Something that bothers me about the malls in America is the fact that you can’t look around freely. These otherwise pleasant and interesting places have stalls set up in the centre of their ‘streets’ which are invariably populated by mobile phone companies, and if you should even glance in their general direction, they’ll call out to you and say something like, “Hey boss! Have you heard about Cingular’s new special offer?” After a while, this starts to grate since I happen to value being able to walk around malls with my thoughts to myself and not be disturbed by loud vendors.

This trend went to ridiculous extremes last weekend, when I saw a Verizon vendor call out to a guy walking past tapping on his mobile phone, “Is that a Cingular phone?” The guy replied, “Uh, yes.” I paused, fearing some sort of altercation in which the Verizon vendor would start hurling abuse at the Cingular man. As it was, he just started extolling the virtues of Verizon to the increasingly uncomfortable passerby.

As a result, I’ve taken to walking in the malls staring fiercely ahead in the direction I’m walking, making sure that I never meet the eyes of the vendors. I understand they’ve got a job to do – sell mobile phones – but is it really necessary to be so intrusive?


Whenever I go on holiday, I always think it’d be a good idea to do something spontaneous and unusual. Most of the time though I don’t really bother since there isn’t anyone I know who’s around to watch, and in any case the ideas I have invariably involve a fair amount of risk or money. So on Saturday, after a long visit to San Diego Zoo and the nearby science center, I was pleasantly surprised to see the Semi Spontaneous Shakespeare Society performing in the park and looking for actors.

The Semi Spontaneous Shakespeare Society puts on performances of Shakespeare’s plays every Saturday in Balboa Park, and practically all of their actors simply walk in off the street (as it were). After watching a couple of scenes of All’s Well That Ends Well, I thought it’d be fun taking part and within a few minutes I was being coached through Act IV Scene III as the Second Lord.

The scene was fairly long and the guy I was talking with mainly was pretty good. As for my own performance, I don’t know how that went – the audience didn’t throw anything at me, at least, and there was even a good bit of applause at the end. Having an English accent obviously helped.

A real problem with doing this sort of thing in the UK is that the weather is completely unreliable, and since the point of the society is to get members of the public to participate in a classical production with the minimum of effort, it really does have to be done in a public place like a park with decent weather. Of course, this is no problem for San Diego, which I have long since concluded has the best weather in the world.


Things at work are proceeding along fairly smoothly. I’ve been running the first set of subjects on my pilot experiment during the last couple of days and processing the results (too early to tell whether they’re ‘good’ or not).

Probably the most exciting thing that’s happened around here was a BBC crew interviewing the head of the lab, Prof. Ramachandran, for a series about the neural mechanisms of dance, to be aired in September on BBC 2. It was quite fun to chat with the crew and see their bizarre clothing. Anyway, they left this morning to go and cover a wedding in New York (something to do with the human posture, I’m told).


Exams have finally finished! Had a fun day today watching the England – Argentina match on a cinema screen, and then spent the rest of the day at a barbeque. Going off to Oxford tomorrow to visit my girlfriend as well. Now I can finally stop trying to keep all these random facts in my head, although strangely enough I can’t seem to forget anything I learned from Molecular Cell Biology, which I discovered to be an extremely interesting subject while I was revising it.


So it seems that this summer I will be working at UCSD in San Diego for a bit over six weeks from late June to early August, and then spending a week in Washington DC. Any readers live nearby, or have any tourist tips?


Went to the dentist today. As I mulled over the psychological impact of hearing the whirr of a drill on patients (perhaps if you used a silent drill people wouldn’t make the association between pain and the drill?) the dentist took a couple of x-rays of my teeth. I hadn’t been to the dentist for a while, so I was suitably impressed with the mobile x-ray camera they had attached to an actuating arm above the chair. I was however less impressed when, as I leaned back after the x-rays, the camera (looking uncannily like a gun) went and drifted over from its storage position to come to rest direction above my face, pointing down.

“It’s got a life of its own,” muttered the dentist.

This didn’t assuage my fears.


I got an email today from my psychology supervisor, Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen (the autistics guy) who said that unfortunately he wouldn’t be able to give us an extra supervision for the exams since he’s flying out to Kosovo to help with their new child psychiatry service. I think that is impossibly neat.

Reasons to be cheerful

Reasons to be cheerful:

People on Metafilter liked my post about aerogel (inspired when I saw these pretty photos). I’m very pleased about this – Metafilter is being swamped with too much news culled from CNN, Slashdot, Kuro5hin and other web news portals these days, so I thought the readers might like a change and see something new. And they did.

I received an email from Giles Turnbull about how he liked the design of this weblog. I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy receiving emails like that.

I had a moment of epiphany about a particularly troublesome bit of revision concerning DNA recombination. I’d spent about five minutes trying to figure out the exact mechanism, drawing things on bits of paper, when it suddenly struck me that I should look at the diagrams backwards.

I remember sitting in a friend’s room last term, when he put on some new music. I immediately jumped up and exclaimed, ‘Hey, that’s the music to Barry Norman’s Film Night!’ He corrected me and said, ‘No it’s not, it’s by Nina Simone and it’s called I wish I knew.’ And so it was, and in that moment he unwittingly had given me the secret of the song’s name which so many people loved but didn’t (and may still not) know.