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The Word That Matters

17 Jan

I posted this very quick opinion piece on my Facebook account earlier.  I wanted to share it via the more public Twitter-sphere, but I shan’t be expanding on it further, unless demand requires it.

I read this news story on the BBC this morning: Aardman trailer ’causes offence’ to leprosy charity. It has been causing quite a ruckus on the interwebs, more ruckus than it deserves.

Now, I’ll be honest, when I watched the trailer (You can watch The Pirates! movie trailer here on the official website.) I laughed. Why? Because it’s funny. And I’m not ill-educated about leprosy. In fact, I know shit loads about leprosy, as someone who studies osteoarchaeology.

I can sort of see where they’re coming from, but I think they’re going at it all wrong. I tweeted about it to Lepra Health in Action saying, “@LEPRA_HinA can use this opportunity to educate about #leprosy. The #Aardman ‘controversy’ has put your charity in the limelight. #notsobad” And to be fair, they retweeted it – but I think they might believe I’m a huge supporter of their cause (re: what Aardman did was wrong). And I’m not.

Their chairty is doing good (and needed) work to raise awareness of a pretty awful disease, but seriously, if peeps are going to get all pissy about things like this, than the next thing you know the physicists are going to be in a huge uproar about how misrepresented the laws of physics are in animated childrens’ movies (as demonstrated by the frankly absurd antics of the whale in this Aardman trailer) and it is going to be setting back years of science education in schools. My opinion (take it or leave it): have a sense of humour Lepra and use that sense of humour to spread the word that matters.

What are the odds?

10 Nov

Numbers are important.  But so is understanding them.  I am going to be using a lot of statistical testing in the later stages of my PhD research project, and as a result I have been reading a lot about numbers lately.  I was always pretty good at maths, but I usually found it boring.  In school it was a lot of equations, without a whole lot of practical application.  I never really saw the point, beyond the basic every day uses.  Over the years though, I have learned to love numbers and maths (maths can be thought of as the language of numbers, which may be cheesy, but it can help you to think about their relationship, if you’re not a big maths person).  Oh, and if you’re reading this outside of the UK, I apologise for repeatedly using the term ‘maths’ instead of ‘math’, I know it is going to drive you insane, but it is actually accurate when using it as a shortened form of the plural noun (and even though grammar is also one of my big loves in life I had to be convinced of this).

Maths is waaay more than just equations and results.  If you know how to interpret the results (which means understanding both the data you use in an equation and what the equation is actually ‘doing’ to the numbers) then you can learn some pretty phenomenal things about a lot of subjects – and subjects that people do not normally associate maths with… it is not just for the Sheldons and the Leonards of the world.

I know that a lot of people are of the opinion that they do not understand mathematics.  They think they cannot possibly understand the data and that they will never understand the equations that scientists use in their research, which means that maths is pretty much useless for them beyond what they already know and use.  Wrong!  Everyone has the capability to understand mathematics and, more importantly, what it can teach us about the world.  Buuut (and there is always a but) it all comes down to how it is presented to you.  Because while everyone is capable of understanding maths, not everyone has been educated to understand maths in the form in which is is often presented (mainly dull formats), which is important for researchers to remember – especially if they want to the public to care about their results!

In the build up to talking about my own research, I thought that I would share an example of what I am talking about.  There is a blog post that you should read (or skim through, whatever) called: What are the chances of your coming into being?  It discusses the probability of you existing (as you) today.  Now, I’m not going to get into a debate about the fact that the actual probability of you existing is 1, because when discussing all known-to-have-happened events, the probability is always 1:1.  I know that is the case when talking about probability, but that is not really the point of this post.  And yes, Ali Binazir uses a lot of assumptions in his equations, therefore affecting the accuracy of the result, but what I want to look at here is how the whole thing is presented.  The blog post is really interesting, but it is more than a little bit dry, especially if you are not interested in maths.  You would be forgiving for not really caring about the results, especially if you gave up halfway through the blog post.  However, designer Sofya Yampolsky of Visual.ly created an infographic based on the blog post, which presents the exact same data (and includes a lot of information from the equations) to present the exact same results… only it is way more interesting.

The same thing, presented in a more engaging form is more useful, because more people are going to pay attention.  The same is true in science and academia.  If no one can understand your work, you can pretty much guarantee that they are not going to care about your results.

The only big problem I have with the blog post and the infographic?  “Now go forth and feel and act like the miracle that you are.”  It is not miracle (mir·a·cle/ˈmirikəl/  Noun:  1. A surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural and scientific laws and is considered to be divine.) it is maths.  Unless you are going to be incredibly pedantic, in which case feel free to respond in the comments with ‘it’s science’, ‘it’s evolution’, ‘it’s chance’, etc.  I know that no one I know is that pedantic though!  Ha!

Tiny Monster

24 Oct

I spend a lot of time sitting at a desk.  Some days it is my desk in the osteo-lab at the university and other days it is my desk at home (I live about 1 hour and 15 minutes from my university, don’t you know).  I travel in to the university two to three days a week and the other days I work in my ‘office’ in the back room of our house.

I am the kind of person that requires a comfortable working space, otherwise I find that I can never get settled enough to actually pay attention to what I am supposed to be doing, like reading a load of articles or researching the anatomy of an ewok.

For those of you who are curious, this is my workspace at home:

It's a surprisingly tidy desk!

And this is a close-up of the tiny (hand-knitted) monster who keeps me company:

I totally keep writing Tony instead of tiny, maybe that's what I should call him.

I was given tiny monster as a birthday present by my friend Gillian.  I always thought of tiny monster as a boy, but the flower is pretty fetching on him…  perhaps he is a bit of a cross-dresser?

I am not sure how good the detail is in the first picture I posted above, but I have a few photographs on my windowsill, including this one:

The highest waterfall in Wales... or rather, a bit of it.

Now, I am totally not  going to big myself and my mad photography skills up here, but I am pretty fond of this photograph.  I took this picture at Pistyll Rhaeadr waterfall in Wales when I was on honeymoon (it’s the highest waterfall in Wales and while we both agreed it is no Niagra Falls, it is still  pretty fabulous).  And for you clever people, no, this picture isn’t specifically of Pistyll Rhaeadr, but rather one of the smaller pre-plunge cascades.

I clambered like a (poor excuse for a) mountain goat over some threateningly slippery rocks and perched the camera between my knees as I sat on my bum, in an attempt to stablise the camera, as I decided to not use the awesomely designed tripod ‘GorillaPod’ that was made specifically for these situations because I chose to leave it in our cottage that day.  I tried a few different shutter-speeds and finally decided on 0.25s, mostly because that is as long as I can hold a camera on my person without moving it and creating a fantastically blurry photo instead of an impressively artistic long-exposure shot.

I find photographs of water (rivers, waterfalls, oceans, etc) relaxing, and especially those taken on long-exposure.  It gives them a sort of an other-wordly quality, in my mind.  I am feeling pretty relaxed right now… now let’s see how well this photograph does in the third year of my PhD at calming my fraying nerves.

I am sure someone’s done a study on it.

Braaaaaaaains

26 Sep

Oh hi, I didn’t see you there.

Why don’t I take a minute to introduce myself?  I am an avid reader, self-professed geek, baking enthusiast, and perhaps a tiny bit keen…

I will be officially starting my PhD this week at the University of Sheffield in the Department of Archaeology.  The working title of my thesis is: ‘Profiling the dead: demographic characterisation of mass fatality incidents in the past and the present’.  You may be thinking that perhaps it is a bit of a vague title, but I prefer to go with general… and I also like to emphasise that it is called a “working title” for a reason.

I reckon that at certain points in time over the next three years (and it will be three) I will feel like writing, but it may not always be exactly related to my research subject.  Thus, I have created this blog to capture my mid-morning, mid-day, mid-night ramblings.  It may come to include anything from the interesting and academic to the amusing and distracting.  Although to be fair, there may also be quite a lot of overlap in what I consider interesting, academic, amusing, and distracting.

I shall finish up this welcome post by welcoming you, formally, to my blog!  It is my hope that you will find it interesting, but if nothing else it will help me feel a little bit less like a zombie some days.