Lab: The Show

During the England game yesterday we came up with an idea for a new reality show. There are already shows centred around pop stars, hospitals, pirates and all sorts, but what about scientists?

Introducing LAB: The Show. 12 graduate and postdoc students in biology are placed in a lab for ten weeks in order to produce a proper research paper. Every week, one student is voted out of the lab, and then in the last week, the final three students compete to become first author. The show will be livened up with surprise visits by star scientists, and the various challenges the students will face include deciding what to spend their money on (e.g. food, or more Gilson Pipettes?) and designing posters for conference.

Naturally, the students will not be allowed outside of the compound, with includes living quarters, a kitchen and a dining room. Controversially, there will be only two computers with Internet connections, so watch out for heated arguments over who gets to use them, and if they should be used for work or play!

No doubt Fox will be the first in line to purchase this stunning concept from me…

A Clash in Civilization

Some time ago, I wrote a long article about a fascinating way of playing the strategy computer game Civilization 3. That article – A Clash in Civilization – has now finally been published online at Kuro5hin, where it successfully ran the gauntlet of the highly cynical and hostile reviewers and emerged unscathed and on the coveted front page of the website. I’m quite pleased that it received such a positive reaction because, while aimed at a general audience, it’s about a very specialised subject. If you like it, please pass it on!


The reason I went back home last weekend was to use a microlight voucher I received for my 21st birthday, a mere 10 months after I actually received it. The microlight centre (more accurately described as ‘a hangar in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere’) was about an hour’s drive away and while it seemed like the curse of bad weather that had foiled my attempts to go hang-gliding in Australia might return, the weather was perfectly acceptable when we got there.

A microlight is a cross between a hang-glider and a light aircraft in that it has a flexible wing but is powered. The whole craft is very small and when you’re sitting inside, you’re totally exposed; if you undid your seatbelt while up in the air, then with some effort you could jump out (of course, you’d have to be actively trying to do this). It would be useful to look at these photos of the flight while reading this.

I’ve gone flying in a RAF Bulldog light aircraft before so the experience wasn’t totally new to me; putting on the helmet and flightsuit were familiar (although sadly nowhere as cool as the Top Gun-esque suits I had for the Bulldog) as was getting into the cockpit. The takeoff was extremely rapid as we flew into the wind, and we go to 1500ft in no time.

For the most part, the pilot/instructor did the flying while he explained the mechanics of microlight flight to me, but I did spend some time doing turns and following land features myself. Basically, in a microlight you steer by moving the wing using the bar attached – however, you aren’t really moving the wing, you’re actually moving the microlight pod like a pendulum relative to the wing in order to shift its weight and tilt it. It’s all very simple and easy.

During the flight were were flying in unrestricted airspace, which extends across a huge swathe of the west of England and extends up to 2500ft. Go any higher and you have to start talking to Air Traffic Control, who, according to John (the pilot) demand an unreasonable number of things. Apparently it’s quite easy to take trips up to Scotland or down to France without having to ask permission from anybody.

The view from 1500ft up was perfect – low enough to see details, high enough to see for miles. I found it surprising to see exactly how much of the landscape was countryside – I suppose if you just drive across the land you only see the built up areas. Probably the two most interesting things I saw were the ruins of a castle (Beeston Castle, maybe?) and the Jodrell Bank radio telescope.

Landing was smooth, as was the entire flight, which lasted about an hour. On the whole the experience was a lot of fun although if I did it again I’d want to fly over another area.

Summon the Worms

Usually it’s the other way round, but after listening to the incredible Children of Dune TV movie soundtrack, I feel compelled to buy the DVD (and the CD – I believe in buying stuff I listen to a lot). If you’re wondering why I decided to listen to the soundtrack of a movie I haven’t watched, the reason is because the music from the Master and Commander trailer is not actually from the movie, but from the main theme of Children of Dune (tracks 1 and 18, in case you are interested).

Great balls of fire

When I was at primary school in West Kirby, my teacher once told a story about how our sunsets are world-famous and how she met someone from Japan who’d heard of them. While I thought our sunsets were pretty impressive as well, being young and cynical, I scoffed at the thought that people as far away as Japan would know about them.

I came back to home in West Kirby this evening for the weekend, and my bedroom window directly faces the sunset here. Right on cue at about 9pm, a heartwrenchingly beautiful sunset appeared with a shock of colours rising over the trees and purple clouds puffing along before a deep blue sky. If that sunset had appeared in Oxford (which it never has and probably never will) then I imagine people would be amazed. Here in West Kirby though, it’s just another in a long line of wonderful sunsets.


An extremely noisy and irritating fire alarm is scraping across my eardrums here at the lab. We have quite a clever alarm system here, in that there are two types of alarms – the first one (which is what I am hearing right now) means ‘get ready, there might be a fire’ and the second one means ‘get the hell out.’ The other people in the computer room are taking the alarm with enviable composure and haven’t even batted an eye, although there have been some people hurrying across the corridor muttering about ‘what fire?’ and ‘…get some coffee’. I wish the damn thing would just decide whether there’s a fire or not.

NotCon and FreeFire

I visited NotCon ’04 yesterday and had a lot of fun being able to go into maximum geekitude along with the rest of the 300+ attendees. I didn’t hear anything particularly new at the conference apart from the announcement of the wonderful website, but I met a bunch of interesting people and reveled in the ability to engage in IRC backchat during sessions over the free wireless network, and later on, assist in the collaborative editing of some session notes.

On another note, Apple are expected to announce some sort of wireless FireWire peripheral in the coming weeks. Since the term ‘wireless FireWire’ is a little silly, there’s been speculation as to how they’ll rename it. My prediction is FreeFire.

Some photos

Selected photos of my trip to Madrid are now online, along with some old (and more complete) photos of West Kirby Marine Lake. There’s not an awful lot to say about Madrid; our days centred around two things, food and drink, both of which were plentiful, good and cheap (just like pretty much everywhere else in the world outside the UK). But more stories about that later.

A certain kind of class

One of the unexpected benefits of entering the Apple community is that it introduces you to all sorts of interesting people. I’ve already met several people at college – none of them particularly technologically-oriented or solely male – who have come up to me and said, ‘You’ve got a Mac, right?’. I’m not entirely sure how they know this, sometimes it’s because of my iTunes Share, but other times I really have no idea. In any case the introduction usually leads to a quick comparison of our respective Macs and accessories, and perhaps mutual admiration over iTunes Shares (a guy I met yesterday apparently listens to a lot of my Japanese music). The opening formalities thus concluded, we can then move to more general non-Mac areas in the happy knowledge that the other person is a well-balanced, cool and all-round froody person with whom a conversation is well worthwhile.