Monthly Archives: January 2012

Cool scientific instruments

Of these, there are many; this much is true. However, by far the coolest scientific instrument I have seen recently is this: the sunshine hours recorder.

Coolest scientific instrument of the day

I came across this during my virtual fieldtrip to the Teign Valley, where I am having a crash course in climate in the local area. We’re trundling around a meteorological station and poking about in the instrumentation.

This device is a thing of beauty. It’s a crystal ball, for goodness’ sake. What’s not to like? And it is simplicity itself. The glass ball focuses sunlight onto the paper chart, and burns a small hole in it. When the sun is behind a cloud, no hole is burned.

Useful things don’t have to be ugly. Here endeth today’s (very short) lesson. I’m off to get me a crystal ball.

The endless search for things and stuff

Just a quickie. I’ve just had a mooch through the search terms that have brought people to my blog this week, and feel the need to share. And wonder. And boggle.

  1. “night terror”. Several searches for this. Nutters.
  2. “moles on tits”. That’s quite a specific fetish you’ve got there.
  3. “20s existential crisis”. You’re too young. MTFU, stop navel gazing, and get on with living.
  4. “balloon explosion”. Hehe. That was fun.
  5. “teleporting Brian Cox”. As long as you’re teleporting him into my pants, that’s fine.
  6. “open uni chocolate and sausages maths problem”. Awesome.
  7. “make sex with quark star trek”. My first reaction was: For the love of all that is good and holy – why? Then, I realised, more charitably, that there is someone out there for everyone.
  8. “would the dark reaction of photosynthesis happen if the light reaction didn’t?” No, because the products of the light reactions are used in the dark reactions. I think.
  9. “how much drink do you bring into the hall at up helly aa”. Answer: all of it.

That was a nice distraction. Back to the Teign Valley and a pile of chocolate coins for me.

The virtues of virtual field trips

After a certain amount of technology woe (the laptop DVD drive died a horrible, grindy death), the IT manager at my workplace managed to do the (as it turns out, simple) job of installing the Teign Valley DVD on my work computer. What a splendid fellow. (We now have a new DVD drive on the laptop, so I’m currently studying at home. Win!)

On starting up the “tour guide” section of the DVD, I took the tour. Now, I’m the kind of girl who likes being told what to do.

  1. Start here.
  2. Click this.
  3. No, not that, you muppet, THIS.
  4. Listen and absorb.
  5. Keeping clicking the “next” arrows at the end of each section.
  6. Do the activities in order when prompted.

What I got was a rather fuzzy and chaotic set of non-instructions, leaving me unsure as to when the tour finishes, and the actual activities start. I’m still a little unsure, but I’m plodding on, and have completed my first activity – Differences on Dartmoor.

This takes you through a series of places in the Teign catchment, and asks you to look at various maps. You’re provided with a spreadsheet, and you’ve to fill in the missing information. So far, so Sesame Street. One problem: the resources window on screen is tiny. Really, really tiny. And when you have an overlay on the map (e.g. contour lines, so you can give the altitude of the locations you’re talking about), you can’t zoom in. So you kind of have to guess at the exact measurements you’re asked to take at the relevant locations.

This displeases me greatly, because I am, after all, a budding scientist. And there’s no room for guesswork in precise measurements.

I’m about to embark upon activity 2 – The Heather Hypothesis. I’ll keep you posted.

Mr Motivator

Does anyone remember him? A rather frighteningly cheerful fellow in big glasses and lycra shorts that were FAR too tight. (He didn’t have a lunchbox like Linford, though.) He did, however, look like he could get anyone out of bed early in the morning – if for no other reason than the thought of him in your bedroom for more than one nanosecond is terrifying.

Mr Motivator. Motivating via terror.

The wide-leg stance, the bum bag, the curiously hair-free legs, the cheery-faced punch, the 80s shoes and socks – they all scream “I’m going to motivate the ass off you, muthafucka” because although he may look cheery, with his cheeky grin and his stripes – if you look a little closer you’ll see flecks of spit and an unhinged glint in his eye.*

The reason Mr Motivator is currently residing in my head is this: I wanted to get to work for 8am today (and, in fact, every day) so that I can get an hour’s studying done before I start. My plan was scuppered this morning by two things:

  1. I love my bed. It’s made of walnut, it’s huge, it’s got lovely gorgeous bed linen from Cologne and Cotton, and it’s got my husband in it. Naked. Plus, our house is made of gaps, so the second you put a hand out of the covers you get frostbite (fact).
  2. The world is very, very cold this morning. Minus 4 at Casa Fraser (yes, yes, I know that compared to actual cold places this is not that cold, but the British like hyperbole, okay?). I had to scrape ice off the car, which normally I don’t mind, but this was really sticky ice and took bloody ages to remove.

However, tomorrow will be a different story. I will be here by 8am, and will get an hour’s studying done. Teign Valley – a virtual field trip – will be undertaken, and good progress will be made.

The extreme coldness of this morning also gave me another idea. The world is extraordinarily beautiful today; I love it when it’s this cold. The air is clear, the sun turns the sky pink and orange, and causes the frost to sparkle like diamonds. I saw a perfect photograph, but had no means to capture it. So from now on, my camera will travel everywhere with me.

Tomorrow morning, at around 7.45, I will be found with a camera and tripod on the Fosse Way overlooking the M40 southbound taking what I hope will be a beautiful photograph.

Be motivated, people. Go out and look at the world. I hope that you can manage it without a disturbing image in your head…

*This is fiction, and is in no way intended to get me sued for libel. I’m sure Mr Motivator is a big cuddle, really.

Starting S216: Environmental Science

My S216: Environmental Science course materials have arrived! Cue much rejoicing, general study planning, and a little list-making.

A brief aside on the topic of world maps:

Among the six books and the DVD pack was also a wall map of the Earth’s surface. It’s the Mercator projection, which has always bothered me. People’s sense of geography is not based upon fact, but upon the Mercator map, and has been ever since it was first produced in 1569.

What we think the world looks like...

Representing a spherical object on a flat surface is always going to present problems, but the Mercator projection is not even close to being area accurate… Africa is frickin’ huge. MASSIVE. As is South America. The main problem with this map is that the further the land mass is from the equator, the more its size is distorted. Thus, Greenland becomes a similar size to Africa.

However, in 1855, a clergyman named James Gall produced his own version of a map of the world, known as the Gall-Peters Projection. This has its drawbacks, too, but the areas represented are much more accurate. See – the northern hemisphere is puny in terms of landmass size compared to the south:

How the world really looks...

Back to the books:

Anyway. That’s enough of maps (although I LOVE maps – if anyone wants to buy me antique maps, feel free).

The first block of S216 is a virtual field trip to the Teign Valley in Devon, and is DVD based. Then we’re on to the books, which sound very interesting indeed…

Book 2: Air and Earth.

Part One – Air: We’ll be looking at the atmosphere. It’s cold outside, and there is an atmosphere. I’m all alone, more or less. Then there’s the weather, and weather observations. Followed by the ins and outs of the atmosphere, and the global weather machine including ocean circulation and that pesky El Niño.

Part Two – Earth: Comprising rocks and minerals; igneous rocks; metamorphic rocks; fragmentary rocks; and the weathering of rocks and minerals. Then there’s an introduction to soil – what it is; soil ecosystems; and soil processes and properties in the environment. I’ve got to be honest; this section doesn’t sound so interesting…

Book 3: Water and Life. This is quite an alarmingly thick book.

Part One – Water: All types of water. What happens to rain? Ground water; a journey down a river; and the hydrological cycle. I like water. I’m reading a biography of water at the moment, and it’s bloody fascinating. Water is strange stuff; it doesn’t obey the usual laws of liquids. There is nothing as sweet as water when you’re really, really thirsty.

Part Two – Life: Vegetation patters; resources to support life; and ecological dynamics. This is one of my areas of interest because I am a tree-hugging hippy who wants to save the world, one turtle at a time.

Book 4:  Landforms and Cycles. This is a more reassuringly thin book.

Part One – Landforms: A bit of physical geography, which I loved at school, and which has stayed with me throughout adulthood. The way the Earth’s roots works fascinates me. So we’ll start with plate tectonics and an introduction to landforms, looking at lithology, and how water shapes the landscape inland and at the coasts. Then we look at ice, and wind, and finally landforms in space and time.

Book 5:

  • Extreme weather
  • Atmospheric chemistry and pollution
  • Wetlands and the carbon cycle
  • Cryosphere

Book 6:

  • Oceans and climate (this one, I’m looking forward to)
  • Water quality
  • Eutrophication
  • Acid rain

Book 7:

  • Grasslands
  • Tropical forests
  • Biological conservation

Books 5, 6 and 7 are going to interest me particularly. This is a beast of a module, and I’m under no illusions as to how much work I’m going to need to put in. Structuring my life is going to be incredibly important over the next few months, so that I have time to spend with my husband, my friends and my family – not to mention the me-time that will be spent doing yoga and pole dancing.

But last year was fiercely busy, and I enjoyed it immensely. So I’m not fazed; and in fact, I can’t wait. Bring on 2012. I’m ready for you.

Happy new year, and that

I make it a point never to make new year’s resolutions. They invariably fall by the wayside, making me feel inadequate and weak.

Then I realised it was because all my past resolutions have been unpleasant, including such clichéd vows as: I’ll give up drinking (howls of laughter ensue); I’ll give up smoking (I did, but not as a result of a new year’s resolution); I’ll eat less cheese (NEVER gonna happen); I’ll buy fewer shoes (unlikely).

So, this year I’ve decided to make resolutions I can keep:

  • Try something new at least once a week.
  • Buy more music.
  • Spend more time with my family.
  • Go to more gigs.
  • Improve my wardrobe: instead of purchasing several cheap items of clothing from random high street shops, spend a similar amount of money on one item that is beautiful, well-made, and will last.
  • Motorcycle road trip around Europe with some good friends.
  • Become a bloody brilliant pole dancer.
  • Go clubbing several times.
  • Cultivate an aura of calm togetherness.
  • Embrace the fact that I am now a corporate whore.
  • Run at least one half-marathon.
  • Be a better, kinder, funnier person.

I am going to revisit this post at the end of the year, and I predict that, for the first time ever, I will have accomplished everything on my list.

Happy new year folks. Make it a good one.