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

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Salute Google?

Hey all

Try Google Earth! Here are some satellite pictures of my road and the University of Delaware main campus. What do you think of this new Google innovation? Excited? Scared? Indifferent?

Where I live: Kilburn, North-West London. Inner city rules.

Part of the University of Delaware campus. Such good resolution!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

College fun, part I of III

With the new school year about to start up again, lots of you will be having new roommates. How about some fun? Carry out the following for guaranteed entertainment. I’ve tried two of them already.

For more sensible advice though, check out these tips from MSN Encarta.

  1. Twitch a lot.
  2. Talk while pretending to be asleep.
  3. Move your roommate's personal effects around. Start subtly. Gradually work up to big things, and eventually glue everything s/he owns to the ceiling.
  4. Recite entire movie scripts (e.g. "The Road Warrior," "Repo Man," "Casablanca") almost inaudibly.
  5. Ask your roommate if your family can move in "just for a couple of weeks."
  6. Smile. All the time.
  7. Burn all your waste paper while eyeing your roommate suspiciously.
  8. Leave a declaration of war on your roommate's desk. Include a list of grievances.
  9. Hide your underwear and socks in your roommate's closet. Accuse him/her of stealing it.
  10. Whenever your roommate walks in, wait one minute and then stand up. Announce that you are going to take a shower. Do so. Keep this up for three weeks.
  11. Paint your half of the room black. Or paisley.
  12. Whenever s/he is about to fall asleep, ask questions that start with "Did you ever wonder why...." Be creative.
  13. Shelve all your books with the spines facing the wall. Complain loudly that you can never find the book that you want.
  14. Listen to radio static.
  15. Cry a lot.
  16. Send secret admirer notes on your roommate's e-mail.
  17. Whenever your roommate comes in from the shower, lower your eyes and giggle to yourself.
  18. Whenever his/her parents call and ask for your roommate, breathe into the phone for 5 seconds then hang up.
  19. Call safety & security whenever your roommate turns up his/her music.
  20. Follow him/her around on weekends.
  21. Whenever your roommate is walking through the room, bump into him/her.
  22. Stare at your roommate for five minutes out of every hour. Don't say anything, just stare.
  23. Skip to the bathroom.
  24. Whenever you're on the phone and s/he walks in, hang up immediately without saying anything and crawl under your desk. Sit there for two minutes, then call whoever it was back.
  25. Insist on writing the entire lyrics to American Pie on your ceiling above your bed. Sing them every night before you go to bed.
  26. Burn incense.
  27. Don't ever flush.
  28. Buy potato crisps with all your money. Stack the bags in the middle of the room in a pyramid. Eat them whenever your roommate is in the room. For every one you eat, offer your roommate one, each time telling him, "No one can eat just one."
  29. Give your roommate's clothes to the Salvation Army.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

My brain

Here are some images of my brain. During my first week in the lab, I helped a friend doing functional MRI research. I was asked to play a number memory game whilst physiological changes in my brain were explored. We’re always looking for volunteers in the lab, so if you would like a free MRI brain scan which would then be reviewed by an experienced radiologist, just drop me a line. Remember, MRI has no proven adverse health affects, and is a non-invasive, non-ionising imaging modality with excellent soft-tissue contrast.


This is a T1-weighted mid-sagittal image. It's very good for imaging the corpus callosum (which connects the left and right hemispheres of the brain), the brainstem and the cerebellum.

Here's a T2-weighted axial image. The third ventricles are seen in white. You can also see the caudate and putamen, separated by the anterior limb of the internal capsule.

For comparison to the T2-weighted image, here's a proton density axial slice.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Duchenne muscular dystrophy

There was a very interesting talk today on new advances in the treatment of a genetic disease called Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. DMD is an x-linked progressive muscular dystrophy which affects around one boy in every 3,000. The disease is caused by a defect in a muscle protein called dystrophin, which is important in maintaining the structural integrity of muscle fibres. Without functional dystrophin, muscles are unable to contract properly, and suffer progressive damage. By the age of twelve, boys with DMD are wheelchair bound. They usually die in their twenties from respiratory or cardiac failure.

One way to treat DMD is to try and inject DNA encoding for normal (i.e. functional) dystrophin into muscles. This can be done by giving modified plasmids. However, the problem then remains is how do you deliver dystrophin to all the muscles in the body? There’s no way you could inject the plasmids into each muscle individually. What the speaker was investigating was the use of microbubble technology to aid uptake. Plasmids were injected along with microbubbles, and then ultrasound was applied to pop all the bubbles. This would have the effect of transiently disrupting muscle cell membranes to facilitate entry of the plasmid into the muscle. Preliminary studies on a murine model seem promising, and show significant expression of functional dystrophin for up to three months following the procedure. There’s still a long long way to go before we can think of applying this to humans though. How, for example, would we apply the ultrasound to the whole body? Is that even safe? What about tissue heating?

Do let me know what you think.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005


I wish the library at Hammersmith Hospital hadn't reverted to the shorter summer opening hours. When I started here I made a resolution to get in to work earlier and stay later than the other two PhD students in the office because:
  1. They have a head start on me, having begun their PhDs last October.
  2. They're smarter than me.

I'm determined to rectify both points. It's quite lonely staying alone in the office past 7pm though. I miss the study groups we used to have in med school. Even though I would still be studying alone, if the library were open as least I'd still feel like I was part of a learning community in the evenings.

What about you? How has the start of the new year been for you?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The conference, day two

Yesterday afternoon there was a diffusion tensor imaging workshop as part of the conference, which was really useful for me, as that is the MRI modality I will be using throughout the PhD. It was valuable to know what’s going on in the world of MRI, and to speak to some of the people whose research papers I’m reading every day. I’m lucky in that respect because the postdoc we’re with is a bit of an imaging legend who has done important work and seems to know almost everyone. He was quite blunt during today’s parallel imaging session though, questioning the usefulness of the research done by a speaker and calling his signal-to-noise ratio “cr*p”!

What was your first conference/public speaking experience like?