Thursday, 25 December 2008

Thank you Shawnie Fever!

Also, Merry Christmas to all! So happy to be home...

Friday, 5 December 2008

slip sliding away

Eeeeek! Somehow time (as it is wont to do) has flown by and suddenly I have less than two weeks left before I leave. There is WAY too much to do... and this time no Steph around to help me do it! However, the local charities have been very helpful. Every week or so a different one seems to leave an empty bag in our mailbox asking for donations. In this manner, I have got rid of several bags of stuff without having to move it anywhere. It even beats putting up a freebie ad on Craigslist.

Work continues apace. My supervisor came back, still deathly ill, and had two solid days of meetings during which I managed to see her once or twice. Then she asked me if I would mind running down to London to pick up some important documents for her. I found out for sure I was going on Tuesday afternoon at 2pm. Caught the 4pm train to Banbury - it's about a 4.5 hour train ride. Stayed that night, got up early, went into London, picked up the stuff, shopped for 45 minutes, and got back on the train to Bangor. Talk about your whirlwind trips. Unfortunately, the train back was 20 minutes late leaving and decided to go insanely slowly on the journey, so I missed my connection at Crewe (since we were 45 minutes late by that point) and ended up spending an extra hour hanging around Crewe station. YUCK. Oh well. All part of the job, I suppose. Supervisor is now in India, and by the time she returns I will be nearly out the door.

Also the train was full of chatty people. One guy who couldn't believe I was old enough to do my PhD ("You must be older than you look!") - I didn't have the heart to tell him I also spent five years bumming around and am even older than he thinks. Then he left, and a Singaporean businessman got on and started asking me detailed cultural questions about Britain. No matter how many times I explained I'm not from here, either, he didn't seem to get it. "What is the age of marriage in Britain? Is the nightlife better in Manchester or Liverpool? What should I get my British business associate as a gift?" good lord.

In other news, saw Lily Allen in the paper wearing this dress, the day after I wore it to Club de Fromage in London. Clearly, Lily is taking style tips from me. Also, thanks for the dress, mom!

Wednesday, 12 November 2008


Was just speaking to my supervisor (who is deathly ill, has an ear infection, and is climbing on a plane tomorrow to go give a talk a huge conference, then flying to Argentina - while concurrently attempting to direct the renovation of her bathroom and supervise a PhD student who's finishing next week). She's got her talk nearly written and gave me some advice about talking in front of people.

She says she always makes sure she has the first and last sentences written, and delivers them exactly. She ad-libs the middle, but this way the beginning (when you're nervous) is always okay, and the end (when you're running late) is concise. Sounds like good advice to me.

She also said that when you're speaking in front of scary people, you have to remember what really matters (aka the "Apple Pie Trick"). She's been told she makes the best apple pie in the world, which is what she remembers whenever she's up there at the podium: people might heckle, but they probably can't make apple pie nearly as well - so who cares what they think? :P
Sounds dumb but have a feeling it might work for me! Will road-test this next time. Anything that will help me convince myself it's not important seems to automatically make me do better at anything nerve-wracking, like public speaking or interviews.

in other news: Madge has sent me some brain pictures with boggly eyes! Thanks Madge! Creepy, eh? The section has been taken right through the eyeball! SO COOL.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Anne has a Brain

How freaking cool is this??! Almost makes all the time stuck down there scanning OTHER peoples' brains worthwhile.

Happy Remembrance Day. I was probably silent at 11.00, but sadly it's because I was stuck in the scanner running yet another subject. 19 down, one to go... and that one is proving impossible to find.

Sunday, 9 November 2008


Things I learned at the pub:

The Welsh word for microwave is popty-ping, from popty, meaning oven or bakery, and the microwave sound PING.

That is by far the coolest Welsh word ever, and I will be keeping that one for future use.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Money worries

I got paid!!!!!!

Sorry, but I am excited. It has been a LONG year of not being entirely sure where the rent is coming from. The problem is that the university's casual payment system requires that you submit your timesheet by the 15th of the month, meaning you only ever get half that month's pay by the end of it. As rent is due on the first of the month regardless, this is a pain. In August I actually had to request an "emergency cheque" be issued. However, this month I got my October pay and the second half of September as well, and am very excited to have money left over. Having the Kiwi around is helping too - very nice to have a housemate who consistently pays rent (and if he notices I'm worried about money towards the end of the month, he always pays early, which is a huge blessing).

In other good news, I just got the unofficial word that I did "very well" on my thesis. Official marks are not released till March (!) but I am very very happy to hear I did well. 'Twas a lot of work. So here's official thanks to Steph, Del, Claire and the Kiwi for their help with editing/data analysis! Think it made a huge difference to the end result.

Back into the fMRI scanner this afternoon to run one more subject, but the bigwigs for this project were up from London last week and so the worst of the stress (on my part) is now over. Spent the day with a film crew following me around! That was a new one and will probably never happen again. Jordan I ain't. Was very weird having boom mikes hovering above me and giant bright lights shining in my face as I ran subjects. However, the film crew was lovely and easy to get on with, and I learned some interesting things about their jobs (plus they let me ramble on about what I will be doing for my PhD!) So in the end, despite the worry, it was quite a fun day and all went relatively well. (And by relatively well, I mean the program for the scanner didn't crash until AFTER the bigwigs had left - although the film crew was still looking over our shoulders!)

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Pumpkin Soup!

Here is a picture of the pumpkin soup-in-pumpkin, and one of the Kiwi dishing it out.

I have been asked for the recipe, and don't have one per se. However, I have muddled this together from the correspondence between the Kiwi and his sister regarding it:

Cut a lid in the top of the pumpkin, with your knife angled so the lid doesn’t fall in (like a Jack-o-lantern, with the stem as the handle). Scoop out the insides.

Fry some onion and garlic and throw it in the pumpkin. Add salt and coconut cream. Fill with boiling water and add some red lentils and nutmeg.

Put in a shallow oven-proof dish and bake at 350F for about an hour. Keep checking to see if it looks done. When it looks finished, mix up and scoop some of the pumpkin into the soup (being careful not to pierce the pumpkin-bowl or make it collapse!)

The Kiwi’s sister Rosalie says she sometimes makes one of these for each guest in a small pumpkin, but the Kiwi did one enormous pumpkin and it worked fine.

Here is a picture of the added-sugar-free banana split:

Think it looks pretty nice and dessert-ish! It's just a banana filled with pineapple, with coconut cream on the top.

And finally, since I'm posting photos, some Iron Age huts we came across on a walk near Holyhead (South Stack - it's a sort of bird sanctuary, and you can sit on the mountain and watch the boats to Dublin go out).

And this I just thought looked cool!

Monday, 20 October 2008


The cabbage rolls turned out amazing! The Kiwi made pumpkin soup, which he was very proud of - in an actual pumpkin! He put all the soup ingredients in the pumpkin and baked it. Will try to remember to post some photos. Claire made candied yams (mmm, coconutty) and besides the cabbage rolls I tried a carrot and parsnip mash (delicious) and made apple tart. We had Thandi and her mum round for "Thanksgiving", but then had so much food we invited the neighbours, Tobias and Daniela, too. Tobias works in the Kiwi's lab and Daniela's his girlfriend. They're German - Daniela's a pharmacist who works in town. But the Kiwi had made his soup in such an enormous pumpkin that there was STILL some left over even after the last-minute invitees arrived.

So it was, "Anne, can I invite the neighbours on the OTHER side too please?" "Erm, sure..." So suddenly the party included three slightly bemused undergrads who'd never met us, eating soup out of an enormous pumpkin!

Thandi and her mum are off sugar till Christmas, so we made an added-sugar-free dessert, too - a banana split filled with pineapple and topped with coconut cream. Went over very, very well with the healthy-eating crowd.

Oh, and turns out that cabbage rolls are "kohlrouladen" in German. Cool!

Friday, 17 October 2008


Yay for September being over! Well, it's halfway through October, but who's counting? Hope everyone (Canadian) had a great Thanksgiving. As it was on a Monday and it wasn't a long weekend here, I wasn't going to do much for it... but my wonderful housemates had other plans. The Kiwi made chicken (he used the Orange Chicken marinade, but put it on chicken thighs instead of the classic chicken breasts) and roasted sweet potatoes. Claire had just returned from a wedding in the Philippines and brought us chocolate and wine.

Did I mention Claire and the Kiwi? Maybe not - things have been a bit hectic. Claire's from Australia and is in the lab for three months as an exchange. I knew that she was coming and was thinking about offering her my back bedroom if she was interested. Just before that, though, the Kiwi (who had been on my course but was supposed to be doing a funded PhD just afterward) had to quit his PhD and was left stranded, with no plans, no house and no income. He begged me to let him move in and I thought he'd be a pretty good housemate... and so it came to pass.

But then Claire turned up. I offered her a place to sleep for as long as she needed, as both the Kiwi and I felt bad that he'd effectively nicked her room. She ended up staying in the attic, and as she had an impossible time finding a short-term lease the week turned into weeks and then a month... However, Claire is so lovely and so good to live with (and insisted on paying us rent even though we didn't ask for it and were happy to let her stay) that we agreed she could stay as long as she wanted. She arrived Sept 5 and has only just now found a place to live in Menai Bridge. It's been great, though. Never would have thought my tiny house could happily hold three people, but I was pleasantly surprised!

Anyway, on Thanksgiving night I went to kick-aerobics class and came back, tired and disgustingly sweaty, to find the table set, food ready, lights dimmed, music on and Claire and the Kiwi wearing nice formal top/dinner jacket & tie! (and trackpants/shorts on the bottom...) It was really sweet.

I had planned to make pumpkin pie but just didn't have the time or energy. However, the Kiwi had bought a pumpkin and I tried making it earlier this week. It turned out perfectly! I've never tried making pumpkin pie by actually roasting a pumpkin (Canadian pumpkin comes in cans) but it was easy enough and gave an excellent result. The upshot is that we are having a sort of potluckish Thanksgiving celebration on Sunday as well. I will make more pie and cabbage rolls, the Kiwi has plans for some kind of pumpkin-coconut soup, and Claire is making Filipino green mango shakes. Perhaps not very traditional, but should be interesting.

And yes, I did get my thesis handed in. It was finished a week early (ie. before the extended deadline) but I was busy trying to write a scholarship application while working full-time. So the Kiwi, brilliant housemate that he is, ran it to the bindery for me and I did manage to hand it in before my trip to London. Now all academic pressure is off, everything is done, and all I have to do is work my hours and go home. big sigh of relief....

Friday, 3 October 2008

Happy Friday Song

I'm printing off my thesis, la la la!

Never mind that it's currently 10.37pm and I'm still in my office... Tis all worth it to see that giant pile o' paper coming out of the printer. To be totally accurate, I'm only 93.3% done my thesis as I have to go back and finish filling in a bit of my Results - three pages worth. I just need the Degrees of Freedom (don't have the stats package on this computer to see them in order to shove them into the thesis), so it's pretty much done. I'm printing the rest and shall sort out the last three pages tomorrow or Sunday. Then it's off to the bindery and I will have it in a mere five days into my extension! (Which I still haven't heard about, but no one has told me I'm not getting my degree so I have to assume they've granted it).

Wow, am feeling a bit manic. I have to say, extensions are the way to go, as I had my thesis 90% done by the official due date and got to spend the last three or four days touching it up, playing with graphs, and fiddling with all the stuff I don't normally have time to do. I can see how it would be nice to be one of those prepared people who always has assignments done early. Ah well. It ain't gonna happen, so I will enjoy the feeling just this once.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

quick update

Got my thesis extension (I think... no one officially said, but also no one has shouted at me for not handing it in) in return for all the hours I put in as a research assistant in September. I ended up working more than my visa says I'm allowed to, but with any luck no one is really checking... besides, surely if it averages out over the course of the month it's fine. This project really is a LOT of work. Scanning participants in the fMRI scanner takes about three hours per participant, but getting the stimuli ready, recruiting participants, getting the money to pay them from Finances etc take about another two or three hours per. (And I swear I should get extra for the stress I go through when they don't turn up!)

Today is my first official day as a full-time University employee. However, until I get rid of this silly thesis I'm also still a student. Hoping to have it in by the end of the week. Bit harder while working full-time, but people manage it so will sort something out. I've been catching up on stuff to do with the fMRI experiment but also helping Helena, who is attempting to hand in her PhD thesis. She's managed to do her PhD in three years AND sort out a post-doc at Yale. (Helena is an overachiever). However, the stress is driving her mad so it's been my job to be a Solid and Reassuring Presence and help collate references and things to try and get this thing done and handed in. Getting a thesis in is a whole-lab effort, generally speaking. Thank heavens for supportive labs.

Fencing has started up again and I am very excited. Have fenced twice and only lost one bout that entire time - and yesterday's wins were in foil! Apparently the giant leap forward I made at the end of last year is sticking around. I am so pleased. Watching the newbies gingerly hold the swords is very funny - can't believe I was there not very long ago. This year has felt like about six in terms of cramming in experiences.

oh well, off to finish cleaning out the testing room and find some food...

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Warning: hilariously British bad language: do not read if easily offended

Got this email from the fencing women's captain today.

"Subject: A few important sport team chants - MUST learn for BUCS, and it's still fun for everyone else to know

Roughly to tune of "She'll be coming round the mountain":

Is it me or isn't rugby gay?
Is it me or isn't rugby gay?
When you're underneath a pile of men,
Who take it up the arse again,
Oh is it me or isn't rugby gay!

You can shove your f*cking ball up your arse,
You can shove your f*cking ball up your arse,
You can shove your f*cking ball,
Shove your f*cking ball,
You can shove your f*cking ball up your arse!

If you played a real Uni,
Clap your hands!
If you played a real Uni clap your hands! (etc)

You've prob heard the guys sing these:

If I had the wings of a Sparrow,
If I had the arse of a Crow,
I'd fly over ....... tomorrow,
and shit on the bastards below!
Shit on,
Shit on,
Shit on the bastards below!

I'm Bangor til I die,
I'm Bangor til I die,
I know I am,
I'm sure I am,
I'm Bangor til I die!

This one is to the tune of "Frere Jacka" (or however you say that):

Men are slackers,
Men are slackers.
That means you,
That means you.
You need to be tougher and meaner,
We're better and we're leaner.
Utter mongs,
Utter mongs."

Ah yes, welcome to the rarified world of university-level fencing... I can tell already that I will be learning a thing or two.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

weird analogy

I sometimes feel like my life is a wave. I'm not really living it, just sort of riding it. Most of the time I can more or less keep on top of it, and sometimes it all comes crashing down on my head. And then there are weeks like this, where I feel like I'm surfing the very edge of it and barely holding on - scary, but also exhilerating. One false move and I'm in big trouble, but look how high up I am!

Specifically, my thesis is due in a few weeks, I have a giant scanning project that is supposed to go next week for which I don't really have participants lined up, and I just spoke to my future PhD supervisor about applying for an NSERC grant (which not only requires filling out a huge form and writing a research proposal, but will also be the first he sees of my writing - so it's gotta be good).

As well, I just got back from a weekend in Inveraray at a festival, and before that it was Liverpool for the weekend. I also am going to try to get to Oxford for a birthday party in September and want to make it down to London in October as my aunt Judith will be visiting. This is the stuff that makes life worth living - but it's hard to cram it all in around thesis and the work and all my other projects.

However, I can certainly not say that I am bored.

Full reports (with pictures, maybe) on Liverpool and the Connect festival when I am not in quite so perilous a position on the wave...

ps. Just to make things more entertaining, I just got a new housemate (verdict so far: lovely). I got home from 10 hours travel back from Scotland and he made me dinner, so I went to grab a drink from the tap. That was when I saw that he had helpfully left a note above the sink, warning me that Bangor's infected with cryptosporidium. We're on a boil-water advisory for the moment. Good times! ... but suddenly extremely happy I have a housemate to warn me of these things, as otherwise I'd probably be racked with horrible diarrhea by now.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

helpful people rock

Yesterday I had the strangest of experiences: a GP who, despite the lack of obvious physical symptoms (like a broken arm!) didn't tell me it was "all in my head" or pooh-pooh me. In fact, he was actually kind and helpful! I've been waking up more and more often (twice this month) in excruciating pain in my shoulder, neck and all down my arm. It makes it hard to do anything for a day or so, and goes away in about a week. Hardest of all is computer work, which sucks for obvious reasons.

I had another attack on Monday and was starting to get worried, so I reluctantly hied myself to the surgery (which is what they call doctor's offices here). I was all geared up for another bout of "you're-fine-why-are-you-bothering-me?", but instead I got the lovely, incredibly Welsh-named Dr. Rhodri Wyn Owen. He listened to what I had to say, did a quick check of my range of motion and told me I keep getting a pinched nerve down the side of my neck. He said one of my discs is probably slightly out of place and occasionally pinches the nerve. It's the neck version of sciatica. Didn't mom have that at some point, or am I confused? Anyway, helpful Dr. Owen gave me some stretches to do that will help the pain a bit. Sadly there's no preventative measures to be taken, although my supervisor has recommended a memory foam pillow. I shall look into that when I return to the homeland.

My supervisor has been full of helpful advice these days in general. Last week it was how to have a long and happy marriage (always let the man think he gets to decide, but if he decides wrong subtly guide him to the right decision, apparently) (seems to work for her!) This week it was how to get on with a new supervisor. Congruent goals, that's the key. You both need to want the same things, as everyone is essentially selfish and using everyone else to get their goals. They will happily be altruistic, as long as it also advances their own goals a little. I found this hilarious and refreshing to hear, as I'm willing to bet most people operate on this system but no one would ever say it aloud. She's completely right, though. Both of us want the same things (to do well with our projects, to get me through my degree successfully, to publish if we can) and we're using each others' skills to get there. Luckily I enjoy her company as well. My mate Jo's supervisor won't answer her emails, rarely meets up with her and generally makes her feel like an extraneous pest. I'm pretty sure I lucked out.

Monday, 18 August 2008


Today I was told I was the perfect participant by a post-doc running me through an eye-tracker study. Unfortunately, this was because I'm apparently very good at staring blankly at an eye tracker while it is being calibrated, which doesn't seem like a skill that will come in handy in later life.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

It was the best of Bangor, it was the worst of Bangor

Whoa-ho, man, what a good night last night. I did not intend to go out at all because 1). Bangor is boring in the summer; 2). I'm trying to save money, and 3). it's the Contact the Elderly coffee group today (albeit not till 2.30 pm). But events conspired for a fun, cheap night with the other (non-octogenarian) people who will be attending the coffee group today, so who was I to say no?

I never realized just how cliquey our Masters students were this year. Somehow I managed to get myself smack dab into the middle of the biggest one, so of course I wouldn't have noticed. But last night Jo brought along some Irish girls off the course that I barely knew, and they told me that they always felt like the outgroup. Apparently one person in particular deliberately excluded them from things at the beginning of the year and then they felt like they couldn't approach anyone else. oooooops. Had I known this they would have been welcome at my place anytime (as they're fun and hilarious). However, will have to make up for lost time in this, the last month.

Anyway, they came over and told of a party at the Anglican chaplaincy (which is effectively a giant student residence, mostly for foreign or short-term students). We wandered along around midnight, which seemed perfectly reasonable to us. Called the girl who invited us, and she was in bed. oops. So I was designated to go find out if the party was worthwhile, or, in fact, happening at all. I was lurking around the giant oak door (the building is a huge stone couple-hundred-years-old one) and a guy came out, so I tried to push past him in my best party-crashing manner. Unfortunately security is drilled into them there, but once I produced the name of the girl who invited us he took me through a maze of passages to the "party". Which turned out to be 10 people sitting around and two people dancing salsa. I saw an open door to the garden and made a run for it.

Bangor is ridiculous in the summer and no bouncer will let you in ANYWHERE past 12.30 a.m. Anywhere except the Skerries, that is. The Skerries is a pub in Lower Bangor that is sort of of a locals pub (pubs here are divided into student pubs and locals pubs) except that they don't mind students. Rare, actually. Anyway, the Skerries stays open till the owner feels like shutting it. I've turned up at 11 and found it closed, and other times they've let me in at 1.30 a.m. This time they let us in no problem, and there turned out to be a local Welsh Beatles cover band (!) who were really, really good. After a while they started to pack up and the Irish girls were banging on the table for more, so they began to sing gorgeous a cappella versions of various '50s and Oasis songs (they were eclectic!) The harmonizing was incredible, and of course we were all singing along in full voice. By this point we were locked-in (but they were still serving!) and, as the Irish girls are really pretty, one of the band guys got out his guitar again and we all sat around a table in the back of the pub and jammed for another hour. Then we hung around talking to the owner and his friends (and I briefly learned the apparently common Welsh phrase for "a$%hole English people" but then immediately forgot it) until they finally kicked us out at 2.30 a.m. or so. It was the best night I've had in a while. The student venues all feel the same after a bit, but I don't think I've ever had a bad night at the Skerries. And last night sort of encapsulated the very best things about Bangor.

The worst thing about Bangor is that it won't stop raining. WON'T STOP. Argh. Luckily (?) I've been stuck in the lab all week anyway. I'm working as a research assistant for a project that is taking up a lot of time (29 hours last week), plus, erm, trying to finish up a thesis at some point. I was floundering with my data analysis (while my supervisor was in France for three weeks and out of email contact) and then had a bad moment when she returned and told me everything I had done up until that point was wrong. I was too depressed to even look at the thing for a week, as I had just re-written my introduction based on my preliminary results - so if they were wrong, those three weeks of work would have been for naught. Then she called me back in the next week, said she had been mistaken and the data were fine, and went through everything in detail with me so I now know exactly what to do. Which is brilliant news, of course, but I am still catching my breath from the rollercoaster!

So have been in the lab on weekdays, mostly, and doing fun stuff on weekends... but THAT is fodder for another post.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Penrhyn Pictures

So last weekend (or wait, was it the weekend before? It's all blurring together) the sun shone. Jo and I figured we couldn't let a sunny Sunday go to waste, so we made plans to go to Llandudno to the beach. Then we ran into Kiwi Ian, who wanted us to go down to Bangor Pier for tea and scones with him, so we added a detour to the plan. En route, the three of us ran into two of Jo's friends who were just setting off on what they claimed was a three-mile walk to a beach near Penrhyn Castle (just outside of Bangor). Open to suggestion, as always, we gave up on both Llandudno and the Pier and joined them for the walk.

Contrary to the estimate we were given, it ended up being a 7- or 8-mile round trip (as measured by a bit of string and a map) and didn't involve a beach so much as a mud flat by the sea. However, there was a river to be forded, a crumbly stone wall to be climbed, and a bit of grass to have a picnic and a nap on. Plus the spine and ribs of SOMETHING - the kiwi claimed it was a fish, but I reckon either a sheep or a dog. (Didn't take a photo of that, sorry guys!)

All in all, very Famous Five.

We walked back along the shore - turns out you can get all the way back to Bangor, if you don't mind a little bit of a scramble through some bushes if the tide's in. (I got very excited about watching it come in - although I understand the theory of tides, I'm hardly ever staring at the ocean long enough to see one). It was a very cool walk as most of it was beside the crumbling sea-wall of Penrhyn Castle. We came out at the Bangor docks, tired and in need of ice cream...

(sorry about the darkness of the photos - beer was spilled on my camera in a mysterious incident a few weeks ago and it is still recovering!)

Thursday, 31 July 2008

In which Anne is allowed to keep her house

Small bit of good news! I spoke to my landlady Ellen today and she says she's fine with me keeping the house till December. YAY!!! I love my little house. I will, however, probably have to get a housemate. There isn't much room for one, but if I'm only working half-time for Jane I should probably make an effort to save money where I can. An Australian student is coming to work with Jane for three months, and it sounds like she might be interested in sharing. The timing would work out perfectly, anyway. And I would get a whole month (August) of house-to-myself first.

I went on a long LONG walk all the way around the Penrhyn Castle grounds and then back along the shoreline on the weekend. We checked on a map with a bit of string, and it was between 7 and 8 miles round-trip (between 12 and 13 km). However, I think I will try to download the photos and do a proper entry with photographs, which is a feature of Blogger that I don't take advantage of nearly enough. Coming soon! (maybe.)

I did promise to post the entry I started right after having got back from Canada, and then I looked at it and it's not interesting at all. But anyway:

"Sooooo tired - but back safely in Wales. And after an unusually pleasant trip, even. I was expecting the worst, as I had to take the 8am bus from Red Deer to the Calgary airport.... for a 5pm flight. However, hanging out in the airport for seven hours wasn't too bad, although the flight was further delayed due to lightning. But in the end we got into the air, and then the stroke of luck - the old lady with the 15 gold chunks of jewelry in the seat beside me (originally from Liverpool, by the accent and the orange skin tone) moved into an empty row of seats an hour into the flight, leaving me with two seats to stretch out on. But not before whipping out a needle and, without a word of warning, stabbing herself in the stomach. I assume it was insulin and it didn't really bother me, but I can only think what the effect would be if I had happened to have a needle phobia!

I still can't sleep on planes, but at least with room to stretch my legs out it was much more bearable. And the food wasn't burnt this time. Must learn to count my blessings.

Had such a great couple of weeks in Canada and not that thrilled to be back. Thandi's in South Africa, the fencers are all gone for the summer and even my lab will be empty. Think it might be a quiet summer. "

Monday, 28 July 2008


I would just like to note how annoying it is that often I can be perfectly good at analyzing things - breaking ideas down logically, figuring out how machines work, and all that sort of thing. But then when confronted with the simplest objects I will be totally clueless. And it usually has to do with affordances.

I'm talking about the second Wiki definition - an affordance tells you how to use something, basically. If you see a handle, you know to grasp it. If you see a door with a horizontal bar, it's easy to know you should push it in, rather than (say) pulling on it or trying to twist it. One way of telling if something's a good design is by whether it has good affordances - you can tell by looking at it what you should do with it (even if it's totally new). Like the little wheely thing on iPods - circling your finger around it is obvious and makes immediate sense.

Anyway. I have great trouble, it would seem, with objects that lack good affordance. I couldn't make tea in the lab for months because I couldn't seem to turn the electric kettle on. I'm not kidding. I had to text Helena and ask if it was broken. (As my dad would say, "HOW much education does it take?!") In the end it turned out that you have to press the little lever up to turn it on, instead of down like every other kettle I've ever used. Somehow this totally baffled me. Is this how people become absent-minded professors?

And then yesterday I had to get my mate Lola to show me how to lock my back door. It's been unlocked for days because I couldn't figure it out. (Don't worry, my "garden" is about three feet deep, walled on all sides and looks out onto other peoples' gardens, so it would be very difficult to be burgled from that side, even given an unlocked door). Turns out you have to pull the door handle up while turning the key. Why does everyone else seem to know this?! It was a complete surprise to me. Now I'm wondering if I'm just really bad at common household objects and what is an obvious affordance to everyone else in the universe is totally baffling to me. Sigh.

The only solution is to become very rich and employ someone to make the tea and lock up from now on :)

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Grade Grubber

I got my grades back... looking good! (er, if I do say so myself). Fairly pleased with all my marks except stupid Stats. The exam was very difficult indeed and I dropped two letter grades (!) from the midterms. Not cool. I've decided not to bother contesting it or following it up... if I do well on my dissertation I will do well overall, and I've already got my PhD funding. So no point in quibbling now. Man, though, if stats hadn't mucked it up I'd be gunning for straight As. Even Cognition and Brain, the worst class I've had since, er,... Cognitive Psychology in undergrad (how ironic is it that I've decided I like cognitive neuroscience? I've always detested the lectures) came out all right in the end, as I surprised myself by doing relatively well in the final. (The confusing, misspelled, badly-written final). Maybe they dropped some questions!

Bangor's kind of nice with all the undergrads gone. The other day I had a 20-minute conversation with a nice man called Bill who appears to love people and be desperately bored. (He told me he's 78). All the shop assistants are a lot nicer now too. Such a strange town - it's like two different places when school's in and when it's out. I'm enjoying the out, but will be very, very happy to see my fencers again.

Ooh, and last but definitely not least - my mate Jo got a job! She'd applied for loads and finally got an interview in London. However, she was nervous about interviewing so I sat down with her on Monday and spent hours going over E-Prime (experiment-writing program) and giving her mock interview questions. She's got all the qualifications but tended to answer questions with one word and not really sell herself... so we worked on that, she went down to London, ACED THE INTERVIEW and got the job! I am so pleased. It's a six-month post as a research assistant on a project with alcoholics, just the sort of thing Jo will shine at and useful experience. Yay!

Monday, 21 July 2008

Things I learned this week

The guitar shop in Bangor is called Bron-yr-Aur, which is also the name of a Led Zepplin song (Bron-y-Aur Stomp), although the song is misspelled. It also means "Breast of Gold" in Welsh. I have all this information reliably from my mate Lee from Rhyl, although he did contest my opinion that this means the Welsh are obsessed with breasts (he seems to think it refers to golden hills. I have my doubts).

Bangor was bombed once during the war. Only one person died. Due to the fact that no one really wanted to bomb North Wales (go figure!), the BBC moved all its operations up here for the duration of the war. I learned this from Phoebe, who is cool. She is one of the women that comes to my friend Jo's coffee morning she runs in conjunction with a charity called Contact the Elderly. I'd been meaning to go for months but never quite managed it, and now I'm so glad I finally did. The guy who died in the bomb was a taxi driver, and a friend of Phoebe's.

Jo's coffee morning runs once a month on a Sunday, and it's a great idea. Contact the Elderly pays for a taxi to get the women there, and then they hold a raffle (a pound each to get in on it) that generally covers the cost of tea and cakes for the next month's event, plus raffle prizes. The prizes this week were: two china cats*, a packet of biscuits, a packet of chocolate biscuits, a bag of potpourri, and a can of soup. All the ladies who won were thrilled to win, and quite happily carried home their cans of soup saying things like, "Wow, I usually never win anything!" It was really sweet actually. I get the impression some of them are REALLY bored, especially Phoebe, who lives five miles out of Bangor by herself, can't afford a taxi in, and spends all day watching TV. Jo and I are trying to scheme a way to either go visit (if Contact the Elderly thinks it's ethical) or get her out more. Imagine being stuck inside all day by yourself - EVERY DAY! yuck. Everyone else in the village works elsewhere (there's only about 12 houses) so she is really stuck for companionship.

I think next month I might try to convince Old John from fencing to come be a guest lecturer. He is our 78-year-old fencer, but he is also an expert in archeology and classics. I have had some fascinating conversations with him at the pub after fencing and am dying to hear him give a talk, so if he agrees to do it for free this might be an ideal opportunity. Plus the ladies would probably be interested. Plus he speaks Welsh, and as about half of them are Welsh speakers and the volunteers are all English, it might be nice for them to have someone else to converse with in Welsh.

Have to say I really admire Jo for starting this group. It seems like a really positive thing! And a great way to get a cup of tea, a biscuit and some interesting stories.

And finally, I've learned that fencing TOOK UP A BIG PART OF MY LIFE! Are you surprised? But I have to say, I feel kind of adrift without somewhere I'm supposed to be three evenings a week. And my fitness level has really shown the difference. So I've decided I need to try something else. Aonghus says there's karate and they teach beginners... as long as it's not expensive I might give it a go. Besides, Kevanne the fencing women's captain is a black belt in karate (at the age of 21, sigh) and you can really see how it helps her fencing. Couldn't hurt, anyway!

Had a post somewhere about the trip back from Canada. If I can find it I'll post it (out of order, but at the rate I post nothing is news anyway!) Think it's on my laptop. Anyway, the trip was amazing and I'm so glad I went. The houseboat was glorious, of course, and I got to see all my family and a good portion of my friends. Also (in the less fun category) got a lot of admin done: sorted out my RRSPs, did my taxes, sold Mabel. Nothing in Bangor had changed when I got back, and mom said my visit was like a dream. At least she didn't say nightmare...

My supervisor has wandered off to France for two weeks, but before she left she dumped a project in my lap. Luckily it's not mine alone (a postdoc called Madge is actually in charge of it). I should get a couple hours pay a week out of it - I hope - and Madge is a down-to-earth Scot who I immediately got on with and who seems very with it. So while the project may or may not go well, at least I get to work with someone cool! all good...

* The most hilarious moment of the coffee event was when a blind lady called Ruby won the raffle prize of the china cat. She obviously couldn't see her prize, so she was sitting there saying, "Oh, let me touch the pussy! I need to have a feel of the pussy!" while Jo and I stared at the ground so as not to catch each others' eye and burst into hysterical laughter.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

when lilacs last in the door-yard bloomed

Things I missed about Alberta: lilacs. Perogies. That accent. The big huge sky. Cars that stop and wait patiently for you to cross the street.

How come I never realized that there are no lilacs in Wales?

Of course the main thing is the people. It’s been great seeing everyone. I spent yesterday sitting on patios with people whose company I enjoy. Life is good.

The trip over was long but kind of hilarious. The plane was furnished with the usual orange flight attendant (only one orange one this time) with peroxide-white hair. However, I was also sat next to the most hilarious possible seatmate – a Geordie who was at least six pints down and hadn’t slept in 24 hours. He started off the flight in fine form by doing an increasingly jiggly dance in his seat as the plane waited to take off. Finally, with six pints straining at his bladder, he could stand it no longer and made a dash for the loo… just as we began taxiing down the runway. A series of increasingly stern messages was broadcast over the intercom: “Passengers are reminded that the fasten-seatbelt sign is on…” Eventually they caught him and frog-marched him back to his seat. As soon as the plane was in the air, he was off like a rocket, running back down the aisle toward the toilet.

By about Hour Three he had hit the sentimental stage, and was telling me (actually quite touching) stories about his “wee bairn” who got leukemia at only three years old. Eventually he went back to listening to music and I was half-watching the film (Dumb and Dumber, inexplicably) when he leaned over and poked me and whispered something about the toilet. I looked back, and sure enough the flight attendants were gathered around the back loo. Turns out he had been caught smoking (!). Sure enough, the stern announcement came over the intercom: “Passengers are reminded that the toilets are fitted with sensitive smoke alarms… passengers caught smoking may be removed from the flight, have their passports confiscated and may be refused passage on the airline”. Then one of the stewards came marching down the aisle with a long legal document and read it (ALL of it) out to him. He seemed very contrite. He wasn’t a bad guy, just a drunken dumbass.

Once off the plane, things got far more annoying. It is always my nightmare that my luggage won’t arrive, and this time it came true. There were only about twelve bags with Vancouver tags left on the luggage thingy, and my bag had not appeared. (The plane was to fly onwards to Vancouver after dropping us in Calgary). Several large scary Aunt Agatha-style Englishwomen were in the same boat. We went and badgered an airport employee, and it transpired that they had accidentally unloaded some Vancouver bags and left the same number of Calgary bags on the plane. They loaded the Vancouver bags back on – and then took off with our luggage! Turns out there was a Globespan executive on the plane, who told them to IGNORE US AND FLY OFF TO VANCOUVER WITH

Anyway, I got a trip to Tim Hortons and a new dress (two, actually!) at Winners courtesy of Mom, so I wasn’t as upset as I might have been.

The high school reunion was weird. Loads of people have barely changed. They nearly all have kids, though. I was told that I have changed completely, that I never used to wear dresses, that I should be in jeans and a t-shirt (thanks Jonathan), that I have an accent, that I don’t have an accent, and that I’m way more outgoing now than previously. Looking at the little slide-show of high school life… I HOPE I’ve changed! There were a couple of extremely cool people to hang out with, though, and some interesting conversation was had. Better than the first half, which was all, “Sooooo…. What have you been up to for the last ten years?”

Have spent the last week in Rocky and Edmonton. Rocky was mostly sorting out my affairs (the financial kind, not the interesting kind) and have been having a slow start in Edmonton as I always forget to warn people in advance that I’m turning up. But there is a dance tonight and a tea party tomorrow, so should get to see a fair few people.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

all work and no play

Have only been updating when fun things are happening, so thought I ought to drop by to mention that it's been 13-HOUR DAYS ALL WEEK! (Er, except for Tuesday, which was 3 hours work and many more hours on the beach with the fencers). We are giving our final thesis presentations tomorrow and we're all stressed.

My stress is compounded somewhat by the fact that I only sorted out my results, er... today. Had a pile of data and no idea what to do with it, and the supervisor's been off gallivanting lately. But Jen the PhD student came to my rescue yesterday. We spent 4.5 hours looking at it last night, with an additional four or so hours this morning. This is merely a drop in the data-analysis bucket, but I am so grateful it is done. And.... it was kind of fun! We are both nerdy nerdy nerds and both extremely curious to see what would come out, so the time flew by. Dear lord. I have been forgetting to eat and everything! PhD studenthood, here I come.

Have also been chairing 3rd-year undergraduate presentations (and marking them). This was more fun than it sounded, plus ten quid a go, so I've done a lot of them this week. But perhaps I need to learn to say no...

The fencing beach BBQ was awesome, though. Proper British seaside fun. The fencers are all leaving this week and I'm going to miss them horribly....

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Summer Ball baby!

I finished my last final exam on Friday afternoon. It was horrible (confusingly written, badly spelled and the "multiple choice" section included random short answer questions. And they accidentally printed the answers to one of the questions on the exam. "Excuse me, it says to draw a diagram, but there's a diagram already there!" "Oh! Er... maybe just don't answer that one." "Maybe you should tell the rest of the students?" "Oh! Right. Er, do you know where your colleagues are?" ). (oh yeah, and the lectures were given by two lecturers. However, only one was there at any given time. I asked one to clarify a definition, and she told me, "Hmmm, I don't know what that means. It was Martin's question. Just answer it as best you can." Yikes!)

Ooops, that was a longer rant than I intended. It really was a horrific exam, though, to cap off a really rotten module.

ANYWAY. Point being: the weekend was free! And man was it fun. Friday night one of the cute li'l fencers cooked me dinner. Saturday was the last fencing session of the year (sob) but it was a good one - I finally seem to have got the hang of timing my lunges properly and did really well in all my bouts. Very depressing that this didn't happen until just about too late - it's only been in the last month that I've gotten past my plateau - but at least it DID happen and I now feel like I can hold my own.

Saturday night was the Summer Ball, which is sort of a Brit equivalent of the prom, only more so. They cordoned off the Main Arts complex (the old and pretty bit of the uni) and had several marquees, bands, a disco ball, and a FERRIS WHEEL! The evening starts at 9pm and ends at 5am. Everyone gets dressed up - like REALLY dressed up, we're talking ball gowns - and it's actually really cool. It was expensive, but I reckoned it was my only chance to check it out, so in the end I decided to go. I didn't have much time to throw together an outfit after fencing, but I gave it my best shot and the end result did not look out of place.

The ball was a spectacle. I think it was worth the entry cost just to see the sheer number and variety of frocks! (The men in kilts did not hurt matters either). There was a free casino, several bands (Athlete, the Fab Beatles and the Cuban Brothers), a couple of cocktail bars and that sort of thing and the ferris wheel. The best part, however, was being declared a VIP. I was hanging out with some of the fencers, one of whom has political aspirations and is mates with the AU (Athletics Union) president. Somehow the AU president ended up producing VIP passes for me and the other fencer. This allowed us into the VIP tent and to sit in the balcony of the hall where the bands were playing. It was great - swanning my way past the massive bouncer, flashing my VIP pass. The balcony had seating (carved benches covered with red velvet, naturally) and a great view of the stage.

I did manage to stay till the very end. We danced to the Beatles tribute band until 5 am, at which point we were booted out to full daylight. Heck of a night, though.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

London Town

Down in London for the Bank Holiday. (Actually, am down in London for Broken Social Scene, but it happened to coincide with the bank holiday, so...) As usual, forgot to book the train ticket early enough and the only cheap one got in at 6.21pm. Gig technically started at 7pm. However, Jason managed to find out that they weren't playing until 8.45, so managed to make it to his house in Kilburn to drop off bags prior to the gig. This was preceded by a series of text messages: "I'm at home and will meet you at Kilburn Tube Station." "Never mind, at the boozer. Text me when you're on your way and I'll come find you." "Pip's just gone up to the bar again. Not gonna come find you. Just walk down the hill and you'll see us..." Might I point out, by the way, that in no way is there a HILL of any sort running past Kilburn tube stn. At any rate, I remembered where the pub was (good memory for useful things like that) so we did manage to meet up. He got the Look of Death for that one, though.

Broken Social Scene was good. To be honest I've only properly listened to one of their records, so I recognised a grand total of one song. They're a jammy band anyway, though, and I was in the mood to chill, so it was fun anyway. The place was packed full of Canadians - the accent was everywhere. There were also 13 musicians on stage, which, for a 16-pound ticket, gives a pretty awesome musician-per-pound ratio. I had managed to get a ticket for a different section than Jason and Pip, and the doorpeople were being very stern about making us sit in our designated areas. However, it wasn't assigned seating and I did NOT want to be by myself two balconies above Pip & Jason. So I ducked in the bar door when no one was looking, and found that the second balcony was more than half-empty anyway. Bah!

Was kind of fun being up so high, actually. Could see the idiots crowd-surfing in exquisite detail. And also the bit where the security guards grabbed one of them by the seat of the trousers and carried him out of the hall. Two seconds later he ran back in, and I watched him stumble through the crowd and duck down until the security guards gave up.

After the show we went to the dodgiest chippy in all of London (though I had chicken nuggets that were somewhat edible. The chips, however, looked disgusting). Pip and Jason had big plans to go out, but both were asleep in their pints about ten minutes after arrival at the pub. So we trundled off home and had an early night.

Yesterday I went to meet Michael at Twickenham to watch the Rugby Sevens. This is (seven-player (as opposed to something else - 15-player, perhaps). Canada got creamed by Aussie (no surprise there) and lost respectably to Portugal. NZ kicked some butt, so Michael and his friend were happy. It was surprisingly fun to watch and I'm glad I went along. Walked from Twickenham Station with a bunch of pirates, too. There was a guy standing by the side of the road going, "ARRRRR!" every few minutes just to see all the pirates go "ARRRRRRRRRR!!!" back at him. Saw some Smurfs, as well, plus assorted people in England colours, devil horns, afro wigs etc.

Our side of the stadium was in the sun, so was absolutely dead by about two hours in. We switched to the shade, but I was still pretty tired. Dragged ourselves home after watching New Zealand play, only to find Michael's flatmates holding a barbeque. (He has a rooftop terrace sort of thing, which is accessed by climbing out the kitchen window!) Managed to stay awake and be halfway friendly, and watch most of Eurovision... which was exactly as bizarre an experience as I expected.

Friday, 23 May 2008

blah blah blah

Off to London today! Broken Social Scene is playing and Jason informed me I should come down. Unfortunately it's a Bank Holiday (otherwise known as a long weekend) so rather than coming back Monday I'll be back on Tuesday. Trains were expensive and delayed otherwise. Not really a good time to be out of Bangor, but hey... not worth paying four times as much on the train for.

Had my first final exam (in six years) on Wednesday. It was Advanced Statistics and it was horrible. Very annoying, because I did revise (which I have begun to say instead of "studying" because it is the word on everyone's lips at the moment). I went over the practice exam, and it turned out to be a million times easier than ours. Ah well. It is done!

Other than that, have collected a wodge of thesis data but am still waiting for my supervisor to get back to tell me what to do with it. (She was in Florida at a conference and then at Anne Triesman's party!) I am expecting to be told to modify something and go do it again - which will be no easy feat with most of the students gone. Fingers crossed.

One more exam to go, and it will be a horrible one. It is one of my favorite topics (Cognition and Brain) but was so boringly and badly taught that the lectures became an aversive stimulus. In a class of eight or so, someone was nearly asleep at any given moment. I should have switched after the first lecture. However, I did not, and it only got worse. As a final touch, the module organizers forgot (forgot!) to tell anyone in the office there would be an exam, so it was not scheduled and was left off the exam list. We queried this, and so the people in the office had to schedule it in the only slot left: last day of exams, Friday afternoon at 2pm. I AM NOT HAPPY ABOUT THIS. However, it does give me a week to revise, justifying a quick trip to London!

Monday, 12 May 2008

Oh well, at least you can comment here

As per dad's grumbling on Family Ramblings, I've moved over to Blogger so that you can once again comment. I quite like Diaryland, actually, but as a starving student just can't justify paying for the comments and all that. It's been a good run, though. I originally started this blog in January 2004 as I was getting ready to move to Britain. Since then I've lived in:
London, England
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Edinburgh, Scotland
Edmonton, Alberta
Bangor, N. Wales

and have worked as a

shipper of gap-year students to Heathrow
kitchen peon
hostel night-gatekeeper
lunch-rush prep person
reservations manager
Forest Holidays reservationist
Value Village "Operations Team Member" (ie. picking clothes off the floor and hanging them back up)
Alberta gov't "Operations Administrator" and data analyst
MSc student
marker of essays
research assistant

So I can safely say it hasn't been boring. Haven't been updating much lately because it turns out doing a Masters takes a lot of time, but at least now you can comment! So that might keep things more interesting.

Have lots of time to post today, because I'm running subjects all day. The experiment takes about an hour and they're scheduled at half-hour intervals, but that still leaves dead time while they're doing the (computer-based) experiment or I'm waiting for the next one to arrive.

Mind you, today was a bit flustered as my alarm didn't go off, and I managed to wake up at 9.28 for a 9.30 participant. I raced over to the lab (luckily it's close) and found him waiting outside, very apologetic because he couldn't get into the building! YES! I'm running ten of them today on no food (but lots of sleep!) and feel like I'm at least accomplishing something. Sucks to be a participant today as I haven't showered, but what can ya do?