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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Tuesday Twat(s)

No. 19. "Celebrity" Reality TV.

Once upon a time, some TV bod came up with the idea of the "Celebrity Special", for favourite TV shows. At first, it was a relatively harmless idea, confined to Christmas, Children in Need night and Comic Relief night. Indeed, the shows were often eagerly anticipated. The Celebs in question would forgo their usual astronomical appearance fee and donate all of their winnings to a charity of their choice. The shows themselves ranged from dire (It's a Royal Knockout being the most notable example), to rather good (the big name quiz shows, such as Millionaire or Mastermind). In the case of the quiz shows, it could either be very funny (some celebs make real prats of themselves, being unable to answer even the most trivial of general knowledge questions under the steely gaze of Ann Robinson) or quite eye-opening (more than one soap bimbo has stunned audiences be answering quite esoteric questions with remarkable ease).

Then, disaster struck. Some TV executive noticed that shows with "Celebrity" in the title seemed to attract more viewers. Hmmm....

Even worse, "Reality TV" shows were also becoming popular. Suddenly a brainwave occured...

"Why don't we combine the two?".

The first outing was for Comic Relief - Celebrity Big Brother, a group of Z-listers and a couple of popular comedians locked in the house for a week. One contestant went mad, a former entertainer told all the details of his marriage breakup to another celeb and the public fell in love with a previously moderately popular comedian. Ratings skyrocketed and careers were reinvigorated. Oh and they raised some money for charity as well.

It was now unstoppable.

Eyebrows were raised when "I'm a celebrity get me out of here!" didn't actually feature any celebrities, merely people who once featured in the tabloids or who had a minor role in a soap opera. Nevertheless you got to see them being covered in rats and forced to eat live insects so ratings remained high.

The search was on for newer and more extreme types of these shows. Rebecca Loos - famous only because she claims to have had an affair with the England football Captain David Beckham - seems game for anything. Her first outing provoked outrage when she wanked a pig off on live TV. Subsequent reality TV appearances have usually involved desert islands, bikini's and some sort of sexual ritual involving weighted stones (?). She is currently starring in "Celebrity Love Island" - where a group of single "Celebs" (Fran Cosgrove is described as a "Nightclub owner" - WTF? Being a nightclub owner constitutes celebrity these days?) are stranded and encouraged to shag each other - yes televised pimping is here!

But nothing prepared me quite for the shock I got the other night - channel hopping during an ad break for the highbrow documentary "World's wildest police chases", I came across the "comedian" Richie Blackmore sifting through his own shit.

This is not an exageration for comic effect - you can now watch celebrity detox! "Celebs" starve themselves, guzzle litres of salty water then either throw it up on camera or let it run out the other end. They are then encouraged to retain their excrement and examine it, like some sort of latter-day gold prospector.

As to Mr Blackmore, he examined the shit for hours on end and still couldn't find that elusive funny and original joke.



Thursday, May 26, 2005

So I'm a smart arse...

If there is one thing that my parents, friends, former school teachers and pretty much anyone who knows me will agree upon - it's that I am a smartarse. I have always been a gobby bugger, and, God willing, always will be.

RSS feeds have given me a whole new source for inappropiate, sometimes amusing, but generally irritating comments. They are great. I subscribe to the BBC, NewScientist and a number of other general interest feeds and the short truncated headlines, which often bear little resemblance to the story behind them, provide an endless source of amusement for my twisted imagination. So much so, I've started to collect them.

So without further ado, a few favourites.

"Hundreds bid to buy bits of Rover" - I had no idea spare parts were getting so hard to find!

"Retrial ordered over bug deaths" - Rentokill are watching these proceedings very carefully indeed...

"'Hollow' glass to combat spiking" - apparently the inventor is applying for a patent. I'm pretty sure that the pint glass I'm drinking luke-warm coke from constitutes prior-art, and that the "solid" glass that the inventor usually drinks out of is probably a paperweight.

"EU 'won't revive Chinese quotas'" - however Chinese Whispers, Chinese Chequers and Chinese Burns remain firm favourites.

"Latin music case goes to Cuba" - Don't you just hate it when that happens? They should sue the airline for compensation.

"Bets reopen on Potter death" - shouldn't someone tell them that he died in 1994?

"WHO agrees to smallpox research" - Who indeed?

"Fines aim to cut phone 'slamming'" - as long as I can still slam the door on Jehovah's Witnesses I don't care.

"Prisoners 'should get net access' " - this will no doubt be extremely popular on the kiddy fiddler wing.

Feel free to add your own - smart arses of the world unite!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Tuesday Twat(s)

No 18. Ringtone users.

OK, No apologies whatsoever if you are one of those twats who download ringtones for your mobile phone. It's not big, it's not clever and it says nothing about your individuality.

These have to be one of the most irritating and obnoxious "inventions" in recent years. I don't have a problem with the concept of different ringtones for different phones. We are petitioning in work for them to let us change the ringtones on our office phones - at the moment it is impossible to figure out whose phone is ringing when you are eating your lunch, meaning that you invariably get up for "your" phone, only to find it's someone else's. Very irritating when you almost have 10 down in the crossword and you lose your train of thought.

However, I am of the rather old-fashioned opinion that a ringtone should "ring". It should not play the national anthem, the first four bars of "The A-Team", "Angel" or quack loudly. In fact, such is the cacophony of weird and (not so) wonderful noises at work, that I have set my own mobile to sound like - a phone. Seriously. If you hear a good old fashioned "Ring Ring" - it's for me.

I fooled myself some years ago into believing that once the technology moved on from "beeps" to polyphonic and MP3 ringtones, it would be less annoying. Is it bollocks. It's even more irritating. There you are, sitting at the computer trying to understand the garbled English that constitutes the abstract of a paper in the Journal of Biology, and fucking Blur Song 2 suddenly belts out beside you at an implausibly high volume. And why do people always look so embarrassed at their choice of ring tone? Sure, your mobile phone going off in lab meeting is always slightly embarrassing - but a discrete "ring ring" rarely elicits more than a sympathetic smile from your colleagues - whereas the theme music to "KnightRider" results in loud guffaws and quietly muttered "fuckwit"s. What the fuck where you thinking? That it would get less embarrassing over time?

And whilst we are on the subject- women should not be allowed to own mobile phones. This is not some Taliban-esque call for religious propriety - just to prove my credentials I believe strongly in immodest clothing - but a simple request for a quieter life. You see the problem with women is they don't believe in pockets. Whereas blokes cheerfully stuff their jeans with wallets, keys, loose-change, mobile phones, matches, paperclips, swipecard and whatever toy fell out of the breakfast cereal that morning - women might slip their locker key in. Possibly. This means that their mobile phone is left sitting on their desk (why more aren't stolen I don't know) or, even worse, inside their locker. And of course they MUST be left switched on. I have tried to persuade my female colleagues that if they were to put them in their trouser pockets the added width to their hips would make them more sexually attractive in a Darwinian sense. But I was told to "fuck off".

So it was with mixed feelings that I read that software has been developed to allow you to sample any song and convert it from CD to ringtone for free. On the one hand the suffering will increase - on the other hand a multi-million pound business will collapse overnight. Good.


Un-fucking-believable! The "Crazy Frog Ringtone" is set to be this week's official Number 1, now that downloads are counted in the Top 40 countdown. Seriously! Apparently it is outselling Coldplay's latest release (BBC Online). Ooohh I bet Chris Martin is pissed...
If these things were decided on the basis of how many times a song is advertised it and that Tweety Pie thing would be top of the charts for a month. On Channel 5 each ad break starts and ends with one or both of these ringtones being advertised. Rather amusingly a spokesman was quoted as saying "The only real issue is whether the record label can press enough copies to keep up with the huge demand that we're seeing right now". It's a ringtone you moron! It doesn't need "pressing".

I may just poke my eardrums out with a sharp pencil now...


Sunday, May 22, 2005

To the hype lived up to it has

Well, George Lucas has almost atoned for Episodes 1 & 2!

Tonight I organised a trip for 20 of my workmates to see Star Wars Episode III. And the verdict was unanimous... superb!

I'm not going to give away any spoilers, so don't worry if you haven't seen it yet. First the bad points. Unfortunately, the dialogue was no better than episodes 1 and 2, and again Lucas demonstrated yet again that he is better as a producer than a director, at least when it comes to directing actors.

But then, that was expected (even the much loved originals had cringeworthy dialogue, and it's well known that his direction to actors usually consisted of "Faster! More intense"). Some actors are fine with minimal direction - Ian McDiarmond as Senator Palpatine definately seems to be a "chuck him the script and let him get on with it" sort of actor. Unfortunately, Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christiansen - all of whom have given critically acclaimed performances in other films - don't give their best by a long shot.

But the rest of the film easily lived up to the hype and challenged the originals for sheer bloody good fun. The movies are a truly visceral spectacle and I can't imagine why anyone would want to download them and watch them on a computer monitor. As usual R2D2 steals every scene he's in and Yoda is finally portrayed properly (as opposed to being a figure of near ridicule in Attack of the Clowns). I was pleased to see that the story lived up to its promise of bridging the trilogies. Lucas has done a very good job of answering the many questions fans had regarding how they all got from Episode II to Episode IV. Although one or 2 did remain, I must admit. I'm still not sure why Lars Skywalker bought C3P0 and R2D2 in Episode IV. After all, his father owned C3P0 in the 10 years between Episode I and II, and he met R2D2 on at lest 1 occassion. He is supposed to be protecting Luke - why on earth would he invite trouble into their lives by buying these 2 droids?

The special effects have become more intense. The space battles and the CGI backgrounds have a seamless accuracy. The only time the special effects ever struggle is when they try to render the actors entirely in CGI. One or two sequences looked just a little artifical, although my workmates were split as to whether they noticed them or not. However, they were at least as good as Matrix Reloaded, probably even better (remember the jumping on the car bonnet sequence in the Matrix? They were definately better than that).

All in all, Lucas has finally produced the goods. It was probably critical that he did so. At some point, there is almost certainly going to be a special Edition boxset of the new trilogy - if ROTS had been on a par with the previous 2 films, fans would be far less likely to buy the set IMO. I'll certainly buy it, although I will be content to wait until its half price, rather than rushing out to buy it on day one.

Friday, May 20, 2005

The waiting game...

Well, the last candidate for the job I applied for should have been interviewed yesterday - and I haven't heard anything. So good news or bad news? On the one hand, the University's interview procedures seemed quite strict - they insisted on a second academic being present in the interview. This may indicate that the University insists all correspondence should be by letter, meaning that the good news is on its way. On the other hand, the interviewer and I got on very well, and have since been in contact by email concerning expenses. I also requested a copy of their latest article, currently in press but not yet available in print (brown-nosing and reminding them of my existance never hurts I feel - perhaps I ought to read it sometime). Therefore, I was perhaps expecting a phone call or email offering me the position. I have been clicking Send&Receive in Outlook every few minutes for the last 24 hours. Nada. So here's hoping...

If the answer is no, then I will be very disapointed, but will phone to ask for feedback. I have identified another job that I will apply for next week - but it is hard to work up any enthusiasm at the moment.

Well, I survived Wednesday's "progress" meeting with SWMNBN.

I cunningly positioned myself at the far end of the huge dining table that we were using and made sure that I had an insulating person between us. I also made sure that I had a quick word with my other PI before the meeting. I outlined the problems and suggested a few remedies, which were quickly picked up and batted around the table by all the other participants. SWMNBN's expression was an intriguing cross between someone who's just biten unexpectedly into a lemon, and someone who has then noticed half a maggot with toothmarks in said lemon...

She took a few swipes at the absent former postdoc responsible for the mess, but mostly seemed resigned to the situation, thus proving that the practise of spiking drinks with Rohypnol shouldn't just be confined to nightclubs! This does mean that I really need to come up with the goods by the next meeting in about 3 weeks time, but then that's the story of my life...

Random thought for the day...

Why do the management of the works canteen (which is open between 9am and 4pm), think that the wisest time to close half the tills and cash them up is 1pm? Does some manager with brains in his or her arse look at the staff rotas and notice that there are extra staff on at lunchtime - thus making it a perfect time to count the float?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Tuesday Twat(s)

No. 17. The crap before films.

OK, imagine the scenario. You're sitting in the cinema. The lights have gone down. You are already thinking that perhaps drinking a litre of Pepsi Max in one go and not going to the toilet first may have been unwise. You've bitten the heads of half a kilo of jelly babies and are feeling slightly sick.

First off - 15 minutes of adverts for perfume, cars and - inexplicably - the Royal Marines. Next it's "Trailers that we have specially selected for your enjoyment". Mostly for films that you have never heard of and, strangely, never actually see advertised at the cinema in the coming months. Next it's an mildly amusing advert for Orange mobile phones, culminating in the gentle reminder to switch your phone off. Finally, up comes that black certificate with the intelligible signature, certifying that the PG certificate film contains no swearing, moderate violence and no buggery.

The screen darkens. Good you think, the film is about to start. The camera zooms down a CGI-rendered lava tube - an unusual start to a romantic comedy you think. BANG! A deafening fanfare of trumpets starts and you realise it is just a trailer informing you that the film is presented in digital, surround, 10.1, dolby, nicam, computerised sound. Whoopie do! The camera pans to a blue summer sky with a beautiful mountain top - then stars appear and the logo Paramount pictures, followed by a short clip of a boy fishing on the moon, a desert road with a thunderstorm, a running unicorn... need I continue?

What is it with all that shit before films?

Perhaps its my own fault. I like to be on time for things, and if there is one thing I hate it is getting comfortable, then having to get up again as some arsehole decides that they want to sit in the middle of the row and therefore need you to let them past. Thus, I try to get in BEFORE the lights go down, so I don't piss of somebody by doing the same thing myself.

The adverts piss me off most - why is it that adverts that are shown a million time on TV, becoming part of the background, suddenly seem so annoying when projected onto a 30 metre screen? And who is that twat at the back of the cinema who laughs raucously at adverts that ceased to be funny 2 years ago when shown on telly, as if seeing them for the first time?

The trailers don't bother me too much - in fact, I rather like them. I enjoy seeing teasers for films that I am looking forward to, and perhaps make a note to see ones that I hadn't previously considered. My parents, who like to be contrary, make a note of films that they definitely WON'T be seeing. For my Dad, that includes any film that has a large explosion in the trailer. It's not that he has anything against action movies - he simply believes that any film that requires a large explosion in the trailer to drum up interest is guaranteed to be shit. And he won't be told otherwise.

The Orange phone adverts aren't too bad. Anything that involves taking the piss out of former Hollywood celebs desperate for a paycheck is fine by me - but they do get tiresome after a few showings. And we really need to be a little more forceful with the reminder to turn off your mobile. I suggest "Don't be an inconsiderate fucker- turn off your mobile you baseball-cap-wearing cunt", would be a reasonable wording.

But what really really gets my goat are the production adverts before the film. Hands up - who gives a flying fuck if the film is shot using Dolby or SDDS or Nicam or 2 tin cans and a piece of string? Have you ever looked longingly at a billboard and said to yourself - "I WOULD go and see that critically acclaimed blockbuster from my favourite director - but wouldn't you just know, the silly sausage has gone with SDDS rather than Dolby". Ironically the reels for these self-indulgent pieces of crap have been played so many times at my local multiplex-that the sound is all scratchy anyway.

Finally why do film studios feel the need to advertise their involvement (usually by means of a cheque book) in a film, with a short promotional clip and logo? The choice of director may well tempt me to see a film - but do I really care if the $50m budget came out of the pocket of Paramount or Fox? Umm... No. British films are the worst, since they are usually part funded by a consortium of charities, government agencies and US studios- before being distributed by another US studio - the credits at the beginning can last longer than the movie itself. One recent effort had more than 6 of these clips (I lost count). Everytime you thought the film was about to start another sodding production company shoved its logo up. Who gives a shit? Seriously? It's like the trailers - who gives a toss who the key grip is? I understand that casting directors may use the credits to identify the good looking extra playing 3rd passenger on the No 42 bus - but surely they can find out with a phone call? Besides, how many casting directors or movie financiers are actually sitting in on the saturday afternoon showing of Toystory 3 in the Bognor Regis UCI anyway?

Still, it does have its upside - on more than one occasion I have completely forgotten what it is I'm supposed to be seeing, and had a pleasant surprise when the film actually starts.


Monday, May 16, 2005

Don't shoot the messenger!

Image shamelessly pinched from

Oh whoopie do! I have another "progress" meeting with SWMNBN on Wednesday morning. Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that I look forward to these meetings with the same excitement and anticipation that prisoners at Abu Graib would experience upon seeing Private Lyndsey Walker striding across the courtyard carrying a black sack, a doglead and a set of car jumper cables...

This month, it will be even more fun than usual. Having rather selfishly decided to go for a job interview, I have had less working days than the 20 calender days since the last meeting would suggest. I haven't heard back from the interview yet, so I don't know if I will mention this to SWMNBN. I didn't ask her for a reference for obvious reasons, and she may not be too impressed. On top of that everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong. Basic procedures that are all but infallible have not worked and problems that I thought I had solved months ago have suddently reappeared.

So far, so normal then. The real kicker this month though is not a problem of my making - but one that I am almost certain to cop some (or all) of the shit for. You see I have just proven that the postdoc whose work I rather unwillingly "inherited" a few months ago and have been struggling to progress - fucked up. I mean really fucked up. As in the last 2 years may have to be binned and the entire raison d'etre of the project completely gone.

Oh dear.

Basically, in a nutshell, the postdoc in question (who is now no longer even in the UK) was tasked with removing a number of genes from a strain of brewer's yeast. The perennial problem with anything that involves adding or removing DNA from an organism, is how do you know when you have done it correctly? Contrary to popular belief, you can remove a remarkable number of genes from most organisms without any obvious immediate effect. The effects may take time to develop, or may only manifest themselves under obscure and unusual conditions that are difficult or time-consuming to test for, particularly when the success rate for most gene additions/removals is 1 in 100 or 1 in 1000 or less. Therefore, a common method is to use an antibiotic resistance marker - basically, you swap the gene you want to remove for another gene (known as a "marker") that makes the organism resistant to a normally poisonous antibiotic. Only cells that have successfully swapped the target gene for the antibiotic resistance marker can grow in the presence of the antibiotic. Simple, straightforward and used the worldover thousands of times a day.

However, what if you want to remove 2 genes? The cell has already been made resistant to the antibiotic, so how can you tell that a second gene has been replaced with the antibiotic resistance marker? You have 2 options - first, you can use a second antibiotic resistance marker - in bacteria ampicillin is commonly used, but tetracycline or neomycin might also be used so that you can examine 3 genes simultaneously. The second option is to "recycle" the marker - that is remove it from the organism (this won't magically restore the gene that you originally removed), making the organism susceptible to the antibiotic again, then use it again on a second gene. This is the method we prefer.

Well, for the past 2 months I have been trying to remove the marker that the first postdoc inserted to use it again on a second gene. Despite following the instructions left by the previous postdoc, looking up the relevant protocols on the internet and talking at length with someone who has used the system extensively - I can't remove the marker gene. The cells still grow like weeds on the antibiotic. Everyone agrees that I am doing the right thing. So today I did an experiment to check that the previous postdoc had actually inserted the marker gene correctly. Its' successful removal is critically dependent on it having been designed and correctly inserted in the first place and it took over a year to do it. According to the results of my experiment, the original insertion was fatally flawed. Instead of being removed, the marker gene is just switching its orientation - which unfortunately has no effect whatsoever on its effectiveness.

Short of going back to the very beginning (it took the original postdoc 12 months - I have 2 months left on my contract), I have precious few options. The result of this is that SWMNBN is going to do her fucking nut. And with no one else to vent at, who do you think is most likely to get it in the neck?

Friday, May 13, 2005

Italy says no to limp spaghetti

BBC News

Despite evidence of falling birth rates and the fact that the country is nominally Catholic - it seems that frisky Italian women are "entitled" to a bit of "How's your Father?" on their wedding night.

An Italian court has awarded damages to a woman whose new husband turned out to have problems standing to attention.

Is that not the final humiliation? Not only has John Thomas (or Gionna Tomas) embarrased you, when you least want to be embarrassed - he's also cost you a chunk of change.

Moral of the story "Try before you buy!".

Mind you, the first thing that sprung to mind when reading the story was "vindictive bitch!".

Thursday, May 12, 2005

But I *WANT* to work like a dog!

Lascivious has an excellent post discussing why the EU you should keep its grubby little paws off our working time directive opt-out clause, and I feel I have to chime in also.

Basically, the European Working Time Directive stipulates a raft of measures designed to protect workers. And damn right to. However, one of the most contentious clauses involves the restriction of workers to a 48 hour working week. Britain successfully negotiated an opt-out clause, allowing workers to sign up to work over 48 hours if they so wish, on a strictly voluntary basis. This week, the EU has voted to remove this clause. Almost all of our politicians are against losing the clause. Predictably the trade unions are in favour of removing the opt-out, as are every other "old" EU country. They cite abuse of the system by unscrupulous employers and health and safety concerns. It has nothing to do with the UK economy pissing on their economies. Nope, not at all.

This really is a thorny issue. On the one hand it is undoubtedly true that many employers do take the piss. A willingness to sign the "voluntary" opt-out clause is really only voluntary if you don't want the job. Further, there are valid H&S issues - after all who on earth wants van drivers working 16 hour shifts, even if they spent most of that shift in an office? Taking that issue further, what about people driving home from work after a long shift?

That being said however, there are plenty of people who do work 48 hours or more a week for good reasons. Low paid workers often rely on overtime to put food on the table - literally. Other jobs, by their nature may require long shifts, and people entering those professions largely do so with their eyes open. The H&S issue is also a red-herring. Professional drivers are already regulated regarding their hours and many people, myself included, don't drive to work. What does it matter if I nod off on the bus? On the flipside, I am also an insomniac. Believe me, I don't need to work long hours to be tired and sleepy and unfit to drive.

And of course, how can one police this? Unless they start logging my swipecard use, how will anyone know what hours I work? My job has a culture of long hours, particularly in the early years. I am salaried and receive no overtime, so could simply turn up 9 to 5, Monday to Friday for the same pay. However, like most young scientists, I am trying to make my name in the field by generating publishable work. That requires long hours. Do I wish it were otherwise? Of course. Do I wish it were easier for colleagues with family commitments? Absolutely! Do I think it is sensible or even practical to arbitrarily limit my hours? Hell no!

The consequences of this law are potentially wide-ranging. Ignoring the rather nebulous concept of Britain's economic prosperity, there will be an immediate consequence for Britain's poorest workers. Unless we suddenly agree upon a livable minimum wage (fat chance), and raise the lower band tax threshold to a sensible level, we will see extreme poverty if we aren't careful. Assuming a 48 week working year, with a 48 hour working week, then the minimum wage of £4.50 (ish) will result in a maximum gross annual salary of a little over £10,000. After tax, you are looking at about £8,500 take home. That was my take home as a PhD student in 2002 - and was roundly condemned in various reports (after I had graduated, naturally) as grossly inadequate. Even as a single, childless lab-rat with no commitments, living in a relatively cheap city, I struggled to make ends meet. Forget pensions or savings or a decent home - I lived in a single bedroom student flat in a shitty part of town and spent everything I earned on the basics.

What is likely to happen, is that people will simply lie. This is already happening in the NHS. A relative of mine, who is a junior doctor, attended a meeting held by a senior consultant. "These are the hours you will be working. These are the hours you will be writing down. If anyone has a problem, come and see me in my office". The rota was about 60 hours - the recorded hours were 48 hours. It is believed that nobody has complained.

Of course, the cynic in me suspects that the makers of laptop computers will be rubbing their hands in glee. How many firms are going to replace their desktop PCs with laptops - in the knowledge that staff under pressure to meet deadlines will simply take their computers home? I can receive email at home, and could potentially cut short the hours spent physically at university by doing my reading at home. They also plan to count "on call time". WTF? Whilst an SHO in a busy hospital may spend most of his or her "on call" time working, and should thus count it, there are plenty of jobs where being on call rarely results in one's sleep being disturbed. In fact, having tip-toed past a snoozing security guard on more than one occasion, there are a fair few jobs where even being in work is no impediment to a good night's sleep.

Sigh. Another blunt force law designed to fit all circumstances.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Tuesday Twat(s)

No. 16. Star Wars Fans

No, not all Star Wars fans obviously. Just the ones that give the rest of us a bad name. You know, the twats that start queuing for the new film, 2 months in advance - OUTSIDE THE WRONG FUCKNG CINEMA!

Y'see I like Star Wars, really I do. A pale imitation of Star Trek it may be, but all-in-all it's a jolly romp. I bought the enhanced boxset over the summer (half-price obviously, I'm not stupid) and hosted a star wars evening complete with free beer left over from my birthday. I even watched Episode II the other day again to remind myself of a few key plot points. I will be going to see the new film with a gang of workmates on the 20th (the 19th will probably be sold out) and it may well be the highlight of the week.

Sure, it's little more than a cartoon, the dialogue in the previous 2 films was infantile and embarassing, it has plotholes that you could drive an imperial star destroyer through and of course Lucas is a truly shite director (American Graffiti blows chunks as well). But on the plus side it's got laser swords that make a "Whooshing" sound, robots and spaceships. That'll do me.

Back to the twats though -
1) Why are they queuing 2 months in advance? My local multiplex will probably be showing it every half hour for the next 3 weeks. I will turn up on the 20th and be a bit miffed if I have to wait for an hour. What is it with these people that queue for months ahead of trivial events? Am I the only person who laughed out loud when they announced the postponement of Charles and Camilla's wedding, and thought immediately of that dickhead who camped outside Windsor castle with a novelty tea towel "To get a good seat". Was it cruel to pray for rain?

2) Do none of them have a credit card? Can they not book their ticket online? Surely, at least one of their carers could buy the tickets on their behalf. Also, wouldn't it be really, really funny, if on the day of the first showing, these weirdos weren't allowed in because normal people had booked all the seats online? Even if they had a bath first?

3) Why are they queuing outside the wrong bloody cinema? Yes, I know that the first films opened at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, but the new one won't be. It's opening a mile away down the road. Are they stupid, stubborn or both?

4) Why doesn't society care about people with these sorts of problems more?

It doesn't even keep them off the streets!
And just in case you thought that they only did this every few years, when a new SW film is released - guess again! Visit their webpage and see what other films they have wasted their lives queuing for.

May the farce be with you.


Monday, May 09, 2005

Darth Jackson...

Nuff said...

Saturday, May 07, 2005

I'll have it if you're offering...

Firstly, thanks for the good luck messages for my job interview. The good news - I'll take it! The bad news - I won't find out for 2 more weeks. Grrr!

The interview went really well. The supervisor was extremely friendly, and we even recognised one another from the various conferences we'd attended, although we'd never actually spoken. On the train down, I had read up on all of the lab's previous work and so when we discussed the project and what it was likely to entail I was able to drop in references to their previous work and give the impression that I understood what I was talking about. Following faculty rules, the interviewer had also invited along another faculty member to sit in on the interview and ask some more general questions. Joy of joys, they asked a question that I have been asked by lay people and academics alike, since the first day I started my PhD. Perfect!

My weariness from lack of sleep (I didn't get a wink the night before), wasn't a problem. Caffeine and adrenalin make a potent pick-me-up I find - and the supervisor had been awake all night themself, helping proof-read a graduate student's thesis ready for Friday's deadline. So whenever they yawned I took the opportunity to do so myself! The lab group is smaller and far more focused than I'm used to - and I'm rather taken by that. Their lab meetings for example, rather than being the wide-ranging rambling affairs that ours tend to be, usually centre around one person's research with everyone chipping in. Also, whenever anyone finds an interesting paper, they forward it to everyone, making it easier to keep up with the reading.

Regarding the supervisor, although obviously highly driven (their publication record alone shows that), they were also very personable with a good sense of humour. When left alone with the grad students and post-docs they were all very complimentary about the boss - and I felt they were being sincere. The whole lab dropped what they were doing and came over to introduce themselves - and given the wide range of CDs by the communal CD player and the photos covering the walls, they obviously enjoy working together.

The only thing we didn't discuss was salary. This is on the whole probably a good thing. Having been working for 2 years now, I have naturally gone up a couple of points on the salary scale - If I am offered the job, they are unlikely to argue too loudly about my (fairly modest) salary demands - whereas if it comes down to a choice between me and person X, who is a paypoint below me...

When or if we actually have that conversation, they will most likely ask what my current salary is - and there lies a slight problem. I don't know what I am paid. Strange as it may seem, I don't actually have any idea what my salary is. Sure, I know what my takehome pay is - but that figure is a year out of date pending a back-dated salary increase, which hasn't yet been determined.

Basically, the situation in British Universities is a real mess concerning pay. For about 20 years, academics have seen their pay dropping relative to other professions. In the 90s teachers, doctors and nurses negotiated above inflation pay increases to boost their ridiculously low pay. Academics on the other hand - who are paid by public/charitable money for the most part and are thus also public servants - seemed to miss the boat. Consequently our pay has dropped up to 40% compared to these other professionals. Anyway, a couple of years ago the Universities (we all negotiate en masse) offered a derisoury 6.5% over 2 years (3% in year 1 3.44% in year 2 - barely in line with inflation). Time for action!

To cut a long story short, it was finally decided to harmonise University pay schemes into a single system and apply a reasonable pay increase across the board. Up until now, universities have operated several parallel pay scales that work on a spinepoint system. I am toward the bottom of the academic-related system which starts at about £18,000 and goes up to about £29,000. Academics (eg lecturers and Profs) are on a different scale, and support staff (both lab-based and admin based) are on yet another scale. Each year I get a spine point increase plus our negotiated "inflation" rise. I'm not poor - far from it - but starting salaries for researchers tend to be about the same for school teachers and progress less rapidly. We also have an additional 3 or 4 years university under our belt and consequently 3 or 4 years more debt and are running 3 or 4 years behind on our pensions schemes etc. Support staff - from cleaners to technicians (some of whom are incredibly skilled and knowledgeable - often more so than the postdocs and academics they are supposedly "assisting") and our myriad admin and finance staff are also unlikely to be boasting about "Loadsa money!" down the pub on a Friday night.

So around the country, university finance and HR departments are working hard to try and integrate all of their staff onto this new single spine-scale. Jobs are being re-evaluated and they are trying to keep the unions sweet. Hopefully, by July I will a) know what my salary is and b) will have received the appropriate backpay - which will hopefully cover the rent on a new apartment down south whilst I wait for the return of the deposit from this one.

This August, the unions will start negotiating for the 2006/2007 pay rise... The Karmic circle of life eh?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Particulars noted

Well, it seems that I didn't make a complete hash of that job application form - Friday I'm off for an interview. Since I intend to continue this blog when I get a new job, I am going to be deliberately vague. Suffice to say, it's at a good university daan sarf (as Southern Bird would say).

I have decided that after the fiasco of this post-doc, choosing an interesting project, in a good lab, with a supervisor whom I respect and like, will be the main priority. Therefore, I will be interviewing the interviewer as much as they are interviewing me. Hopefully, I will get given a tour of the lab facilities by a loose-tongued postdoc/postgrad who will dish the dirt if this supervisor is one to be avoided.

I only found out about the interview a couple of days ago, which is a bit irritating. With the bank holiday monday eating up the first day of the week, it really screwed up my plans for the week. It also means that I had to purchase my train ticket at pretty much full price. Bugger.

This is the first job interview that I have had since my PhD 6 years ago. My current project was pretty much "You need money. We have a job. Do you want it?". Having not been paid for over 9 months, there was really only one answer... So Thursday will be spent revising and reading up on this new lab's field of expertise, which is something I know precious little about. I have the technical skills that they demand, but know little about the actual science, so I will have some reading to do on the train no doubt.

I have to catch the train at 9 am. This does mean that I will have to forgo my usual habit of sitting up until the early hours watching the results from the election roll in. Well, maybe just until my ward declares. Or perhaps until Michael Howard. Or Tony Blair...

Bugger, you just know that I am going to be bleary-eyed Friday morning...

So, time to shine my shoes, iron a shirt and get a haircut...

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Tuesday Twat(s)

A touch early I know, but blogger is playing up so I'm not taking chances.

No. 15. David Bellamy.

His profile at

OK, this one is controversial I know. I mean, its one thing to joke about dead or even live Popes, and I could probably get away with a cheap gag at Muhammed's expense, but joking about David Bellamy - that hirsute mumbler with a passion for a things botanical - that could get me lynched. It's not that I don't have a fondness for him - who doesn't? Sure, only one word in ten gets past that massive furry food trap, but like John Prescott, the world would be a duller place without him. David is the cuddly face of ecology and biology and with his catch phrase "lubbley" has charmed generations of school kids, making them think about their natural environment in ways that they would never have done otherwise.

The thing is that the old boy seems to be losing his marbles lately and making a bit of a twat of himself in the letters pages of New Scientist and the national press. You see, despite every conservationist on earth being deeply concerned about the dangers of global warming, old Belly says "Bring it on!". You see his theory is that an increase in CO2 will be a good thing, on the grounds that plants like the stuff!

Various rebuttals have included the fact that very few plants are growth-limited by available CO2 and the fact that the acompanying temperature rise and rising sea levels will bugger far more plants than it could possibly benefit.

He doesn't help his case any by citing a notorious fraudlent petition made by a Right-Wing Christian nutjob living in the wilds of the US, whose 18,000 signatures included those of the well-known environmentalist Ginger Spice and the cast of M*A*S*H. The Guardian columnist George Monbiot, catalogues his ongoing correspondence with Bellamy on the subject.

More recently, Bellamy has been refuting claims about melting glaciers. He wrote to New Scientist (Letters April 16th 2005) claiming that contrary to a recent article, glaciars are in fact growing, probably due to global temperature increases leading to more water vapour inthe atmsphere (and hence more rain/snow). However, two weeks later (Letters April 30th 2005) a correspondent contradicted every single example of Bellamy's and cited the World Glacier Monitoring Service who have catalogued serious melting and shrinking of these glaciers - not growth as Bellamy (bizarrely) claims.

Normally I wouldn't give a Tuesday Twat award to another scientist, since I believe that argument and debate is the lifeblood of research. However, Bellamy is in danger of causing serious problems in a field well outside his ken. As a well known environmentalist his words carry weight with the public - however it is rarely noted that Bellamy is a BOTANIST (and a damn fine one) NOT A CLIMATOLOGIST. He has formed his opinion and refuses to engage in meaningfull debate with those who know what they are talking about. Yet already, his words are being used by motor manufacturers as evidence that global warming doesn't exist and that there is no need for the manufacturer's to reduce fuel consumption.

So Professor Bellamy, it is with great reluctance I award you a Tuesday Twat award. Display it proudly, you have earned it.




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