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Archive for June, 2005

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English Summer (1)

Thursday, June 30th, 2005

Our six-day-summer came to an end with the deluge that flooded Glastonbury along with large parts of central England last Friday and cut power to 35000 homes in the Manchester area. Yesterday, between downpours and with the distant rumble of thunder still on the horizon, I walked to the newsagent to buy some milk and it was there that I saw the headline:

First hosepipe ban in a decade on the cards

This should tell you all you need to know about the English summer (Scotland does not tend to have hosepipe bans).

The sun peeked briefly through a rift in the blanket of clouds and the shopkeeper looked up at the sky. She was standing in the entrance with a cork noticeboard under her arm, wiping the sweat off her brow.

“Goodness me,” she sighed:” I won’t get this thing back up if I don’t close the door first. How silly—but how can anyone think in this heat?!” The temperature was in danger of nudging 20° C.

In the evening, the draught that has the country in its grip was headline news on the radio. Newsbeat commented that Londoners had been advised not to flush the toilet when not ‘strictly necessary’. Or, as one woman put it in an interview:

“If it’s yellow, let it mellow;
if it’s brown, flush it down.”

Quite.

The Gremlins are lose

Sunday, June 26th, 2005

I am at the end of my tether with all things writing-connected. Blogger has deleted my blogs, and this grates enormously. My blogs may not have had many readers, they may not have been particularly interesting or well-written, but they mattered to me and I feel wronged. I had come to rely on the web as a place to write and post comments and thoughts. Google has taken over the old newsgroups and on rasfs I can still read posts dating back to 1991 (which was a fertile year for discussing world building and alien biology). I assumed the internet was a safe place for information exchange.
[read on]

Guts no Gusto

Friday, June 24th, 2005

John has said that he doesn’t like chitlings. I don’t get it. Sure, the dish wasn’t as delicate as the one we had in Taiwan, but it wasn’t cooked wrong—that is the way they taste! But if it means an end to Gonzo cooking for now that’s fine with me, it was getting a little tiresome. With the sun finally out, it is a time for quiche and salads and we’ll have pizza tonight. However, this is still England: plans for a weekend BBQ are on hold as grey clouds are starting to gather.
[read on]

Guts and Gusto

Thursday, June 23rd, 2005

On a balmy evening at the end of the millenium, John and I sat on the terrace of a restaurant by the Szechunghsi Hot Springs near the southern tip of Taiwan and looked out over the valley below. It had been a near perfect day—despite the keen interest John’s hairy chest had attracted from the kids—and we were looking forward to a romantic dinner before returning to our special suite (it had a round bed and the private bath tapped directly into the hot springs). We had little time together because it was nearly impossible to prize John away from his work. Dinner called for something special.

I ordered what I thought was duck, judging from the pictograms on the menu, although it might conceivably have been a kind of soup. It turned out to be neither. It was pig’s intestines.
[read on]

Dreams

Thursday, June 23rd, 2005

The loss of The Nervous Breakdown Manual is extremely upsetting. Over the past five months it has been a therapeutical tool with which I have tried to understand what happened in the 3½ years between April 2001 and the end of 2004. I have tried to reconstruct events of which I have only a limited memory but which were life-changing (and not for the better). Only by following up these events will I be able to accept the consequences in the long term. The NBM has helped me to deal with the on-going repercussions—until now, when they may reach their final conclusion or open up another avenue of lost fights and bitter disappointment.
[read on]

How are we led astray? or: The R&D Game

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005

You have an idea, formulate a hypothesis and write a grant proposal. Because you have to sell yourself (the timid don’t get funding) you make great predictions. Pharma latches onto it because it sounds promising (“Wow, if that is true, then we get this!”—with a very small ‘if’). The first results are not discouraging and soon get spun into something encouraging. You continue to build the castle in the air: stronger compounds now get roped in for development until the whole thing blows up leaving everybody with egg on their face. Why? Because the right question was never asked. People mistake hypotheses for textbook truths and with pressure from shareholders or short-term grants, further indications are not followed up. Nobody knows what really causes depression. No one, not even a Nobel Prize winner. Nobody has asked the right question and so people have tried to cure a disease which they don’t understand. As someone once said: It is like taking antacids for stomach cancers. Or aspirin for the flu. Only more damaging for some.

Science is about the art of asking the right questions—or should be.

Dangerous game? Sure thing, R&D is a high-risk business. Most of their stuff doesn’t work out, so the little that does has to prop up the entire industry megalith.

And the regulators? It takes high-level experts to understand this stuff. The majority of these will have some industry involvement. They get to review selected reports, not the raw data. The only way around this is to demand openness at source which some journals now start to do: future studies have to be registered with the journal to which they will be submitted for review and all data will have to be made available on line (that is revolutionary and it will make everybody’s lives easier, including that of the researchers shredding their nails during these studies—no more secrets!)

I have a phone appointment with my lawyer in 15 minutes. It made me reflect on my career and the games we all played, in another life. The Nervous Breakdown Manual has been taken offline (censorship?) I’m cross-posting this here because I need to get this off my chest.

Bad Apples and other gripes

Tuesday, June 21st, 2005

Still at the old computer but I got a new, tiny mouse and that feels almost like a whole new machine 🙂
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Goodbye Computer

Thursday, June 16th, 2005

After eight years of faithful service, we are about to retire our computer. It has served us well and it could hobble along for a bit longer with memory upgrades, but it is as far from today’s PCs as a horse-drawn cart is from a Ferrari. I am tired of not being able to take part in the fun on the web: videos, music, real-time multi-player games. It is time to join the digital revolution proper: I feel old and out of touch, just like this wretched machine. And I can no longer abide this beta-version of AbiWord I am forced to use: there are bugs in it which occasionally overwrite text instead of inserting it (fun if you insert a paragraph in a story without backup) and (I’m not kidding!) sometimes causes me to write backwards which I’m sure is hilarious if anyone could see my face, but less funny if you’re writing down an idea that is about to go *puff*.
[read on]

Whale watching in the Bay of Biscay

Thursday, June 9th, 2005

(>1500 words)

I emerged from my stifling dark cabin at five thirty in the morning, surprised to find it already light outside. Eagerly, I climbed the stairs to the observation deck. When I pushed open the doors, the air was sucked out by a gale that nearly whipped the jacket out of my arms. I threw it on hastily and made my way to starboard. The sky looked ominously grey with the sun still under the horizon, but the sea which had been choppy and flecked with white yesterday lay motionless like a flat, grey carpet. Perfect conditions for whalewatching. The grey outline of hills signified that we were already too close to shore to see the fabled beaked whales that inhabit the continental shelf and deepwater canons in the Bay of Biscay, but we would come this way again.
[read on]

Ooops

Wednesday, June 8th, 2005

Re. my indignance when Boots (the Chemist!) didn’t supply my pictures as jpeg files on the photo CD—well, today John tried to decipher the thing on his labtop and encountered reams upon reams of legalese about a license for a piece of software he did not want but was asked to install.

It didn’t work.

So I shouted at him (“You could have tried that earlier!”) and retreated in a huff to my study. I didn’t want to go to Reading (1 bus every hour, 50 minute ride, 3.20 each way) to complain to Boots in person.

“Alright! I do it!” It was his day at Reading Uni.

So after his various meetings he rushed to the Boots megastore out of town on his way home only to be redirected to the one on the high street where I had the film developed.

So he had to pay extortionate parking fees and run around until he found it just before closing time.

So he had to endure a lecture about ‘reading directories’…

You see, there were two folders on that CD: ‘hires’ and ‘lores’. “Hires of what?” I thought: “And would ‘rules’ not be a simpler expression than ‘lores’?”

No—’high resolution’ and ‘low resolution’ each folder containing another with the pictures in it.

Here is a calming photo of some gulls taking off from a cliff near Borth which John took through a tele-lens with a Kodak Ultimate Ultra (or Ultra Ultimate) film on our mate’s kick-ass Nikon FM camera:

gulls.jpg