When I was living with my parents, saying things like “oh my god!” or “Jesus Christ!” were forbidden, because it was blasphemous. My parents had a bit of a thing (i.e. a major neurosis) about swearing generally, but Taking The Lord’s Name In Vain was a biggie of theirs. In some ways, it gave lesser swears more impact (huge thanks to my friend Tim for introducing me to the concept of Grade 1 and Grade 2 swears. Grade 3 are reserved for exceptional circumstances). It did, however, add to my weighty list of religion-based insecurities (body-shaming, friend-shaming, homophobia, to name just a few popular choices).

And then, as an atheist adult, I sort of have the opposite thing, weirdly. I say “oh my god!”, “Jesus Christ!”, “Holy Sh!t!” and so many more beautifully expressive expletives All The Time. It feels strange because saying “oh my god”, when there isn’t one, just seems counter-intuitive.

I think it’s a hangover from my youth, in that these innocuous words still hold such power due to the meaning projected on to them by my parents, teachers and people from the church. But then I also feel silly using a concept that has no meaning for me to express pain and indignation.

Maybe I need to get more creative with my use of language (that was another favourite of my teachers, that if you swore you were ignorant and unimaginative for not being able to use a non-sweary word instead). Or maybe I should just Let Swears Be Swears.

Blaspheme to your heart’s content with these OMG!! products from my CafePress store.


Today I was bored in the office (no!) and I was chatting with a colleague about a freebie they had been given in the railway station on the way to work this morning. Remember those thin mint strips that just melted on your tongue? Well now you can get fruit-flavoured versions loaded with caffeine. Well, I say loaded; they each contain 20mg of caffeine.

Which naturally led on to, “just how many of these would a person be able to consume before they died?”. Naturally. So let’s work it out.

Like all good things, caffeine is toxic if you consume enough of it.  But just how much is that?  The LD50 of caffeine for a human adult is between 150 and 200 mg per kilo of body mass.

Let’s say that the average British adult weighs 70kg, and they have a fairly low tolerance to caffeine. That means they could ingest up 10.5g of caffeine per day and the chances are they’d survive.  It doesn’t mean they’d be ok (consume too much and you really, really, won’t be), but they’d likely not actually die.

And what does that equate to? 525 of those little caffeine strips, 80-ish cups of coffee (even I don’t drink that much of it), or 132 cans of Red Bull (250ml version). Wow.


I took part in another study for someone else’s project just before the Christmas break.  They were looking at the ways in which different users utilise the different areas of a mock online collaboration tool for researchers to share datasets.

In this exercise I was instructed to find certain sections of the site, upload a fake dataset, and explore other areas of the site as I wished (the researcher also wanted to see which functions people might want to use in addition to the simple task we had to perform).It was kind of interesting, but I only got entered into a prize draw to win a £100 Amazon voucher for my participation. I would have preferred a smaller, more certain reward, but I guess that the researcher was only able to obtain a small amount of funding for their work.


Spoon on Teacup
By Philipp Weissenbacher (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Interactions can sometimes be awkward, no matter how socially adept you are.  The brewing and consuming of tea is a huge part of my life, and with regards to this particular ritual, I thought I had nailed it. WRONG.

My lovely Science Gentleman frequently makes me glorious cups of tea, pretty much all day long when I am working.  He’s extremely good at this (amongst other things, tee hee).  And I so often thank him for the tea using a pet name.

So when I visited a friend who made me a super cup of tea in one of those giant mugs you get from Starbucks, I did the polite thing and said thanks.  Don’t think he expected me to call him “baby”, though.

At least I didn’t try to snog him.

While you’re here, you should definitely check out this site, A Nice Cup Of Tea And A Sit Down. An old housemate introduced it to me about 12 years ago, in my first post-uni house. It’s all about biscuits, tea, and cake. It contains reviews, and musings on all sorts of tea-related activities, paraphernalia, and etiquette. It is possibly the most English website I have ever seen.


I’ve posted a couple of times before about philosophy groups that I attend, and I’ve found a new one, which I think is rather good. It’s difficult to go in to much detail about my talk in this post, because although the subject was discussed in a respectful, philosophical and sensible way, my advertisers might deem it to be NSFW.

I first went to this group about a month ago, when the discussion topic was Suicide. I found the conversations insightful and atypical, with a genuine desire to understand a difficult and sensitive topic. I really liked the dialogue and the people, so I came back for another go.

The group meets every week, which is great because I can’t wait too long for mental stimulation… Anyway, two weeks after my first visit to the group, I decided to propose my own topic, and it was a great experience, both in terms of openly discussing a controversial topic, and for public speaking experience.  If you’re a postgrad (or undergrad, for that matter), or if you’re looking to gain confidence in presenting and debating in a professional capacity, I’d heartily recommend doing something like this.  Get out there, talk in front of a group, and don’t be afraid of looking silly.  Act confident and confidence will come naturally to you.

The format of the group is as follows:

Everyone gathers in a circle and the chair introduces the topic.  Some handouts are distributed with supplementary information (links to the stimuli that I provided are on the Chorlton Philosophy Group blog, link below).

Each person is assigned a number 1, 2 or 3, and then we split off into three smaller groups according to what number we have.

The little groups discuss the topic along whatever lines they choose.  The point of this bit is to explore the ideas in the notes a little more and throw in a few ideas of one’s own, with the aim of coming up with questions for the group to vote on and discuss (this is where it gets good!).

The large group reconvenes and all of the questions are placed on the floor in the centre of the circle.  And then we are each given two chocolates (I told you this is where it gets good), and we vote by placing our empty wrappers on the question we’d like to discuss.

With the winning topic selected, people add their names to a list to make a point to the group, by making a thumbs-up gesture.  We each talk in turn, with counter-arguments permitted occasionally.

I like the format of this discussion group, because the conversation flows more naturally: people are allowed to interject, and people can talk as many times as they like, taking the discussion to wherever we want to.  The only downside is the time constraints, but loads of people usually hang around in the bar afterwards to carry on talking.

The variety of people who turn up is impressive, pretty much all ages (18 to about 80), lifestyles and occupations are represented there, and the diversity of opinions is exciting.  People tended not to hold beliefs that I expected them to have, and I think we all learn something from each other – the sign of a good debate.

Questions that were proposed at my talk were:


This group is held in The Lloyds on Wilbraham Road, and they allow us the use of a room beside the main bar.

Here’s a link to the Chorlton Philosophy Group’s blog; my topic was the one debated on 13th January 2015.  I enjoy discussing censorship generally, but it is such a broad topic that I decided to make it more specific and cover a topic that’s interesting, current and provocative.


The idea for this post came about when me and Mr. Science Gentleman were playing a guessing game.  I love games!  They’re so much fun!  And when they involve maths, they’re even better.

So we were devising and solving little mathematical problems, on a date (this is the sort of thing we do on dates, when we’re not staring at our phones playing Ingress or playing Cards Against Humanity
against strangers on the Internet – yes, we really do do that.  And we’re not sick of each other yet).  And I said, “How many people do you reckon you’d meet in a lifetime?  At least one million, right?”

And Mr. Science Gentleman declared this to be nonsense, for it could not possibly be that many.

The reason I thought of this was a poem I recall reading in a children’s anthology, by Wes Magee.  It’s called “What’s In A Number?” and you can read it here.

So how likely or unlikely is it? The average life expectancy for a UK male is 79 years (82 years for females, but let’s use the lower figure in the calculation).  That’s 28,855 days if you include 20 leap years in there.  1,000,000 divided by that number is 35 people per day.

Depending on how you classify “meet”, it doesn’t sound so difficult.  I guess you’d have to factor in acquaintances and strangers, and put in a little more effort to make up for days when you just weren’t in the mood for company.  But it’s not such a ridiculous idea after all.


This blog uses the Twenty Fourteen WordPress theme, and until recently, I’d not done anything about the huge amount of unused space that the unadulterated layout gives. I just took it as one of those things, and thought that, “oh well, at least it’s readable, even if the presentation’s a bit off”.  But I needed to set up a WordPress site in a professional capacity, so I decided to investigate further. To illustrate the problem, take a look at the screenshot from just before when I edited the PHP files to make the width 100%. This affects the appearance of the theme on hi-res monitors, which in my experience, is most monitors.


I was able to rectify this by following the steps in the knowledge base at (link).  This help file gives a bit more information on why this theme appears the way that it does, unedited.  You need to read that page to understand what the hell I’m talking about in this post.

For ease of understanding I’ve listed below the relevant line numbers affected by the changes described in that link. Y’see, the file style.css is 4322 lines long and you need to trawl through a lot of code to locate the five specific lines affected. From the WordPress dashboard, go to Appearance -> Editor and then select the Twenty Fourteen theme from the drop down menu.

Then locate the file style.css.Within this file, carry out the steps listed in the help page at, as follows:

In step one, the first bit of code highlighted in bold,

.site { background-color: #fff; max-width: 1260px; position: relative; }

is in Section 3.0 Basic Structure, on lines 820 – 823.

Then in step 2, the second bit of code to alter,

.site-header { background-color: #000; max-width: 1260px; position: relative; width: 100%; z-index: 4; }

is in Section 4.0 Header, on lines 847 – 852.

The third bit of code, relating to the content width,

.site-content .entry-header, .site-content .entry-content, .site-content .entry-summary, .site-content .entry-meta, .page-content { margin: 0 auto; max-width: 474px; }

is in Section 6.0 Content, on lines 1056 – 1062.  I actually adjusted the max-width to 90% instead of the 80% suggested.

The fourth bit of code relates to comments;

.comments-area { margin: 48px auto; max-width: 474px; padding: 0 10px; }

and is in Section 6.14 Comments, on lines 1905 – 1908.  Again, I went for a max-width of 90%.

The fifth, and final bit of code that I altered,

.site-content .entry-meta { background-color: #fff; margin-bottom: 8px; }

is in Section 6.3 Entry Meta, lines 1178 – 1181.  Note that this adds an extra line to the PHP file, so will affect the line number related to the fourth step above if not done before this one.

I didn’t bother editing the appearance of the sidebar buttons, which is the final step in that help file.


Today was the fourth time I’ve taken part in a study for someone’s doctoral research at the University. But this is also a bit of a weird post in that I can’t really give you any information about it. Some of the other studies I’ve been in were designed so that it was possible to give a away a little information about the exercise, but for this one… you need to enter the study completely green. Here’s a link to the University’s Research Volunteering page. It’s the one to do with suspicious thoughts and task performance.

Oh yeah, I’m watching you.


This is a thorny topic for me. On the one hand, yes, this country has a shortage of engineers, and a great way to resolve that is to encourage more women to take up roles in this field. On the other, I think that a lot of the highly-publicised profiles of women in STEM careers are not representative of the experience of most women who work in these fields. And the statistics support this. Women in comparable STEM roles to men are paid less, valued less, and progress more slowly. How could I recommend that sort of future to another person?

And then we face a chicken and egg issue. Without a representative workforce, the prevailing culture will remain unchallenged and unchanged. But the workforce will not be more representative until there are more women and minorities working there.

The UK government has been advised on the consequences of not supporting more jobs in engineering, and it is recognised that if women do not enter or remain in the profession, we are effectively cutting the talent pool in half.

The Guardian featured an article (link below) promoting careers in engineering to females. This is great for visibility, but it really doesn’t tell the whole story.

What’s it like to be a woman in the engineering industry?

All of the women in this piece talk about the exciting things they do in their work, which is great. Engineering can be fulfilling and rewarding, and fun. But the politics, culture and personalities in the industry can get in the way of actually getting the job done.

One of the engineers in the piece talks about proving herself in a male-dominated industry. This is something I’ve encountered many times. Why should women have to prove themselves any more than men should? Or have to work harder than men for the same pay? Oh, except it isn’t the same pay.

Another says “My advice is do not hide your femininity at work and relish in your different perspective – act on what you believe is important”. Two things: most successful women I know in my sector of engineering act very masculine. And if you do look quite feminine, people will comment on it. And if you act quite butch, people will comment on it. So either way you’re damned, but if you try to be one of the boys you’re more likely to succeed. Another: “relish in your different perspective”. Well, it would be great if different perspectives were acknowledged, but in my experience groupthink is encouraged and anyone with a contrasting idea is swiftly put in their place. Where are these workplaces that encourage this sort of thing? Because I haven’t found one yet.

Someone else says “There are many women where I work in very senior roles which just goes to show that gender does not affect ambition and that you should always aim high.” Well, I agree with the last part. Ambition is genderless. But I’m not seeing the women in exec-level roles. I attend events specifically for women in engineering, which have a core regular attendance of maybe 30 people. I enjoy meeting other female engineers, hearing success stories and about other projects. But that’s just a small handful of people. How many other engineers out there are male? Women make up just 9% of engineering professionals in the UK.

“You’re not treated differently and gender isn’t an issue”. That may be the case where you work, and I’m very happy for you. I wish that all workplaces were the same.

“I think it’s fantastic to see more and more women joining our ranks in what used to be a traditionally male industry”. Well, yes, that’s the overall goal. Things are changing, but we’re really not at the point where we can say that it used to be a traditionally male industry. 91% male is a pretty overwhelming figure.

I suppose it makes me sad that we’re still having these conversations these days, or that there is a need to target women specifically to encourage them into STEM subjects. If the playing field were truly level, everyone would feel welcomed and we wouldn’t be talking about certain groups being “turned off” by certain subjects. I feel that very little has changed with regard to the perception of women in my (rather niche sector) over the last 15 years. The only place I’ve truly felt an equal is at University, being on a fantastic undergrad program with great tutors and the chance to shine. A step into the world of work was a shock. Of course study is different from the workplace, but I was totally unprepared for the marginalisation and disillusionment that I experienced. It seems that my goals become further and further out of reach, while they are easily attainable by others around me.

A final thought. This article in the Harvard Business Review details research carried out on women’s career trajectories, and finds that common beliefs about women’s career progressions are unfounded.

Rethink What You “Know” About High-Achieving Women

It’s also referenced in this article from NYMAG:

Stop Blaming Women For Holding Themselves Back At Work


I’m coming to the end of my Literature Review… I say coming to the end of it, what I mean is the end of the first hit, before I go on to do more of my own independent research, read some more papers, amend it, write some of my own papers, discover more papers, add some more detail, collaborate with other researchers, review the evidence, and summarise the understanding of the science at the point in time when I finally submit my thesis three years from now. So it’s not the finished product.

One thing that I have found very useful is to keep a very detailed bibliography. A big, long list of all the papers and articles I’ve read. Well, all of the useful ones. That piece on First World Problems, while interesting and entertaining, has nothing to do with my research on heritage buildings or projected climate change.

I sometimes include brief details of conversations I’ve had with people about my research – especially those where I’ve had a ‘Eureka!’ moment. Many of the articles, links, books, programmes, videos cover similar topics and there’s overlap. Sometimes there’ll be something totally different just thrown in there. I also try to find papers that present a contradictory view / answer to the mainstream consensus or accepted view, to challenge myself and to exercise my analytical muscles (climate change is an especially good one for this, more musings to come in a future post).

While writing my literature review, I know that I won’t be citing every single thing in the bibliography (it currently stands at over 300 sources!), but at some point in the future I might remember a thing I read in one of those random sources and relate it to a piece of upcoming research, or it might click with something I discover in my own experiments in future. Who knows? But if I keep a list, at least I’ll know where to find that info.