Sunday, July 31, 2005

I Need a Vacation

Loggos Harbour
Dawn over Loggos Harbour, Paxos, Greece

With all this frenetic writing, including a couple of near all-nighters in the last 72 hrs I keep dreaming (hallucinating?) of a holiday. Somewhere nice like the Ionian Islands. Or the Great Barrier Reef. I just want to read a few books and decompress.. Not much chance this year but in 2006 I will make a point of going away. The only thing is that last time I went to the Mediterranean in 2001 I ended up doing this:

John stressed
Grant Writing, Paxos, August 2001

Yes , you guessed it. Grant writing. Sad or what? And to add insult to injury I didn’t get that one...

Friday, July 29, 2005

A Plague on All of This...

I am slaving away trying to finish this bloody plague vaccine grant and feeeling a bit worn down by deadlines. Sometime in the middle of the night I turned to Google for some light relief and found a couple of interesting items:

1. I note that the "Plague and Pox Week" exhibit at Warwick Castle passed me by a few months back, unfortunately. It promised, "A light-hearted look at disease and death in the middle ages...putrid plague, pox and pestilence...oozing puss, scabby pox, crazy cures and yuck-making medicines". How could anyone have missed that...?

2. While I'm busy designing a high-tech vaccine with a concomitantly high budget, some entrepreneur is selling these nifty mediaeval plague protection masks (see below)for a very reasonable $150. As worn by all fashionable physicians in London, c1665. A pity it didn't do them much good.

Only thee days to go until the deadline: wish me luck...

Plague Protection Mask

Thursday, July 28, 2005

A Lament for London

Tower Bridge

I’ve alluded to this in a previous post but the events in London, home for 15 years of my life, have left me with a heavy heart. Indeed my mood has affected quite profoundly my appetite for blogging which has been distinctly impaired. I’ve tried to distill my thoughts with no great success but I’m going to set down a (kind of) stream of consciousness in the hope that it may be cathartic. So today I’m going to be serious and am foregoing the usual satire, snark and pseudo-witty comments. So bear with me or leave now and find a more lighthearted site such as this

As I’ve said before, I’ve been around urban terrorism for half my life (I note that there is some irony in the fact that the IRA today announced the total renunciation of violence) which has included some near misses and sadly the loss of my cousin in 9/11. Anyway here are my thoughts:

1. To the deluded murdering perpetrators of violence who leave things like this (see below) on Tube trains and buses I say shame on you that you commit these acts in the name of religion. You are misinterpreting your Holy Book and you deserve anything that comes back in your direction. And believe me it will. In the past London has been bombed on many occasions by better classes of bastards than you and has always stood firm.
bomb x-ray
X-ray of bomb found in a car at Luton
Photo from ABC News

2. I hope that the Spirit of the Blitz that emerged in the days following 7/7 can be maintained. This will do more than anything else to blunt terrorism.

3. I’ve seen more column inches of total rubbish that I could have believed possible written about the Police’s so called “shoot to kill” policy. Now let’s get this straight once and for all. There is no such thing as “shooting to mildly inconvenience” or anything else. It doesn’t matter whether the gun is aimed at your head or heart; the intent is to destroy. Belief that there can be any other intended outcome can be blamed squarely on Hollywood.

Armed police
The business end of a Glock 9mm. Stop if one is pointed at you.
Photo from Black Rat

4. My heart goes out to the family and friends of Jean Charles de Menezes who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and did nothing more than react to an adrenal surge -damn, I’d bloody well run in Stockwell if I was pursued by someone in civilian clothes waving a gun.

5. I feel very sad for the unfortunate Police trigger man who was put in an impossibly difficult situation. This was a seriously bad mistake and a heavy price will paid by all concerned. I take the view that all parties involved are terrorist victims.

6. I abhor the cheap commercialism of the right wing tabloid press that seeks to profit from lowest common denominator demagoguery as below. Shame on you!

Daily Express -hateful crap
I will never buy this heinous rag!

7. I applaud this kind of humour which is one of the best weapons against adversity.
Photo from Going Underground.

8. Finally,I hope fervently that we do not witness a backlash of racist hate crime.

OK, now I've got that off my chest it's back to work..

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Bear this in Mind


Further to my post on the local wildlife last weekend, the media seems to be full of reports on bear sightings in my neighbourhood including how one was trapped with Krispy Kreme doughnuts!!

Now it’s not as though as I live in the backwoods -I’m less than a mile from the espresso stand and two miles from Nordstrom’s. Perhaps the urban ursuri are just looking for lattes to go with their doughnuts...?

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Monte Carlo Historique Rallye 2006

Citroen poster

Well here's a bit of excitement to brighten the gloom of the past few days as well as distract (naughty) from grant writing. The Automobile Club de Monaco has just announced the preliminary route for the 9th Monte Carlo Historique rally. At first sight it looks like a very different route from previous years cutting through the Loire valley rather than going through the Ardeche. Also I note that every night stop is Parc Ferme (closed park)so there will be no servicing or repairs permitted once we reach our destination for each day. The grant factory doesn't allow me to get too distracted at this moment, unfortunately but I'll post a preliminary analysis nex week.

Now I must give our Team Manager, Jim Wirtz, a call and point out that he and Juliette have room bookings to make...

Monday, July 25, 2005

Writer's Block

I've tried to blog several times over the past few days but can't find inspiration. The awful events that have been ocurring in London weigh heavily and I don't feel it's appropriate to make some smart-arsed commentary about this or that topic that is truly trivial in the scheme of things. And I'm fed up with grant writing and quite probably need a holiday (fat chance this year).

So for now I'm going to soothe myself with that tried and tested remedy for all bothersome situations...

Saturday, July 23, 2005

New Neighbours

Raccoon 1

Raccoon 2

Raccoon 3

I have new neighbours. I had been wondering what kind of creature had been eating/breaking the new bamboo shoots in my garden and I found out a few days ago. A pair of raccoons seem to be marauding freely. They are very cute and undeterred by my presence. The local cats look a bit nervous though and I’m glad that my two felines are indoors only. Now I need a digital Nikon with a long lens to get better pictures as my little Canon compact isn’t cutting it…

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Spot-the-Bug Competition 3


Yet another grant deadline is looming. This time it’s a straightforward vaccine proposal for a select agent [i.e. a pathogen that can be used as a bioweapon]. The bug in question is an age old foe and very nasty. The EM here is of it lurking in a body compartment of an intermediate host. Given that London is once again suffering the actions of deluded individuals who use violence as their primary means of communication, I hope that they don’t figure out how to obtain and use this stuff.

As usual, a caffeinated beverage of choice awaits the lucky winner on their next trip to Seattle.

Today in London

I woke up to the news that a series of small explosions have ocurred on a bus and on London Tube trains (including Warren Street which I used to use everyday when I was a postdoc at the Middlesex Hospital). The bombs seems to have done little damage and there are no news of casulaties as yet. Their immediate effect appers to be nuisance value; I hope they don't herald a campaign of terror although I'm not particularly optimistic.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


When I started this blog lark nearly a year ago, it never occurred to me that I would ever be writing obituaries, especially on Tory politicians and actors. Nevertheless I was saddened by the passing of two individuals who were very prominent in my formative, youthful, years.

The first was that old warhorse of British Conservative politics, Ted Heath, who departed for the great-parliament-in-the sky last weekend. His career achievements were perhaps not the greatest. He sent Britain into Europe and troops into Northern Ireland. To be fair, I doubt whether he foresaw the European community would become the bloated bureaucracy it is today or that the militraisation of Northern Ireland would be the catalyst for three decades of bloody conflict. But he was courageous and principled and gambled his leadership in a trial of strength with the unions. He lost and was ultimately deposed by Margaret Thatcher for whom he had not even thinly disguised contempt. He was also a fine musician (eat your heart out, Tony) and a skilled yachtsman. While I’m not a supporter of Tory ideology, I feel that Sir Edward was a leader of principle and above all a gentleman: qualities that seem all too rare in the current crop of public servants.
Sir Edward Heath
Sir Edward Heath 1916-2005

Today it was announced that James Doohan, “Scotty” from Star Trek died at his home near Seattle at the age of 85. I was never a true Trekkie like some of my contemporaries but I did watch and enjoy the TV series and even saw some of the spin-out movies. Doohan was a great supporting actor and contributed greatly to the success of the show. Indeed I think he often outshone his peers William Shatner (who seems to have become much more interesting and highly eccentric in recent years) and Leonard Nimoy. In virtually every episode he would have an engineering crisis with the Enterprise’s over–stressed reactors and would utter in his character’s faux Scottish accent “I dinnae think she’ll take much more Cap’n”. And he will of course be enshrined forever in the pop-culture patois phrase “Beam me up, Scotty”.

James Doohan
James Doohan 1920-2005

Monday, July 18, 2005

Blog Updates

I’ve made a few changes to the links on the left-hand side of the blog. I’ve removed connections to some underperforming or defunct sites and added a few more. I’ve also added two new sections “London and the UK” which is there for reasons of purely self-indulgent nostalgia and “Science and Scientists” which reflects my professional interests. Anyway here are some brief descriptions of my latest “recommendations”.

Life Under the Microscope
A (female, I think) scientist working for the National Health Service in the UK who hopes to say sane by blogging. Having worked in the NHS I think it will take a bit more than some on-line ranting but that’s just my view. In any case I applaud her efforts.

Ramblings of a Scientist
An astute British biochemist. Winner of my last Spot-the-Bug competition.

An insightful female ex-pat American biologist living in Edinburgh.


Monkeys for Helping
Surreal and bizarre!

Twenty Major
Outrageously scatological Irish blogger (actually I suspect there is more than one person involved) who is uproariously funny and deeply offensive in equal measure. I find this blog quite compelling, probably because it appeals to my puerile sense of humour; go there at your peril and don’t blame me if you don’t like it.

Emerald Bile
Co-authored by Noreen, who purports to be residing in Tunisia and Ball Bag who I infer is somewhere in Ireland. Same comments as for Twenty Major.

The Rockall Times
Named after the barren outcrop of rock and sea area in the North Atlantic (you know like “Rockall, Bailey, Malin and Hebrides”). Very funny newspaper-style site with the tagline “there’s fuck all on Rockall.


The Londonist
A blog from a London resident. Professionally rendered and quite newsy in a sort of Evening Standard way. Carries a little too much advertising for my taste but nevertheless enjoyable.

Going Underground
Who would think a blog about the London Underground (Tube or Metro to non-UK readers) could be so compelling…?

Good political satire.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Answer to Spot-the-Bug Competition 2

Well we have a winner! Congratulations to Dr Jim who correctly deduced the bug to be Leptospira sp. In fact the EM is Leptosprira interrogans strain RGA. This strain was originally isolated in 1915 by Uhlenhuth and Fromme from the blood of a soldier in Belgium.

I've now segued into the next grant for 1st August (currently there is an unseemly rush by many US-based scientists to jump on the lucrative bidefence program before it closes on 2nd August). This will be a vaccine for yet another bacterial pathogen. This time a bit less obscure than Leptospira. I'll post another competition next week.

Friday, July 15, 2005

10 Years Ago: Rowing on the River Wear

Rowing on the River Wear
My eight-year-old daughter, Olivia, who is inexplicably 21 next month, has just informed that in addition to being elected captain of the University of Washington women’s rowing team she has been awarded a full-ride (tuition and room & board) scholarship for her final year at university. She has also managed to fracture two of her ribs in the pursuit of her chosen sport.

Several thought come to mind;

• It’s now 10 years since I introduced Olivia to rowing on the River Wear in Durham, UK. I have a long-standing soft spot for this beautiful city and was visting a friend; by chance we took this excursion on the water in a small dinghy. Evidently this experience had a formative impression on Olivia who has been fascinated by the activity ever since.
• Needless to say I’m ridiculously proud of her achievement. The University of Washington women’s rowing team (The Huskies) is consistently ranked within the top 5 college teams nationally.
• Great news about the scholarship: now I can contribute a bit more to my retirement fund. Yay!
• I don’t understand the physics of the muscle-bone interactions as related to this sport but I am amazed by the power of biomechanical forces that can crack ribs. Olivia tells me this is quite a common injury in rowers.
• Are there any Professors of Psychology, preferably in Oxford or Cambridge (she wants to continue rowing) who want a lively, young PhD student in the autumn of 2006?

Thursday, July 14, 2005


We're not afraid 2
I couldn't resist posting this on the We're Not Afraid website.

Now back to the grant. The deadline is 3am Friday (tomorrow) morning. And yes, that's US time. I'd better get my finger out...

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Latest Foe: Spot the Bug Competition 2


Phew, it's hot. Summer has definitely arrived in Seattle. In addition I'm sweating to meet two grant deadlines: one for the 15th (Friday) and one for August 1. Thus blogging is going to be either light or lightweight for the next two weeks. Here's an electron micrograph of one of my lastest foes. Can anybody guess what it is? I know readers SaneScientist or Gilly have a fair chance of getting it (clue: it causes a disease of humans and animals).

I'll post the answer on Friday. Now I'd better apply my nose to the grindstone...

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Seat 29E

Having been in precisely the situation described below on more than one occasion, this cri de coeur from an intensely uncomfortable passenger on a Continental Airlines flight strikes an empathetic chord:


Friday, July 08, 2005

A Minute's Silence

Half mast

50 dead (and counting), more than 700 injured.

I'm still composing myself. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Oh, God -Please Not Again!

Damage caused by the Canary Wharf bomb, February 1996. Photo taken personally.

The shock of the awful bomb attacks in London is difficult for me to describe. I was really hoping I’d seen the last of the misery caused by terrorist activities even though I haven’t lived in the UK for four years. The city has known relative peace for the past decade however I always suspected that further acts of barbarism were inevitable. Sad to say but there have been so many such incidents in my adult life that I can’t remember them all but here are some that were particularly close-to-home or affected me personally:

October 1974: Surrey

IRA bombs pubs in my home town of Guildford killing 5 and injuring 44.

October 1975

Gordon Hamilton-Fairley, a professor of haematology at St. Bartholomew’s hospital, a place I would work 17 years later was killed in Kensington by a bomb intended for his MP neighbour. I was PhD student at the time and had come up to London for a conference and was staying with a friend in a house nearby. The bomb awoke me rudely in the early hours of the morning. A children’s ward at Barts is now named after Hamilton-Fairley.

March 1979: House of Commons, London

Airey Neave MP, was killed by a booby-trap bomb attached to his car as he left the car park at the House of Commons. The proximity of the bomb to my then place of work, the Middlesex Hospital Medical School, was shocking as was the audacity of the attack.

July 1982: Hyde Park & Regent's Park, London

Four Household Cavalry Guardsmen and 7 horses were killed when an IRA bomb exploded in Hyde Park, London. The explosion produced a scene of butchery, with dead and injured soldiers and horses strewn across a roadway through the park. The media images of this carnage were indelibly imprinted on my memory. The same day another bomb exploded under a bandstand in Regent Park killing another 7 soldiers and injured 22. The Middlesex hospital was just two miles down the road. I didn’t hear this bomb but I remember clearly the wails from the sirens of numerous ambulances attending the scene.

April 1993: Bishopsgate, London
An IRA van bomb at Bishopsgate in the City exploded doing a enormous amount of damage and killing a news reporter and injuring dozens. I had just moved back to London after spending a decade in California and was grimly reminded that London was an international battleground. Some of my colleagues at Barts who were on ER duty treated the victims. It was estimated that the bomb did £350 million worth of damage.

December 1993: Woking Railway Line, Surrey
A bomb planted by the IRA exploded on a railway track halting train services and delaying the journey to work for thousands of commuters. As a schoolboy in the 1960s I traveled this line every day for 6 years.

March 1994: Heathrow Airport
Heathrow Airport evacuated staff and passengers from Terminal Four and closed its southern runway after a second mortar attack on the airport in 30 hours. At least one shell landed on the roof of the terminal but didn’t explode. I had just left the building after meeting a friend who was en route to India.

February 1996: Docklands, London

The IRA ended its “ceasefire” with a massive truck bomb not far from the Canary Wharf office tower in east London’s Docklands area. Two men who worked in a newspaper kiosk were killed and over 100 more were injured. I was hosting a party in for my lab group in my flat that Friday evening. The bomb went off directly across the River Thames and I thought the blast was going to blow in my windows. Guest arriving at the party were delayed for several hours in the ensuing traffic chaos.

September 2001: New York
My cousin, Robert Eaton, working for Cantor Fitzgerald, loses his life along with along with nearly 3000 others when hi-jackers attack the twin Trade Towers.

Man’s inhumanity to man seems to know no bounds. Words fail me as I try to comprehend why violence becomes the first choice instead of the last resort in conflict resolution.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Frogs Croaked

Half price
Half Price? You'll be Lucky!
Thanks to reader, Gilly, for providing this snap.

Sorry, gentle readers, for the paucity of posts but I've had my nose to the grindstone on several large projects. Grant writing, the scourge of the scientific community, has kept me nailed to the floor. And what time I've had for recreational writing has been devoted to another project -details to be revealed soon (hint may involve Minis).

Anyway I have to comment on London's successful bid for the 2012 Olympics. A great result. The celebratory scenes and atmosphere remind me of the 1966 World Cup victory.

I generally avoid bashing the French but I love this pic, especially after Chirac's obnoxious comments about British cuisine and Mad Cow disease at the weekend. Definitely some karmic influence in play, I think.

Actually I didn't think London had a hope. And they want to build a stadium in Stratford (to American readers this is the one in the East End of London and not to be confused with Shakespeare's birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon) -it's a compliment to call it a dump. I can't imagine how much money will be poured into the region to fix it up. Perhaps I should sit back and watch the price of my flat go into the stratosphere.