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Archive for September 2008

annual report, 2007-8

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Hello again. It’s exactly a year since I wound up the blogging, and a good thing too. What few readers I had would have been bored senseless, had I tried to describe the few events of the past year. I can probably summarize everything that actually happened in a few paragraphs – so let’s see how that goes, shall we?


I finished First Year with only minor problems, passing all 12 courses I had: six exams in December, and six in May, for 60 credits and 1/3 of a B.Sc degree. Each involved sitting in a shed, usually with over two thousand other students, all fighting to keep their brains oxygenated. However, I have noticed that there’s an awful lot of rote memorisation involved, which I am having some difficulty with. I had to cram like crazy for the Architecture exam, which was basically a case of dumping my brain on to the paper. I’m amazed I scored a B- on that one, with the amount of nonsense I spouted. (I now know where the Monadnock Building got its name –  as if I care.)

It was even true of Maths, which I was not expecting: we’re being expected to memorise long algorithmic sequences of operations, going in to far too much detail for an Engineering curriculum (in my opinion). Where are the Engineering applications that we were promised? Still, I didn’t help matters by skipping all tutorials in the second semester: I got very little out of those in the first semester, and attending the ones in the second semester would have required me to hang around the campus for six hours of nothing.

Second year starts in just over a week, and I’m raring to go, even more so than last year. It’s partly because more of the work is relevant to the degree, unlike the first semester. As for the Maths… well, at least I can see the hill I have to climb. This semester it’s Partial Differential Equations mixed with more Matrices, so I’ll have the pleasure of learning how to calculate the Curl of a Vector Field and more. I can actually see how those relate to Engineering, which is a change for the better.


My new-found enthusiasm is also related to boredom, since summer has been a dead loss here. It’s been one long procession of apathy; not mine, but that of others towards me: job applications going unanswered, and silence from people who’d normally keep me updated on how they’re doing, including former work colleagues. I’m still looking for a flatmate, and replied to a dozen “room wanted” ads: nearly all fell on dead keyboards.

You know you’re turning in to a grumpy old man when you find yourself saying “it wasn’t like that when I was young”: it is common courtesy to reply to correspondence with something, even if it’s a “no”. It’s doubly annoying when you consider how trivial it is, these days: if you receive 100 applications for a job, it’s the work of a few minutes to paste 99 email addresses in the BCC field, and add a few lines of “get bent” boilerplate. Right?

So, I’ve been spending the time reading, computing, writing a bit, got a provisional driving license, and I even did my taxes. As on the previous occasions I tackled the full tax returns, I expected difficulties or disagreement about my figures, and on this occasion the result was also the same as before: no problems at all. This time around it meant a fairly hefty refund, and I received a cheque in the post.


That refund was very welcome to a student with no job, and part of it went on a new laptop, my first for six years, which I can also call a belated 40th birthday present. (My birthday fell in the middle of the May “cram week”, just before the exams.) I plumped for a black ASUS eee PC 1000, the slightly larger version of the ground-breaking “netbook” that took the computing world by storm in 2007. This one is larger externally and internally, with a 10-inch screen, 40GB solid state hard drive (compared to the original 4GB), and a keyboard more suited to adult hands. It’s still much lighter than a typical textbook.

The power-efficient Intel Atom processor and larger battery have already given me over five hours of continuous use, which I know how to improve on by turning things off. It’s not as powerful as the commodity 15-inch laptop I could have had for the same price, but more than powerful enough as long as I don’t try to run Windows Vista on it. Solid state drives are still more expensive, but more reliable and quicker to respond (if not necessarily faster on bulk data transfers). This netbook is more suited to use in lectures or in the library: small, discreet, and dead quiet.

Not much else has happened in the technology area. My HTC S620 cellphone is heading for the two-year mark, still working perfectly, and even looks almost as good as new. Even the battery, the part that is expected to degrade over time, is failing to give me any trouble whatsoever, and synchronisation is still painless compared to the Nokia I had before this.


Another “highlight” of my July was a repeat of a “highlight” from January: the six- and twelve-month checkups in the FTY720 trial. These were full workups, including the usual pulmonary function tests (PFTs), optical coherence tomography (OCT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. I’m definitely getting better at the last mentioned, which came in handy in July when I was called back for additional scans. The drug company asked for some specific protocols that forced the MRI technicians to get the manuals out, swap bits around on the machine, and call a doctor down to inject me with some non-standard contrast-enhancing gunk. I just zoned out, lay back, and thought of Scotland, as Tesla’s Tumble-dryer tossed me around and spat me out.

Halfway through the two years, it’s hard to say whether I’m on the trial medication or not, which is a good thing, since I am supposed to be “blinded” to counteract he placebo effect. One danger is that the other supplements I’m taking – including Vitamin D – are a factor in my generally good health. Oh well. I mustn’t get cocky, and think I have the MS totally under control; if I do, it might come back and bite me on the bum, just as it did 18 months ago, after I returned from Denver.


OK: it took more than a few paragraphs; this report is now well over a thousand words long. I’ll have another thousand words next year, give-or-take a thousand. I may also publish a 900-word short story I wrote a month ago, for the Writer’s Weekly 24-hour contest: if I win or place, they’ll publish it themselves, of course; that’s not likely to happen, even though this one was a substantial improvement on my first attempt.

While not much is happening here, plenty is going on outside: back in 2006 I commented on how house prices were soaring far beyond the ability of people to pay for them, and predicted “this can’t go on”: it hasn’t gone on. I hate to say “I told you so”… who am I kidding? I told you so. I’m looking forward to the day when houses and flats are no longer investments you can use to make money off other people, and revert to their traditional status: homes for people to live in.

Tonight, however, homes are under threat, but not just any random homes: the same New Orleans homes that felt Katrina’s hangover, almost exactly three years ago, might be side-swiped by Gustav in about twelve hours time. With just over two months to go before the US Elections, that country looks like a packed bus heading for a brick wall: the rest of the world can only observe, in morbid fascination, while two lousy drivers fight each other for the wheel.

Elsewhere… never mind. Between Russia, religious nutters, energy crises, terrorism, Ludditism, an Internet full of crap, poverty and overpopulation: this world is not one I recognise, or would want to. Nothing new there, then: I have plenty to do in the next two years, which may stretch to four (if I can do a Master’s degree); I’m not asking much, just that the world doesn’t collapse under my feet, while I take some time out of the rat race, and try and build myself a life I can live with.

Written by brian t

September 1, 2008 at 1:45 am

Posted in life, study