March 2009

steam engineGuess where I went today!

Well, since there are only 5 places I can think of in the world that would make me open a post like that, it shouldn’t be too hard. That’s right, it was the London Science Museum! It’s the best place to go for industrial age technology, since they have a bunch of Watt’s original engines, one of the first x-ray machines, and a huge gallery with all sorts of awesome stuff in it. I love the big old clunky technology that had gears and balance arms and flywheels and that you could actually figure out just by looking at it, so it took about five minutes for me to totally lose all semblance of propriety. Some of the scale models were actually running, and I must have pushed the start button on the miniature victorian engineering shop a good 5 times before I could drag myself away.

The medical and materials science exhibits I’ve pretty much outgrown, and while the space exhibit was pretty awesome, I think the National Air and Space Museum in DC has spoiled me. However, there’s nowhere else in the world you can see the original Rocket locomotive or the oldest haystack boiler, the Columbine, Smoking Billy,  or Old Bess.

radial steam turbineThe locomotives were all intact, but some of the steam engines had been cut away so you could see how they work, like this one. Apart from being amazed at the delicacy of the teeth (which don’t show too well in the photograph), I was interested by the fact that this one’s a radial turbine. The ones in modern power plants are all axial, but this early design apparently does it the other way round. Unfortunately the structure in the accompanying animation of how it works vastly differed from that of the actual machine, so I’m still a little fuzzy on where the steam enters and where it goes out. I guess that’s an excuse for me to go back.

Tomorrow I was planning to check out the Darwin exhibit at the Natural History Museum, which is right next door. It would be easy to swing by to spend 20 minutes or so figuring it out, and perhaps getting some freezedried icecream for lunch. I was seriously considering it today, but I got distracted by the motors. Also, I might try to catch a showing of their new imax educational film, which I missed today. It’s apparently on the logic behind a lot of the more fundamental mechanical inventions. The title is “A World Of Cracking Ideas,” some details of which can be found below.

Wallace & Gromit set

Dang, now I want some Wensleydale…


If you’ve visited the Snowday Gallery page recently, you may have seen that uber rat very kindly offered to convert one of the photographs to black and white, and when I checked my mailbox this morning, I found this:

prison walk bw platinum filter

Dang, that’s pretty sweet! So, my thanks to uber rat, whose photography can be found here.

Seeing how nice that conversion turned out inspired me to experiment a little in iPhoto (yeah, no photoshop on this computer) with this and a few of my other unposted photographs, some of which I decided to stick up here. They aren’t nearly as nice, but it was fun.

prison walk 1 bw

prison walk 2

Alright, I’m making the last one bigger because it turned out so much better, and it’s my favorite.

Tralee 2007

Imagine that you live in Southwark. The sunlight filters through the high windows of your room along with the angry growl of Saturday traffic to rouse you from the first full night’s sleep in a week. You grumble at it, squint at the clock, and find that it’s two and a half hours past your alarm. Last night’s plans try to knock the dust from between your ears and finally succeed in reminding you that you have two papers to write and had planned to be at Waterloo by 9am. Well, that option’s out, but it wakes you up. Your mind leaps into overdrive. If you waste no time, you can still shower, do your weekly cleaning, take out the trash, and get all of your work done on schedule. Yes, it can work. Speed is the key. Jaw set, eyes narrowed*,  you leap into action, flinging off the covers and swinging your legs over the side of the bed. At this point you discover that you’ve finally caught the stomach bug that’s been going around. Perhaps the morning is going to go a touch slower than you’d expected.

Well, you only have black tea, but a hot shower is always a favorite for feeling better. You point your playlist to the juncture of Queen, Shanadoo, Tarkan and turn the hot water knob all the way up, lip-syncing “I’m a man with a one track mind, so much to do in one lifetime…” and the world seems so much better. By the time you’ve got to the second chorus of King Kong, you don’t feel so bad anymore (the fluffy towel helps), and when Sikidim starts, you’re already whistling and trying to compromise between scrubbing the sink and playing air guitar. You soon discover that the sink is clogged. When did that happen? Your playlist pops up the Bee Gees as you weigh your options. Considering that maintenance still hasn’t come about the window lock, which you requested in the first week of January, that’s not a likely bet. While you were able to unclog the shower drain, and you don’t really mind that the toilet always flushes twice, you’re not quite up for  breaking into the maintenance closet to get at the plumbing. That means being ecologically irresponsible and making a trip to Tesco for Mr. Muscle’s sodium hydroxide gel. Ah, well, it happens to the best of us, and you needed to buy more apples, anyway.

While the scum in the sink ebbs slowly out of sight, your newly finicky stomach reminds you that, while breakfast isn’t on the agenda, tea is, and it sends you to the kitchen. The flat is dead silent, and when you open the kitchen door, you’re struck by two things: the smell of sour milk, and a green sheet of paper on the table. The smell seems to be coming from the recycling that, for the fourth week running, your flatmates haven’t taken out. Someone’s also spilled something sticky on the floor that you’d just mopped, and there’s a dusting of bread crumbs and sugar across the counter. Humming Pense à Moi, you mop again and wipe off enough of the counter to make tea. They had the cleaning rota worked out before you even moved in, so it’s curious how studiously your flatmates ignore it. The green slip is a failed kitchen inspection notice. Not surprising, really.  Anyway, tea is good.

It’s a gorgeous day, which is appreciable even if you have to spend it glued to a computer. That’s been almost every day, recently, but it was a lovely change looking out of the library window and seeing a daffodil on Thursday, and the old Marshalsea Prison yard is always a lovely stop on the way home, especially now that the apples and cherries are blooming. Between winter and studying, you’re as pale as Dracula, but maybe that will change if you do your reading on the window ledge. Well, actually you remember that there’s no wireless here and most of your work right now uses PubMed, but you open the window nevertheless. With a little help from Carrapicho, it’s almost the same. Even when you’re denied access for an article on Science Direct, you only gripe a little before remembering that it’s much too nice out for that. After all, during paper season, what more can you ask?


*in determination, of course, and maybe a little bit against the light.

This past week’s lectures for regenerative medicine were arguably the coolest we’ve had this semester, although only one of them was actually about medicine. The first was on UK stem cell law, the last was cancer SCs, and the middle one was given by John Harris (the philosopher from Manchester) on the bioethics of our research. Really what we ended up talking about was the basis for a moral code, which was quite a lot of fun. What did get under my skin were some of the assumptions Dr. Harris made, including that there is an intrinsic reason why humans are more important than anything else, and that communication is the same as speech. As far as I can tell, morality is purely a matter of social context. It’s basically the code of cooperation we decide upon to maximize our own chances of survival and development. Over time, this code gets more convoluted and is more prominently aimed toward less immediate threats, but at heart it is the same structure that arises for dolphins, wolves, ants, even organ systems. There’s an elegance to it that amazes me.

We didn’t get that fundamental in the lecture, so the discrepancies between my reasoning and Dr. Harris’ are still nagging at me. However, there’s so much work on my desk that, instead of talking more about this, I’m going to try sitting on it for a few weeks until the last of my papers is turned in. See you then!

I’ve been sifting through Pubmed and Springerlink for research articles on all different aspect of liver cell therapy lately. It’s a surprisingly fun task, since the online format allows me to indulge in all of those little tangents by reading an abstract or two whenever it strikes my fancy. I’ve already found some possible novel applications for MSCs and HSCs in hepatocyte transfer or other cell therapies for the liver, just by stumbling over papers on slightly different topics. The way most scientific papers are titled, you almost don’t need to read the abstract, so I’ve been able to keep tabs on a few different fields while scrolling through journals. Closer to the deadline, that will be dangerous, since I’ll need to buckle down and focus, but it’s a worthwhile diversion in the meantime. Also, epub ahead of print has got to be the most wonderful invention ever; some of the most informative articles I’ve found aren’t scheduled for print until after my essay is due! It’s hard to imagine what a handicap lack of communication must have put on research even 20 years ago, which makes me wonder what our next paradigm shift might be…

Anyway, re PubMed: here’s to looking at you, kid.

Last night I went and saw The Taming of the Shrew over at the Novello for just £5. I love being a student. The performance was excellent, of course; it was the RSC, after all. However, it isn’t Shakespeare’s best play, and I’d forgotten how the play-within-a-play issue was never quite addressed. The director took some liberties to make that work out, and he also gave the play a much darker reading than I ever had. When I first read Shrew, I gave it a quite optimistic spin, but that’s the wonder of the written word: one person can read it as sarcasm while another reads it as a threat. I won’t spoil what the director did except to say that it was extremely powerful and left the audience dead silent during most of the last act. I went out that night to see a comedy, but ended out sitting up until 3 am with tea and a kid’s book. Parasites I can deal with. People are another matter.

Staying up so late was probably not the greatest idea, since this was an early morning meeting other students for a trip out to Oxford and Blenheim Palace with Angie the wonder guide. Typically, of the 18 of us registered for the bus, only 7 showed, so we had a much better organized excursion than we’d been planning on. For the first time since I’ve been here, it rained tremendously, but the awesome destinations made up for that. Olivia, Salam, and I also had lunch at the Lamb and Flag, where the Inklings used to meet and write. Next visit, hopefully the weather will be better, and I’ll go to the Eagle and Child across the street (another Inklings pub). Despite the initial rain letting up for a strong and bitter wind, we did get a rainbow over Oxford, and we had a good time.

Unlike at Greenwich, I had my camera and took a few shots. These are some of the better (or at least, more representative) ones:

Blenheim Palace

Here we have the drenched entrance to the only non-royal palace in the UK, and Winston Churchill’s birthplace.

Blenheim estate

Blenheim Palace in the rain looks pretty dreary, but the iron-rich stone glows beautifully in the sunlight. I’d also bet that the grounds are incredible once spring really hits. As it is, they’re beautiful in the rain, but I suspect I could enjoy them more when my fingers aren’t half frozen. The same applies to Oxford, which is about 20 minutes away by coach.

Christ Church

Christ Church, even after a rain in nastily cold weather, has the prettiest grounds.

trees on the Christ Church grounds

This is also the college that hosted the Great Hall scenes for the first Harry Potter film. I hardly even tried to take pictures of that (after all, I went there so I would remember it – not to take pictures to that I could prove that I should remember it), but it was pretty awesome. I was pleased to see Boyle’s portrait halfway along the wall.

The spiky building dominating the above picture and the background of the one on the side is the refectory, which stood in for the great hall. If I had the privilege to eat there every night, I wouldn’t mind the cap and gown requirement.

Below is, amazingly, another lamp. Sorry if I get predictable after a while, but it was an exceptionally pretty corner of the courtyard.

lamp and the refectory of Christ Church

Oxford BackstreetsOxford also has some pretty awesome sidestreets. After leaving Christ Church, I saw this directly down the road. I’m not  entirely certain, but that should be Corpus Christi college. You’d never guess that Oxford was one of the old monastic schools, would you?

I didn’t take too many pictures, and didn’t get to really explore the town on my own, so I’ll have to return when the weather’s nicer. I suppose this is one more reason to apply for a Marshall.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with the rather soggier (but warmer) picture of the Blenheim lions:

Blenheim lions