Saturday, December 31, 2005

Thursday, December 29, 2005


Like many capital cities in developing countries, Damascus is a sprawling metropolis thronging with people, pollution, traffic and urban developments. However, it can also lay claim to being the oldest continually habited city in the world, and there are many examples of great antiquity and beauty. Though each successive civilisation built on the foundations of the one that preceded it and therefore "there is little physical evidence of the earliest stages of [the city's] development, ... excavaction in the Old City has nevertheless revealed evidence of settlement udring the fourth millenium BC" [Footprint Syria and Lebanon].
We've been ambling around the Old City for a few days now, and it's clear that though it's still a vibrant, dynamic, ever-changing place, it still retains signs of its long history. Surrounded by fragments of the old city walls, it's a completely different world to the rest of the capital. Narrow alleys, bustling ancient souks and beautiful monuments, I hope I've done justice to its unique atmosphere with these pictures.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Saida Rukkaiya

In the heart of the old city, Saida Rukkaiya Masjid was designed by Iranian architects and built in 1985. It's situated on the site of the shrine of Imam Hussain's daughter, and as such the area is usually teeming with Shi'a pilgrims.

Sunday, December 25, 2005


After we went to the police station earlier this afternoon and were told to return the day after, when normal services were resumed, we returned to the hotel from where we booked the taxi. Housed within the same building are the offices of a big household appliances manufacturer (Miraco, Ramco), and after hearing our story from the hotel staff, he invited us into his room and urged us to call home to explain the situation and to ask them to send some cash over. He’s lent us some money in the intervening period, which is a huge relief. After that, we went with one of his workers to the Syrianair offices to report the loss of the ticket. They told us not to worry, and that our first priority should be to complete the police and immigration reports, but that they would issue new tickets straight afterwards. It was a reassuring note to end one of the scariest days of my life.

What now?

We are in a bit of trouble. Earlier today our documents bag was lost or stolen, so we (mum and I) now have no passport, money or flight tickets. Today was supposed to be our final day in the capital, and we had just hired a taxi to go on a tour of the country in the five days we had left before we were due to fly to Saudi. We had just left a hotel and were on our way to a bureau de change to pay for this, but by the time we got there five minutes later the bag was gone. We had a mad dash around the streets, retracing our steps and asking people if they had seen it, but to no avail. Everything is closed for Christmas so we won't be able to make a full report to the authorities or visit the British Embassy till Tuesday. I’m really wetting myself now. As my friend said, after murder, kidnap and rape, losing your documents is probably what travellers fear most, especially in a country where you don’t speak the language (I can read Arabic but not communicate in it) and aren’t sure of the procedures. We do have photocopies of our passport photo pages, Saudi visas (but not our Syrian visas, as they were group visas and were stamped on arrival) and flight tickets however, which should help. Might have to sleep rough tonight if we can’t get money wired over soon though; we’ve only got the petty cash I’ve got in my wallet.

I’ll update again soon.

Merry Christmas

Warm wishes for the festive season.

The picture below is of the 27 metre tall ‘Peace Tree’ in George Khouri Square, central Damascus. It’s made of steel and is decorated with twelve million beads. Seven hundred workers were reportedly involved in its construction and it’s said to be the largest artificial Christmas tree in the Middle East and the second largest in the world, earning it a place in the Guinness World Records.

When we visited, the area was buzzing with hundreds of children having come to watch the spectacle and soak up the celebratory atmosphere (approximately 10% of Syrians are Christian, and December 25th is a public holiday). However, it’s so cold here though that my digital camera often refuses to work after sundown, and I couldn’t really capture the moment.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

First impressions

A few first impressions of Damascus and Syria:
  1. People are very helpful. Even if the person you ask can't help you directly, they will find someone who can.
  2. Wherever you go in the capital, indoors or out, there are pictures of the President and his father.
  3. News is dominated by Iraq and political events in the Middle East, especially those in Lebanon.
  4. Almost every building has it's own rusting satellite dish (there's been an explosion of satellite television channels in the last few years).

Friday, December 23, 2005


We’ve arrived. We got here last night, but had nearly missed our flight after my mum got the terminals at Heathrow confused. We ended up having to sprint from Terminal 3 to Terminal 2, getting there just in time to witness a flight between two fellow passengers. Never seen air rage before.

Anyway, the rest of the flight was good, and we’re now in Syria’s capital, Damascus. It’s a huge, energetic centre home to some five million inhabitants and growing at a rapid pace. We’re staying quite a way from the city centre though, so I haven’t had much chance to get a real flavour of the place and the people. I’ll update again when I have. In the mean time, let me know what I can get you from here!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

A break

I’m off to Syria tomorrow with my mum, so I may not update the blog for a while. It’ll be my first time over there and my first holiday for a year, so I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll try and post some photos and my experiences when I get back.

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Google name game

Hey folks, try this. Go to Google, and in the sreach box type (in quotes) your name followed by "needs". For example, in my case I typed in "Mustafa needs". Here's a selection of what I got:
  1. Mustafa needs the ball to flow through him.
  2. Mustafa needs special medical attention.
  3. Mustafa needs to go on a stress workshop.
  4. Mustafa needs to learn English and mix with the other boys.
  5. Mustafa needs a wife. He's tired of camels, if you know what I mean.
  6. Mustafa needs help.
  7. Mustafa needs a new home.
  8. Mustafa needs to get a life.
  9. Mustafa needs to add muscle to his splindly 6'3"-6'4" frame.
  10. Mustafa needs to get a LOT better or he needs to sit down.

Over to you. What fun and interesting nuggets of advice can you find in cyberspace?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Research update

A friend asked me to describe a little more about my project. So here goes! Let me know if you have any questions or would like to know more.

There is lots of evidence that the premature brain is particularly susceptible to injury that can result in long term problems including learning, behavioural and motor disabilities, and that it develops differently in the ex utero environment than it does in the womb. I'm looking at magnetic resonance brain images of preterm (i.e. premature) babies who were scanned at term equivalent age and comparing these to images from term born babies. I'm not using conventional MRI to compare them though, but with a technique called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), where the image intensity is dependent on the diffusion properties of water within the tissue. Water molecules are restricted by microstructural boundaries including cell membranes and axonal tracts, which become more numerous as the brain develops with age. DTI therefore allows you to assess brain microstructure, and so may allow the visualisation of brain lesions in preterm infants before they are seen with conventional MRI. However, due to the way DTI data is acquired, it's susceptible to severe image distortion in a particular direction. I'm working on ways of computationally correcting this post-scan, so that the data is good enough to allow comparisons. I'm also trying to put all of the images into a common reference frame, so that the comparisons can be objective, unlike region of interest analyses.

It's probably easier to explain this last part if I show you a couple of pictures. In both images, which are taken from the same infant, a T2 MRI slice is on the left of the dotted line, and a corresponding B0 slice is on the right. I am trying to put them into the same reference frame. 'Before' shows alignment before I applied the registration, and 'After' shows alignment after registration. The yellow arrows reflect the tissue displacement that has taken place. It doesn't yet work as well all the time, but I'm hoping to improve that! Once I’ve got all the brains into a common reference frame I can begin comparing groups of preterm and term infants.

Anyway, I'd better hear off - it's our Christmas party. Should be fun!

All the best,

Before (structures misaligned)


P.S. Please ignore all that pink noise - it just appeared when I tried to upload the images to blogger.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Turkish delight

Sorry I haven't written for so long. I'll get back into the swing of things soon, but in the mean time here are some more pictures that might raise a smile. Enjoy.

That'll foil them

If you can't pick the lock...

All respect for trying

For the love of the beautiful game

Friday, December 02, 2005

Malaysian signs

Some weekend fun. My abstract's finally submitted after many a sleepless night and I can relax a little bit. Enjoy.


Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Only in India

Just for fun, a few photos I've been sent in forwarded emails.

No offence meant.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Week's achievements

Random things I've done this week, in no particular order:

  1. Represented Brazil in the Imperial College Model United Nations debate on reforming the Security Council.
  2. Flossed.
  3. Saw a woman drive to work in yellow Marigold washing up gloves.
  4. Submitted my abstract to the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine 14th Scientific Meeting. If accepted, I'm off to Seattle, Washington next year to present my work. I was deliriously happy all Tuesday.
  5. Nearly had a meningitis C vaccination.
  6. Received a postcard from Gambia. My friend's on a medical elective there.
  7. Sent an email to an arrogant postdoc in the lab.
  8. Got my bicycle light stolen. Riding down the A40 in the dark during the middle of rush hour is seriously frightening.
  9. Saw an NHS clinical staff member not wash his hands after using the toilet.
  10. Was affected deeply by someone crying.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


I was just looking through my webpage stats today, and it really is surprising how many visitors stay for less than 5 seconds. It seems like lots of people make a judgement about whether to read on really quickly. As one website proclaimed,
"Information is not longer a precious resource; attention is."
I agree. If you are a regular reader, what would you like to read about, and how do you suggest I could make the site better?


Thursday, November 17, 2005


I did a Google search for pictures of the Chrysler building in New York City. Completed in 1930 it's a magical piece of Art Deco construction and is my favourite skyscraper. What ambition and beauty.

What's your favourite building and why?

Monday, November 14, 2005

Week's achievements

Random things I've done this week, in no particular order:
  1. Requalified to use an automated external defibrillator (AED).
  2. Went to my first opera with Kevin and Amy (the friend of a friend's daughter on an exchange from the US). We saw Gaetano Donizetti's 'The Great Flood' at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The rendition was in Italian, and before we bought programs at the interval we didn't understand a word.
  3. Disco danced in inappropriate shoes.
  4. Forgot to go to a French lesson.
  5. Went to the British Mountaineering Council's Winter Series Lecture. I didn't know Scotland was such a rugged and beautiful country. I'd better get my crampons soon.
  6. Put in an all-nighter in the lab.
  7. Wore the same pair of jeans four days in a row.
  8. Gave a presentation on 'Using diffusion tensor imaging and deformation based morphometry to investigate the developing preterm brain'.
  9. Flossed.
  10. Finished reading Richard Dawkins' 'The Selfish Gene'.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Posting comments


I've changed my blog settings to turn word verfication on. This means that when you leave a comment, you need to enter a word displayed onscreen. I know it's a bit of a drag, but it stops all the spam comments I've had lately.

Please do continue to leave comments though. I really appreciate them and, as the blog title suggests, criticisms are welcome.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

College fun, part III of III

A bit of juvenile humour. Here's the final part of how to have fun annoying your roommate. I haven't had a chance to try any of the activities in this instalment, but as soon as I move back out of my parents home I hope I'll be brave enough to give a couple of them a go. If you have, what did you do and what was the reaction?

The previous two entries can be found here and here. Please leave comments!

  1. Borrow your roommate's clothes. Offer to wash them, then act like they were yours all along.
  2. Refer to yourself in the royal third person.
  3. Name your books. Call them like dogs when it's time to study.
  4. Put peas in the toilet every time you go to the bathroom.
  5. Ask your roommate to pose for a portrait. Leave.
  6. Never allow your roommate's head to be below yours.
  7. Repeat everything your roommate says, but without the consonants.
  8. Administer last rites as s/he sleeps.
  9. Whenever s/he has friends over, complain loudly about his/her hygiene. Be graphic.
  10. Lie spread-eagled on your roommate's bed. Make him/her move you.
  11. Call him/her Mummy.
  12. Stand behind him/her while he brushes his teeth. When s/he takes the brush out of his/her mouth, force it back in.
  13. Announce everything you do as a group activity. (i.e. "We're going to bed now.") If your roommate fails to do whatever you said, accuse him/her of not being a "team player".
  14. Spell out the last word of each sentence you say to your roommate.
  15. Announce on the answering machine that your roommate has moved out. Tell anyone who calls for him/her not to call here anymore.
  16. When your roommate is out of the room, move his/her possessions over to your side of the room. When s/he returns, throw the things back over to your roommate's side, angrily telling him/her, "Stop invading my space."
  17. Read your textbooks aloud. Ask your roommate for help on big words.
  18. And at Christmas time...
  19. Go to the mall with your roommate and sit on Father Christmas's lap. Refuse to get off.
  20. Make conversation out of Christmas Carols. (i.e. "You know, I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus underneath the mistletoe last night.")
  21. Sing: "All I want for Christmas is my roommate's two front teeth..."
  22. Tear down all your roommate's Christmas decorations yelling "Bah Humbug!"
  23. Wake up every morning screaming "Ghost of Christmas Future, please have mercy on my soul!"
  24. Put on a fake white beard and insist that all your roommate's friends "give it a yank".
  25. Ring jingle bells maniacally saying, "Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings".
  26. Watch your roommate when s/he is sleeping. When s/he wakes up sing, "He sees you when you're sleeping..."
  27. Intensely study the complete list of ways to annoy your roommate. Form a discussion group with other friends. Give tests.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

A stone’s throw

I’m really upset. On Thursday I had a prior commitment today to help out with some first aid teaching at South Ken. The session went well, but cycling home at 10pm I was attacked. I’d just passed through Edgware Road, which was vibrant with people joyously celebrating Eid-ul-Fitr, but riding up to Maida Vale one of a group of boys hanging around outside a shop threw something hard at my head. I swerved to avoid it, but it hit me and nearly caused me to move into a car’s path. Fortunately I was wearing a helmet; if not I may well have fallen. The group laughed when they saw the impact, so I guess there was intent to cause injury. There were a few too many guys challenge them, so I continued home and the police from there. I’m not badly hurt, But I think they might try again with someone else and really injure them. The cops said they would go and take a look, but I haven’t heard back from them yet.

Has this ever happened to you? What did you do or would you do in such a situation?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Graduation Day

Sorry I haven’t updated for a while – my time planning’s gone all wrong these past couple of weeks.

Anyway, let me tell you a little about Graduation Day, which was yesterday. The ceremony was held in the Royal Albert Hall, just beside the College, a stunning venue with some of the best architecture I’ve ever seen. We were all cloaked and gowned, and each of us went up on stage in turn to bow to the Chairman and shake hands with the Principal of the Faculty of Medicine. With around 1000 students graduation from the faculties of Medicine, Life and Physical Sciences it was quite a long ceremony. Indeed, to paraphrase The Deputy Chair of Imperial’s Council, “The graduation ceremony is like an annual play. However, perhaps most people in the audience are only interested one of the actors, and many find the acts overly long…”. I think most of the participants really enjoyed it though. For my med school friends the ceremony only commemorated our intercalated BSc degrees, and so didn’t have the same sense of finality it did for most of the other students, but it was nice that the long nights and incessant reading we’ve put into achieving our degrees was recognised in front of our families and friends.

During the ceremony, winners of various prizes were celebrated with applause, and during the cheering I’m ashamed to say that the green monster came out in me. There was a prize for the best candidate in each of the BScs, but I didn’t win the neuroscience one. In all honesty, I certainly didn’t deserve the accolade and the winner was a far more hard-working and accomplished neuroscientist than me, but there was a slight pang of jealousy when his name was announced. If only I’d put everything into my work, I wouldn’t be left wondering ‘what if…’. Thankfully I have a chance of redemption with the PhD, an opportunity that I’m determined to make the most of.

Probably the best part of the day (aside from being able to dress like Harry Potter), was meeting friends again. During the first two years at med school most of our time was spent in group lectures with all 340-odd medics in the same lecture theatre. Most of the third year was spent in small groups in hospitals all over London and the home counties, however, and the fourth (BSc) year was similarly spread out. Having started on the PhD in July, I’ve sometimes felt even more isolated. But yesterday was a chance to meet everyone else again, and how great it was.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Pleasant surprise

Just got a nice surprise. When I went to the grand opening of ‘The Bridge’ and ‘Your Ocean’ galleries at the National Maritime Museum last month, I entered a short multiple-choice question competition. Today I received a letter saying I’d won one of the runner-up prizes, and got a booklet and DVD on Admiral Nelson, his leadership style and the relevance of his lessons to the modern business world. I know next to nothing about the guy, so it’ll be interesting to explore more.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

T Square 200

Today was the culmination of events commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. A big open-air event was held in Trafalgar Square where, after a talk about how important the seas are and the vital role still played by the Royal Navy, we were treated to a sound and light show. There was dancing, cutlass-fighting, a modern-day marines simulation, gymnastics and lots of fine band music. The evening was a bit jingoistic with plenty of flag-waving but it was pretty magnificent and good fun overall. Unfortunately my photos are rubbish, but hopefully they’ll convey some of the atmosphere and spectacle.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Transferable skills course

Imperial requires all it’s PhD students to take compulsory courses in transferable skils training, so on Tuesday over thirty of us newbies trundled to a conference centre near Bracknell for three days of activities exploring team-building, networking, effective communication, and project management. We were split into four groups and completed a series of timed tasks; some outdoor, others indoor, some active, others cerebral, some structured and others highly flexible. Through these we learnt to work effectively together, to respect each other and to complement each others’ skills. It was great fun but also really nice just to meet other new students. It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for quite a while, since Hammersmith can be a pretty isolating place to work in at times.

On the trip, I also made the effort to stay up taking each night. Usually I head straight to my room after a day of talks but this time I tried not to and I’m glad I did.
On the last day, we were asked to come up with a song, poem or dance to represent the lessons we’d learnt, the skills we’d acquired and the people we’d met during the course. One group came up with this classic verse. Sing it loudly to the chorus of ‘Hotel California’!

“Welcome to the research course in Bracknell
Such a lovely place (such a lovely place)
Smile on your face
Livin’ it up on the research course in Bracknell
You can learn with me (you can learn with me)

And the food is free (and the food is free)”

Like the St John course, I’m not sure how useful some of these skills will be during the PhD (the activities were team based, for example, but the majority of us present spend most of our time working by ourselves), but I did learn quite a bit about myself. One thing happened right towards the end that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

Monday, October 17, 2005

St John Ambulance Leadership I Course

A weekend of developing skills for leading and working within a team. We were placed in small groups and given a number of tasks to complete to the best of our abilities. There was a slight competitive element, and to be successful we would have to organise and plan quickly, delegate roles and support each other to fulfil these roles.

I found it pretty challenging working with a group of strangers whose strengths and weaknesses we don’t all know yet. It also felt a little bit artificial because during all the tasks we were under incredible time pressure, but I did learn quite a bit that hopefully we can apply back at Imperial. The best part though? Getting out of London for a while. The air was so pure near Chalfont and Latimer. The conference centre wasn’t even located in the village itself but way out in the sticks: no street lights for half a kilometre!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

iFirst Aid

Recently St John has been receiving lots more enquiries about first aid courses and training. To make information more easily available, the charity has made available first aid audio tips recorded by a qualified trainer. They cover a variety of topics, including:
  • Primary Survey (at the scene of an accident)
  • Rescue Breaths
  • Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)
  • Recovery Position
  • Fractures
  • Burns
  • Bleeding
  • Shock
The files are available in mp3, AAC and Real Audio formats, and can be downloaded for free at this website. Give it a go! You never know when you might need these skills. If you’d like to learn more just drop me a line – I’ve got lots of training books at home.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Ig Nobel winners 2005

Check out the Ig Nobel prizewinners for 2005.

Medicine - Gregg Miller from the US for his invention of Neuticles - rubber replacement testicles for neutered dogs that are available in varying sizes and degrees of firmness. "Considering my parents thought I was an idiot when I was a kid, this is a great honour," said Mr Miller.

Peace - A UK team for their pioneering research into the activity of locusts' brain cells while the insects watched clips from the Star Wars films.

Physics - John Maidstone from Australia for his part in an experiment that began in 1927 in which a glob of black tar drips through a funnel every nine years. Mr Maidstone shared the prize with a late colleague who died sometime after the second drop.

Biology - The University of Adelaide for "painstakingly smelling and cataloguing the peculiar odours produced by 131 different species of frogs when the frogs were feeling stressed".

Chemistry - A University of Minnesota team who set out to prove whether people can swim faster in water or sugar syrup.

Economics - A Massachusetts inventor who designed an alarm clock that runs away and hides when it goes off.

Nutrition - A Japanese researcher who photographed and analysed every meal he had consumed during a period of 34 years.

Literature - The many Nigerians who introduced millions of e-mail users to a "cast of rich characters... each of whom requires just a small amount of expense money so as to obtain access to the great wealth to which they are entitled".

Agricultural History - A study entitled The Significance of Mr Richard Buckley's Exploding Trousers: Reflections on an Aspect of Technological Change in New Zealand Dairy-Farming between the World Wars.

Fluid Dynamics - Pressures Produced When Penguins Pooh - Calculations on Avian Defaecation.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Do it anyway

The following poem was found engraved on the wall of the Mother Teresa’s home for children in Kolkata (Calcutta), India. It was attributed to her, but was probably written by a guy named Kent Keith in 1968. He copyrighted the work and included it in a booklet published for high school student leaders.

Whoever penned it, I think it represents a pretty good way to live.

People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered; Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, People may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you've got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God; It was never between you and them anyway.

More of Mother Teresa’s words can her found here.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Drinks with the director

Most new PhD students within the CSC begin at the start of the academic year, and hence have just started their students. Since I’ve only been in the group for two months, I’ve been attending all the induction sessions organised for the newbies. Yesterday was a chance to have drinks with the CSC director, so we all congregated to the cafĂ© after lectures. After heartily welcoming us all, he talked about how good our training would be, and how valuable the scientific skills we would learn would be in any future employment. “Of course, you’re all very important to us too…” he ended, “because you’ll be generating data”.

I left soon after to see a preview screening of 'Kinky Boots'. It's a film about an unwilling shoe factory owner (Charlie) whose business is failing. Following a drunken night in London he ends up in a drag quuen bar, where meets Simon/Lola. The women's boots that Lola wears can't bear a man's weight distribution, and the heels are constantly breaking. This gives Charlie the idea of scrapping making unprofitable men's shoes, and instead to begin making 'kinky boots' for cross-dressers. He recruits Lola up to his working-class Northamptonshire factory, and what follows is a tale of risk, challenging stereotypes and coming to terms with your identity. It's well made and I found it pretty original, but a reviewer on the Internet Movie Database has said it had many parallels to British movies such as 'Brassed Off' and 'Calender Girls'. I haven't seen either of these and would be very interested to hear what you think.

Monday, October 03, 2005


Phew, I can barely walk. Yesterday I participated in the Rainforest Foundation fun run, and I’ve been aching ever since. The run was in aid of raising awareness of the increased destruction of rainforests throughout the world, and of the impact this has on their inhabitants. The event was held in Victoria Park in East London, the first time I’ve headed to the ‘other side’ for quite a while. I ran with Kevin, and also had the pleasant surprise of meeting Winston there, with whom I went to Delaware in 2003 and hadn’t seen for almost a year.

The race itself went pretty well. I’m scandalously unfit, and only had time for one practice session in the gym before the big day. So I’m relatively happy with my time of 53 mins and 31 seconds. I did, however, get passed early on by a heavily made-up middle-aged man dressed as a battle ready Red Indian and wailing at the top of his voice. Target for the next 10k run: 48 minutes.

The run has definitely highlighted that I am not as physically healthy as I’d like. So what better impetus than to apply to run in the 2006 London Marathon. I’ve just sent my application off. How about joining me?

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Friday debacle

I’m so disappointed in my sister.

My cousin T is a fresher at Brunel University in Uxbridge, and I had volunteered to pick him up by car and bring him back to London for the weekend. We had arranged it all last Monday, and it would have been a good opportunity to catch up before we were both busy with college work. I would be going with another cousin, S, who is studying at UCL and would be coming up to Kilburn especially for the trip. S and I were to meet up at the train station at 6pm, walk home, drop our stuff and then drive up to Uxbridge together. Only when we got home, the car wasn’t there. My sister had taken it in the morning, saying that she would return it in the early afternoon as she knew I needed it for the trip. I tried calling her lots of time on her phone, but I kept getting her voicemail and I later found out that my mum had unsuccessfully been trying to get through to her since 3pm. Normally I would have understood, but my sister has a habit of disregarding other people’s commitments and switching her phone off when she hasn’t fulfilled a promise and doesn’t want to be contacted.

Anyway, I called T to explain what had happened and he was seriously annoyed. He ended up asking his sister to pick him up, but she did so begrudgingly, having had to give up her Friday evening plans. I heard that she let T know her feelings in no uncertain terms, and this in turn made him even more furious with me. I felt terrible. When I called back a while later to apologise again, explain the situation and ask for his pardon, he refused to answer the phone, and hasn’t picked up today either. I think it’s a pretty juvenile response. Does he really think I would have left him in the lurch if there was any way I could have avoided it? Even if I was busy or feeling lazy, if there was an alternative way to collect him I would have done so and not broken a promise. I respect the guy. Why would I want to lose my respect and trust with him? Anyway, seeing as I can’t get through by phone or text I’ve sent him an email outlining my side of the story. Will wait to hear what he said.

So, what did I end up doing on Friday night? Well, S ended up staying over, and we went out for some food before heading to this dodgy snooker hall. I had a good time and really enjoyed his company. He’s just a thoroughly decent guy. He’s from Leicester originally, and this was the first time we’d had a chance to catch up properly for nearly three years. I’m sure we’ll meet a lot more now that he’s studying in London though.

My sister had just got home when we returned, and gave a pretty lousy justification for her antics. The friend whose place she was going to have driven to in the morning hadn’t been free till the afternoon, so she had decided to postpone her trip till the afternoon. Her phone’s battery had run flat and hence we hadn’t been able to get through.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Procrastination with a purpose!

I just found this great site called Academic Coach. It's full of honest and practical advice on how to make the most of your study time at university. From getting started on writing your dissertation/grant/thesis to maintaining a healthy work/life balance there are sections on achieving more than you have in the past.

I also like the PhinisheD site. It's a discussion and support group for people having trouble finishing their theses, and includes a contract generator. With this you can make a printable private contract with yourself to help you achieve your goals. I think I'll find this very helpful, as I also seem to get more done when I've pledged on paper that I will do it. I'll post my contract on the blog just as soon as I've thought of some pledges!

Keep running,

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

MRI caution


I've told you about some of the advantages of MRI over other imaging modalities, but I should have also warned you about staying safe. Remember, no ferromagnetic objects near the scanner! Check out these pictures that I got from Simply Physics.


Monday, September 26, 2005

Zanzibari childhood

I was talking to my mum today about her childhood on the spice island of Zanzibar. She spent the first sixteen years of her life there, before the family moved to mainland Tanzania in the upheaval following the revolution in 1964. The sultan was being overthrown in a coup and amidst all the rioting and looting, there were many deaths. To escape, one of my mum’s sisters had to dress as a man and take a boat to Dar-es-Salaam in the middle of the night. My mum, meanwhile, was being rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy.

Before that though, my mum’s life on the island had been secure and stable. Mornings were spent in school and evenings having fun with family and friends. I had always assumed that most immigrants in Zanzibar had comfortable lives, but was surprised to hear some of the stories she told about islanders’ plights. Most striking was the story of a couple who owned a failing bicycle hire business. They had to keep loaning to children who they knew seemingly intentionally damaged the bikes, just to keep food on the table. I didn’t know that so many had a hand-to-mouth existence and lived in such poverty. She was crying by the end.

Saturday, September 24, 2005


The following quote is nabbed from Geoff’s blog, with his one word comment below. I’m not sure if he wants to publicise his blog, so I won’t give the URL. Geoff’s a chemical engineer and was my roommate at the University of Delaware in the summer of 2003. After a few awkward and quite difficult moments during the first week, we talked a lot, got a better understanding of each other and became good friends. He’s currently applying to come to Imperial for further study.

"The highest compliment you can pay me is to say that I work hard every day, that I never dog it." – Wayne Gretzky

For some more of Wayne Gretzky’s quotes, click here.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

In Greenwich

My mum is an office worker for P&O. The ferry company is a sponsor of ‘The Bridge’, a new wing of the National Maritime Museum, and she was given free tickets to attend the opening ceremony. The NMM is the largest maritime museum in the world and the collection is very well laid out and explained. I know so little about all things nautical but it was fascinating to have a look around all the artefacts and have a play with the interactive exhibits in the kids’ section. They really help you to learn and I think I now have a (very) basic understanding of how a ship works. There’s also a new section on Nelson & Napoleon, chronicling and comparing the lives of the two leaders, which I definitely recommend – go and visit! Oh, and entrance is now free.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

College fun, part II of III

Here are some more tips to have fun whilst annoying your roommate. Let me know what happens if you dare to try any of them!

30. Invite a homeless person to live in your room and sleep in your roommate's bed.
31. Get a friend to leave a phone message for you with your roommate, saying the test results came back positive. When your roommate tells you, cough, faint, and then refuse to discuss it.
32. Laugh a lot in the morning. Tell your roommate to be happy all the time.
33. Set your alarm clock for three o'clock. Push the doze button every 5 minutes when it beeps for the next five hours, each time telling your roommate that you'll wake up in five minutes.
34. Learn the words to all your roommate's favourite songs. Sing along.
35. Learn a lot of quotations. Whenever you talk to your roommate, say nothing but quotes for three weeks.
36. When your roommate is typing, type on your keyboard in synchronization.
37. Order five anchovy pizzas in your roommate's name. When the deliverer arrives, tell them that your roommate likes to play jokes on the pizza place and then your roommate lies about his/her ordering. Tell them where s/he is.
38. Every time your roommate walks in yell, "Hooray! You're back!" as loud as you can and dance around the room for five minutes. Afterwards, keep looking at your watch and saying, "Shouldn't you be going somewhere?"
39. Set up meetings with your roommate's faculty advisor. Inquire about his/her academic potential. Take lots of notes, and then give your roommate a full report. Insist that s/he do the same.
40. Every Thursday, pack up everything you own and tell your roommate you're going home. Come back in an hour and explain that no one was home. Unpack everything and go to sleep.
41. Bring in potential "new" roommates from around campus. Give them tours of the room and the building. Have them ask about your roommate in front of him/her, and reply, "Oh, him/her? S/he won't be here much longer."
42. Live in the hallway for a month. Afterwards, bring all of your stuff back into the room and tell your roommate, "Okay, your turn."
43. Bowl inside the room. Set up tournaments with other people in the building. Award someone a trophy. If your roommate wants to bowl too, explain that s/he needs bowling shoes.
44. Send flowers to your roommate, with a card that says, "I'm sorry. It won't happen again." When you see them, start ripping up the flowers. Repeat the process for a few weeks.
45. Call your roommate "Clyde" by accident. Start doing so every so often. Increase the frequency over the next few weeks, until you are calling him/her "Clyde" all the time. If your roommate protests, say, "I'm sorry. I won't do that anymore, Murray."
46. Challenge your roommate to a duel. If s/he refuses, claim that you have won by forfeit and therefore conquered his/her side of the room. Insist that s/he remove all of his/her possessions immediately.
47. Read the phone book out loud and excitedly. ("Frank Johnson! Oh, wow! 020 7494 5694! Holy cow!")
48. Put up flyers around the building, reporting that your roommate is missing. Offer a reward for his/her safe return.
49. Hold a raffle, offering your roommate as first prize. If s/he protests, tell him/her that it's all for charity.
50. Late at night, start conversations that begin with, "Remember the good old days, when we used to..." and make up stories involving you and your roommate.
51. Sit and stare at your roommate for hours. Bring others in to join you. Eat peanuts, throwing a few at your roommate. Then say, "Boy, these zoos just aren't what they used to be."
52. Make brown-bag lunches for your roommate every morning. Give them to him/her before s/he goes to class.
53. Every time the phone rings, turn on the stereo at full volume and begin to violently slam-dance with your roommate. If s/he asks about it, say, "Oh, that damn hypnotist...."
54. Insist that your roommate sing the National Anthem with you every morning.
55. Walk, talk, and dress like a cowboy at all times. If your roommate inquires, tell him/her, "Don't worry, little buckaroo. You'll be safe with me."
56. Buy a copy of Massacre at Midnight or Silence of the Lambs or any equally gruesomely titled book. Sit in a room with your roommate and read the book (or pretend to) with a highlighter mumbling, "That looks good..." as you highlight passages in the book.
57. Invite your roommate to sleep over.
58. When you leave the room, put on a screensaver that says, "I'm watching you."

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Open House

This week, was Open House London. This is an initiative where around six hundred of the most beautiful and/or architecturally significant buildings in the capital are opened for the public to see for free. We went on a guided tour of ‘The State’ first, a stunning building which is perhaps the most famous building in Kilburn. When it was finished in 1937 it was the largest theatre in the world, and had seats for over 4000 people and standing room for a further 4000. It is now a bingo hall.

Kingsgate Workshops were also open, showcasing the work of artists working in all range of different mediums. I’d never been before and don’t normally take much interest in art, but it was really nice to see what was going on and to talk to the creators. I met a one-legged lady there who was working on films depicting disability. I couldn’t tell which was her prosthetic when she walked to the other side of the room.

Whereabouts did you go?

The State

The Wurlitzer in the State, the larest in working order in the country

My main man James, outside Westminster

Saturday, September 17, 2005


Hey folks

Today was the Annual General Meeting of the British Youth Council, which aims to represent and promote young people in the UK. I attended as a delegate member. The day reviewed the BYC’s activities of the past year and determined the direction the charity would go in over the following twelve months. The council was made up of members of charities, faith groups, youth councils and political groups, many of whom I didn’t even know existed.

In the morning we also elected the new chair and the rest of the team, after which fireworks ensued. Within half an hour of the chair being elected a guy declared no confidence in him, seemingly because of a personal vendetta. All of us for whom this was the first BYC meeting watched in stunned silence as people started screaming at each other in every regional dialect and shouting others down without actually making any sense. In the end, the motion was sensibly withdrawn and we carried on.

In the afternoon there was a review on progress made and media exposure given to the BYC, before another controversial half-hour. The National Union of Students proposed that the charity have a policy not to share a platform with people holding extreme prejudiced or bigoted views. We weren’t sure that this was within the Council’s constitution, and people argued that by refusing to engage with bigots we wouldn’t be able to counteract their attitudes. In the end the motion was rejected by just two votes and there were many abstentions. That prompted the NUS delegation to walk out.

Anyway, I think the idea of a national group which can represent the views of young people to the decision-makers in the country is a really good idea, which is why I decided to be a candidate for the Participation and Development sub-committee.

The SJA posse

Outside Council headquarters near London Bridge