Monthly Archives: January 2009

7 things

Well thanks to Knirirr for perpetrating the blog equivalent of a chain letter on me by requesting that I not only reveal 7 interesting and random facts about myself, but then exhort 7 other people to do the same thing.  Interesting information is largely subjective, so if you don’t find the following 7 points of interest, I’m sorry, but not entirely surprised.

1) My favourite place in the world is Miyajima Island, which has such an uninspiring Wikipedia entry that I won’t even link to it.

It’s no secret that I love Japan and have been lucky enough to visit twice, and this is my favourite place in my favourite foreign country.  Miyajima is home to beautiful shrines – both Shinto and Buddhist, the most impressive torii, free roaming deer, lushly forested peaks, monkeys – and I want to go back there.  Right now.  It’s pointless trying to talk about the place without gushing, just go and have a look at some pictures and marvel.

2) I could turn vegetarian tomorrow with no regrets.

I don’t eat much meat these days, the by-product of my girlfriend being of the ‘don’t eat meat’ persuasion.  When you live with a vegetarian, you don’t get much leeway in what gets cooked for dinner.  Consequently my cookery skills with meat are lapsing, but my repertoire of vegetarian dishes grows ever larger.  Those who know me well know that I indulge in meat when I eat out with great relish, but after 18 months of living together, if I had to turn vegetarian tomorrow I could do it.  Liking tofu and the existence of Quorn products, does make this more tolerable I admit.  Mycoprotein FTW.

3) If I hadn’t been a biologist I would have been an archaeologist.

Ideally I would have been an astrophysicist, but my maths would never have been good enough for that I fear.  Now I cohabit with an archaeologist and can live the dream vicariously!

4) I don’t worry about the threat of terrorism.

For someone who grew up convinced the world was going to end in an apocalyptic blast of ‘mutually assured’ atomic destruction, worrying about a handful of nutters with amateur skills they’ve gleaned from the Anarchist Cookbook doesn’t seem like a productive use of my fear glands.  And no amount of governmental fear-mongering is going to change that.

5) I’m one half of an NT/AS relationship.

I’m the NT part.  This means I’m a neurotypical person, but my girlfriend has Asperger’s Syndrome (AS).  I think this is a relatively rare situation as male Aspies outnumber female ones by 10:1.   It annoys me intensely when I hear people say how they ‘wish they had Asperger’s’ because they think it would confer some ubergeekesque affinity with maths or technology.     Asperger’s is a fascinating part of the autistic spectrum from a scientific point of view, but I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.  I blog about this pseudonymously elsewhere.

6) My proudest scientific and career moment was having my PhD work (and very first paper) published in Nature.

Just don’t ever ask me about the way the author list is ordered.   It’s a shame that it was the result of the worst four years of my professional life (even though my first post-doc was nothing to shout about either).  I still love developmental biology, and think it’s still the most fascinating and beautiful field in the biological sciences.  I’m happy to be a bioinformatician now – the lab bench probably wasn’t for me and I’m glad it only took 6 years to realise that.

7) My current off-beat side interest is in DIYbio.

The idea of part-time geneticists and amateur molecular biologists working in their homes in the same way that amateur astronomers, or coders or electronics engineers is genuinely exciting to me.  In the last couple of weeks DIYbio has had press all over the place from AP and New Scientist.  If you’ve ever had the hankering to build your own electrophoresis apparatus at home, then this is the community to join.   The mailing list is also loaded with iGEM participants, which is always interesting.

OK so I suggest that the following 7 people might like to offer me insights into their life!  Simon at Fuzzier Logic, Ally at The Mind Wobbles, Frank at peanutbutter, Phil at An Exercise In Irrelevance, Nic at Dropbars, Jen at Genes and Aging and  Simon at Stumbling Towards Something.  The last two are merely a hint to the authors to start blogging again.  That’s about all the people I personally know blogging, although I was tempted to fill this with friendfeed contacts instead :)

2009 – a real year of celebration in science

I doubt there’s a biologist alive that hasn’t realised that 2009 marks a significant bicentennial – the birth of Charles Darwin, a man whose legacy is one of the most profound of any scientist who has ever lived.   Conveniently it is also the 150th anniversary of the book that is he is most famous for, “On the Origin of Species”.

A good hub for information on the celebrations would be the Natural History Museum’s Darwin200 site.

I was glad leafing through Chris Miller’s blog today to find out that I’m not the only scientist who has actually never read this book.   I actually downloaded the text from Project Gutenberg some years ago and stuck it on my iPod (in the days before I carried a smartphone) with the intention of reading it.   It was too long for the iPod reader, so I never got around to it.

In the absence of any formalised New Years Resolutions I promise to go out and find a nice hardbound copy to grace my bookshelf.  And read it too.

However, it’s not the only scientific anniversary being celebrated.  For those people who are more interested in staring at the sky than staring at living organisms 2009 is also the International Year of Astronomy.

Again, there’s a fantastic dropping off point from the IAU and UNESCO at astronomy2009.  But why is this being celebrated?  In this case it is the 400th anniversary of the first use of an astronomical telescope by Galileo Galilei, whose legacy is at least as awe inspiring as that of Darwin’s.

With an amateur telescope setup with a CCD camera/webcam capable of producing pictures rivalling that of a 200″ telescope in the 1950’s I always feel it’s a shame that more people don’t stare in awe at the sky.  I particularly liked this story on the Physics World site, about how a group of people are going to build a replica of Gallileo’s telescope and image through it, to show what the man himself might have been capable of resolving.

I find it interesting that these are both thinkers who proposed theories that were against the prevailing religious orthodoxy, and in Darwin’s case some even now failing  to be accepted by some people of a more closed minded religious persuasion.   Maybe all Darwin needs is another 250 years?

Whilst I’m making ad hoc resolutions – I will also use this year to  interact more with my local astronomical society, a group of people who I am in frequent email contact with, but have yet to pitch up to the society meetings to join.

I’m proud to be a scientist, and I’m proud of the wonderful achievements science has made, so it will be nice to use these two excellent celebrations to push my own knowledge forward a little more.  And not just focused around the computerised science I spend my time on.