Attention to detail…


Some MOST people would describe me as being a little moderately anally retentive; I have a rather punishing attention to detail, particularly so with the way I approach experiments. Something that really annoys me is when fellow scientists display a degree of slapdashness that borders on being negligent.

Many of us are publicly funded, and one of my aims in life is to communicate science to the public. I love science, both as a system within which I do research, and as a philosophy. If I am to wax lyrical about the rationality and worth of science, and the scientific method, to the public, and use it as a basis in arguments against irrationality, pseudo-science quackery and superstition, then I damned well better practice what I preach. As such I employ the skills and techniques I have learnt in a manner that takes account of these values; I design experiments with good controls, I vary the experimental variable whilst controlling the others. I use evidence-based methodologies that have been tried and tested, thus use minimal materials to achieve my ends in the minimal possible time.

It is not always possible to do this, especially in my current area where there are no protocols for what I’m doing as it’s never been done before. None the less, I form testable hypotheses, design experiments to test them and based upon the result, either modify, scrap or move on.

In your average science lab, based upon the very large number of science labs I have been to, I would have to say that the idea of sitting down and developing a testable hypothesis that makes predictions about outcomes, then designing experiments to test these is probably not what many researchers are doing. What they are doing is ham-fisting their way through protocols given to them by more senior players, which they follow blindly, often without knowing what each step in the protocol is doing at a physical level.

Many of these protocols have been adapted, cut-down and streamlined, which is often another way of describing that short-cuts, often rather slapdash ones, have been introduced. Now there is nothing wrong with this, per se, as long as the protocol is in the hands of a capable person who knows why the protocol has been revised in this way. But, the fact is you cannot instruct a junior member of research staff with protocols that have been cut-down in this way; the full anally-retentive protocol should be provided, or sought, and the researcher allowed to refine it once they’ve identified for themselves the pros and cons of keeping each step.

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Short stories…


I AM in the process of preparing to move my files to my new Macbook, once it arrives, but stumbled upon some old prose I prepared for a creative writing class; I never attended more than one session in the end and thus have not found found a style of writing I like. I chose to write an excerpt of a potential fantasy novel, but couldn’t really get in the mood. I have every intention of writing a work of contemporary fantasy at some point in my life, but at the moment I’d rather focus on science writing. Anyway, because I was amused by the rather kitch style of it, and because I could barely remember writing it, I’ve decided to post it.

Creative writing class No. 2

A fresh mountain breeze caught the rich scent of wetted soil, carrying it high into the forest canopy where a child slept. The girl, a small, wiry, and feral slip of a thing had taken refuge under the eaves of the old Oak before the bruised sky delivered its promise of rain. She’d spent the day sitting on the sun-baked, hollow-sounding earth of the hillside below, ignoring the pleas of the over-dry, and now crushed, grass, despite the actions of relentless pin sharp blades poking through the rough material of her clothing. Other thoughts filled the girls mind; thoughts unbidden and unwanted. A rumble had stirred her to reality and she’d climbed up the knarled and forgotten tree to take shelter.

The breeze was warm, despite the lateness of the day; it was early summer and the ground was drying rapidly. Small motes floating on the air gently tickled at the girls face; she sneezed and abruptly fell from her rest atop the branches and hit the matted undergrowth beneath with a resounding thump. Startled birds and animals fled the intrusion, a clattering of hooves, panicked cries and flapping wings. The girl rolled onto her side, attempting to recover her wind whilst trying to remember where she was. She curled up into a sitting position, hugging her knees; the world had returned to her all too suddenly, bringing with it memories of events she’d been running from. Her peaceful haven had once again been taken from her. It was time to move on.

The sun had long since set by the time she’d escaped the mountain forest and descended into the open planes, but the night fell slowly in these lands, the light lingering whilst shadows grew longer and longer until they merged. From her earlier viewpoint she’d imagined that she would have enough time to reach home by nightfall, a trek across fields to a tree bounded river that lead from the mountains to the brackish water of the fens, her home; she was one of the few who could be out at night, capable of resisting the taunts of fell creatures that wrapped themselves in darkness. Still, she always preferred to be in a familiar surrounding come the dusk, in the barrow that her family had claimed several centuries earlier, days she remembered well, despite her youthful appearance.

The first cry of a Haldan Crow signalled that darkness was upon her, it had overtaken her as she walked, too buried in thoughts to notice. Haldan Crows were a minor pest, but insignificant to the girl; she had sufficient talent to ward herself against them. But they heralded greater, darker beings, beings who could challenge her, even someone of her race who were of these lands and as old as any creature roaming the old world. She hurried, and using some of her talent to fashion a shroud from the mist rising above the cooling river, vanished into the night.

Watching from a distance, from beneath the knarled Oak where the small girl had taken rest, a woman stood. She’d watched the child fall from the tree and had been bemused at the sight; a Knowling girl being caught off guard, vulnerable and clumsy; she never thought to see such a thing.

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I don’t think of it so much as doodling, more as three hours of work.

Yup, obviously it’s a bit of old school genetic mapping of transpositional insertion sequences. Sometimes it’s nice to ditch the comp and do it by hand.