June 07, 2005


I remember why I'm never as enthusiastic about the arrival of summer as most people are. Allergies! The weather may be nice, the sun might be out and the temperature soaring into the err…low 20s, but allergies contrive to make your life a misery!

It was particularly bad today. Extremely dry eyes, sore throat, persistent sneezing and a stuffed up, twitchy nose, you name it. GRRR! And that's after taking daily tablets to combat them. With luck the symptoms will pass in a while. In the meantime, expect to see me hanging around looking a little miserable from time to time! (just for a change :-))

Went on a walk from Campus to Leamington and back today with my 3 peaks challenge team, as part of our preparations for the event. About a 20km round trip. It took us just over 2 hours each way, with a break for lunch in leam. About 5km per hour – not too bad. My feet were quite sore by the end of it though, partly due to trying to wear in some new boots. Still, nothing a relaxing bath wont fix…mmm.


June 03, 2005

My house…and things

There are a number of issues with my house. If it was properly maintained by its occupants, in all honesty it would probably be quite a nice house. The wood-panel ceiling downstairs is quite a nice touch after all, and the open-plan layout is nice too.
It's a pity, really, that the said wood-panel ceiling leaks. More specifically, it tends to leak from the bathroom upstairs down to the kitchen whenever somebody gets a bit free with bath water (or forgets about the shower screen). At least we got the major problem which caused the kitchen to flood altogether fixed. This is a student house of course, so it's no surprise to find that the boiler doesn't work properly either. The toaster no longer toasts, and the hoover certainly doesn't hoover without a lot of encouragement. But the kettle still works (tesco value kettle no less), so we can still have tea :-)

None of these house issues were apparent when our living room was taken over last night, thankfully. My housemates brought round their "Cell" group for the evening. Small world really, since I knew quite a few of them from elsewhere! I have to say I've never seen the living room by atmospheric candle-light before, either. Interesting. Anyway, there was a fair amount of bible study and prayer sessions I think. I went out for a jog :-) (from my house near the Fletch, down the A45, past canley fire station to the double roundabout at Tesco, then back. That hill is tough work.)

They did rope me into a game of "Mafia" later on in the evening, whereby as a group you have to discover the two murdering mafia in your midst before you all get killed off one by one (figuratively speaking that is – I don't think cell groups condone actual violence somehow!). My defence speeches always seemed to consist of "I'm scottish. I'm incapable of violence!" Umm.

Suffice to say I should have come up with a better defence :-)

May 29, 2005

Free Time?

A lot of people attempt to have some sort of post-mortem on their exams. Excuse me if I don't – I prefer to forget about them. All I can say is that I did my best – and that's all I ever ask myself for.

So now I have some of this strange thing people call "free time" on my hands. I can't quite grasp what this actually is, so unfamiliar a concept is it. Apparently it has many uses though. Personally I'm so used to keeping busy that I never know what to do with free time on those occasions where I actually have some. Oh there's still plenty of music stuff to do, but the gaping void left by exam revision isn't filled by that alone! It's all a very strange thing…

Consequently, last night I found myself playing a curious board game with two of my housemates: the interestingly titled "Die Siedler von Catan". It's not a bad game, but it's made much more fun by the fact that my housemate owns the german version. Hence gaining "die langste Handelstrasse" (the longest road) or the "Grosste Rittermacht" (largest army), – cue silly accents – becomes much more entertaining. I did lose every game mind you, but hey…

Another plus point of this free time is that I've realised how stressed I'd been for the last few weeks of revision. Not very healthy – but everyone is in the same boat at this time of year. Very best of luck to everyone who still has exams to go!

May 24, 2005

All Done!

Hurrah! My exams are finished :-)

That is all!

May 21, 2005

Four Down…

…and hurrah, the last two have gone well. Today's Statistical Physics actually seemed bizarrely easy. For the first time I left an exam early (and not for a bad reason). All very odd…

Four more to go. Plasma physics is on Monday. Everyone has written it off. Could be interesting…

In an attempt to relax a bit this evening, my housemates and I actually tried watching the first part of Eurovision. I sat through all of last year's one, and to be perfectly honest, this year's stuff was the worst I've ever seen. I was quite impressed with the tap dancers in the opening entry, but that's about it. Nobody ever said Eurovision was musical – and just as well too!

We were saved however. Our other returning housemate brought some friends round to do stuff, and thus made us stop watching, as they'd only come home to escape the dreadful thing in the first place. Oh well :-)

May 18, 2005

Two down…

…but another 6 still to go. One of my friends came out of the exam hall yesterday, muttering "Bastards!" over and over. It does a better job than I ever could of summarizing how yesterday's exam went :-)

Go moderation I say. Oh for the days when exams were easy. I remember when I was doing my Standard Grades (that's GCSE for most of you), and instead of revising my friends and I bought a 1 month cinema pass and went to see as many films as possible. Difficulty didn't really some into it then – and I can tell you that an 8 year old could quite concievably pass things like Foundation Geography. I looked at a past paper at school once. A question had a big picture of a hill, and asked "is this a good site for a settlement?" There was a tick box for "yes" or "no" and a few lines for an explanation. Something like "Yes, because it's on a hill", or even "No, because it's on a hill" would suffice. Ahem.

In further Plasma Physics developments I emailed my tutor to say how worried i was about it. She told me not to worry. All I needed to do was make sure I got good 1st class marks in most of my other modules to keep my grades up.

Goodness, that's all? If only I'd known earlier I wouldn't have gotten so worried about it…

P.S. I really must find something positive to blog about! :-)

May 12, 2005

Plasma Physics

Those of you who were around in Wind Orchestra last term will have heard me comment on my Plasma physics lecture course quite frequently. Often those comments were a sort of tongue-in-cheek despair, and for good reason. Now the chickens are really coming home to roost. My exams start on Tuesday, but the dreaded Plasma is one of the last ones.

Having tried to revise the whole course, answer all the example problems, and attended the revision lecture, I've come to the conclusion that this course is simply impossible. The only question on the sheet that I can do is Question 2, since it involves plugging some numbers into some equations (hurrah!).

Why is this? Well, for this year only we have an external lecturer from the Joint European Torus in Culham come in to do the course (Dr Ken McClements – yes he is scottish, and believe me he knows a lot about plasmas, but the lectures were terrible). Thus this year it's completely different from previous years. This first of all makes the past papers irrelevant. The real problems are that a) the quantity of material is far too great, and b) the level is far too high.

Take point a). It's a 15 lecture course. Each lecture came with 8 pages of notes (filled to the brim I might add). This makes for 8×15 = 120 pages of notes. 120 pages for a 7.5 CAT module. Hmm! Anything in those notes could be examinable, and it's not worth anything more than say, Stellar Structures, where I have about 20 pages of handwritten notes.

And onto b)? Well, the notes are just full of derivations. It's ALL theory. Applications? Using the physics in any way? Forget it! It's deriving motion of particles using Lorentz Force balance equations for 5 or 6 different cases, then onto Derivation of fluid equations, then onto MHD equations, types of MHD equilibrium, MHD instabilities…(MHD = Magnetohydrodynamics. Sounds long and complicated but it just means "the movement of things in fluids in the presence of magnetic fields". All physics is like that).

None of these derivations are trivial either. Most run into pages, of multiple non-intuitive steps. I know I won't get much sympathy from the Mathematicians, who have to learn that sort of rubbish all the time, but the trouble in physics is that derivations aren't mathematically as rigorous. You get so a certain point and then use some trick, make some dodgy physical assumption, and carry on that way. So unless you know what trick to use, you're stumped!

The example questions are horrible too. They don't test you on things that are explicitly in the course. They take something that you touched on and try and get you to prove some interesting fact that you've never seen before. Worse, the problem answers don't actually show you how to do it. They just say things like "we use the fact that A is true, and write B. This hence leads to answer Z. How? Don't ask, it doesn't say.

It's now so bad that even trying to revise Plasma Physics any more makes me very depressed. So I've given up. It's only one of the 8 exams I have to take over the next 12 days. The other 7 are all worth just as much. Everyone I know left doing the course says the same – it's far too hard, so it's just not worth it.

Sorry, this has turned into a real rant I see. Ah well. Plasma Physics deserves it I'm afraid! Look at the notes if you don't believe me :-)

May 04, 2005

Music Centre Petition

The Music Centre

30 years ago, the music centre had 8 practice rooms, and has remained without expansion since then, with the exception of the conversion of one of the toilets into Library 2. At that time, the total student population was about 2000. Now it is 18,000, and the music centre is much more active, involving much more people, than ever before. Still we have 8 practice rooms, one out of use, and no more space!

If you use the music centre, and agree it needs more space, then take a moment to sign the music centre petition coming round rehearsals and available in the MC office throughout the day. The more signatures we get the more likely it is to have an effect.


April 28, 2005

Listless Labs

…well, another long day.

Since Tuesday's head-bashing lab session, we really had to get down to it and write up our lab report properly, duff results or no. So this took out all of Wednesday – and I'm not kidding. The day went something like:

9 – drop into MC
10 – 1 Doing lab work
1 – 1:30 Lunch
1:30 – 4:30 Doing lab work
5: 7:30 Brass Band
8–9:30 doing lab work
10pm – Home

Ah well, at least lunch was good (except at South Central I somehow managed to receive a bagette with prawn filling instead of lemon chicken. It's a tough life having an accent like mine.)

Today was a bit better, since I actually got some revision done – complete with the comedy moment in the library when someone answered their phone in the silent study area and proceeded to hold a conversation at normal speaking volume.
Ok that doesn't sound exciting, but with the exams coming round I get very stressed if I don't manage to revise, such as happened on Wednesday. More lab work ensued as well, but we've been rescued this evening by an epiphany on Oli's part – he has fixed a bug in our calculations that were throwing our simulated results off! Now they more or less agree with our experiment. Hurrah! Just as well, since it's due in tomorrow…

As an experiment (and no, this isn't interesting either – I can't seem to think of anything interesting to say in my blog at the moment) I bought some decaf tea today for the first time. This is part of my drive to consume less caffeine on the basis that it's probably not doing me any good at all. My fondness for hot drinks though is likely to be permanent hence the decaf experiment. Lets see how it goes…

April 27, 2005

Tenacious Tuesday

Well, today hasn't exactly gone as planned.

It was all going so well this morning, too. I was on campus for 9am, into the library (after a brief detour via the MC), and armed with a flask of tea to boot. Although, this flask was empty by 11 – I guess I always need a bit of a boost in the mornings. What's more, I was actually understanding the subject I was revising, a rare event indeed these days.

It all went wrong of course, when I bumped into Jizz, who happens to be one of my 3rd year lab partners. As it happened, he was off to meet my other partner, Oli, where we were all supposed to be trying to finish our report. So off we went.

Unfortunately, this session consisted of bashing our heads off a brick wall. Lets explain: We've done the experiment, but our results are just wrong. But that's not the problem, results are wrong all the time in experiments. The problem is we literally can't find a reason why. We've checked all the sources of error, tried to think of anything that can account for the discrepancies. No joy. It makes no sense. To give you an idea of the sort of thing we're talking about, one of our measurements was of slit spacings in a collimator. Experimentally we get 3.7, when we should get 3 (that's in mm). We could account for this if say…the tube was 0.5 meters longer than we measured it! For a 2m tube you can consider this unlikely…

…and most of the errors are like that. Oh dear. And our handy computer simulation not only disagrees with our experimental results, but with the theoretical ones too! And it's all due on on Friday. So the point where Lesley walked into the lab to borrow the lecture notes from one of my courses didn't really catch me in the best of moods (sorry Les!).

Following that was the termly MAP meeting at 5, time for a Costcutter dinner (following on from a Costcutter lunch, no less) and back to the library to make up for all the time I wasted in the afternoon in the lab. By this point I think I had rather overdosed on caffeine, but still, I got some work done.

So it's now just gone midnight and I really should have been in bed a while ago – but that would require a bit more common sense.

Before I go then, here are the answers to the trivia questions I posed a few days ago:

1) The largest constituency in the UK is Ross, Skye and Lochaber, in Scotland. It's current incumbent is the liberal democrat leader Charles Kennedy (well done Dave!). It's perhaps worth noting that this is technically a new constituency because all the boundaries in Scotland have been changed – there are now fewer total scottish seats).

2) The answer is indeed Ant Edwards (sorry Ant). If you listen very closely to the Highlights CD when it's made, you may be able to hear it :-)

3) The conservative party in fact won one seat in Scotland in the 2001 general election, an improvement of one over the 1997 result. The seat was Galloway, and it was won by 74 votes.

4) Suite No. 2 in F was composed in 1911, but not publicly performed until about 10 years later. Or so says he programme note anyway.

5) Well done again, Dave, Mark Oaten did indeed win his seat originally by a whole 2 votes. His opponent refused to accept the result, so the election had to be re-run. This time Oaten won by about 20,000 votes.

6) And finally, I currently own 4 music society Tshirts. 2 wind orchestra, and 2 brass band. Though I look forward to swelling my collection to 5 with the tour tshirt.

Right, now it's time for bed :-)

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