Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Seven Ages of Man

Well maybe not quite the seven ages of man in the Shakespearean sense but a commentary on how we change during four years of undergraduate study. My inspiration for this post comes from Dawn over at Webmiztris who published a delightful series of pictures of her own evolution through grade school years. Sadly I don't have such a complete set. But I was rummaging in a box of snaps of my student days wondering how it could possibly be 35 years since I started out as a student at University of Wales in Cardiff. Well I can't explain that but here for your amusement is a pictorial record of my “development” through those heady days…
October 1970

October 1970. Freshman. Picture from Student Union ID card. Long hair, cluelessly styled. Awful glasses. No confidence.
October 1971

October 1971. Picture from SU card or similar. Better haircut (I’d found a barber who could do layering). Still got the awful glasses though somehow confidence growing. Cool leather jacket that got stolen from the SU cloakroom.
October 1972

October 1972. Another SU card photo. Big improvement. Now looking like I’d got a clue. I still have those trendy gold octagonal glasses somewhere. Hair is noticeably bleached by spending six weeks baking myself in Greece. I’m still terrified I’ll develop melanoma from those days.
October 1973

October 1973. Getting serious for the dreaded final year and hitting the books big time (mostly to compensate for behaving like a reprobate in the previous three years). Precision haircut with artfully sculpted facial hair. Fitted puke green shirt; I seem to remember I wore a lot of brown back then…
Graduation 1974

Graduation, 1974. Somehow proud owner of a very respectable degree in microbiology. I should have kept that tie as that style seems to be back in fashion. Don’t know about the brown suit though.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Citroen 2CV


I haven’t posted on the “Vehicles I have Known and Loved” series for awhile. So here’s one for the memoirs. A Citroën 2CV, circa 1959/1960. I bought this little car in 1969 for £100 and borrowed most of the money from my parents. I’d finished my studies at Guildford Tech and was taking, what is now know in the UK as a “Gap Year” prior to going to University of Wales as an undergraduate. During this time I worked as a lab technician for the pharmaceutical company, Eli Lilly, and a commute was involved from the parental home. Back in 1969, Citroëns were rarely seen outside of France and having a left hand drive car in the UK was seen as eccentric, to say the least. But I loved this little two cylinder beast. It was very spartan but had some wonderful features. The canvas roof would roll all the way back and al fresco motoring was great fun. Furthermore the backseats could be lifted out and used for picnics and beach trips. The windscreen wipers operated from a drive on the speedometer cable so the faster I went the quicker they moved however when I stopped at a light they would also come to a halt and in heavy rain this would reduce my visibility to about a foot in front of the car. There was no gas gauge, just a 4’ long dipstick in the tank that I would examine at petrol station to the great amusement of onlookers. I don't remember any seatbelts.

I ran around in it for a year. It was probably the most fun, reliable, economical and easy to fix car I’ve ever owned. Indeed I once changed a rocker arm by the side of the road with a very minimal toolkit. It wasn’t fast and the body rolled like crazy but it stuck to the road like glue thanks to a suspension that was the work of genius. I repainted it in its Gallic Grey colour for the sum of £6 (the deal was that I would do the rubbing down and masking) and eventually sold it for £150 prior to heading off to University. A nice tidy profit -I don’t think I’ve achieved such a satisfactory conclusion on an automobile sale since…!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Rallying Update

Bill and John at Ashford
Photo courtesy Chris Brown and MiniWorld.

Slightly disappointing news I'm afraid. Bill Richards and I have decided not to enter the 2006 Monte Carlo Historique rally for a number of reasons. First, I've got a lot of private and professional commitments for the early part of next year and wondering how I was going to fit everything in was becoming very stressful. Second, we hadn't achieved the level of sponsorship necessary to compete at top level. The 2005 event showed us exactly what we need to do to place well. As you might expect there is no real secret to success, but it is essential to do a lot of homework (including a practice run through the route) and a great support team. But all this costs more money than can be covered personally so we need sponsorship. Frankly we didn't get this organised although this was more down to our approach rather than lack of effort. Thus we've decided to wait until the 2007 event but we'll get going on our sponsorship deals early; that is to say almost immediately after the 2006 rally is over. Last weekend Bill and I discussed a revised fundraising strategy in the light of this year's experience and I'll share that with you in another post. So for now PRX 720B is going to remain in his warm lockup, but not for long. Watch this space for more details to follow soon...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Atlantic Crossing


It's the fourth anniversary of my third Atlantic Crossing (in the residential sense). A lot of water seems to have swirled under the bridge (or perhaps I should say "around the ocean"?) since then. I hasten to point out that while travelling economy class on United Airlines lacks a certain sense of adventure, the flights are mostly reassuringly dull and those little underseat life jacket thingys that we love to disparage would have been quite welcome to passengers on the Titanic.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

What a Dick!

What a Dick
"That's about the size of it..."

Today I woke up to the sensational report in the New York Times [you might need to register to read this story] that Dick Cheney was the one that had fingered CIA agent Valerie Plame. And there I was thinking it would be Karl Rove's neck on the block which in itself would be bad enough for Dubya -but for the Vice President to be complicit in a possibly treasonous act is beyond the pale. I have no doubt the White House's Damage Limitation Machine is about to strip its gears on this one. Interesting times...!

Monday, October 17, 2005

California Bound


Phew, I seem to be a on a treadmill these days. Now I'm off to California for a couple of days. Specifically to the architecturally-challenged University of California at Irvine to organize a scientific collaboration. Blogging may be light and the usual caveats about getting smog poisoning apply. Otherwise I'll be back on Wednesday...

PS The latest obsession with Google searchers finding the MD & E site is "Jasmin Harman". I really have no clue about this! Can anyone enlighten me...?

PPS OK I couldn't stand it and did a Google search myself; now I'm enlightened. All this presumably prurient interest is understandable. See here for more details. Indeed it would seem that Ms. Harman is extremely easy on the eye and rather more interesting than either Sarah Beeny or Kirstie Allsopp.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Miscellaneous Musings

Wow, It's been a busy week with no time for proper blogging. Here's a few observations that are neither here not there...

England have qualified for the 2006 football World Cup by beating Poland 1:0. Somehow this news is underwhelming. Why do I get a sense that the infamous old laissez faire attitude has returned to the squad...?

The choice of Harold Pinter for the Nobel Prize for literature was, to me at least, unexpected and deserving. Especially after that odd Austrian woman last year. Pinter manages to make profound statements while being quite hilarious. Definitely one of the 20th century's greatest playwrights...

In a similar vein, hats off to Mohammed Al-Baredi, who along with the International Atomic Energy Commission won the Nobel Peace Prize last week. Dr Al-Baredi stood up to the most mean-spirited bullying from the current US Government by stating repeatedly that there was no evidence of (nuclear) weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that military intevention was not justified.

The world's news media continues to propogate a culture of fear regarding bird flu. Thosuands of birds in Romania have been slaughtered as a precautionary matter. It would seem birds have more cause to be worried.

My site traffic counter has gone totally berserk this week. Of my last 100 visitors, about 60 were searching for Sarah Beeny,10 for Kirstie Allsopp, 3 for Seetha Hallett and 2 for Jasmin Harman (who?). What's going on? Has a new series The Property Ladder started? UK readers, feedback please.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Infection Control


Following my post last week (October 5th) the spectre of an epidemic of Avian flu, the disease seems to have remained in the news. Now I'm very suspicious that the news media is happy to amp up this topic it takes our minds off the Iraq quagnmire and and the US and UK governments are of a similar mind. In addition W's macho posturing seems to be overcompensation for the royal screw up he made of managing the Hurricane Katrina disaster not to mention the fact that the economy is going down the tubes, petrol prices are going through the roof, his own party is apalled by his overt self-serving cronyistic behaviour and it looks like Karl Rove is going to be indictated.

But never mind all that for a minute. The point I'm trying to make is that a military solution to a flu pandemic is not going to work. Professor George Annas, Chairman of the Department of Health Law, Bioethics and Human Rights at Boston University School of Public Health, describes why in this superb article in the Boston Globe and reprinted on the Effect Measure site. Take a look; it should be compulsory reading for members of the government at least!

Friday, October 07, 2005

Python vs Alligator


Workwise, I feel a bit like this python who bit off more than he could chew when he swallowed an alligator and EXPLODED!. The Tuesday grant deadlines are looming and I've got piles of work to do beforehand. There won't be much respite until then. I just hope I won't explode...

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Spanish Flu

Spanish Flu

Normally George W has me worried when he attempts to speak on topics that require anything more than the ability to count to 10 or an understanding of polysyllabic words. His look of dumbfounded cluelessness when confronted by a slightly complex question does not befit the leader of the Free World. But yesterday he positively terrified me. He was talking about the Government's preparations for an epidemic of Spanish flu -a very nasty infection that killed more people in 1918-1919 than the First World War. The thing that worried me was not W's carefully enunciated sentence alluding to the "H5N1 virus" (how long did his handlers take to teach him that tidbit of scientific jargon?) but his overall approach to another domestic disaster. Essentially he wants to use troops to enforce quarantine in infected regions. Now apart from the political ramifications of such an action (states don't like being overruled by the Federal Government) and that such measures are unlikely to be very effective for disease control what really bothers me is how badly he's missed the point. What we need is increased research to develop better anti-viral drugs and vaccines, not cuts in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget to give tax breaks to the rich and fight illegal foreign wars! A global pandemic of Spanish/Avian flu is predicted to kill 140 million which could mean 5-7 million deaths in the US alone. George, this is serious! For goodness sake get your priorities right and get a grip.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Ronnie Barker

Ronnie Barker

Ronnie Barker OBE

September 29, 1929- October 3, 2005

Comedic genius


Monday, October 03, 2005

George Best

George Best in Manchester United team colours, c1970.
I've read with great sadness that George Best is in intensive care with some kind of infection. I hope he makes a speedy recovery but the signs are not good. Since his liver transplant a few years back, he's reverted to drinking, suffered a humiliating prosecution for driving under the influence and his wife has left him. Overall it's been a sad, undignified and very public descent from superstardom. To non-UK readers, George emerged as a brilliant football (soccer) talent in the 1960s and 70s. He was the first celebrity sportsman in Britain and lived the high-life to the full. But although the media came to be obsessed with stories about his partying and checkered love life, where he really entertained was on the football field. George had masterful ball control and his ability to dribble through massed ranks of defenders was nothing short of breathtaking. He was certainly one of the finest players of his gereration and many pundits consider him to be an equal of Pele.

So, George, get well soon. After all you've got to love a bloke who can say, "...I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered..." !

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Fame at Last

Mini at Ashford_1
My 1965 Cooper S at the old Ashford railway station. Picture by Chris Brown and courtesy MiniWorld.

SaneScientist's blog contains a weekly feature, The Tuesday Twat, in which he draws attention to the moronic behaviour of certain elements of society. His latest award (September 27, 2005) goes to boy racer types who spend vast amounts of cash on their hopeless cars in an attempt to make them appear sporty (they usually end up with a stereo thet is more powerful than the motor) and then annoy the hell out of the neighbourhood by driving about in a psychopathic manner and making way too much noise in the process. These sad Twats are invariably devotees of MaxPower magazine which appears to be geared primarily towards knobhead antics.

With this in mind I'm slighly sheepish about announcing my lastest publication in the October issue of MiniWorld magazine, which being a serious member of the automotive press, would never encourage boy racer cars. The article is a full feature on the build of my 1965 Morris Mini Cooper S, the rally exploits of which launched publicly this blog back in February. I have to say I'm very pleased with the article. It has been my experience that any kind of media, broadcast or print, can make the subject look extremely silly. But to be fair MW has done an excellent job and the pictures of the car, taken by ace photographer, Chris Brown, are quite superb. Fame at last...!

And will Mad Dog rallying be competing in the 2006 Monte Carlo Historique rally, I hear you ask? Good question indeed -the answer is hanging in the balance and will be the subject of my next post.