RESEARCH VOLUNTEERING 2 – HEALTHCARE CHOICES

My first time as a test subject took place sometime in November 2014.  As mentioned in a previous post, I sign up for research volunteering opportunities for the incentive offered, but also because it’s kinda fun and interesting.  And I assist others in their research, which is a noble aim and all that.

The first study was to do with the perception of risk in healthcare choices. The person whose study I was involved with recently gave a talk at an event I co-organised (more about this later). Anyway, the researcher was interested in the way that patients perceive the benefit and risk associated with participating in breast cancer screening programmes.

I was presented with information in various formats, including the cost to me to attend (this was assuming a publically-funded healthcare system, and so only included things like travel cost and inconvenience), the risk of getting a false positive and attending for unnecessary treatment, and the chance of the test detecting an actual cancer that needed treatment.

I was shown a number of screens for different options, and asked to evaluate my preferred testing choices. After I had completed the exercise, the researcher told me a little about what they were using the data for, and how when healthcare choices are made in the UK, the reliance tends to be on the clinician, and the effect of decisions made by the patient has not really been looked at. While patients do not prescribe their own medication, or select appropriate treatments, they do make choices about whether to attend screening, or to continue with a form of treatment, or to follow the doctor’s advice.

After the study we spoke about this, and other related topics, for about an hour.  This was a really cool experience because not only did I get to participate in, and find out about, exciting research happening at the University, I got to meet somebody really interesting and have a properly intellectually stimulating chat.

ART & ENGINEERING

Recently, there were calls for engineers to consider the arts in their work.   I think this is great, as it forces us to consider the wider implications of our work and introduces the public to the beauty of good engineering design.  Currently at MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry), there are some really cool arty exhibitions that I highly recommend you go and check out!

MOSI is free to get into, but it’s great if you can make a donation.  In 2013 they were faced with closure when their parent organisation faced a funding crisis.

Anyway, on to the exhibitions:

The Sounds Of Others
This was amazing!  It was informative, arty, and a little bit creepy, too!

Unfortunately this has finished now (23rd November). Booooo!  In the ante-room before the main exhibition, there was a chart displaying the frequency of different animal noises.  The accompanying leaflet has a miniature version of the graph printed on it, which is now framed and on the wall in my living room.

We then walked through a dark, curtained corridor to the main room.  This room was very dimly lit, with a wooden bench in the centre.  To each side of this was a large speaker with a digital display.  The displays each have a text description of the animal, and a numerical output where 1.000 represents the sound being played at normal speed.  Below 1, and the sound is being played slower than in nature.  Above 1, and the frequency is increased.

The exhibition begins with an animal sound coming in on one speaker, at speed 1.000.  This plays for about 5 seconds, to allow the listener to identify the sound with the animal named.  Then it gets slowed down / sped up (you can see the numerical value getting higher or lower correspondingly).  Then the second speaker kicks in, with a sound that is like the other animal when sped up / slowed down.  And then the first sound fades out, and after another 5 – 10 seconds or so, the new sound is manipulated and a new animal noise gets played from the first speaker.  And so on.  Some of them are pretty darn eerie.

The idea is that when you compare different animal noises at different frequencies, you can make them sound the same.  Starlings slowed down to 0.5x sound like human children, and a whale sped up sounds like red deer.  Most of the freakiness is in the slowing down / speeding up phase, and it is enhanced by the fact you’re in a very dark room.  The numbing of some of your senses and the enhancement of just your hearing makes it a unique experience.

3D: Printing The Future
This one’s still on, so I can go back to have a closer look – there is a lot of very detailed stuff in here! There are loads of 3D-printed objects in the room to look at (I mean LOADS: there are a good few thousand random 3D things, and all so intricate and complex), with a special focus on a few products. The exhibition looks at how 3D-printing is changing various technologies, and is extremely visually appealing. The page on MOSI’s website (link above) has further information, including a video debunking 3D-printing myths. Open until 19th April 2015.

Wellcome Image Awards 2014
This exhibition has been in the station building at MOSI for a very long time, but is due to close in two weeks! Get yourself down there, this series of pictures is awesome, and it’s free! Plus it’s in the world’s first railway station (the booking desk is still in the entrance hall – coooool), which does make one wonder when they built the second one. Where could you go if the network only has one station? Hehe! Back on topic: this is a series of photographs taken at the microscopic scale. There are things here from the worlds of medicine, chemistry and engineering. When viewed close up, things don’t look the same. But we can find new patterns and beauty in them. This exhibition gave me some quite bizarre thoughts: some of the pictures are of disease, and they actually look very beautiful. Kinda odd to find magic in something destructive.

Harmonious Society
This exhibition is also over.  I’m so glad that I went.  It was an art installation created in conjunction with the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art.  The exhibition featured the work of over 30 artists, presumably on a rotating basis as I only saw three separate pieces.  The most interesting was a silent film which was… indescribable yet memorable.  A bit odd, and I wasn’t really sure what was going on.  But strangely compelling.

There’s a lot more stuff coming up, too. The great thing about MOSI is that while it has many exhibitions that are a constant feature, it has a large number of changing exhibitions and also an archives section that the public can access parts of. This makes the museum relevant and always interesting. I might even go so far as to say it’s better then the Science Museum in London. How about that, eh?

COMMENT SPAM 1

Just carrying out some website admin and filtering comments, and as usual I have zero genuine comments and a ton of random spam. I notice a lot of patterns in the trash comments that I get – I seem to attract people / bots promoting the same brands over and again.

But here we at least have a little bit of originality.  Or irony.  Please, random spammer dude, tell me how I can solve my uncontrollable spam problems.  Oh, wait…

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RESEARCH VOLUNTEERING 1

Below is a link to the Research Volunteering page on the University of Manchester website.  Here, researchers post surveys and opportunities to take part in studies undertaken by staff and postgraduate researchers at the university.

 

http://www.studentnet.manchester.ac.uk/volunteer

I’ve taken part in one study (for which I was compensated with a lovely £10 Amazon voucher), and I’ve applied for lots more.  I find it very exciting to be a part of new research.  My participation will contribute to someone’s Ph.D, and it might influence future technology.

All of the projects first have to be run past the University’s ethics committee, and any medical research also has to comply with NHS regulations. I’m going to be submitting my own request for a research survey soon, and I’ll let you know when it’s live.

MANCHESTER ARMCHAIR PHILOSOPHERS – WHAT IS KNOWLEDGE?

I previously posted about one of my trips to Chorlton to engage the locals in debate at the Manchester Armchair Philosophers group.The group is set up for people to discuss topical (or not) matters, and while many people do have a lot of knowledge about formal philosophy, the idea is that anyone can attend, and just discuss the topic from their own viewpoint. I always learn something here, and go away with something new to consider.

Sometimes there’s a tendency to always come to the same conclusion, because many of the people who attend come from one area and have similar backgrounds, but topics like this really open up the conversation because it’s something relatively unpolitical and it draws a lot on individual experiences. We’re similar, but we’re not all the same.

So a little expansion on the question.  Here is how it was introduced to the group:

“Do we Know What Knowing is?
 What is a fact?

Socrates said “ipse se nihil scire id unum sciat”, “I know one thing: that I know nothing”.  Was this esoteric false modesty, or an insightful articulation of the human condition?

When we say we ‘know’ something are we merely expressing the strength with which we hold something to be true, or is there more to it than that?  Can we ever truly ‘know’ anything?  If there are limits to what we ‘know’, how does this affect our justification for acting on our beliefs?”

The discussion was really interesting, and we could easily have gone on past our allotted one hour.  One of the attendees wrote up our team’s findings, which you can read here on Bubblews.

An aside: I had an interesting chat with the organiser of tonight’s debate downstairs in the main bar.  This is one of the highlights of the philosophy group: after the more organised discussions, we head downstairs to chat even more.  Sometimes we continue to discuss the topic, sometimes we’ll talk about something completely different.  But it’s always interesting.  Anyway, our conversation was about my Ph.D research topic.  And through a series of random connections we came up with an idea for a new avenue of research that I could explore.  This reminds me of advice that the Associate Dean gave us during the introductory lecture for new students: that we shouldn’t only speak to people just in our research group.  We should speak to students from all over the University, because great ideas can come from unlikely connections.  Collaboration is encouraged – maybe we could solve more of the world’s problems if only we’d talk to each other.

PEOPLE IN ARCHITECTURAL & ENGINEERING DRAWINGS

In many architectural drawings, you’ll see people added to the plans to give an idea of scale, or for a visualisation of the soon-to-be-finished product. Here’s one that I found on a plant room section. This buxom lady is maintaining a generator, but she quite clearly isn’t wearing the correct PPE. No sign of hard hat and visi-vest or gloves, and those shoes really aren’t suitable for use on a building site.

architect model (2)

Reminds me of the “nightclub” set of people blocks that went around the office a few years back, which included 2D images of people being drunk and generally misbehaving. A similarly wonderful set of people can be downloaded from bibliocad.com, in the form of these table dancers. Despite not having an awful lot of spare time, it appears that the draughtspersons know how to use it wisely.

autocad blocks

DEAR DIARY

When it comes to personal organisation, I have a very traditional way of doing things.  Or, more honestly, a totally disjointed and ill-thought-out way of doing things.

I have a iPhone, Outlook calendar, Facebook events schedule, Meetup calendar, volunteer work rota and BGG event listings.  None of which are synced with each other, or with the two paper diaries I own.  And this is where my most recent bit of trouble began.

I cherish my old-fashioned paper diary.  It comforts me to write down important appointments, and it is deeply satisfying to cross things off of the endless lists I scribble down in there.

I had recently transferred my outstanding commitments from the end of last year into my brand-new 2014/15 academic diary with a heartfelt sense of pride. I’d begun to add items from my many online calendars, and I was feeling super-organised!
Then disaster struck: I lost my diary.

It’s been this way for about three weeks now, and I’ve finally admitted that it is now “presumed dead” rather than simply “missing”.  So what’s the next step for me?  Sync all my calendars? Embrace the Apple way of life?  Not a chance; I’m off to WH Smith to get myself a new paper diary.

POST SCRIPT: Here’s the rather snazzy Letts 2015 diary that I purchased for £9.99. And here’s the original academic diary that I subsequently found 10 minutes after returning to the office with my new one. Gah! Diary

Fortunately said retailer was willing to refund me when I explained my predicament.  Shame they’re not as responsible in their purchasing choices (yes, they had it on sale in my chosen branch – looks like I’ll be switching to a different newsagent).