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.