bus supervisor had boxes upon boxes of expensive trainers, many never worn. The woman on the TV last night claimed to have a phobia of sales - so would think nothing of spending £40 on plain white T-shirt. She also had 5 identical pairs of soft shoes - 1 for walking on concrete, 1 for walking on sand, 1 for best, 1 for best best etc etc.

The credit card firms have to shoulder some of the blame of course. They happily give them cards with £5,000 or more credit limits and don't seem to care that the twat in question already has 10 or even 20 other cards maxed out, which they are not paying the minimum monthly fee on.

But ultimately, its all down to these selfish half-witted morons, who earn a decent wage (some earn a good bit more than I do) yet spend like Elton John.

So here is SaneScientist's top tip for financial stability. When your bank statement comes, look at the number that says "Outgoing". Compare it to the number that says "Incoming". If it is bigger - don't go fucking clothes shopping unless you have nothing without holes in it.

Thank you for your attention.


Monday, April 18, 2005

Back on t'interweb

Well I didn't have my internet connection cut-off... but I may be responsible for bringing down the internet connection for my whole building. Because my building has its own ISP, whose support staff work office hours and don't posses an answer phone (I kid you not), by the time folks got home from work and found the connection was dead - that was it until monday morning.

I was relieved to find out that the whole building was offline, and they hadn't just cut me off. But I felt that I would probably be about as popular as Michael Jackson shopping in Mothercare if I mentioned it to any of my neighbours. So I just nodded sympathetically and cursed our ISP. Still 3 Megabits for £25/month, can't complain too loudly.

I have a new toy. I've just bought a shiny new digital TV tuner for my laptop. Even running off the supplied internal aerial I can pick up just about every channel I think that I am entitled to, but occassionally the picture jitters a bit, so I'll get an extension lead I think. The picture quality is superb - sadly it doesn't improve the programme quality. ITV2 and ITV3 appear to be entirely made up of repeats or "extended coverage" of reality TV shows. Unfortunately the channels worth watching - like E4 - aren't on FreeView so I can't watch Smallville or other good dramas without having to wait for 12 months.

The best bit is that it can work as a TIVO/Sky+ box. I'm pausing Little Britain as I write this just because. And had I been a little quicker with the rewind button I could have been selling high-Quality MPEG movies of Paula Radcliffe to golden shower officianados yesterday morning.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Woopsie! Can you get banned from the BBC for bandwidth abuse?


Have you ever thought just how cool it would be to get on a train, unpack your laptop and spend the whole journey surfing the BBC news website?

No, probably not - but that's the sort of thing that gets me excited.

Since I am reluctant to pay Orange or Vodafone oodles of money to buy a 3G network card, the next best thing is to download the site and peruse it offline at your leisure. It won't be completely up to date obviously, but then most newspapers are almost 24 hours out of date by the time I get to read them, so just a few hours old will be a big improvement.

To that end, I downloaded an off-line browser from

Being a typical British bloke, I express multiple copies of the arrogance gene when it comes to anything technical. I have 2 degrees, a brown belt in karate and a Boyscouts Master Seaman's badge - why would I want or need to read the instructions or help files?

So I installed the software. Dead simple. Input the URL and clicked start. It was late, so when I figured it was working, I just put the computer to one side to let it chunter away.

Some hours later I awoke. It had stopped downloading. Rather worryingly it had stopped downloading, not because it had finished, but because the rickety old PC that acts as my wireless internet connection had fallen over - again. Probably just as well. For in my haste I had not thought to specifiy the links depth that the program should download from. i.e when downloading the data how many times should it follow links? The program downloaded the News Frontpage. It then downloaded each story linked to on the front page. It then followed the links from each of those stories, then the links from those stories....

After downloading 500 MEGABYTES of stories, my PC crashed. Had it not done the decent thing and fallen over, I could quite conceivably ended up hosting the entire BBC online website going back to 1997 on my laptop's hard drive.

OOOOhh Mr Popular.... I await an angry email from either my ISP or the BBC wondering if I am taking the piss.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Oooh a bit political...

Nods to SouthernBird for the Link.

Who Should You Vote For?

Who should I vote for?

Your expected outcome:


Your actual outcome:

Labour -8
Conservative -35
Liberal Democrat 43
UK Independence Party -11
Green 24

You should vote: Liberal Democrat

The LibDems take a strong stand against tax cuts and a strong one in favour of public services: they would make long-term residential care for the elderly free across the UK, and scrap university tuition fees. They are in favour of a ban on smoking in public places, but would relax laws on cannabis. They propose to change vehicle taxation to be based on usage rather than ownership.

Take the test at Who Should You Vote For


On balance, its not too far off the mark. My loyalties are torn between Labour and the Lib Dems. I am leaning more to Labour as I am not sure that the Lib Dems are ready for government yet. I will need to research my local candidates more and double-check that I am not in a tactical voting area. The worst possible outcome would be the Tories coming back to power - and for that reason alone the Lib Dems have my full support. I would like to see a Labour government with a strong Lib Dem opposition to make them more accountable. Hopefully the Tories will crawl back in the hole they came from. Jokers.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Things wot I learnt today

30ml Plastic bottles don't "do" heat sterilisation.

I'll leave it you to figure out which one is before and which one is after... The cap still unscrews though.

The Tuesday Twat(s)

Number 12. Daytime chat shows.

A few years ago, Jerry Springer hit UK TVs. As a science student, I didn't get to watch much TV during the day (Y'know lectures, labs, library - boring stuff like that). However, I would occassionally catch it. My flatmates and I would sit, mouths agape at the lowlife scum who would parade themselves across the screen. Every so often, we would glance at each other knowingly - American civilisation (such that it is) was fucked. In fifty years we reckoned, the US would be asking, no begging to be readmitted to the British Empire before she collapsed into a filthy incestous morass of inbreeding and animal-bothering. We felt a little smug.

Then Vanessa came along. In horror we realised that it wasn't just the US that was afflicted by these people - we even had them blighty too! An endless parade of chavs and no-hopers with an unmatched set of chromosomes, from the sort of council estates that probaby don't appear on census forms for fear of future historians taking the piss. Shit! And it wasn't just Vanessa, Tricia Goddard soon took up the mantle after Vanessa got fired for booking fakes on to her show.

Tricia is repeated late at night, and being a chronic insomniac I occassionally watch it when I get bored of GCSE bitesize on BBC2. Things haven't improved. So who are the twats here? The shameless pondlife who appear on these shows? The producers who book them and think up titles such as "My husband was my sister and now he's sleeping with his stepson"? The presenters who preside over these zoos and patronisingly encourage the participants to sink to ever greater depths? Or we the viewing public and the studio audience for watching this shit?

The question that always bothers me is - where do they get these twats? What posseses a person to pick up the phone and ring. Why do they have such little self-respect? All families have their shamefull and embarassing secrets, from my mate's senile grandmother who likes to run naked down the street, to my cousin who once voted Conservative. Most people don't share these secrets with their closest friends let alone 2 million TV viewers. Is the TV studio's hospitality that good? Why in the name of all that is holy, would you pick up the phone and dial the number on the screen?
"Hey honey, do you remember the time that you came home from work early to find me sodomising the dog - Tricia's doing a show on animal-loving. Shall we go on and tell everyone?"
What do friends, neighbours and relatives think of this? Are they mortally embarrased to be associated with these deviants, or does the instant celebrity that comes from 15 minutes fame outweigh that? How the fuck would you walk down the street after confessing to sleeping with your step-daughter? Rent a Woody Allen film for inspiration I suppose.

The most bizarre of these freaks are those that seem to be expecting absolution from the studio audience. They call their girlfriend on to the show - and rather stupidly she agrees. Despite it not being Valentine's day, she seems to think that appearing on a show entitled "I just got the missus' best mate pregnant!" may result in good news! After the gentleman in question has explained the situation to the slack-jawed audience and the shit-stirring host - how the best mate fell for his burberry baseball cap and fake gold necklace and screwed him in the back of his Ford Fiesta - the cross-eyed girlfriend is called from backstage. Understandably a little peeved and teary eyed, she calls her mate a whore and him a bastard. The audience are whooping like babboons shown a photo of a large red arse. At this point during Jerry Springer, a large black girl with humungous tits will usually stand up and scream "You Go girl! He don got no respec for yo!"- in Tricia, an elderly lady who thought she was here to watch Countdown being filmed, will stand up and tell her to find a nice young man with a good job. Chav and Chavess will be put out by this, expressing surprise that she doesn't wish them all the best and that the audience aren't having a go at her for being so bloody unreasonable.

The episode will usually be concluded with the dumpee saying that she should have listened to her mum, and the mums of his other 5 children and stayed clear of him.

I wonder if they declare the appearance money when they pick up their unemployment benefit the following week - yeah right!

Twats the lot 'em.


Sunday, April 10, 2005


Well, I had to go open my big mouth on Jill Twiss' blog and suggest that she add a sidebar with her upcoming comedy gigs. She agreed it was a good idea - but said she didn't know how to do it. Well neither did I, so I figured it was a good excuse to learn and do something that I had been thinking about for a while - thus to the left you will see an extremely exciting list of the crap currently jamming the pockets of my lab coat. I did consider listing the different stains on my lab coat, but most are unidentifiable and probably unpleasant.

The help section on blogger suggests that a potential method would be to create a second blog, but it looked far too complicated, so instead I went for the free tool Sideblog.

The principle is quite straight forward and not dissimilar to blogrolling or blogging brits for example. You create an account with sideblog then copy and paste the single line of code they supply into your blog template. I've inserted mine in between the blogging brits code and the Links code to my Tuesday Twats archives. To update the post, you simply log on to Sideblog and post. If its going to be a regularly changed and updated post, such as a list of gigs or your pocket contents, then you can simply edit an existing post, rather than create a new one.

Despite the exhortations of the Sideblog creator, it isn't quite that straight forward.

Firstly, the page that gives you the code recommends that you edit your CSS classes. Like most people I haven't the faintest clue what that means so I didn't bother. However, it does mean that your post is initially just a long line of text with no formatting.

So here are a few things that I have found by trial and error.
You can make the post title fit in with your existing blog style by adding the header tag that your other titles are using.
Thus, my post title is [h6]Contents of My Lab Coat Pockets[/h6], which makes it the same as my Tuesday Twat title. Replace the [] brackets with angled brackets.
To format within your post, use standard html tags. For example to make a list, you will need to use [br] instead of just pressing the Return key. I imagine that [b]bold[/b], [i]italic[/i] etc will work as well (I haven't tried yet).

I'm still playing around. For example, I got the blue text by using [h5] [/h5] either side of my post's text. h5 is a custom colour I designed, however if you go to the top of your blogger template, you should see the different [h] tags defined for your template, in a long list. Different templates are different (eg Jill's is a nice collection of blues) but [h1] and [h2] are usually huge so steer clear of them, but try using [h4] or maybe one of the other tags.

If you are having trouble, leave a comment - you never know I might be able to help. Failing that I'll make sympathetic noises and put the kettle on.

Sideblog will also allow you to insert links in blogger format. I have simply cut and pasted my Tuesday Twat Archives from my template and added them as a new post. I will still have to type them in each week, but it saves me having to edit my template directly. This opens the possibility of maintaining a second blogroll without having to pay for a Blogroll Gold account (yeah, yeah tight-fisted I know).

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Lady Lady Loving

I confess, I have this thing for Lesbians.

No, I'm not talking about getting off on watching 2 women doing the nasty (although I am a healthy red-blooded male). Nor am I one of those tossers who are convinced that an hour or so in the company of the good doctor will "cure" them of their "affliction".

No, rather I am an expert at trying to chat them up without realising.

A randomly chosen case in point from a few years ago:

We had been having a social at Uni for the PhD students one friday afternoon. After consuming all of the free booze in the refectory, we retired to the pub across the road. It was a pleasant summer evening and we basically carried on as we had in the refectory, standing around in the twilight, drinking and socialising. Being a naturally gregarious sort of chap (even more so after a snifter of brandy or two), I generally like to introduce myself to as many new people as I can. Now I had spotted this young lady a few weeks ago crossing the campus. It turns out that she's a biologist as well, and works in the same lab as one of my mates. So I decided to join my friend and introduce myself. We clicked immediately. She had a great sense of humour and we share a similar taste in music and films. Perfect. After about 20 minutes my mate said he was going to the loo, and discretely disappeared. For the next half an hour or so we chatted on our own.

I was starting to get hopeful. Not only was she good looking, she was also good fun to be with. She wore no rings (I have embarrassed myself on more than one occassion in the past by not checking that little tell-tale) and hadn't mentioned a boyfriend. Anyways, we were chatting about why we got into science. I joked that I had sat my parents down one day as I had some news that might upset them - I wasn't going to be able to afford to look after them in my old age since I wanted to be a biologist. She laughed more than I woul have thought strictly necessary.
That's a good sign, I thought.
"That's so funny, it reminds me of when I came out to my parents."
That's not a good sign.
Now I would just like to point out at this juncture that I did not simply get up and leave. I have more class than that. I told her that I was glad to hear that her coming out wasn't as traumatic as it could have been, since her parents already suspected (How? Wasn't bloody obvious to me!). In fact we stayed for another 20 minutes before she said she had to leave since her girlfriend was supposed to be travelling up to stay the weekend. After she left I made my way back in to the bar, to see my mate smirking.

"You were getting on so well, I didn't have the heart to tell you. Besides, I figure you need the practise..."

This is not the first (or I suspect the last) time this has happened.

So gentlemen, if you see me chatting up your girlfriend, be very worried - not because she's going to run off with me - but because you might just come home one day to find her sitting in on the sofa with your sister looking guilty...

Friday, April 08, 2005


Well, I'm back from the conference. On balance my talk went better than it could have done. I was pleased with my actual presentation. I kept to time (which was rare enough to be appreciated I feel!), didn't make too many mistakes in my delivery and got laughs in the right places (if in doubt stick a couple of gags in, I say). The questions were unfortunately rather tricky. The field's "legend" (officially retired but still first author on at least 2 major papers a year and still in possession of a lab bench apparently) kicked off the questions. Naturally, it was on a topic that I hadn't prepared and even taking my queue from the graduate student frantically shaking or nodding her head behind him, I eventually had to admit defeat. Nevertheless, I went up to him afterward and thanked him for his question (brown-nosing moi?) and in amongst the piss-taking he very kindly suggested a few experimental approaches that I hadn't considered.

Encouragingly, my project did seem to catch people's attention and I found myself being recognised outside the lecture hall. One or two people even collared me to compliment me and express interest in our work or even ask my opinion on their work.

After delivering my talk, I relaxed immensley and, as I sat in the darkened hall, even had time to muse upon conferences in general and this one in particular. I even scribbled down a few blog notes...

So here are a few random musings about my experiences.

1) Time.
As biologists, we exist in a largely Newtonian universe. Therefore Einsteinian notions of relativity rarely apply. What I am trying to say is that time is not a relative concept - i.e. when offered a 15 minute talk - give a 15 minute talk! Do not give a 20 minute talk or even a 28 minute talk. It fucks up the timing of the whole session and eats into the coffee break. YOU WILL NOT WIN FRIENDS. A 30 minute coffee break between sessions seems generous on paper, but is surprisingly short when 200 people want coffee and a pee and the servers are well into their 80s and half the toilet stalls are out of order. The breaks are also important networking opportunities and 30 minutes is not very long to grab a popular speaker and ask them questions whilst their talk is still fresh in your mind.

2) Food.
It is said that an army marches on its stomach. The same is largely true of a conference delegate. As with many small conferences, the catering was simply done by the university refectory. A great way of keeping costs down but not necessarily a great culinary decision. Giving delegates a case of Delhi Belly is also not popular when most of the day is spent in a crowded lecture theatre with no air-conditioning. Culinary delights t this conference included;

"off salmon" - when every single person who ordered the salmon bins it after a mouthful compaining that it tastes funny, its safe to assume that we aren't just being fussy.
"pasta puree". Even the most hopeless mummy's boy can cook pasta. Therefore one would expect that the pasta option would be a safe choice. It takes real talent to overcook spaghetti so much that it has to be eaten with a spoon.
"Foreigners and veggies". There are an estimated 2 million Muslims in the UK and probably twice as many vegetarians. It is therefore reasonable to assume that when catering for 200 people, at least some don't want a pork chop. Not to at least offer a halal option or failing that a proper vegetarian option is scandalous. Most of the muslim or vegetarian delegates were forced to just ask for extra portions of side vegetables and forgo the main dish. I have no idea if there were any orthodox Jews at the conference, but my limited understanding of Kosher practises suggests that at least one meal would have been entirely unsuitable, even if they played it safe like the muslims and just had the side orders.

3) Windows 98.
Yes you read that correctly. It is 2005, yet the laptop which the delegates loaded their talks on to was powered by windows 98 and powerpoint 97. Mac users were catered for, but the rest of us had to use the computing equivalent of a slide-rule and parchment. The problem, is that despite Microsoft's claims to the contrary, Powerpoint XP/2003 presentations are not compatible with Powerpoint 97/2000. Unless you restrict your talk to simple bullet points (which I did thank god), your animations just disappear. One delegate had to talk us through a slide where 3 lots of text were overlaid on top of each other, and a colleague of mine was left trying to explain a graph where the datapoints had all mysteriously shifted into the top left hand corner.

4) Truncation.
I am logo-happy. This is rather fortunate. The bottom of each of my slides contained the University and conference logo, my email address and the univeristy's website. A tad too much you might say - fortunately, since the data projector was crooked it removed the bottom 10% of the screen and nobody even knew the logos were there. Rather less fortunately, for the less logo happy, that 10% frequently contained important data. More than one delegate had to verbally describe the data or bullet point that was missing from the bottom of the screen.

5) Lighting.
There were precisely two lighting options in the lecture theatre; glaring white so that the talks were unreadable or pitch black so that you couldn't make notes...
Pitch black isn't too bad an option if you fancy a crafty snooze, however the man behind me kept on kicking me in the back through the seats, so sleeping wasn't an option. At least until I reached behind me (after checking he was just a PhD student and not a Professor obviously) and yanked the fucker's shoe off. He got the message...

6) Plink Plink Fizz Fizz
Actually, to be fair I should have taken my own hangover remedies...

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Tuesday Twat

Gasp! The Tuesday Twat early! I know that its traditional for me to post the Tuesday Twat at 3am on a Wednesday morning at the very earliest - but I'm at a conference from tomorrow and I'm too tight-fisted to pay for internet access. Besides which, sometimes the inspiration just falls in your lap...

EDIT: I've just found that you can edit the date - heh, time travel!

No. 11. Vic Reeves.

BBC Online.

Although never one to kick a man whilst he's down (he might get up - far better to stab him in the back), Vic Reeves has just jumped to the top of the Tuesday Twat list. He and his "comedy" partner Bob Mortimer have of course been asking for an award for years. Lets face it, if The uber Twat Harry Hill got one, these guys ought to get one based on "The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer" alone. Fucking shite. However, in recent years my opinion has mellowed slightly. Sure they are still fucking awful in "Shooting Stars", but they are offset somewhat by the quality of their guests. Ulrikakakaka is surprisingly funny, and they like to invite Jonny Vegas on so that they can say that they have a real comedian on the show. Bob Mortimer, away from Reeves, is also quite good on occasion. Twenty-nine minutes of fame can be OK as long as he steers clear of the "surreal" crap.

In comparison, Reeves elicits mixed emotions now that his career is on the wane. On the one hand I am pleased that somebody has realised what a colossal waste of Licence-Payer's money he has been over the years. But then on the other hand, I can't help feel a touch sorry for him. His last TV appearance was an episode of "meet the ancestors" (Comic Relief doesn't count - Chris Evans and fucking McFly appeared on that). And his appearance on "I'm a Celebrity get me out of Here!" was pathetic - the first thing I thought when he appeared unexpectedly was Bastard - that's ensured his wife Nancy (appearing on the show already under her professional name) will forever be known as "Vic Reeves wife" rather than making her own name. I can't believe she agreed to it.

Most notably though, he has been the voice of the nodding dog in the (too) long-running Churchill motor insurance TV adverts.
Until last week...

Now, call me naive, but if you were coining it as the voice of one of the country's largest motor insurance companies, you'd take care when driving, wouldn't you? Scratch the paintwork backing into a tight parking space and you just know that you'd be the butt of several jokes on Have I Got News for You. Drive up the back of someone at a junction and the tabloids would have a field day.

What you probably wouldn't do is drink drive. And you certainly wouldn't drink, crash your vintage Jag into a stationary car, drive it through a fence and then fuck off before the police turn up.

"Guilty as charged your honour".
Why else leg it? We all have the odd bump now and again. As long as no one is hurt its not a big deal. The police turn up, take a few statements if necessary, determine that you weren't driving like a prick then leave you and the insurance firm to it. Quite aside from being so pissed he hit a stationary car, he obviously knew that he was unfit to drive. If he'd foolishly had a second glass of wine with his lunch and it pushed him over the limit, he'd have stuck around, been breathalysed and expressed surprise and remorse. Instead he scarperred.

So, in addition to being a Twat generally he's also a fucking drink driver.

I therefore nominate Vic Reeves as a Tuesday Twat Squared.


Monday, April 04, 2005

Desperately Seeking Data (Part 2)

Sodding blogger ate my post twice. Fuck blogger and the horse it rode in on, I'm not typing the bastard thing again.

Suffice to say, my blots didn't work. It is now impossible to get the data by monday, the laws of chemistry, biology and physics are all against me. Therefore I have taken the weekend off.

My conference talk consists of 16 slides of which 2 contain my data. The remainder contain data from a previous graduate student that I don't fully understand. If I'm asked technical questions on that data I'm going to look like a total tit. Great - I was planning on asking at least 1 member of the audience for a job...


Saturday, April 02, 2005


Well, he's finally gone.

Despite being a (very) lapsed Catholic, with a low opinion of the Roman Catholic church in general and at times the Pope specifically, I have found myself on "Pope Watch" these last 2 days. Its remarkable how old instincts came to the surface. As it became clear on Friday that His Holiness was not much longer for this world, I found myself clicking Refresh on my browser regularly to track his progress on the BBC. I even increased the refresh rate on my RSS news reader.

I have mixed feelings about the Pope. On the one hand I have watched with increasing frustration and even anger as the Catholic church refused to countenance the use of condoms in AIDS-ridden Africa. Yet on the other-hand, this Pope has been the most politically important for centuries. He may not have brought down communism in Eastern Europe, but he sure gave it a bloody good push.

His papacy was a mixed bag to say the least, but he's the only one I have ever known and it will seem strange for there to be a new man called "pope" from now on. In the end, like the majority of Catholics, I no longer wished for him to pull-through this last illness. I hoped for him to slip away peacefully and in no pain. I have had elderly relatives pull-through such serious illnesses in the past, yet in the end almost wished they hadn't. Better that he finally leaves, apparently lucid to the end.

God Bless you Karol Wojtyla, Rest in Peace.

Desperately Seeking Data (Part 1)

Well, its that time of the year again - time for our annual conference. Sadly, it won't be as glamourous as Jonny B's recent jolly to Rome (as a non-delegate, no less), rather a national conference daan saarf (as Southern Bird would say), but we usually put on a good show with plenty of free booze and a couple of decent feeds. I'll also get my annual greasy fried breakfast as well.

Of course now that I am a PostDoc and have been doing this project for some time, I am expected to present some results. Hah! This year it was decided that I would present the "molecular" side of my work, so I duly submitted a 200 word abstract 2 months ago promising the results of the experiments that I was performing. Yes, I really did think that I would have some results from my ongoing, Tourettes-inducing, Southern blots.


Three weeks ago I received an email from the conference organisers "Congratulations, Dr SaneScientist, you have been selected to present a talk based on your work".

Double shit!

At conferences, delegates are invited to submit abstracts detailing their work. The abstracts are then discussed and those that fit nicely into the themes that the conference organisers wish to discuss, are selected to present a short talk. Each slot is 15 minutes, split into 10-12 minutes of snazzy Powerpoint slides followed by 3-5 minutes grilling/questions by the audience.

The other abstracts are instead offered a Poster slot. The author prints out a brightly coloured A0 poster which they stand beside and discuss with other delegates, whilst consuming coffee and biscuits.

There's no question that it is a small honour to be given a talk rather than a poster, but frankly, I don't have nearly enough to talk about. I was expecting a poster. If you make your pictures big enough you can put surprisingly little data on a poster. And if you are really worried about your work, you can just bugger off, cover your name badge and avoid anyone who looks like they may have a question. It's a little more difficult to bullshit and waffle for 10 minutes in a crowded lecture theatre full of your peers whilst standing on stage with a radio mike.

Oooooh shiiiittt.......

So it was decided that I would present a few key points from a former graduate student on the project then discuss in detail the results from my Southern blot data. Those experiments were expected to A) Work and B) Yield fascinating data that will grip the audience and have them clamouring for more. Or at least lift their heads of the desk, ignore the hangover from the previous night and attempt to bring my slideshow into focus.

So I increased my workload. Significantly.

At every turn, however Sod's law kicked me in the bollocks.

First there was the palaver with the wrong PCR primers being sent to me (See the MWG-Biotech Tuesday Twat award for more details). That wasted a week. A hasty revamping of my timetables showed that I could still perform the three blots that I wanted to do in 2 weeks. The early Easter meant that I had to miss a weekend, but I could cut short my holiday. The weekend before Easter, I had arranged to go see a mate in a play in London. No getting out of that, so yet another 3 days out of the lab. By careful timing and accepting the need to work 14 hours a day I figured I could compress each 5 day procedure into 3 days.

I did my first blot. It failed. The image on the computer screen should have been a series of crisp black bands highlighing the gene I was looking for. What I actually got, was an indisinct black smear, showing absolutely fuck all information of any use. Shit. 10 days until the conference and Easter weekend coming up. And what was worse, I had used up all of my remaining DNA stocks.

Arse. Ok, still possible. I could grow my yeast cells up and extract some more DNA, then perform the first blot, then the 2 remaining blots at the same time the week after easter, just stagger them by a day. So I innoculated a batch of cells and left them overnight to grow, ready for DNA extraction in the morning.

The following morning I opened my flasks, expecting to smell the faint beery waft of fermenting yeast. Nope, a faint musty smell. A quick look under the microscope confirmed my fears - bacterial contamination. Fuck! Bacteria reproduce about 5 times as fast as my yeast. In an overnight culture, the number of yeast cells doubles roughly every 2 hours. In the same period of time the bacteria will have increased by a factor of 32. Over about 24 hours, the number of yeast cells will have increased by about 100,000 times - these bacteria will have increased by several billion times! Therefore, even a few stray cells will massively overwhelm my yeast population. Worse, the source of contamination was my stock agar plate, probably contaminated by me or my colleagues' coughing and sneezing the previous week.

Shit! What to do? All I could do was try and cure the contamination. A colleague identified the species of bacterium and recommended an appropriate antibiotic. I smeared a series of agar plates with liberal amounts of the antibiotic. I then took what I hoped was a relatively uncontaminated part of the stock plate and smeared a miniscule amount of these cells onto my new plates. It then took 2 agonising days to grow. It was now the morning of Good Friday, and my train ticket was booked for lunchtime. The agar plates looked OK - but then this bacterium looks like yeast to the naked eye - so no I couldn't be sure. The plate at least smelled like a wino's armpit, so that was good. I had found a colleague who was going to be working over the easter weekend, so I bribed her with chocolate to take my culture out of the incubator when it was ready and set up a new culture (with shit loads of antibiotic just in case) and went back to Mum and Dad's for Easter.

A look at the train timetable revealed that if I cut short my Easter vacation and travelled back on the bank holiday monday morning I could be back in the lab by lunchtime. I cancelled lunch with an old school friend, promising to discuss her upcoming nuptial's over the phone, and came back to work. The culture had grown! And it smelt of beer! WooHoo! By midnight I had extracted just enough DNA for one attempt (you can guess where this is going...).

Next step was to perform the first steps of the Southern blot. I calculated that if I restriction-digested the DNA overnight (a fancy term for cutting the DNA into different-sized chunks using a specific enzyme), then ran it on a gel early the next morning for about 14 hours, I could start my southern blot that evening and be out of the lab by 4am. I would get the results for at least one of my blots before my next "progress" meeting with SWMNBN on Thursday and have enough time to insert it into my talk for Friday morning's practise in front of the rest of my lab.

I opened my freezer to look for the restriction enzyme that I needed to use. The previous week, about half a dozen different enzymes had arrived for me when I was out and someone had placed them in my freezer. I found every single enzyme I'd ordered, all sealed in their boxes - except for the bugger I needed. WTF? The order form confirmed that it had arrived and been signed for. Shit, where was it? 20 minutes panicing later and I found it unwrapped, sans instruction insert in the communal freezer. The lack of an instruction insert wasn't a problem. The hundreds of different enzymes available from suppliers typically work best diluted in 1 of about 8 different buffers, however the coloured dot on the lid of the enzyme's tube corresponds to the dot on the buffer tube. You simply dilute your DNA in water and the appropriate buffer, add the enzyme, stick it in a water bath at 37C and leave it overnight.

No problem....

The next day I came in early, took my DNA, and loaded it onto a gel to separate out the digested DNA according to its length. I then started preparing the DNA for my second Southern blot, to be started the following day. By the late evening I was already tired, but ready to continue with the first blot. I photographed my gel under UV.

FUCKITY FUCK FUCK! The DNA hadn't digested! Instead of a faint smear I had a bright, single band of undigested DNA. Shitty shit shit! Why? What went wrong? I double-checked the enzyme tube. White dot. I opened the buffer box, white dot = Buffer L. Yup, definately done that. And I added an excess of enzyme so that wasn't the problem. In desperation I logged onto a restriction enzyme database and looked up the enzyme's instruction sheet.
10 units per microlitre concentration. Check.
Digests at 37C. Check.
Requires Buffer L. Check.
I read down to the small print. "Also requires addition of 1xBSA for optimum performance".
Bollocks! I couldn't believe it! The one time somebody goofs and throws away the intruction pamphlet, the enzyme is one of the handful (out of hundreds) that requires something else in addition to the standard buffer.

I have decided that it would be best not to ask who picked the enzyme up. Those night owls still working who heard my expletive-littered rant will no doubt have let it quietly be known that SaneScientist would in future appreciate it if boxes labelled "SaneScientist" are delivered intact to his freezer, rather than unpacked, picked apart and buried in the communal freezer.

So at this point (Tuesday night) 2 days remain before my next progress meeting. 3 days until I run through my (as yet unwritten and barely planned) talk in front of the lab. 5 days (and yes I count weekends) before I hop on a plane to the conference.

Stay tuned for the next thrilling installment, when you'll also find out why I had the time to write this lengthy blog entry on Saturday night...



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