The Account of a Lifetime

July 8, 2010

Spectre of the Past: Part V – 2008 & 2009

One Day 12/01/08

It’ll be January and I won’t have exams. Ah, one day…

But, today’s the day of the first exam of 2008. Complex Analysis. Been revising for it and I feel…apprehensive. I almost know most of the stuff, but there’s every chance I’ll wake up tomorrow and know none of it.

Cauchy-Riemann Equations.
Trigonometry and hyperbolic trigonometry.
Buckets of trigonometric tricks
Cauchy’s Integral Formula
Residue Theorem
Singularities & Zeroes
Residues of Simple and higher order Poles
Contour Integration
Logarithmic Deriviatives and Logarithms of Complex Functions
The Argument Principle

Hmm, I can remember most names of parts of the course it seems, so perhaps with a night’s sleep tonight I’ll be ready for 9.30 tomorrow morning to actually sit the damned thing. Hopefully. Maybe, just maybe.

Aha! I knew I’d missed something. Laplace’s Equation, Harmonic Functions and the complex variable itself! Now I should be good to go. If only I’ll actually remember it all. Next two exams are Wednesday/Thursday being Atoms/Relativity respectively, which should be….insane on revising for. Then Pure a week on Tuesday. It begins again, I fear. Perhaps I’ve kept improving, perhaps this’ll reveal itself to be the cost of an extremely happy six months? An extremely bad set of exams? I imagine it weill. But then, my imagination can run wild sometimes.

For instance, I spent the better part of three-quarters-of-an-hour earlier today outlining to my next-door-neighbour/brother, Nick, my vision of a species, a ‘society’ that mimicked what we’d think of as civilisation, simply through chance or infinity and all that jazz, but that we’d also see it have none of the other hallmarks of ‘intelligence’. Imagine ants that, whilst still being ants, had developed the complexity requirement and capacity for…massive leisure centres inside their colonies? Shopping districts. Bazaars! Regimented arming of their armies. Not learning or developing the individual, but otherwise outfitting them with the marks of a civilised society. Nick was having absolutely none of it, I’m afraid, but still, I think it’s a neat thing to just think about.

A terrible thing to think about, however, when you’re supposed to be revising!

Also, anyone watching/watched “The Tudors”? We’ve been watching it, along with Hollyoaks, as the main form of in-between-studying-session entertainment.

Still, off to bed, methinks!

Night night all, and I’ll likely un-hide my computer again around Thursday afternoon.

Prepare my Star Destroyer for my arrival… 21/01/08

And I’m done.

It’s taken a while but, I believe, that’d be the final nail in the coffin of the Seventh Semester. It’s truly…done.

Fundamentals of Pure Mathematics was this morning, and it was a…disaster. Sortof. I remembered alot of things reasonably well. But I could eke out a sensible proof throughout the whole thing, the extraction of the rational numbers from the integers was missing the definition of an equivalence relation and, crucially, the need for it to be a set of equivalence classes. Ach!

But still, it’s done. And it ended on something I could actually do too! The Continuum Hypothesis. That there doesn’t exist a set with cardinality between that of the integers/naturals/rationals and that of the real numbers. I even managed to sneak in Godel, Cohen, some dates and the Generalised Continuum Hypothesis. At least, I think they were right. Worth only a mark, but still!

The few days since Relativity and Physics of Atoms have been…entertaining. I got a bti drunk and learned a lot (but not for exams) on Thursday afternoon after SR&F. Got further drunk on Thursday evening, was awake ’til an ungodly hour of Friday morning, slept in until 4PM on Friday and barely did any work on Friday. Then I was up from 11PM until 4AM on Saturday studying Pure. Then went and spent time with the French in my living room until 6AM. Slept sporadically (i.e. not much at all) until 5PM, got up, got some food and done some work until about 9PM. WatchedDeathproof an enjoyably odd film, then went and done some more work. And slept some more! Until ~11AM the next day! Then worked most of the day through until 3.30AM on Monday morning. Decided to briefly look over the final past paper for the exam at 9.40AM that morning, looked up from it on reaching the end of the final question and realised it was 5.10AM!

So I abruptly went to bed.

But couldn’t sleep. Until ~6.30AM
Then I woke up at 7.30AM desperately trying to remember, of all things, Maxwell’s Equations. Something I definately didn’t need to know for that day’s exam! Fell asleep and woke up ten minutes later trying desperately to remember an absolutely insane equation I’ve never seen before or know of since! I finally slept until ~8.30PM when I couldn’t sleep no more, so got up and got ready for the exam. Set off at the back of nine, sat the exam, went to the pub with my friend Scott Murray ‘the Irish’ as they can be collectively known and then slunk off back home ideally to sleep. but instead I read up about the Black Crusades and watch some Monty Python. Now I’ve just returned books to the Physics Library for my friend Ross, and am now off to the Union to see Emma and Erin, and probably be somewhat inlegebricatedless…

Now, suffice to say: Special Relativity and Pure Maths were disasterous exams. Atoms and Complex Analysis were okay. All in all, I think they’ll compare roughly with the grades I got this time last year. I doubt there’s been sufficient improvement over last semester.

This semester, however, does look to be fun. But in the meantime, I’ve three weeks break to use up. I hope to do a solid bit of revision/pre-reading before delving into this semester’s courses rear their ugly selves…which should, hopefully, be:
General Relativity
Gravitational Dynamics
Quantum Mechanics 3
Computational Physics
Geometry and Topology


Bring ’em on!

Now, to the Union. I think a Midori would do nicely. And perhaps some wine…

Tears in the Rain – 26/01/08

The video, latest upload, is “Tears in the rain”, the little monologue given by replicant Roy Batty at the end of the film Blade Runner.

You should see it if you’ve not.

In any case, it’s little things like this that get me thinking. The speech, as it goes, amounts to the fleeting nature of life, that all of our lives’ experiences will, eventually, be lost in time. The transcript:

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

One day, perhaps with the heat death of the universe, perhaps with something infinitely closer, we’ll die, and not only in our body and a physical sense, but every impact upon every person we’ve ever met, everything we’ve ever built, everything we’ve ever done…lost. Gone. Well, probably. There’s another speech, given by a certain time lord, which goes along the lines of the following:

You lot, you spend all your time thinking about dying, like you’re gonna get killed by eggs, or beef, or global warming, or asteroids. But you never take time to imagine the impossible. Like maybe you survive. This is the year 5.5/apple/26, five billion years in your future, and this is the day…Hold on…This is the day the sun expands. Welcome to the end of the world.

And I do wonder, when looking into the far future, whether we do walk a precipice. On one hand, we die to day and that’s the end. On the other hand, we live forever and we change the universe. What’s the difference, what is that line in between, and can we really rule out the possibility of either of them? Can we act accordingly depending upon which hand we imagine will win in the end? Is it important?

I think it’s important to consider the perspective at least. If nothing more, it serves me well to have thought about it. It makes me worried, on one hand, that we could ruin everything with a single action today. It is somewhat soothing, however, to have a good inclination towards beleving that we’ll never really know whether we’re damned or blessed. We don’t know whether we’ve done good or we’ve done bad in the end. It’s unlikely any of us will be there ‘at the end’. The end, as it were (will be?), might be totally seperated from us. We might never, no matter how hard we try…we might never even stand a chance of reaching it. Not just a small chance. Not even a tiny chance…but perhaps no chance at all.

But then it also makes you think of what it means to talk about the end. What it means to talk of the present, the future, the past. What’s happened, what’ll be? It all becomes…intanginble. Visible, and still very important to our sanity, but the actual nitty-gritty of what it means is really quite distant. Don’t you think so?

In any case, the point is that the moments in time may well be forgotten. And is that bad? How many brilliant, beautiful, wondrous or terrible thoughts have we thought in our life that even now are lost to us. They were never known. We never told anyone them. We never wrote them down, they happened in our heads and the origins of the echoes that they cast are lost to us. We don’t know quite what influences our day to day decisions, but those prolific thoughts we think as we walk down the street with a bag of shopping humming whimsically to ourselves, only to forget that they even happened moments later when we become distracted by…anything…they’re lost. Those thoughts, edificies (artifices?) of our own minds and by-products of the sum total of our lives until that point (or completely spontaneous…perhaps?) appear and disappear as quickly as anything we really concieve of.

And that’s just it. We cherish our thoughts, our way of thinking, our out-look on the world, but we forget our own minds the vast majority of the time. I’ve been alive for about 7853 days, give or take a few weeks, and I can barely remember a tiny fraction of the moments of thoughts of that existance. I have fond memories of things, times, places, peoples, situations, emotions…but the thoughts? The logical, rational, irrational, illogical, whatever me? Almost no memory whatsoever.

And that, that’s what’s already lost, unlike tears in the rain. The thoughts don’t mingle with the rest of the universe. They don’t filter out to become part of something greater. At least: they don’t do so in a tangible way that I understand. These sorts of musings never go on to become something, they do not go onto to become part of the ‘wetness’ of that is the aftermath of the rain, like the aforementioned tears might. No, these thoughts appear and disappear. They fade and they wither out of memory, out of time.

Or do they?

Perhaps the reason we don’t need to remember them specifically is because they’re invariably us. The little conversations with yourself in your head …that is really…you?

Perhaps, perhaps not. In truth, I really can’t begin to speculate with any sort of authority on such things…I’m no neuroscientist, I’m not psychologist, I’m not even a biologist….I never ever took a course in the damn thing. I’m certainly no theologian and my metaphysical studies amount to a book or two as distraction from things that ought to be terribly important to me (and fortunately: are very important to me).

In any case: I’ve no idea about these thoughts and their loss. I lament the loss of them, but perhaps it’s better that we do. Perhaps, if we kept them, we couldn’t be sentient? I really don’t know. I don’t even know if that’s a reasonable thing to think (on thinking about it, it sounds ridiculous…but there we are!)

My point, to summarise, is then that these thoughts are something…nice. I don’t know what they are, I don’t know their purpose, their future or their importance, but I think…if I believe in anything…I think it’s important to indulge them. It’s the closest I get to a sane plot of rational, reasonable thinking. Something that almost never fails to make me happy, even if it makes me sad. And that, Ifeel and think is important. I can’t see any better way to look at them, so I might as well keep doing this. It may eventually yield a better outlook!

An Apology

This seems a bit melancholy, with hindsight, and I suppose it is. But it ought not to be sad or depressing. A nice dose of happiness, I think, is in order. We may well be gone oneday, but as seems particularly pre-eminent: the most important thing is here and now, what you are doing. Be mindful of the future, but here and now is where it’s happening.

There’s no time like the present, as they say.

Lord of the Night – 06/02/08

Incidentally, I just finished reading a damn-fine book called Lord of the Night. If you’re at all familiar with Warhammer 40,000 stuff, the vast bulk of the fiction is all…pulp fiction. ‘Chewing gum for the brain’, as my English degree studying housemate puts it. but this, Lord of the Night was really rather impressive! As was the book I read before it, Storm of Iron.

But enough of my literary ramblings. RESULTS ARE OUT.

Had a horrid series of dreams about them on Sunday morning/afternoon (my sleeping pattern’s way off at the moment, with me sleeping for about ten-fourteen hours every sleep), in which I was half-awake, trying to look at my results on my laptop screen and noticing that they kept changing. At first they weren’t too bad, 13, a 12 and an 11, with a 5 in another. Then I looked again noticing something up, and they’d changed to three 6s and a 3! Then I looked again and my grade for Complex Analysis had turned into a 20.3 (grades here only go up to 20…), and all high-hopeful unfortunately noticed it hadn’t been normalised…everyone else had 40s!

In the end, I finally forced myself properly out of the stupor and checked…none of the grades were up.

But now they are

Worst first!

Fundamentals of Pure Mathematics: 11.5
Special Relativity and Fields: 11.8
Complex Analysis: 15
Physics of Atoms: 17


I definitely ought to have done a lot better than I did in Pure, but c’est la vie as the french say (and, they’re even a small part to blame! Lesson 1: Exert more restraint in indulging the french at silly hours). In Relativity and Fields…it was an horrid exam, totally unsuited to me, so I felt I’d let myself down for it on taking the exam. I knew I understood it quite well, but was ultimately let down by a lack of practice, and, I suppose, a lack of ability with the subject. It’s just a difficult subject and I didn’t take to it very well. Lesson 2: Put in more work when it comes to hard subjects.

With Complex Analysis, I again ought to have done better. The objective lesson here, Lesson 3, is that: you really have to practice a long time in advance. I.e.: do the tutorial questions before the tutorials, you idiot!

With Physics of Atoms, however, I think I was able to show off a little. I still, like Relativity, lacked the necessary natural affinity with the subject, and like Complex Analysis hadn’t studied quite enough for it, but I feel it is quite true that I did study for it in a reasonable manner. I read it and kept up with the course reasonably well. To conduct myself better in this regard requires one thing and one thing alone, which is this: Lesson 4: Not only do the tutorial questions on time, but do as many exercises as you can using the textbooks as often as possible!

So, to collect all that…

The Lessons of the Seventh Semester

Lesson 1: Exert more restraint in indulging the french at silly hours.
Lesson 2: Put in more work when it comes to hard subjects.
Lesson 3: You really have to practice a long time in advance.
Lesson 4: Not only do the tutorial questions on time, but do as many exercises as you can using the textbooks as often as possible.

And the most important lesson of all: focus

“You need to have more consideration”

It’s an interesting thing. Since just before this year, 2008, began I had taken a not-so-slight interest in developing my understanding of philosophy. Notably, the philosophies that seem to be careering around inside my own head without labels or voices or directions or understanding. My intuitive reaction to what’s right and wrong had, loosely speaking, served me well in the past. Free-wheeling it through life for the most part of school worked quite well, my moral compass and rationality turning out to be not entirely misguided. Unfortunately, I was also a well-veiled pratt, so that didn’t work out quite well.

In any case, I can look back and (with not just a little dose of hindsight, rose-tinted spectacles and post-hoc rationalisation) say that I did possess alot of the tools I still have and use back then. Scepticism, reasoning capacity, deduction, induction, abduction, linear programming, problem solving…I had and still have these skills. Somewhat dented with time (and alcohol) I’m still sure I can use them. Rusty and a little blood-stained* though they might be.

* I’ve not spilt blood with them, don’t worry. It’s metaphorical, I think (I don’t think they really covered this at school…took me weeks to grasp smilies with Mr Ryan…), in that as I’ve said: I’ve been a bit of a pratt. Whilst it’d be nice to look bad at all the merits and laurels and whatever I’ve accumulated, the shallow truth of the matter is that veiled under any merit I’ve been credited for, I’ve always been a bit of arrogant eejit, and I’ve likely pissed off a ton of folks without ever realising it at the time. Furthermore, I’ve been quite spiteful and grudgebearing in my time, despite trying to give an air of forgiveness and selflessness. This is likely unsurprising to anyone but myself. But that’s selfishness for you, huh?

Back on topic: These skills, Iz got ’em. Unfortunately they’re old, wearied and have been used for some deplorable things in the past (I won’t bore you with the details). So I’ve got to…redeem them. The only way I can see that is through focus, through figuring out my own noggin’ as best I can. Only that way will I have control to be responsibly me. All those flashes of anger, moments of despair and instants of incalculable idiocy, they all seem to stem from one crucial truth: a lack of control. A lack of thought or consideration. My french housemate said to me, jokingly, “You need to have more consideration”, as it was a phrase he’d just learned to use and was happily accusing everyone with it…but it struck me quited pointedly.

Similarly, my former next-door-neighbour, brother and husband (i.e. co-father to Erin alongside me and Emma), Alex, told me in his own oddly accurate way: “If you feel you’re ever out of control, you really ought to seek professional help” which helped me somewhat. He’s traditionally somewhat of a dramatist in my eyes (by accident, though), but his assertion is essentially correct, and made me think it was me that was overstating the problem. I’m not uncontrollable, unreasonable or looking back at my bloodied hands after the hour-long red mist finally lifts…that’s not it at all (which I think he thought I was meaning).

Rather, it struck me that if I’m worried about my own control, I ought to set about enforcing it. It does mean I’ll steadily become terrified of me ‘not having control’ and not trusting myself to go by instinct, but I suppose, looking back, I never really should’ve trusted myself to go by instinct.

Back in the religious days, would have thought ‘going by instinct/intuition’ was putting myself in the hands of the Holy Spirit and that due to God’s benevolence, I’d usually be well cared for. But by that reasoning I also should’ve seen that I could just as easily have been surrendering myself to the devil’s will…as who am I to ‘recognise God’s will. Who is Frank O’Hanlon to distinguish the angel from the demon?’.

Somewhat poorly-poetic and overly dramatic, sure, but I think it illustrates the point well. In religious terms it’s a fine illustration for why I ought to have had control, and why I would have vehemently disagreed (in rational terms) with anyone asking me to trust God on this one (and hence why I did eventually decide that God must have a sense of humour). But in strictly metaphorical and atheistic terms then the point still stands. Going by instinct and intuition is just as likely to wind up with a ‘good, wholesome, happy and cheerful’ Frank as it would be to yield a ‘bad, unwholesome, angry and spiteful’ Frank, or some even odder combination of those (indeed, thinking back, I could quite heartily have identified with a good, unwholesome, happy and spiteful Frank…).

But the point here is that simply surrending myself to my intuitive…self is likely a bad idea. It might work ought well, but i’ve no way to guage how I’d go. A roll of a dice, a flip of a coin. So, until the roll/flip is forced due to a lack of any other options, I’d quite like to be sure that the events leading up to that are my own rational intentions manifested in my actions. And to to that, as Alex and Sylvain say, I need to have not only control but consideration.

And that is why I’m trying to read up on some philosophy, to orchestrate and organise my own thoughts. Hopefully to a fruitful end, but ultimately I’m not sure where it’ll go. Indeed, have I ever stopped rolling a dice or flipping a coin?

Mr 2000 Credits and the Eighth Semester 12/02/08

It’s the second day of my eighth semest at the University of St Andrews. 8/10, this’ll be.

The strength of the system? I can do anything I want, provided I’ve met the prerequisites…and even some things for which I haven’t!

I’m set to do five courses this semester. First up is Geometry and Topology, a nifty little mathematics module that, to be frank, I’ve orchestrated the last five semesters’ modules around working towards. And now that I’m here, I’m beginning to have second thoughts. It’ll be ruddy difficult and filled with people who’re fantastically better mathematicians than I am. But on the plus side, it should be exceedingly interesting. You don’t work towards something for five semesters without being a little bit interested in it, do you?

Second on the list is Computational Physics. I started doing this module this time last year, but dropped it within two weeks as it simply ate too much into my time. It’s interesting enough and hopefully I’ll be able to get reasonably into the projecty stuff with it. I’m alot more familiar with theMathematica syntax now having had the basics of it sit in me noggin’ for a year filling up space. It should be okay, and I suppose it’s a way to make sure I actually do something worthwhile on Tuesday and Friday afternoons!

Third up is Quantum Mechanics 3 a module taught by my Relativity lecturer from last semester. It’s a bit of a hodge-podge subject, with no real ‘core’ to it, just…stuff. It should be interesting covering a few of the little interesting nuggets inherent in Quantum Mechanics though. I think the course’ll basically be covering scattering, information, relativistic waves, matrices and entanglement. Inside some of that will be teleportation, hurrah!

After that there’ll of course be an epic return to something I’ve been seperated from for too long. That is to say, I’m returning, in part, to my studies of Astronomy & Astrophysics. Particularly, that is, I’ll be studying Gravitational Dynamics a module based mostly on the mathematical modelling of interacting stellar bodies (usually galaxies, but stars, clusters, planets, rocks etc all get a mention). The lecturer’s really good, but it looks like I’m the only one in the class who hasn’t done the pre-requisite module (the massive second year module in Astronomy and Astrophysics) and indeed, I’m the only one who isn’t actually an astronomer or astrophysicist! This should be…very interesting!

Final topic on the list is the one I’ve been looking forward to for much longer than any of them, I suppose. That is General Relativity. The biggie. Alongside anything dealing with Cosmology(which incidentally I ended up doing in the First Semester at St Andrews, but I’ve got my eye bent on trying to do one in the Final Semester [The Tenth Semester] too), it’s been a topic I’ve been interested in for years before coming to university, and I imagine it’ll probably be one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. I did mention it’s a fifth year module too, didn’t I? :D

In any case, it means I’ll have alot of work to be getting on with. Each of the modules except Comp Phys has plenty of tutorial work to be done. I’ve a pile of books (though it is helped by sitting atop my bookshelf) that is almost as tall as I am! In spite of tall that, Comp Phys will have a few large projecty things to be done, and a fair bit of continuous assessment too. General Relativity and QM3 will require me to delve deep into my noggin’ and rearrange things at a very basic level. Further, GR will need me to perfect tensors (something I was pretty poor at last semester) and Gravitational Dynamics…oh Gravitational Dynamics! I have to learn a large part of the second year astronomy course, make up for my utter lack of most of the Astro terminology and ‘basic facts’ that’ll be totally familiar to all the other students, but still totally alien and wondrous to me. (It shows insofar as I had a cheesy grin on my face all through the first lecture…)

In any case, it should be fun. A brick-ton of work, but regardless: I’m confident I’ll enjoy it. It’s like first-year all over again!

Computing: Check! (Computational Physics has this!)
Pure & Applied Maths: Check! (Geometry and Topology has elements of it both)
Physics: Oh boy, yes! (QM3, GR, Comp Phys)
Astronomy: Check! (GR & Gravitational Dynamics)
Statistics: Check! (Gravitational Dynamics has some of this too!)

All in all, the only thing I’m missing is the comfy seats of the computing lab in which to fall asleep in during lectures! Ah well.

But in other news

Well, everyone’s back. Almost everyone done pretty well in exams (sortof-son Rob and Gareth being obvious exceptions) and everyone seems to have a reasonable workload ahead for this semester (and in this instance it’s Stephen Cornick who’s the odd one out, with a square 85 Credits to be done this semester including a class which is completely conflicted with others!). Altogether, it seems to be lining up pretty nicely!

There’s a few kinks and bumps in the whole plan, namely having about �20 to my name, but otherwise it strikes me as if things are shaping up nicely.

Hell, even my reading of stoicism doesn’t seem to be going too badly!

It’s back to GameSoc tomorrow night too. The group’ll be somewhere in Egypt disturbing more unspeakable horrors, probably. I have to confess, my inner geek is probably going to run rampant this semester. GR, quantm, gravity, computers, games…oh my!


Perhaps I shouldn’t be announcing that to the world…

Anyway…yes. That’s all, I suppose. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few wee bits and remarks, but I doubt they’ll be huge.

P.S.: True Mirrors

This is insane. Well, it’s not in the slightest, but it’s very…unsettling.

I saw myself in a true mirror for the first time in my memory the other day. In one mirror, as you know, things are ‘the wrong way around’. Left becomes right and right becomes left etc. But we’re so used to seeing ourselves in this conventional mirror (excepting photographs, of course), that this isn’t terribly unusual. But if you get a small straight-edged bit of mirror and put it at right angles to another mirror then look into both of them along (so that you’re looking directly into the corner of the two mirrors where they meet), then you’ll see yourself as other people see you

Not in a metaphysical, psychological or even morale boosting sense, simply that, optically, you’ll see a genuine representation of what you’d look like if you met yourself. And I’ll tell you: It was bloody surreal for me. Like meeting someone who looks alot like you and acts alot like you, but is just that little bit different. (Though, obviously, this is you, you’re just not used to seeing yourself!)

I thought I’d share!

P.P.S: Mr 2000 Credits

My friend, brother and nextdoor neighbour, Robin, today said “Hah, it’s hardly surprising, is it? Frank making things hard for himself? Mr 2000 Credits…I saw Rob earlier today and he said he’d take the spare ones that I have!”

Obviously, I don’t have 2000 Credits, but I do have a fair bit more than I needed to. In first and second year I accumulated a nice 80 Credits on top of what I needed, and another 20 in third year. Twenty more and I’d have done the equivalent of a whole extra year at University! We’re only supposed to do 120 every year (so 60 per semester), but after seven semesters I’m sitting happily on a nice round 520 credits, more than you need to get a BSc! Fun, fun, fun!

Somewhere else the tea’s getting cold  – 21/02/08

There are worlds out there where the sky is burning,
and the sea’s asleep, and the rivers dream;
people made of smoke and cities made of song.
Somewhere there’s danger,
somewhere there’s injustice,
somewhere else the tea’s getting cold.

Come on, Ace. We’ve got work to do.

It’s a strange set of words there. We don’t have a clue that that’s actually out there, but we know of the possibility of it. Only last night I sat here with my niece and showed here the projected scale of the universe.

“Waw, it’s pretty big!”

She was referring to the universe, by the way.

And that’s it, sometimes the whole damned scale of things can sweep you up. You can be sat there, stood there, perhaps walking along, perhaps lying down. Regardless. You’re there and it’s there. Everything is just there. Out of sight, over the horizon, under your feet, above your head,inside your own body and we’ve almost no real coherent concept of it at all. We never really think of it altogether. And then, once or twice every so often, we’ll actually think about it. We’ll be there and look (mentally, if not optically) into the whole shindig that surrounds us. That is, it seems, us! It’s really quite distracting.

But the above is right, IMO. Tea. Somewhere: the tea is getting cold, have a cup! And we do have work to do. I mean, right now I’ve spent the last five hours doing essentially SFA. Bought some folders. Blah.

I had an excellent morning though. Really rather insightful. General relativity is going well, only had our second lecture today, but still! We finally moved further into the geometry of spacetime, something we didn’t cover much in SR last semester. It’s really rather entertaining. We produced the Geodesic Equation a rather entrancing little equation which describes the shortest path between two points in spacetime. Naturally, we’re used to dealing with what’s known as the Euclidean Space, basically: Simple maths & geometry. Things are idealised. And it works nicely, to a degree. But not to this degree! We produced the euclidean geodesic by approximating the metric to equal one (technobabble, ahoy!), and this basically tells you that in our basic idea of space that things moving at constant speeds go in straight lines in an empty space.

But we know (somewhat esoterically, for myself), that this isn’t the truth of the matter. Things don’t go in straight lines! Well, they do, but not a normal straight line. The generalisation is exactly that: Ignore straightlines and instead treat geodesics as straight lines: the shortest path between two points.

Hell, we even invoked a bit of Principle of Least Action. I actually properly feel like a theoretical physicist nowadays!

But after that, we delved into some Gravitational Dynamics in the form of buckets of equations and odd lagrangians for odd coordinate systems. Another fun class, and another one where I was particularly pleased to understand most of the darned thing!

Similarly, QM3. A particularly difficult course, for me, as I’m shoddy with differential equations and all that jazz, but it’s really rather fun so far…and this is the difficult part of the course! Scattering, y’see. Essentially modelling the collisions between to tiny snooker balls as one ball which encounters a wee ‘nuge’ as it travels along. Well not quite, but as the analogy goes, it’s balls acting like light…y’know how light bends in a glass of water (when you look at it it’s all funny?), then that’s whats going on. But these aren’t lightbeams, these are matter ‘hitting’ one another!


And that was three hours of my morning! Since then I bought some folders and procrastinated for a while. Time for some work, I think!

“There’s a future cone, and there’s a cone in the past coming here!” – 28/02/08

Dr Zhao’s explanation of light-cones.

Quite amusing, all said and done. I only had two lectures today: General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics three. It’s coming together quite nicely, all except for one thing. Or four things, to be precise. I keep avoiding going to the library and actually doing work. My mind…myself won’t let me concentrate and apply myself. Something’s up, something’s wrong…yet I fear it might be something that’s also very right. Relationships with people, they eat up a lot of time, don’t they? Perhaps that’s it, perhaps I’m simply terrible at managing my time.

That is amusing, as only today did we start spacetime!

But of today and things

It’s strange. I’ve been following a few discussions recently on reality and science vs religion and all that jazz. It’s really been rather apparent to me what my choicest belief is, for the last few months at anyrate. That is to say, the core thing that is believed by me, but the thing I often forget and when I forget it is probably the largest factor in me being both wrong and annoying.

So, what is my belief?

I believe I don’t know

From that everything else really should follow. My mistakes arise usually because I don’t have a clue as to what’s going on, or I’ve gotten something horribly wrong. Silly statements and poor arguments usually arise principally from me forgetting to rigorously check my own premises of the argument argument.Ultimately, it strikes me, that the bulk of my problem arises and ends with not knowing. In strict terms that makes me an agnostic. I’ve said that for a while now, but still my stance is ultimately a flawed one which is thus then atheism. But this is by the by. It’s not important.

Here and now, what is important is that I don’t know my own orientation. I amn’t exerting the correct level of control or discipline on my studies. I’ve ordered a few new books, and one of those, I hope, will prove to be very useful in helping me orient my studies, indeed this entire eighth semester into one which is of a somewhat productive course.

A thought

It struck me the other day that I really don’t feel like I’m anywhere near the end of life’s journey. I don’t feel prepared to settle down, to hold up and wait for a bit. The next three semesters (this included), are pretty much solidly planned. I have a good idea of the class I’ll be taking, and though the summer isn’t yet sorted, I hope to be able to figure it out soon enough. But after that? Well, that’s a great big adventure. It might not be anywhere near as exciting as what I’ve done this last year, but I hope it holds…something. And I can’t see how it could continue to be the same. And it certainly won’t be like it was. There’ll be no going back to the good old days living with Stephen, or with Stephen and Viki, or with Erin, Alex and Emma. You can’t go back. I can’t go back. I wouldn’t want to.

Still, I can’t return even further either. There’s likely no grand school reunion waiting in the sky. No going back to Cadets, or St Brides or nursery. It’s always forwards.

And speaking of which, it’s time to go to a different lecture!

A Vision of the Future – 05/03/08

Scientists are saying the future is going to be far more futuristic then they originally predicted.

I know where I’ll live next year. It looks like it’ll be McIntosh Hall.……

Yeah, I think it’ll be quite good. I’m very much looking forward to it, at least.

And that sort of seals it. The final details of my last year are, loosely, falling into place. The only major question marks left over my degree are thus:
1- What’ll my final year project be?
2- How will I do?

To be utterly frank? I’m quite eager to find out.

In any case, everything seems to be quite well. I’m in physics at the moment trying to finish off a Geometry tutorial I was supposed to do for last week. Truth be told, Geometry & Topology is easily one of my more interesting subjects, much to my surprise…yet I always thought it would be, too. How odd.

It’s strange how it all turns out. I was at lunch with my next door neighbour/brother, Robin, today, and we were chatting about alot of the bizarre things that have happened over the last few years. I think we can all agree, the truth is far stranger than any fiction. It seems quite remarkable to imagine that all of this, all of life, is quite unscripted. And yet I do. You literally couldn’t write some of the stuff that happens. But it’s fun nonetheless!

Clinical Blogging & The Second Week of the Holidays – 08/04/08

I’m determined to experiment a little with a more clinical form of documenting my life. I’ll try it out a little here.

The Second Week of the Holidays

– Went out in Dunfermline
– Returned to St Andrews
– More tea, vicar
– Room tidied
– Studying and revision has begun
– Sleeping pattern all to hell
– Finished another book
– New BSG and started watching “Pushing Daisies”


Have not been out in Dunfermline for a long time. Recently returned from Stranraer spending time with family. Gran is sliding into dementia. Exams are on the horizon (commencing mid-May). Eigth (of ten) semester of undergraduate university career. Haven’t spent much time with Nick or folks in House 34 thanks to spending more time with my niece.

Firday 28th March: Got to Crieff with mum and sister
Sunday 30th March: Finish Oathbreaker.Return to Cowdenbeath
Monday 31st March: Go to Stranraer. Finish Poirot Investigates
Friday 4th April: Returned to Cowdenbeath
Saturday 5th April: Go out in Dunfermline with folks (get wrong bus, have to run across town)
Sunday 6th April: Return from Dunfermline to Cowdenbeath in the early hours. Some more running involved. Later return to St Andrews
Monday 7th April.: Sleep in, do some work. Hand in acceptance to DRA. Get soaked by horrible rain.
Tuesday 8th April: Finish Relentless. Recommence reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Room tidied. Continue reading A New Stoicism. Do some revision. Blog.


Family are alright, all considered. Things could be alot worse. There’s much tension and little that can be done to alleviate it. Increase efforts to maintain communication (i.e. emails, postcards).

Evening out in Dunfermline was excellent. Very enjoyable. Spent too much money.
Resolution: When doing many shots we buy high-alcohol ones to save money. Balls to the taste. Vodka’s all round, next time.

Events are pleasing. My mind is relatively settled and calm. Not particularly productive, but productivity can, must and will be increased as time progresses. Blogging is helpful to organise thoughts. Blogging is a horrid sounding phrase. Look forward to niece’s return from France, and others’ return from being scattered around Britain and Europe. Proposed evening plan: Watch more “Pushing Daisies”. Finish Tess, conduct all-nighter in Physics Computer Lab in an effort to begin Comp Phys project.

Anecdote: The entirety of House 34 is back.
Immediate action: Make and eat dinner. Drink a little, read, watch “Pushing Daisies” and then do more work.

Comical anecdote: I found a �5 that hadn’t been seen/handled since 2006 this afternoon.

Balls to Clinical – 09/04/08

It’s 4.38AM and I’m in the physics building. Something’s gotta give, or something’s already given. Something.

I dunno. I’ve got a little idea in my head about my Chaotic Pendula & Fractals project that I intended to work on this evening, but instead I seem to have simply spent the last three hours cogitating within the physics building. Specifically in the physics computer classroom.

Interestingly I seem to be able to type very quickly and very accurately. You might be more interested to know that at present I’ve consumed two cans of Murphy’s and the better part of 3/4 of a bottle of australian white wine. I haven’t spoken to another person since I bumped into my academic son on the way to physics at about half-one this morning. I haven’t seen anyone since about five minutes before I even got into the physics building. That’s right. It’s been a lovely morning of drinking, trying to work, thinking and generally vegetating in the physics building. I’ve familiarised myself with a few of the more important points of Chaos Theory and I’ve tried to reacuaint myself with fractals for this project. By the looks of it I might even be able to slip in a bit of self-organised criticality, if I’m lucky.

Still, it’s early, I’m steadily more inebriated (all I’ve had is a bowl of cornflakes, a pizza and a peanut butter sandwich today…plus the alcohol).

But something relevent

I quite enjoy programming. I always have done. It’s something far more formal than an essay. I can’t cope with essays and descriptive writing. Any sort of approach to this sort of thing requires a core skeleton seemingly formed purely from my programming ability, onto which I build a whole pile of rubbish which is yielded almost directly sans filter from my brain.

This isn’t good.

For slightly more than the last three months it’s been my ambition to become a more controlled individual. It’s working, in a manner. I’ve had fewer outbursts, relatively, and have beena able to control my own interests to a much keener degree. Reading, for instance. This year I’ve read…Legion, Legacy, Lord of the Night, Storm of Iron, Poirot Investigates, Deathworld, Oathbreaker, Relentless and finished Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Nine books. Truth be told, I only had eighty pages of Tess to finish, but still…like Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones’ Diary it was a book I struggled with slightly. I’ve still not finished P&P, but I intend to finish it soon (before July, ideally).

Tonight, I start Grey Knighrs, and after that, depending on how I feel for Games Workshop material, I’ll either go for Blind by Matt Farrer, who has, with Legacy and Crossfire, become one of my favourite authors, or for something quite different: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. If I can finish GK quickly, I think it might be TTC, but if not: Blind it is.

I’d heard from a few folks online that Legacy was the inferior of Matt Farrer’s three Shira Calpurnia novels, but if my own reactionary judgement is anything to go by (which, generally, it should not be) it was one of the most outstandingly well written Black Library novels. It outclasses almost everything that I’ve read before or since.

A nonlinear distraction (Only because I inserted this title after I’d written the next paragraph)

Anyhow, this is a massive distraction. I appear to be basically using this blog to record my drunken thoughts. That can’t be right, can’t it?

“Timey-wimey, wibbly-wobbly” he says. I’ve no idea what I intend to do in the future. I might follow my old best friend and pursue law, I might go a completely doomed path and attempt a military career. I might ‘fail’ utterly and become a bum working in a dead end job doing nothing. In any case, when relatively un-inebriated, I hope to be able to follow the format of Summary, Background, Timeline, Analysis. All told, it strikes me as the pursuit that’ll serve me better.

Pip pip, one and all. Have a good week!

Videos – 09/04/08

Two of them are the cool-cas-hell Daft Punk dance-videos to one of my favroutie <I>TUNES!</i>, Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.

They’re pretty neat and I thought I’d share ’em.

Third up if you look at my videos, or first (of three) chronologically is The Southland Tales. This is the first film me and Stephanie went to see together properly. Well, it’s one of the first I’ve been to in a long while that could really constitute a date, or anything close to it.

In any case, it was, for me, a jaw-droppingly awesome film. The Rock, Stifler and Buffy (I’m not going to bother misspelling their real names), all performed excellently. The supporting cast was so good that I didn’t notice that it was the Justin Trousersnake performing and narrating.

In any case, I felt it was a delciously executed film. It combined the correct amoutns of ‘utter farce’, ‘good SF’, ‘bad Sci-fi’, ‘Dark & confusing teen drama’ and ‘Creator let loose’ to make a throroughly enjoyable film, for me. I harp on that it is amazing, but be warned: It takes an hell of an effort to keep an eye on the plot and a decent insight to follow the characters without getting lost along the way. But, despite this, it had some of the most hilarious lines I’ve ever heard. The premiss’ themselves for the film are utterly daft, all told. Time travel, complete pseudoscience and a multitude of other things. The film revels in it with good reason.

Not only does the film make a farce of the entire apocalypse scenario, it satires the progress of modern society very well. Both as a descent away from ‘decent values’ (Teen horniness is not a crime, dontcha know?), and a severe jibe at pseudoscience (basically almost every “scientific” explanation in the film had my sides splitting, Stephanie commented on this, precisely that “Frank, you were laughing a lot when no-one else was…”).

(But, I might also add, she seemed to really like the film first time around. And she’s almost nothing like me. I say almost,, but realistically, I doubt we’d ever be profil-grouped together except as lolcat-enjoyers!)

Regardless: All three videos are f’n awesome. Watch ’em, and go out of your way to watch The Southland Tales, it’s an excellent film.

Twenty-four hours – 07/05/08

The suns out and I’m in physics. Life doesn’t get any better than this…

Well, it totally does. This time tomorrow, I ought to be happily finished my Computational Physics project. Chaotic effects in pendula. Should be interesting, but I seem to be going downhill rapidly with it.

Still, it’s almost done. I need to examine a wee Poincare section, label a few plots, re-write some poor-quality physics, do all my referencing and make pretty pictures. And then wrestle with printing the damn thing.

Ah, I’ll be so happy when this is done. It’s been a blight on my life for the last month. One day I’ll be free. Yes, free. Free to…ah, free to study for the exams starting a week on Saturday. I suppose it’s probably about time I started studying…

Still, back to the project. Hope everyone’s having fun these sunny days.

Viva Day & Quantum Time – 15/05/08

Well, I had my Viva today for my Computational Physics project, and I’ll say this: I’m bloody pelased to see the end of that sillyness. Now I can concentrate on some proper revision.

First up, this Saturday: Quantum Mechanics 3 (Scattering, Matrix Rep., Density Matrices, Entanglement, Teleportation & Relativistic QM, I think). So far I’ve done Scattering and am almost finished Matrix Rep. I need to finish it all ‘properly’ by tomorrow so I can settle into serious practicing before the exam.

Then, of course, it’s more exam revision as soon as that’s done. First then will be General Relativity (a fifth year course comprised mainly of people going on to do PhDs after the summer who, ultimately, have nothing better to do with their time than to revise GR…) on the following Thursday, and immediately after that will be Gravitational Dynamics (a fourth year astronomy course, and as best I can tell, all the astronomers are super-brainboxes and that leaves me lagging behind them as I’m the only non-astronomer on the course) on the Friday.

Fortunately, after that, will be Geometry and Topology (a fourth year mathematics course) on the Wednesday. Unfortunately for me I’m the only non-mathematician in the class, meaning I’ve only a tiny amount of the experience they have in groups, linear algebra and so forth. But, if they ask me to move a wardrobe…

All told, I actually rather enjoy all of the courses, so revising for them isn’t terribly painful. It’s just bloomin’ difficult. Speaking of which, I really should return to working.

As an aside, if anyone is free on Wednesday the 28th of May, please now be cordially invited to come along to our end-of-year party. I doubt anyone (of you lot) will, but still, it’s worthwhile advertising! It should be excellent, I might add.

A pleasant surprise – 10/06/08

It’s result day. Should’ve been in bed hours ago, but sat for about ten minutes then decided I couldn’t sleep, so got up and ran off across to physics to idle the time watching Peep Show and Torchwood.
In any case: They’re out

Wow. Seriously, this is intense!

And then…you remembered.
General Relativity: 12.3
Gravitational Dynamics: 14.3
Geometry & Topology: 16.3
Quantum Mechanics 3: 16.6
Computational Physics: 17.7

I don’t think I can stress how absolutely overjoyed I am. I expected to fail General Relativity, yet did better in it than in Special Relativity & Fields! I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped in Dynamics, but on the other hand, I still did pretty decently! Not amazing, but still, considering the revision for it went as poorly as it did (GR and GD were perhaps some of the worst prepared exams of my life).

Geometry & Topology, what can I say? Absolutely immense. Superb, in fact. One of the most interesting and endearing courses, and easily the most practically useful! From donuts and cups to moving wardrobes! For both GR and G&T, I was the only physicist in the class. For one the rest were astronomers, the other they were all mathematicians. And I did good. Dang!

QM3, again, I’m really pleased with that, it’s almost a first class grade! Considering how poorly I learned through the semester, this is brilliant. Well, it’s not brilliant, but compared to how I expected to do…wow.

And, would you look at that. Computational Physics. Yes, that’s right… My best mark at university. Computational Physics. Hooray!

Whoopdeedoo, but what does it all mean, Basil?

Very little, ultimately. I’m exceptionally pleased with it all though. Could be better. Should be better, but I’m getting there. I honestly didn’t expect this to be an improvement upon last semester, but there we are: it was! I wonder what my next trick will be…

Promotion – 22/06/08

Sealed and dealed.

Started the summer as a cleaner (general assistant) and have now been promoted to Management Assistant. Signed the contract yesterday and have been doing the job all week. It’s great.

At the same time, however, it’s mind-numbingly dull! There’s simply not very much to do!

It’s more fun than scrubbing ovens and toilets, that’s true. And I get to go on the internet from time to time to help pass the hours. But, ultimately, there’s still nothing to do. Sometimes it’ll be checking rooms, other times it’ll be moving supplies about so the cleaners/bistro/whomever can get at them. For now, nothing to do. Excitement, ahoy!

On the upside, I get an extra 10p an hour. Hooray!

Graduation Days – 26/06/08

Well, first of all a huge congratulation to all the graduates (or if not yet, graduands…I think) this last week or so (and presumably over the course of the next week).

It’s been pretty awesome seeing people wondering around in town in gown and hood. I always enjoyed seeing undergrads in gowns, but for them being graduates adds so much more.

Of course, I’m happy for them, but it hasan intense effect upon me…maudlin, I think.

I could be there, waltzing off into the sunset (or sunrise) with a degree in hand and a university life at my back. But I’m not. I chose…the slower path. The longer path, I suppose. It’d be nice to imagine it’s also the more rewarding path but…well, I’m sceptical of that.

At this stage, a huge amount of friends are graduating. Some are already gone, some were as recent as this afternoon, some will be tomorrow and the next day. In some sense, it’s the end!

But of course it isn’t the end. Don’t be silly, you young fool! There’s buckets of people staying around. Tons of people who’ll be here next year, tons of people for whom I will be the one graduating and sailing off towards new horizons.

Of course, that’s not even to begin to mention everyone who’s doing the same but further abroad. Those at Dundee, a mere twenty miles away, whom I don’t think I’ve seen in years! Those at the Edinburgh and Glasgow universities who’re already so distant as this to be but a cementing of the seperation. And how to quantify the distance of folks as far afield as Aberdeen, or worse, (radially) beyond!

It makes me wonder, how different would my situation now be had I opted for different choices in degree, in university. (Incidently, I just, his moment, saw Andrew Duncan who graduated today, been acquaintences for the entire four years and also Alex Woods, a year or two below me who I knew from staying in Melville)

What if I’d switched UCAS options? I never really intended to go to Dundee or Glasgow, it was always Edinburgh, St Andrews or Aberdeen, I think. If I’d bitten the bullet and followed my strengths? I’d have ended up in AI & Maths at Edinburgh, probably graduated by now with a good degree. Or dead from boredom. Computing was great and all, but it did my head in during first year. Astrophysics at Edinburgh? I think I’d be much the same as I am now, quality wise. *I* would’ve been a very different person, but going on scale-of-happiness/contentment alone, I think I could’ve enjoyed Edinburgh just as much (or even more…). But I’d still have not graduated yet, probably.

Any of those I could’ve extended or advanced. With Aberdeen I was offered my seventh degree offer (you’re only supposed to get six which, for me, were all unconditionals): direct entry for Physics (which was conditional). I know I’d have enjoyed Aberdeen, and I’m pretty sure I’d have ended up in a very different place. I might’ve hated the people, or the lecturers, or myself…but I think it’d have been a very different experience…but I’d have known that. I suspect I’d have regretted Aberdeen, no matter how well (or poorly) I did from the experience.

It’s a stange life. Would I have lost religion if I’d went elsewhere? Would I be an aspiring stoic? Would have I had the type/amount/range of friends I have now? Would I have had more or less? Might I have been better off financially? Worse off? A better student? Almost any decision I made might’ve avoided the disaster that was the beginning of third year and the summer of 2006 (no offence to Starbucks people or Glasgow itself, those and the cities of Prague/Dublin/Cork were easily the highlights!) . Would that have been worth it?

I hate (though actually I love it, temporal mechanics is a course I’d love to study, but no-where teaches it because it seems no-one knows, especially not me!) to be too speculative about alternative timelines, but there we are. If I’d made other choices would I have found the value I put in the likes of Robin, Stephen, Nick or Emma? Academic families? My entire academic family as it stands? Stephanie? Perhaps it’d have been better. So many critical points. I think it highlights what might be the chaos (Chaos?) of life in general. That is: Tiny changes could have extremely profound effects. We might be in some control of the decisions but ultimately, I fear, we’re probably not actually in control of the path. Rather: we’re simply re-rolling the dice.

That’s…reassuring, isn’t it? No matter how bad or how brilliant things get, it’s probably not actually our…fault (good or bad). Oh dear, I’m waxing stoical!

Superhands – 28/07/08

My housemate (David), my neighbour (Nomi) and myself all worked together this summer. (Indeed, I’m working with all my neighbours and housemates, but that’s not the point) We were so slow, one day, that our loveable german superviser was shocked to find us trioed together the very following day. The affection and sarcasm were palpable when she then proclaimed “Oh yes, here is our superteam!”

So, we worked together as the superteam, it was fun. I then got promoted and my other housemate, Alex, took over my place in the superteam, but it wasn’t the same. Still, as a trio we’ve kept close over the summer and generally amused ourselves. So, this weekend, as it was Naomi’s last weekend, David harrassed us into coming up with a madcap scheme for inebriation. And, last Tuesday night, in the Raisin and the Westport, we brainstormed (with beer, burger, curly fries and cocktails). I’d recently discovered the awesome game of “Edward Ciderhands“, a distant cousin of the Power Hour and Centurion. With this marvellous game in mind, I wondered “What sort of pun could we bring in alongside our superteam?” Something something hands. Superteamhands. Supert. SuperT. Tennants Superstrength. OF COURSE!


As ideas go, it’s pretty nifty. Two cans of tennants super, taped to your hands. You’re not allowed to remove ’em until you’re finished. What a great start to an evening!

So, we did this on Saturday night, had a wee watch of one of my favourite films, Short Circuit 2 and generally had a great night. Similarly, the night before we had a few drinks with our housemates and folks from Albany. And before that the nights out on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (marking my first night out in Dundee, which I heartily enjoyed!).


Still, it’s been a great week. Not up to much now, as I’m finding the time to blog at work, but oh well. I’ve been working my way through the Handbook of Epictetus, I began the novel Dark Adeptus which I’m enjoying and managed to (almost) finish the the short story collection ofPlanetkill, with Matt Farrer’s Seven Views of Uhgluth’s Passing setting itself as a firm favourite of mine.

Filmwise, I went to see The Dark Knight on Saturday, on my own (it’s becoming a tradition). I’d tried to go with Naomi, Louise and Christie on Thursday, but was displeased to find out that the man in front of me bought the last two tickets, outrageous! Anyway, it was an amazing film. Precisely the sort of thing I like to see. Though, I must say one thing regarding the Joker. For someone who is so absolutely opposed to planning, organisation and so forth…don’t you think he seemed to have a little too much time on his hands to have put massive amounts of conveniently placed explosives all around Gotham City without being caught (considering he probably didn’t plan it)?

A bloody good film, to be honest.

But, otherwise life is good. Work’s a bit boring and I got a bit irate with the C.L.A.N. on Saturday after reading their weeks’ manifesto. If I’ve ever met such a credulous bunch of people…!

It saddens me to think that I might have been one of them, once upon a time. It sometimes worries me that I criticise too easily, but I think the criticism is valid, and I certainly wish someone had scrutinised my outlook a long time ago. I wouldn’t be who I am today if they did, though. But would that be a bad thing? There’s a whole lot of other things I might have been. I’m content to have figured it out myself. I look forward, one day, to writing an interesting blog entry (or even a blog) titled “Cynic, Sceptic, Stoic”, but for now I’ll content myself with this and my much-neglected “The Account of a Lifetime”.

Another August, another madcap adventure – 06/08/06

Well, I started properly thinking about this on Sunday evening. Today I booked off over two weeks from work and am possessed of an insane conviction. If the world hadn’t foiled me, I’m sure I’d have been voyaging to Armenia! But, alas, the Turkish-Armenian border is closed for a while and, in the meantime, I’m stuck just getting as far as Turkey.

But damn, I intend to do it in style.

The Orient Express

Indeed, I hope to be following the classic route from London to Istanbul on train. If it all works out it’ll be London-Brussels-Cologne-Vienna-Belgrade-Istanbul-Bucharest-Budapest-Bratislava-Vienna-Cologne-Brussels-Bruges-Zeebrugge-Rosyth! Ideally I’ll only be spending the nights themselves in Belgrade, Bratislava and Istanbul, but I’ll be travelling about and hopefully seeing a few sights!

So, it was really the early hours of Monday that I’d thought out a route, late on on Monday I found out the border was closed and had to settle for Istanbul. And boy,. it’ll be good. Cheaper than last year too, hopefully. Anyone’s welcome to join!

For now, however, I’ve got to go get coffee, plan a bit more and consider this evening’s food.

Do you wanna come with me? – 07/08/08

‘Cause if you do I should warn you, you’re gonna see all sorts of things. It won’t be quiet, it won’t be safe and it won’t be calm.

As it stands, I have conjured up another madcap scheme to adventure off to lands unseen by my eyes for many (if any) moons! Which is to say: I’m off to Turkey. I’m going alone, and you’re coming with me!

Well, my housemate David is coming with me, at least. Everyone else is quite welcome.

The breakdown is basic:
– Eurostar from London to Brussels
– Interrail from Brussels to Belgrade on a few night trains, sleepers with an hour here or there in Cologne and Vienna.
– Hostel a night in Belgrade then interrail a rickety Serbian-Turkish train all the way to Istanbul.
– Stay in Istanbul for four days.
– Interrail away from Istanbul to Bucharest and stay the night there. The next day we Interrail to Budapest and then intend to rendezvous with ‘the lads’ in Bratislava.
– Spend three nights in Bratislava and then Interrail our way back across to Belgium (again, spending hours here and there as needed)
– Get to Belgium and get the ferry back to Rosyth.

The dates from leaving London (10AM) are the 29th (though we’ll leave from Glasgow at eleven the night before, i.e. the 28th) and then through to returning to Scotland on the 13th of September.

Of course, anyone willing to join up, intersect, overshadow etc the journey would need more specific dates. E.g. We’d be leaving Belgium on the day of the 12th of September as the ferry is overnight (so if someone was wanting to go back to England rather’n Scotland they’d be best departing at Belgium or before), etc.

Personally, I’m looking forward to the drip A few days here, a few days there. Not enough to truly say you know a culture, but enough to keep adventure, adrenaline and interests high. Now, the crunch:


An interrail ticket for <�200 would suffice for the entire journey. Smaller/shorter ones are obviously cheaper. Additionally there’d be some booking fees for each set of trains (typically not very much at all thanks to the interrail) and, of course, the price of hostels (which we ought to be getting for �10-20/night at the worst end of the deal!). Otherwise: it’s cheap food. Buying a few loaves of bread and some fruit to carry with you is simple enough for the cheapest options. By the time you reach Eastern Europe food already drops dramatically.

Anyone who’d like to come, please do! Alternatively, of course, if you can’t be bothered or would prefer a more concrete and reassuring holiday wehave Jonathan’s patented Eastern Europe holidays, this year to Bratislava. See the group on facebook should you so wish! I intend to catch up for at least three nights (four days) of solid bamboozling. Should you wish to join in the fun, please: shout!

To begin with an ending – 28/08/08

Some strange things have happened lately. I’ve discovered the fate of a species hidden amongst the ramblings of a psychic (but don’t worry, that was in fiction!), I’ve connected some dots from artwork, various ominous-but-throwaway novels and even a deliciously expensive book to reveal the origins of something quite exciting.

Not only that, but I’ve found solace in Hercule Poirot too. Strictly, I’ve been reading “The Hollow” and have just now finished it. Intriguing and something I typically wouldn’t have read, but I enjoyed it.

Near the end, Poirot says a particular thing.

‘You do not understand. To you it is unbearable that anyone should be hurt. But to some minds there is something more unbearable still – not to know. You heard the poor woman just a little while ago say “Terry always has to know.” To the scientifici mind, truth comes first. Truth, however bitter, can be accepted, and woven into a design for living.’ – Hercule Poirot.

I think it’s something I’ve built myself towards over time. During late high-school, I become very fond of the quip “Veritas” (latin for ‘truth’, I believe). In later years still I’ve diverged more, placing some amount of faith in scepticism and stoicism as routes to happiness (or at least routes to sanity), and even then I understand the self-referencing of them, the inherent humility that is needed when taking them onboard. Some might even call me cynical. But, if you’d seen me tonight, you might hesitate to say I’m cynical.

But anyway, that’s all incidental, a slight reinforcement of my own outlook (dare I say: worldview?) and little more.

Tonight, I leave for Istanbul! It might take a few days’ travel to really get underway, but I hope to see it through to the end. That end, of course, being St Andrews. I hope, as it were, to go there and back again. Cliche? Oh yes!

Mantras, prayers and concentration

I’ve developed a terrible level of focus and concentration over the summer. I blame work, personally. Hopefully this holiday should afford me time to reorganise and reorient myself before term starts back. In the meantime, I’ve taken to trying out some ‘first year’ Logic as published online by Oxford. I’m not very good at it, but hopefully I’ll learn something along the way.

In addition, I’ve been trying to remember a couple of little things which are, for want of a better phrase, mantras or prayers. One is a sensible thing to remember at all times, I feel, and the other is just a silly fictional prayer with a seemingly amusing backstory that I won’t detail here but will recount at length anytime I think to try to tell it. Anyway, here they are:
That which I cannot control has no power over me
I am the hammer,
I am the sword in His hand,
I am the point of His spear,
I am the gauntlet about His fist,
I am the bane of His foes,
and I am the woes of the treacherous,
I am the end.

As I say, the first is a slight maxim of stoicism, but one which I feel is pretty hand for simply forcing oneself to think. The latter, however, is hopefully to be a tool to clear my mind. In itself, it’s meaningless to me, except what it embodies in the fictional setting: purity, obedience, ignorance, closed mindedness. Hardly great things, but the inversion appeals to me. The idea is to focus the mind, to simply concentrate on something that takes a little effort, and then continue being a little more clear-headed. Evidence for the efficacy of this idea: None I’m familiar with. But I’ll give it a go in the meantime.

To Istanbul

I really should go to bed now. Night night, everyone! Make it so.

The Ninth Semester – 24/09/08

Well, just a quick note to which I’ll add more detail soon. The ninth semester looms, the fifth freshers’ week is underway. Not as good as last year. Nowhere near. But still, I’ll survive. I always do.

Anyway, myself and Stephanie split up tonight. Don’t worry, it’s for the better. I’m pretty sure of that. A shame? Oh, yes, absolutely. But I think that Jolee Bindo was right. Also, not to mention that I think, actually, I’ve ‘got in touch’ with some anger issues. I fear I’m not as nice a person, but I’m more comfortable in control, and with bitterness…and with hope. There’s an austere happiness in amongst all of this. Indeed, I think an austere happiness is exactly what all of this is. But anyway, I’ve midori lemonade to comfort the biology, and I’m pretty sure I can handle the psychology of it.

But anyway, it’s freshers’ week and there’s a party going on out there. (I think that’s an insane understatement, but there we are.)

Focus: Out!

Itinerant Ferromagnetic Quantum Criticality – 14/10/08

I’ve got my project title for this year, and I’ll try to fly with it! I’m quite happy about it, to be absolutely honest. Very happy, in fact. Should be awesome fun. Now two years on since uncovering the very basics of Quantum Criticality amidst some old project work, I’m finally beginning to spend some serious time on it. Indeed, until mid December, almost all of my serious time will be spent on it.


Still, it’s now Week Three of the ninth semester and I’d really best get sat down to some proper work. Once I’ve phoned the council this afternoon to unlock my bike I think I’ll head over to physics and get started, collect some reading materials then get started on my QFT tutorial for tomorrow.

(The project is a 45 [of 120 for the whole year] credit module which will involve a good month or two’s worth of indepth research before even really getting started. I must say, I’m quite excited. Lots of work to put in!)

Do you want to come inside? – 07/11/08

Well, it’s the final Friday of term. Reading week essentially begins tomorrow (well, in an hour after class) and I thought I’d pass on some of the fun to you all!

This wee’s been a quiet one. Started out studious in my wee room at the back-end of the McIntosh ‘annexe’, the very last door in a series of corridors filled with an entirely unecessary doors…that’s where I live. The end of the line. And it’s bloody great fun!

So, studying away, working on Fermi Liquid theory as the first step in completing my project and by Wednesday I’d already become distracted. Tuesday evening saw me abandon studies to jaunt off to DRA to have a few drinks with Erin, Alex, Isi, Gareth and Tom. Always a good laugh. We ended up coming back into the Union, ideally heading for the bop…but failing. Had a fine wee chat with Gareth and Alex about religion and our own pasts and the old ‘is there a god’ question.

Anyway, it was an awesome evening. Unfortunately, as I arrived back in McIntosh I might have insulted a goo friend by referring to the Christian Union Link Group (a weekly Bible Study/prayer session thing) as ‘the Imaginary Friend Club’. Now, I quickly undid the damage, I hope, but the idea stuck with me. When I explain my turn-around with religion I think it’s easiest to explain the following: I realised that I wasn’t praying to god; I was talking to myself.

Well, it doesn’t really take more explanation on that point. It’s a fine one for discussing, but in terms of blogging, there’s little more I can say on it!

For Now

Well, I’ll have to skip the rest of the week’s tale and pack up from here, in the Physics PC Classroom, as it’s time for a Foundations of Quantum Mechanics lecture. But anyway, I’ll be back in an hour to finish the story and get around to teaching a lesson that no-one’ll understand or care for and everyone’ll forget. Hooray!

Come again? – 07/11/08

Foundations was…interesting. Well, it was about probability, and I’d not caught up with yesterday’s lecture so I wasn’t following very much. Still, it was genuinely interesting. Especially that Wan kept calling tor almost every other greek letter except tor.

On the Election

David, you said in your blog that the results will make history. I put to you how could it not have made history?, similarly as one for you (anyone) to ponder: How can something be unnatural?

Anyway, we were still in the union when the first results started coming in. Trying to explain to people why a standing of 16-3 wasn’t ‘things going badly’ was quite taxing, but I think I got there in the end.

Going back a bit: The Quantum fo Solace

Peeps keep mentioning how it’s a silly title. I’d respond “Not in the slightest”. Here’s why:

quantum, strictly, is just ‘a fundamental unit’. In physics it came about in describing light, that there is a fundamental unit (a lego-brick) of light from which all light (EM radiation) is thus composed. It applies to other things and can, in a manner, be thought of as ‘like an Atom’ in that it was supposed to be a fundamental unit. (Unlike the atom, it actually is ‘basic’*, the atom is composed of smaller stuff [which themselves are described by yet more constituent bits {but there’s nothing that they’re made of, apparently**!}

Solace, on the otherhand, is basically consolation or comfort when you’re in a bad way (i.e. distressed, upset, sorrowful, put upon by mistfortune etc).

Thus a quantum of solace is the least possible amount of comfort in a tough situation. Which, describing the film, is a pretty decent title, given its grimness.

It’s also a pretty decent film, I quite enjoyed it!

* Particle physics takes this much further.
** There’s no indication of them being subdividable. Them being quarks and whatnot.

Anyhow: The week passed

Where’d we got to? Ah, yes, ‘the Imaginary Friend Club’. But that was done. Right, Wednesday.

A reasonably productive Wednesday it was too, quite good fun. Classes weren’t excellent and, to be honest, little work was done. I was somewhat distracted, but did get some done. In QFT (Quantum Field Theory) we covered material discussing Bogoliubov (seemingly pronounced “bog-ah-loo-boff” or “bog-ally-oo-boff”, and done quickly) transformations. Essentially it’s to do with electron-hole excitations at the ground state in a fermi liquid, which’d be what I’m studying for my project too. Great!

Also, the new word of the week is Bogoliubons. Won’t explain now, but it’s fun to say and talk about. Need to spend a day or two reviewing the QFT notes and then deal with that again.

Now, Wendesday evening was spent looking to the future. On trying to get to bed for half-elven, I instead found myself awake at three in the morning searching through various PhD and Masters opportunities as well as leaving through the bulk of the literature I’d picked up from the careers service.

Spent and forcing myself to sleep, I woke up good measure the next day, skipped the Foundations class and instead spent the bulk of it working on getting a job or postgrad position. Started compiling a bundle of ideas, answers and examples for interviews and application forms and now have quite a wealth of examples. I have to run it past the Careers Centre first, of course, as much of it is dubiously worded and, if phrased wrongly, could prove disasterous!

Still, I’m off the ground and moving, which is a handy thing to be doing (so I’m told!)

Of Thursday Evening

I went out with some academic family yesterday evening after abandoning work through a mild inability to concentrate. Still, now that it’s reading week I’ll have plenty of time to work and rearrange my schedule to catch up and make serious progress with, well, almost everything, hooray!

Last night’s night out was qutie pleasant. A nice run of cheap drinks followed by good chat with folks and a harmless game of ‘Never ever’. Also, I met six of my new grand children, excellent. I only remember five of their names but, again, not to worry. I see their dad, Alun, quite often so there’s plenty of time between now and Raisin Weekend (two weeks away) before it’s an issue.

Unfortunately, I started telling endless ‘grandad’ stories and started digging a hole by accidently calling one of my grand daughters a boat (though I was rescued somewhat by the other grand daughter suggesting that we all have a boat-party in her sister).

Tonight and onwards

Well, tonight is another family party, likely in Regs or Fife Park, I think. Ought to be a good chance to catch up with the grandkids, kids, brothers, sisters (actually, I doubt any sisters’ll be there…) and great nieces and great nephews. In any case: It ought to be fun.

Actually, this wasn’t that interesting

Mypologies. With regards to PhD, masters and Jobs you might (but probably won’t) be interested to know I’m looking at Nuclear Industry stuff, condensed matter physics PhDs, more cosmological based theoretical PhDs, Masters in Astrophysics (as a sort of ‘conversion’ to astrophysics) and even considering interdisciplinary degrees, such as Complexity Science.

Something which gave me a right hearty chuckle is now linked at the bottom here. Have fun with it, you’ll hopefully find it hilariously funny. My new career? I wouldn’t rule it out! :D

One of those odd days – 12/11/08

Today was a tremendously productive day. Lot’s done, very relaxed, learned alot. Smashing.
This evening was spent mostly drinking tea, watching a film* and now watching Frasier with a few beers as I couldn’t sleep.

What happened tonight? Well, as we were watching “No Country for Old Men” and oddball film which was otherwise pretty damn enjoyable. Anyhow: The thrust of all this was that during the film we could hear a girl from hall and the ‘night guard’ arguing about God and the merits/whatever of ‘no sex before marriage’ and any sort of belief in God and a whole ton of other things.

Now, whilst I’m pretty confident in my own views on the thing, the conversation overheard was a bit madcap in the sorts of things being said (by both parties). Not only were they silly and illogical, they wouldn’t ever have convinced anyone of anything, ever. Well, that’s not fair, I was trying to watch a film at the time. I may well have missed any sort of sensible discussion. Regardless, this coupled with a few other things this last few days (including my own silly use of the phrase ‘the imaginary friend club’) has numbed me somewhat to the severity of all this God/Godless madness. To that end I though I’d cheer you all (and more importantly: myself) with this rather fine compilation of internet blasphemy. Yes: The 40 Awesome Versions of Jesus.…

My particular favourite is Number 9.


As I said, it’s been a particularly lovely day. Nothing terribly much has happened, I straightened out a few bogoliubon issues and did a fair amount of work. Including, I might add, freeing up plenty of schedule for the rest of the week.

Still, it’s been fun. In the last year I think I’ve mellowed rather severely on the old ‘militant atheist’ front. If I’ve anything to say to anyone regarding my religious faith, I think the only real word to describe my situation isn’t atheist but apostate.

Now, it’s a pretty peculiar thing to do. To pick a word synonomous ‘traitor’ as a word to describe oneself. However, despite the lovely tags of sceptic, the curmudgeonly (if accurate) epithet of cynic or even the naive ideal of being depicted as stoic, I feel apostate is ‘about right’ when qualified.

I had my religious beliefs and I stood by them much more strongly, devoutly, rationally and flexibly than many people I knew. Somewhat arrogant? Well, yes, that was part of the original issue too. But I’m working on that, I have been for the last four years.

Moving on: The gist of the apostate ‘description’ is to say that I turned my back on my beliefs…on my…basic principles.


It strikes me that by rejecting the fundamental basis and ultimately turning on the very foundation of everything I held dear I did, precisely, nothing. Whilst introspectively I recall it as a ‘flick of a switch’ which caused such shock I almost allowed myself to be ran over by a forklift truck entirely unawares, I honestly think it was something that had been a long time in coming.

In the twenty-two years I’ve been pottering around this damnably lovely planet, I think I’ve seen a fair amount of self-deception. Delusion, one might call it, but I won’t. Rather it’s the simple case of convincing oneself of something without analysing things in more detail. It’s especially obvious to other people when only a slight additionaly analysis might reveal that hidden “straw that breaks the camel’s back” because it makes the person in question seem sightless, shortsided or otherwise an idiot.

Of course, this is absolutely not the case. As interesting, cunning and, if I might borrow one of David’s favourite words, wily people I think it’s quite unfair to characterise people as so one dimensional.

I, for my part, turned my back on God. But, for God’s part as viewed from my rest frame, he moved from being an all powerful-saviour-creator benevolent patriarch of all reality to someone who simply did not exist. And, if you analyse the details of my religious beliefs in …more detail (silly sentences!), then you’ve find that even by sixth year the Lord my God (then) had already went from being all-powerful to almost-all-powerful or all-powerful-but-with-a-sense-of-humour. Or, worse all-powerful-but-incompetent-and-knows-something-we-don’t.

Regardless, the actual foundations, reason and logic of my principles, ethics and values are quite open to examination. Now more than ever. Whilst my focus and emphasis might have changed since all those many moons ago, I really don’t think my morals, ethics, values or ‘sense of right and wrong’ have changed.

Wait, no, that’s not right. They have changed. They’ve shed some skins, healed some wounds, grown and matured. It’s no longer a case of “What would Jesus do?” *, but a case of ” I want to do X, but is that actually a senisble action to take?”

For most of the time I find my answer to be ‘Yes, but change this bit a little’. A healthy introspection and self-checking goes a long way. :)

* Jesus may well storm into the Temple and start upturning tables. Not very nice for the folks whose families relied on them making a living in that temple, hmmm?

Shadowpoint – 28/11/08

It’s a fictional term in a book I read recently. For those of us (i.e. no-one) with precognitive powers it’s a point in the future which you can see will happen, but know nothing else of it. A definite time and set of conditions to which all paths will lead…but the details of the event itself and what happens after it are quite completely veiled from your sight.

I think I can see one!

The Future

Well, it’s coming up to Christmas. Here we are at the end of December, application deadlines are steadily (rapidly) approaching and lots of decisions have to be made. Not only that, but buckets of organisation too. Things to be done, people to see. By Tuesday I hope to have sent out my first serious application for next year, I’ll have to have done my best to learn all my Quantum Field Theory stuff, I hope I’ll have made some headway with some problem-questions I’d been tasked with and, more’n that, I’ll have my son’s 21st party in the midst of it all.

Presently, I ought to be in Foundations of Quantum Mechanics. Unfortunately it got to five-to-two and I wasn’t ready to head yeat, so instead I’m in my room, blogging. Need to go shower, start work, make some tea and finish my book today. Nothing special on this evening and since I woke up late today, I think I’ll be burning the midnight oil doing work. It should be fun. Late nights are awesome, and the sheer oddness of doing hard work on a Friday night is…good. I’ve been into doing ‘work’ on Fridays since I was at Primary School. The wee club thing which me and Keiran ran was good fun and the opportunity to officiate and do written work for leisure was odd even then. But it was fun, and that’s the important bit.

So what is and when is the shadowpoint?

June. I’m roughly aware of most stuff that is planned for between now and then. Hopefully by June I’ll be graduated or about to graduate, I’ll have sat my final exams and submitted my dissertation. With any luck I’ll have news about programmes/jobs I’ll be doing after the summer and whatever else is happening. But, if that doesn’t happen? Well, something has to happen. I don’t know what, but I do know when: From June onwards.

I spoke to a girl from Luxembourg in hall a during Reading Week (two weeks back) about what my plans were for after Uni. I spoke of perhaps remaining nearby, or the possibility of, quite literally, going anywhere I damn please. Of course, it’s not that easy, but most options aren’t that unfeasible. Sure, I’m not going to space, or deep into the abyss, but everywhere else is sortof possible. Anyhow: the point was that, after outlining all of that, and the possibility of staying in St Andrews, the rest of Fife, Edinburgh or Dundee, she was silent for a few moments then said quite clearly…

“I think you should go”

Now, fortunately, she wasn’t telling me to feck off, but that she thought it best to get away from all this, to put distance and get on the go for something new.

And I think I agree. To put it in quite clear terms: whatever happens after this ‘shadowpoint’, if I might butcher the term, I don’t know quite what it will be. Or where.

What I do suspect is that it won’t be just a new place and a new focus. I think (I fear?) it’ll be an entirely new life too. And, for one, I’m looking forward to it. Another adventure!

In the meantime

Well, it’s work-o’clock. I’m off to make tea, quickly shower and get settled down to a bucketload of work. Should be fun!


(Also, it was Raisin Weekend last weekend, I’ll write about it soon)

A Dazzling End – 05/12/08

Well, it’s not an end at all. Indeed, it’s barely a beginning. I approach the end of the ninth semester, my ninth semester, and though I know so much has happened, and so much has gone, there’s still so much to do. With little over six months left in this cheerful back-of-beyond, it honestly feels like the end is nigh. But it’s not an end in the slightest.

Courses are winding down, the final lectures are in sight. My project, according to my advisor, ought to be around 2/3rds done (with regard to material covered, not actually 2/3 of the way to the end!) which is strange, considering I don’t feel like I’ve done anything on it. But even then, that’s to say it’s a beginning: but it isn’t. I’ve been working hard, covered lots of material and made some significant progress. Even with the courses themselves, there’s a whole bucketload to do in the coming month before exams, but it’s Christmas too. Perhaps the last Christmas I’ll celebrate in Fife, perhaps not even that.

As I mentioned previously in a blog, the future is quite uncertain at the moment, yet also I’ve narrowed things down tons. I know roughly what ought to be happening, and when, and what fall-back options exist, and what options I’m dearly hoping I do fall back on and so forth. The truth is, it’s well mapped. I don’t know precisely the route that it’ll take, but there’s a decent map supporting and underpinning it all. Provided I follow it, everything’ll be alright!

Some news?

The family’s getting bigger! Of the new kids from McIntosh, I’ve adopted two new ‘uns this week. Unfortunately they’re shared-parenty-types, but I’m pretty confident I’ll be able to draw them into the clan, the family. This year is so massively different from last year. It’s strange and uncertain and odd. But by the same token it’s new and vibrant and on the very edge of my comfort zone. Soon I’ll be stepping completely past the boundaries of my established comfort. It’ll be interesting to see how much of my reassuring surroundings are carried with me against how much are stapled down and weighted in this…bubble.

Wherever the present is taking me, I’m quite confident it’ll be dazzling for at least the time being. Things have a beautiful way of surprising us in the most enticing ways possible. Sometimes it’s awful, or horrible, or terrible. But not often. Sometimes they say the angels are worth the daemons.

The Oldest in the Room – 13/12/08

Well, I’m pretty sure that oughta be ‘eldest’, but nevermind that. Last night, as seems increasingly common, I was in the common room (hoho!) having a few drinks with the other inhabitants of McIntosh. At one point one of the others, a recent graduate who’d returned, said something along the lines of “You’ll have to agree, I’m the oldest person here”. One of the first years then chimed in with “Well, actually…”, only for the entire room to turn and look at me.

It’s perhaps true I’m not entirely free of blame. I do talk about my grandkids quite often, I have (due to a stockroom error) been carrying around a rather permanent supply of Werther’s Originals and it’s true, I’ve been known to tell endless shaggy dog stories about what things were like in my day. Still, it’s better than having had to ‘in’ myself the other week!

All told, things are going quite well. I’ve been skimping on work somewhat, but I think I’ve earned a little break and am gearing up for full-scale-assault on the exams. I’ve got my timetable for them too. Not amazing, but certainly not the worst I’ve ever faced either (no, that’d be first semester in third year; the fifth semester).

Monday 12th:: Quantum Field Theory
Saturday 17th: Group Theory
Monday 19th: Foundations of Quantum Mechanics

So, the countdown has started. Less than one month until the start of the exams, just over a month and a week until they’ll be over. Just over a month and a half until the vast bulk of the deadlines will pass. Something to look forward to, huh?

This Week’s Highlights

Well, Monday saw the McIntosh Christmas Party, a night of pool in the Union and a small degree of reparation with my ex. All was well. Tuesday? Well, I don’t think I slept until very early in the morning, if at all. Might’ve missed a class…

Wednesday night was my ‘wife’ Sophie’s academic family Christmas party again in McIntosh. Opened a bottle of port, enjoyed a night’s entertainment in the common room with the family then proceeded on to see the late night showing of “It’s a wonderful life”, and I’ll say: it really is! All returned back to McIntosh to spend yet another late night/early morning in the common room. Slept well on Thursday. Too well, perhaps.

A similar story for Thursday night, having found myself being harrassed into attending RockSoc with the McIntosh clan. The silly promises we make to our family! Thanks to RockSoc, and latterly to my three sons Rob (and my grandson who promptly was thrown out of the Union for poster thieving), I was inebriated once more and, again, found myself in the common room at ricidulous times of the morning.

And, Friday, one would imagine things wouldn’t go so badly, huh? Steak for dinner, hooray. A pleasant evening, but to little avail. Again, by virtue of going to the common room again, I was harrased into going to the Bop. I say harrassed, I actually hadn’t been along much this semester, so was eager for a bit of cheesey music and ludicrous dancing. (Who’d have thought I still remembered the Macarena?) Another fine evening, another night/morning spent in the common room until silly o’clock.

And, tonight? Well, i’ve been trying to do a bit of work, watched some Frasier, tidied my room a little and was just phoned by my daughter, Erin, and invited across to DRA for a drink or three. Just finishing off a bit of work, uploading some junk off my computer to back it up/free up space and finishing a pot of tea ([green] Earl Grey, hot!) and generally getting my things in order before heading off to DRA. Hooray!

A return to Cowdenbeath

Ideally I’ll be heading back that way next Saturday, yay for impending exams and a ruined Christmas Holiday thanks to them. Bah humbug!

Dunfermline: A city? – 10/01/09

I’ll use a little Frasier quotation, if I might?

Oh yes, of course sometimes I am forceful with my opinions, but that is only because I’m passionate! And right! And passionate about being right!

Well, in an extreme effort to avoid studying for this Monday’s Quantum Field Theory exam (despite being up all night, having spent three hours idling in the common room, another one at breakfast engaged in general chitchat and having been out for a run*), I ended up reading about the “Ashokan Farewell” a rather lovely peace of music which had just cropped up in my ears from my Studying3 playlist. Still, that, thanks to faithful Wikipedia, led on to ‘Scottish Lament’ and, from there, onto Scotland itself. The Wikipedia article lists the six Scottish cities (Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen, Inverness, Stirling) and I thought “Hmmm…”.

I’d always been miffed at the “City and Royal Burgh of Dunfermline” signs that were put up. Why? Well: Dunfermline isn’t a city. But that was years ago. “Get over it, you loon!” one might validly think. And I thought I had. After at least three animated arguments with barstaff in the Union last semester on the subject I finally felt I ought to relent and let it go. Fair enough, I despaired, I’ll just have to side with everyone: Dunfermline is a city.

But apparently not. The only thing I can find on the ‘official’ websites is this:…

Both of which combined seem to indicate that Dunfermline is not a city.

Caveat: I do realise there may well be properly up to date stuff out there which I’ve missed. Indeed, given everything, I really do suspect there’s something official underpinning all this. Personally: The quest isn’t over!

But anyway

Yep, it’s exam time again. I’d been hoping to do a better ’round out 2008, look to 2009′ sortof blog, but never got around to it yet. Anyway, not to worry. Back to studying, pip pip!

* Let me say this: West Sands on a very windy morning in the twilight of dawn feels and looks very much like running through the (albeit very sandy) time vortex!

“You point a finger far enough back and some germ gets blamed for splitting in two…” – 16/02/09

Latest episode of Battlestar Galactia. Fantastic stuff. One scene was particularly fantastic. Without giving two much away, the dialogue between Cavil and two other cylons was exceedingly good. It went as follows:

C: In all your travels, have you ever seen a star supernova?
E: No.
C: No? Well I have. I saw a star explode and send out the building blocks of the universe. Other stars, other planets, eventually other life. A supernova; creation itself.I was there, I wanted to see it and be part of the moment. And do you know how I percieved one of the most glorious events in the universe? With these ridiculous gelatinous orbs in my skull! With eyes designed to percieve only a tiny fraction of the EM spectrum. With ears designed only to hear vibrations in the air.
E: The five of us designed you to be as human as possible.
C: I don’t want to be human! I want to see gamma rays, I want to hear x-rays and I want…I want to smell dark matter! Do you see the absurdity of what I am? I can’t even express these things properly because I have to…I have to conceptualise these complex ideas in this stupid, limiting spoken language. But I know I want to reach out with something other than these prehensile paws and feel the solar wind of a supernova flowing over me. I’m a machine and I could know much more, I could experience so much more, but I’m trapped in this absurd body. And why? Because my five creators thought that God wanted it that way…
[Cavil leaves]
E: Do you have something to say?
B: Don’t you feel the slightest bit of remorse for what you did to him, what you did to us?
E: No. Because he’s wrong, Boomer. There’s no need for remorse or blame. We didn’t limit you. We gave you something wonderful: free will. The ability to think creatively, to reach out to others with compassion, to love.
B: Love? Who? Humans? Why would I want to do that? Who would I want to love?

Why is it so dear to me? Well, to tell the utter truth: I sympathise almost completely with Cavil. It’s a feeling or opinion I’ve generally always been possessed with, but never really expressed. This scene powerfully highlighted it. That I sympathise severely with Cavil probably says more than a detailed explanation.

But anyway, moving on

Exams were a bit of a disaster and the start of the semester has been one hilarious mishap after another. Sleeping’s all off, but nevermind that either.

Things are…good. It’s been a bit mad too. But good, still. This is it. This is the start of the tenth semester. The final semester. This is…the end. Again.

I vaguely remember the ‘end’ of primary school too. Over a decade ago now, but still, it was way-back-then… strange. We were all off to St Columba’s. It wasn’t to be an ending, except for with the teachers. It was a realisation of…the impending seriousness of thing. It was about to get…very different indeed. Everything was about to change.

Then, sixth year. I believe I might’ve melodramatised it a few times, but then at other times I think I can happily struggle to portray some of the things that happened then.

Five years to the day…

Well, last Friday was five years to the day since my Staff Cadet 2 exam and presentation at Cadets. Friday the Thirteenth of February. I got a 96% on that exam, my presentation went pretty swish too. “The Three Ds”, I remember it well. Afterwards was a pretty remarkable visit to the Watering Hole. The next day was another remarkable visit to the Watering Hole. Valentine’s day, the only time I saw a ridiculous chat-up line ever work.

That is:
“Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
I’m schizophrenic,
And so am I”

The amusing quality, for me, is that I was there. “I saw it happen. I made it happen” to quote a favourite of mine.

Nevermind all that. The Valentine’s day trip to the Watering Hole was, as I recall, with a certain Mr McHale. A pretty uneventful night, I suppose. I even retired early, electing not to continue on to the Foundry in favour of getting a bus home. And then…well, then a strange thing happened indeed.

Moving Swiftly On

The very next day I recieved a text from Dave who’d recieved a text from a mutual acquaintance. It was the dawn of a strange new age. It was the beginning of the end, again if you’ll pardon the melodrama, and the end of the beginning. That was it, some days later I’d made a fine acquaintence whom I’d be pleased to call my ‘other half’ for some weeks afterwards. Hardly a major thing, but a pleasantly…serendipitous turn of events. At the time I was still deeply religious and serendipity is exactly how I’d probably have described things.

Now, the end of sixth year hopefully is still a pleasant memory, or at least a pleasant drinking-tale for most folks. Hilarity ensued, and I’m sure I’ve related it elsewhere, so I won’t flog a dead horse…

And the end of University

Well, it’s truly approaching the end. New modules, final modules, final projects. The list of assessments is almost complete: just need to do them, learn enough for them, hand them in…not necessarily in that order. I’m pretty sure I’ll have only two exams, but two fairly significant projects to submit. One, my ‘main’ one, on Itinerant Ferromagnetic Quantum Criticality, as I’ve outlined before, and the other on something more nebulous but still quite closely related (and much easier for almost anyone to understand [the words, at least]): The Interacting Electron Problem in Solids.

So, that, some assessed tutorial work throughout the semester, a viva or two, a project deadline or several, May dip, a Ball, DocSoc’s events, two exams and graduation. And, then, I suppose: That’s it. My time at the University of St Andrews will have drawn to a close.

There’s not that much left to do. Finish off the ‘education’ of my kids. Get down everyone’s details I’ll need for keeping in touch. Work out what happens next. Unlock my bike.

Really: Not much left at all.

Well, there is one thing. Two things, as it happens. The first is a rather amusing one, if somewhat revelatory: Skinny dipping. I’ve never done it (hardly surprising), but St Andrews offers a fine opportunity for it. Provided that nothing specific comes up in the meantime, I happily expect I’ll take a brief jaunt down one to the beaches very early one morning and…dip.

The second also involves the beaches. West Sands. Of all the times I’ve walked out along it. Either in ectsasy, misery, misanthropy or melancholy…I’ve never made it all the way to the end. I almost did, at one point, early on in Fourth Year. I was on my bike, riding just out towards the end. I could ‘see’ where I think the end is…but then I realised: I actually hadn’t been to the end. I hadn’t reached ‘the end of the line’. So, right then and there, I tugged the breaks. I also nearly hurled myself over the handlebars, but that’s a separate lesson involving not being lost in thought whilst furiously pedaling. And then I turned back.

Even when I go running along West Sands, I don’t go as far as the end. Whether that’s choice or inability…I don’t know, I’ve never pushed myself to that limit. One day, I will.

I’ve associated it, in me head, with ‘the end’. Once I reach the end of West Sands, that’ll be it, the end. It’ll be ‘over’, or almost over’. I’d like to think it’ll be the “last thing I do” before I graduate, or before I “leave St Andrews properly”, but I half suspect I’ll see the challenge one morning when out on a run and…just keep running until I run out of beach.

If I do that, I wonder what I’ll think. I always think I’m a bit odd, that way, as it’ll be a case of me reaching what I’d thought of the end and using that as a kick-start to re-evaluate myself. Intriguing though…

For now

I’m off to make a pot of tea and do some more superconductivity work before settling down to an early night.

50 for 2009 – 12/04/09

Books, damnit. I read books quite often. At least thrice a day I’ll be dippin’-me-noggin’ into a pile of these papery fiends. Last year I came across the ’50’ challenge, e.g. reading fifty in the course of one year. I managed about forty-two (good number) last year, so I hope to pass fifty now that I’ve had a little focus. I’m not reading much more often than last year, but I am keeping track.

What am I reading and what have I read?

Ones with (READING) beside them are not yet finished but have been started. Ones which don’t have been read. The bulk of these are ‘franchise fiction’ from the Black Library, but I’ve enjoyed them quite nicely. I’ll try and revisit them throughout the year to leave some reviews.

01. Betrayal by Aaron Allston
02. Wine of Dreams by Brian Craig
03. I am Legend by Richard Matheson
04. Nagash the Sorceror by Mike Lee
05. Malekith by Gav Thorpe
06. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (READING)
07. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen (READING)
08. Bloodlines by Kathy Traviss
09. Cat Amongst the Pigeons by Agatha Christie (READING)
10. Outbound Flight by Timothy Zahn
11. Dark Apostle by Anthony Reynolds (READING)
12. Tales of Heresy edited by Kyme & Priestley
13. Honourkeeper by Nick Kyme
14. Behold the Man by Michael Moorcock
15. War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
16. Briget Jones: The Edge of Reason by Helen Fielding (READING)
17. Tempest by Troy Denning (READING)
18. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (READING)
19. Extraordinary Engines edited by Nick Gevers (READING)
20. Survivor’s Quest by Timothy Zahn (READING)

12/04/09: Picked up The Time Machine this afternoon. It was a glorious day, so whilst forraging for lunch, coffee and sherbet lemons I decided to grab a book to keep me occupied. You rarely see St Andrews look quite as beautiful as it was today. But then, April is my favourite month.

Don’t mind me, I’m just passing through. – 18/07/09

This is an odd blog.

Since the last entry, over a quarter of the year ago, alot has happened. I’ve entered and left a fairly intense relationship, I’ve squandered some opportunities, I’ve seized a great many others. Particularly I’ve graduated and looked as deep as I could into the abyss.

I’ve aged as well. I don’t think I’ve changed, but a quarter of this year is, undeniably, almost a one-hundredth of my life so far! (Strictly, one ninety-sixth.)

Anyhow, my hope is to jaunt down to Dunfermline tomorrow evening. I’ve had a fantastic two weeks this last fortnight and I’ve had an absolute whale of a time entertaining and being entertained by friends. I think, I fear, I might have changed a bit. Deep down, however, I see the folks around me as my constants. This world, this reality…it doesn’t change, I shan’t be changing it. It’s too big, too potent and too complex. If there’s been one change in me in the last six years, it’s been a diminishment of my outer-hubris and an immense fortification of my internal resolve. One would expect the ‘loss of support of a deity’ (or less cryptically, loss of faith) to be entirely undermining but it simply has not been. My convictions have been refined (and demonstrated to be entirely, almost completely fallible in terms of potential), but my resolve, my passion and my endeavour remains strong.

Perhaps I’ve suffered somewhat in focus too…but I’m not in a position to judge.

Regardless, it strikes me my idealism has been internalised. The massive strokes of scepticism and cynicism have been tempered by a severe, optimistic and whimsical stoicism which permits me a somewhat upbeat-curmudgeonly aspect nowadays. I doubt any of those even broaches the surface of anything I think and feel, yet I imagine the idea of a ever-quibbling curmudgeon is not far from the truth. But life is still good. As I said to a friend but days ago: Don’t worry about me, I’m just a traveller passing through.

That’s certainly the basics of how I feel, but it’s probably still more and less complicated than is relevant. It’s been a good summer so far, now just to see where the trip takes me next. Also, I had a further realisation. I’m considering the third ‘trip of a lifetime’, but there’s one problem: I don’t think this one will end. To consider Durres, Warsaw, Bratislav, Tirana and Turkey as the ‘training’…

On the upside, I hope to meet up with some very old friends this Tuesday. It ought to be nothing less and nothing more than… fantastic.

EDIT: Also, my ex has swine flu.


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