Monthly Archives: August 2011

More Cloudland


This time we did 11 miles: The same 5-mile loop as last time, followed by a 2 mile waterfall trail and a 4 mile loop. The waterfall trail was stairs, stairs, stairs, but the last 4 mile loop was very easy – more like a stroll in the woods. If you can: go. If it wasn’t for the limited trail options, it would be my favourite place to hike.

If you are not on facebook (you’re not??) then checkout my Picasa album.

And get yourself there 🙂

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Birmingham’s best workout.

I missed zumba as I was truck hunting today, and I couldn’t run due to a strained abductor muscle and 10 mile hike tomorrow. But, I got a new workout – building my bed at South Avondale’s Community Garden. See this huge hole in a mountain of rock hard dirt?

Yup, I hacked at it with an axe, shoveled it into a wheelbarrow, pushed it over to a bed and shoveled it in. For 2 hours. All to create this:

I must be mad 🙂 At least the surroundings were beautiful and seriously, I am proud and honoured to be part of such a wonderful community project, aimed at raising food awareness, supporting up-cycling, encouraging growing you own food, and just making Birmingham (more) beautiful. I love projects that encourage community, and sharing and pride one’s neighborhood. And where I can, I will help with these. Plus, Walter loved having a fenced in space to explore and run about it.

A huge thank you to Chris and all she does to keep this going.

Cloudland Canyon, Georgia and zip lining

View from Cloudland Canyon, Rising Fawn, Georgia

Last week I tried, for the first time, an American thing called ‘zip lining’. How to explain it to my British friends? Well, in the words of  Wikipedia, it is “a Pulley suspended on a Wire rope mounted on an incline”. In my words “sheer madness”. Basically you descend several flights of stairs to a wire stretching across some cavernous gulley, or alligator-infested river to an anchor wire considerably lower that your current point. You don a harness, some gloves and a helmet

It doesn't get much sexier than this... no really, I don't....

and attach yourself to said wire… and well, let gravity do the rest, turning upside down and dangling your hands if you dare can

Just like that. Genius.

. It is, apparently, a common American activity. It is, definitely, also enormous fun.

We rocked up deep into the Tennessee countryside (where no one can hear you scream) and climbed aboard a bus that poured out more smoke than Lydon B Johnson’s iron lung.

Why did I get on this ?!?

Wesley was full of excitement, me – I was a bundle of nerves. My nerves were not especially disquieted when a boy, who looked no old than 12 announced through his mohawk and acne,  that my safety was in his hands. Good-oh. Actually, he was extremely sweet (very kind when he said I seemed ‘kinda nervous’ and I announced this to be the greatest understatement since Churchill said ‘that Hitler bloke – not very nice, is he?’), and extremely competent and actually fairly attractive. Or maybe that was just a form of Stockholm Syndrome, as he held my captive life in his hands at several points. Either way, I returned safe and happy and wanting to do it again.

Here are some videos of me zip lining:

(yes, upside down and hands free thank-you-very-much), and landing almost perfectly:

– of course.

After that, we went white water rafting (like you do). It was fun too, and not at all scary. Our guide, Jody, was a sweet heart and it was safe and very picturesque. Both were done through Ocoee Outdoors and I would highly recommend them. We will have some more pics when we develop the underwater camera pics.

We also went for a hike at Cloudland Canyon in Rising Fawn, Georgia. It was 2 1/2 hours from Birmingham but the beauty of the place was absolutely worth it. There are 2 5 mile loops, and a 2 mile waterfall trail. We did one of the loops, skirting the canyon and seeing dells and glens and huge vistas of The Smokeys.

The hike was of moderate difficulty – the terrain was fairly easy, but it was steep at times and could be tiring. We didn’t do the second loop as we had to get to our motel, but we did do the 2 mile walk to the waterfalls. A lot of stairs (in fact nearly all stairs) but very beautiful. If you can get to Cloudland – go. Worth the travel (from Alabama) for sure. In fact I am off again this weekend, with Stella, Lizzie and Yann. Bring it on!!

Misinterpretations and mass media hysteria

Need a laugh? This article writes a very amusing and light hearted article satirizing how the media misrepresent Science findings. It nicely combines an easy readability and laugh out aloud moments, with a serious point. Its a timely reminder to all of us to be wary of believing what we read. And a nice example of cutting British humour.

US friends: The Daily Mail is our National Enquirer – but it actually tries to report ‘news’ not just celeb stuff.

Kudos Martin Robbins

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/the-lay-scientist/2011/aug/01/1

For anyone interested in following the pre-story behind this, i.e Susan Greenfield’s horrendous article in New Scienist, the wonderful (and Intellectual Crush worthy) Dorothy Bishop provides an intelligent and reasoned, yet passionate summary and the responses to said summary.

Timely reminders to us all about minding what we say and applying critical reason to what we read. Indeed, as my mentor David Allison has been saying recently: one of the best things Scientists can do is remind themselves, regularly, why they got into Science. That should set you straight 🙂

I’ve gone viral!! And an interesting article on obesity

So, I received an email today from a very nice guy (which I will respond to soon); he had seen a viral picture, that was attributed to me, but could not find it on my blog. I am not sure how he found it: possibly from my officemate’s blog, or possibly passed on by on of the number of people who I emailed it to. But, I must be honest and ‘fess up. I sadly didn’t create this picture – I just spent enough time trawling the internet to find it. Here is said picture, with the correct affiliation:

How Academics See Each Other

Sadly... so true, so very true.

By Marcus Sotak, sadly not Lekki Wood. Click on the image for the full size.

Speaking of my officemate’s blog… I noticed that hers was way more… er… Scientifically orientated than mine. And that mine was full of animals and diets (oh the shame). She said that my blog was a ‘guilty pleasure to her’ – something I took (as intended) as a total compliment – I LOVE hearing that people read my blog, even more so that they enjoy it. In turn, Stella’s blog  is my way of feeling clever for the day and having something to say over dinner 😉 But, Stella also pointed out that I am always talking about interesting studies and articles,  and that those could be shared here. So, I am sharing an article I found yesterday that is very well written and interesting.

It covers the causes of obesity, from the point of view of how we each form opinions about why obesity is so prevalent.

Its main points (to me) were that:

  • There are many, many causes of obesity and
  • The etiology (causes) of obesity are extremely diverse: what it true for one person, is not true for the others.

So far, so obvious, perhaps. But then it asks why many of us have such unscientific views of the causes of obesity. We all hold these beliefs very dear to ourselves, but they are often formed from illogical reasoning. For example – you go on a low carbohydrate diet… you lose weight…. you conclude that carbohydrates were to blame for you initial weight gain. As the article points out, when you take Advil for a headache, and the headache goes away, you don’t conclude that lack of Advil caused your headache. It also asks why even scientists hold these universal views so dear in the face of much conflicting evidence: that carbohydrates cause obesity when many slim individuals and even groups of people eat a high carbohydrate diet and stay slim (like the Kitavans). Same with fat…

So, it is thought-provoking and a great wake up call, and much more eloquent and depth than I have done justice to here. Enjoy:

http://thehealthyskeptic.org/there-is-no-single-cause-of-or-treatment-for-obesity

A picture of Walter being ridiculous to show that I don't take myself too seriously... yet...

I wandered lonely as a… and all my music problems were solved.

Clouds. Of a different (less good) type.

So, I don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch… I don’t want to jinx my new discoveries… but I always do so let’s be upfront about my (usually misplaced) trust and enthusiasm and take this sentence with a grain of salt:

“I think all my technological problems have been solved”.*

*those related to my music.

So, my whole life was a world of pain since moving to the US and trying to access my digital music collection. Said collection is 130 Gb (and growing) and so could not be stored on my laptop. My desktop didn’t make it with me. Nor, crucially, did my music player system. So, my music had to be streamed through my TV… and the device I bought for this, was my Apple TV. Foolish perhaps, I was going through my  (usually misplaced) trust and enthusiasm at Apple, believing, like a child of divorce, that any breakdown in communication was my fault, and if I just behaved better (Apple translation: spent more money) the happy marriage that was my life and Apple would be OK.

It was not. The problems ran deeper.

Basically, I had an external hard drive, that was connected to my laptop, but friends couldn’t seem to remember not to yank my laptop around willy nilly and drive kept  being dropped/disconnected and started to threaten to give up its grip on life and take my computer backup and music with it as it hit the technological wasteland in the sky. = FEAR.

Attempts to make my hard drive wireless = $130 and fail. Attempts to hack my AppleTV so it would accept a hard drive, well actually = pass, but attempts to get it to run at a decent speed, or even not crash every 2 minutes? = Epic fail. So, my hard drive sat tucked away on a shelf, and I sat without music getting more and more miserable. Plus, I could not update my iPod which had been hastily loaded for a dance session (Britney, Pink and dare I say – Usher??) and so was passable for 20 mins on the treadmill, but rather deadly for any form of walk / relaxation.

What was I to do? The answer came like hurtling towards me through the pages of a blog (which I have now lost): The Amazon Cloud. Purchase a data plan ($20 a year at its cheapest) and get unlimited music space. Listen to that music wherever you (and your laptop) are and stream it to your Apple TV. Even – get this, get the little Android app and have your music with you wherever you go, whenever you go *

*as long as you have a connection of some sort and battery

Oh Joy. I am music-ed up and currently reveling in the delights of Anthony and The Johnsons, Radiohead, and The Decemberists. Just back to a few popular old faves. Soon Fleet Foxes will come back into my world as I prepare for their upcoming concert (y-e-e-e-e-e-s). When I get bored of that (as if I could??). Well, the whole Rolling Stones catalog is just a button push away.

HAPPY. Nay, blissful.

Oh, while we are talking of technological wizardry and black magic (which The Cloud surely is): Mendeley: I salute you. I grudgingly moved over to you, after RefMan deserted me in a time of dire need (even though I hated refMan and its stupid always having to close searches one by one trickery). You were a seemless transition, you did everything you were supposed to, and you even managed to get rid of all my duplicate papers (ARE YOU LISTENING, REFMAN)? Plus, every time I login you list my publications, and I feel smug. So, I do, as before, highly recommend anyone who writes papers for a living checks out Mendeley. Although I wish people would stop describing it ‘as if facebook and Endnote had a baby’ because that sort of freaks me out, as does anywhere Scientists congregate to converse only with other Scientists like on the New Scientist dating site. #no, no, no.

I digress.

RefMan: you suck. Endnote: you’re OK, but nothing special. Papers: sigh, your free trial was a disappointment; I bow to Matthew (who got me into Mendeley) to explain why (but Apple, you and me are OVER. I wave my Atrix in your face). Mendeley: you have all my (usually misplaced) trust and enthusiasm for the moment. Don’t disappoint me 🙂

July 2011

Resubmitted my K99 grant… Turned 30… Played frisbee golf for the first time… Got Walter… Published my first (and second) papers from my postdoc… failed at the Master cleanse… Started (and loved) jogging again… competed in my first 5K… Ran my first GWAS (and second… and third)… very fun month but also a time to recover from the wedding and catch up at work.