The all singing, all dancing blog of Alex Guite

Sunday, April 30, 2006

An alarming situation!

With only 46.5 hours to go before the deadline for handing my Masters project in, absolute, true and mathematical time continues to march on (with the certainty of clockwork, ironically enough). I've noted that it appears from its own nature to flow equably without relation to anything external.
The project is coming along, I'm just putting the finishing touches to it, so I'm not overly worried right now. I'm more worried about the fact that my alarm clock has run out of batteries, so I am left completely unable to measure the onward march of time which I alluded to in my opening remarks.
Anyone who has picked up a copy of my latest briefing, "Alex Guite: what's his current deal? (as of April 30th)" will probably be aware that my alarm clock batteries have been flat for several months without causing me undue alarm. In truth, I'm blogging about this because I spotted an opportunity for a pun. Sorry.
In fact the real hilarity occurred when the batteries were almost flat, but still just about able to turn the motor, but only very slowly. Imagine my surprise at waking up, thanks to my trusty bodyclock which I carry around with me everywhere, at what I thought was my usual wake up time only to be informed by my alarm clock that it was sometime in the early morning. Immediately the most plausible explanation came to mind: I was in a space-time warp, much like the ones you read about when you're 8 (well I did, anyway) in which people disappear only to reappear sometime later with their watch running late by exactly the amount of time they disappeared for. In retrospect, I'm not sure that book constituted a very reliable source. Except a reliable source of nonsense. Du dum! (That's a drumroll, although I have just realised I don't really know how to write a drumroll, mostly because I never thought I would sink to the low of signposting a 'joke' with a musical signature).
Anyway, I'm going to return to work. The graph shows the electroabsorption response of a yellow polymer light emitting diode which I've been working on. The 3D plot pretty much encompasses the last two terms worth of work. Personally, I think it looks sweet as.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Nichtlineare optik und lichtmodulation

Back in early April, I read on BoingBoing about the effects of adding Mentos to Diet Coke, which allegedly resulted in a carbonic geyser. I was somewhat sceptical and couldn't work out why the effect would only apply to Diet Coke. It looked cool, but as I don't have a garden in London I figured I wouldn't be able to try it out. Just in case it did actually work I decided not to try it out in the kitchen.
So anyway, I carried on about my normal business and tried not to think about this curious candy and cola conjecture. But last week I found myself back in Cardiff with not one but two gardens at my disposition (front and back gardens in the jargon). So last Saturday afternoon I went ahead and bought two bottles of Diet Coke and engaged in a wild goose chase to find some Mentos in North Cardiff (it wasn't that wild, I ended up finding some packets in local newsagents as opposed to a branch of a national supermarket).
As you can see from the freeze frames, it worked very well. You can see my surprise at this fact by the fancy footwork I had to use in order to get away from the soda jet as it threatened to erupt in my face.
Generally each eruption released about 1.5L of Diet Coke over my parents lawn. When I go back in the summer I'll let you know what effect this has had. When I tried to seed a further shower by adding more Mentos, it only had the effect of causing a slow and disappointingly undramatic bubbling. I tasted some of the left over Coke; it tasted like that new lime coke. I wasn't impressed.
I'm guessing that the Mentos provide bucket loads of nucleation sites for bubbles and fall fast enough through the coke that they form bubbles quickly enough at the bottom of the bottle that it pushes the rest of the liquid out the top. Still doesn't explain why it allegedly only works with Diet Coke.
I would have bought some regular coke to check this out, but after spending £3.04 on the diet coke and mentos, I was already 4 pence over my budget for cola related experiments this financial year.

I took some revision back to Cardiff, but in the end I didn't do any. Really needed the rest. Apart from adding mentos to diet coke in Cardiff, I spent some evenings in the Club Metropolitan catching up with friends, read some books, did some cycling and slept. Alot.

One of the books I picked up from the bookshelves at home was Clochemerle. As soon as I read the description on the jacket I knew that I would regret not reading this book:
"It is a candid, uninhibited comedy of the goings-on in a small provincial town, and of the fantastic feuds which developed from the decision to erect a public convenience near the parish church"
Just in case I wasn't convinced, the publishers noted that it was "one of the most amusing" books they had ever published. Sure, that was in 1951 and this last half century hasn't been bad for comedy, but to be honest they already had me. Those 1950s marketers sure knew a thing or two about making someone buy a book.
It hasn't disappointed, although after reading just a few chapters you just want to kick back with a glass of French wine, shrug your shoulders and adopt an altogether more Gallic attitude to life.

Finally, a number of readers (namely, zero) have contacted me outlining their suspicion that my blog was turning into a TBR's Martin Archer fan blog. It is true that I have prided myself on being first with all the latest gossip about this Imperial College celebrity from the people in the know (basically my housemate Andy and myself). But it turns out that this is no longer the place to turn for the inside scoop on TBR's Martin Archer because there is a new Martin Archer Fan Blog on the interweb, written by none other than Martin Archer himself! If I were you, I would go ahead and subscribe to the RSS feed post haste.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Should probably be working...

Caught up in the emotion of seeing a perfectly good toothbrush blown out of an open window to an untimely end, I may have allowed myself to exaggerate some details of this incident in my last post.
One assertion on which I would like to put the record straight is my claim that I was "pondering over many quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore". I was doing no such thing. I was in fact reading Moondust, allegedly written by housemate my Andrew Smith, although I'm suspicious of this claim. I think it was just a marketing technique to make Andrew buy it.
Questions of authorship aside, whoever wrote it certainly penned an engaging read. Although the occasionally conversational tone and fluid references to popular culture sometimes tricked me into thinking that I was reading a 350 page magazine article which would have been well at home in G2, it was nonetheless insightful. The book's central thesis is that of the twelve men who have walked on the moon, nine of whom are still alive, soon there will be no living person who has had the experience of standing on the moon, looking back a quarter of a million miles to Earth.
With the aim of meeting and interviewing those surviving nine men, Smith explores the effect the lunar landings had on them (namely, how can you top walking on the moon with most of the world watching?) and, most interestingly, offers fascinating insights about what exactly drove humans to the moon. Ultimately for Smith, the lunar landings are as much about what they told us about the moon, as what they told us about ourselves.

In other news, there has been alot of hilarity this week with UKIP, after Cameron described them as "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists mostly". They certainly seem bafflingly proud that they have a Hitler quote as part of a random selection which greets visitors to their website (alongside the obligatory Churchill quotes, a perplexing quote from TV personality and well known political commentator Carol Vordeman and a whole bunch of quotes by that inspirational speaker, Jeffrey Titford MEP). Meanwhile Tory MP Bob Spink made an inexplicable contribution to the debate when he suggested that "UKIP supporters are no more racist than Tories were in the last election". Sorry, what? Well if there was any doubt about the fruitcake and loony charge it must have been crushed by the weight of Nigel Farage's amoured personnel carrier as he pulled up outside the Tory party conference, punning about parking UKIP's tanks on Cameron's lawn and delivering an 'impromptu' speech to about 30 UKIP supporters wearing Union Jack hats. How Churchillian of him.

Inside the conference hall, Cameron continued his new strategy of down playing his party's electoral chances, insisting that they have 'a mountain to climb'. Am I the only one thinking that in fact what he's saying is "oh, go on, vote for us, it'll be OK, because we won't win"?

I should get back to work now: I have a lot to do before the apparently secular Imperial College closes for Easter.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

"Guys, where's my toothbrush?"

Just as I was lamenting that I hadn't posted anything up here for a full week, my housemate and Liquid Lunch front man TBR's Martin Archer came to the rescue.
Imaging the scene: me, taking advantage of the holidays to relax, reading (pondering over many quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, no less), when there came a rapping, as of someone gently tapping at my chamber door.
"Guys, where's my toothbrush?" demanded Martin Archer. "I can't find it".
All I heard was "Dude, something mundane yet strangely messed up has occurred, it'll make great blog material".
Neither Andy nor I had an adequate answer to this question, the truth is that not one of us knew where Martin Archer's toothbrush was. I quickly realised the urgency of the situation: in less than four hours Martin Archer would wish to clean his teeth, but stripped of that most crucial of teeth brushing tools, the humble toothbrush, this would be a Sisyphean task. Clearly, this was no laughing matter.
The three of us adjourned to the bathroom, the last known location of the toothbrush, to consider the situation in more detail.
It was at this moment that this drama, playing out within my very own flat, developed a disquieting twist. It was not merely Martin Archer's toothbrush which had disappeared, but also the bespoke tupperware cup used to house his trusted dental broom.
Andy hypothesised with characteristic swift thinking that the toothbrush-cup combination may have been knocked off the open window sill by a gust of wind conspiring with the curtain to buffet it on to the floor. But even accounting for the possibility that the cylindrical geometry of the cup may have allowed it to roll across the bathroom, it could not be found.
Simultaneously, the unthinkable dawned on the three of us: the ethereal hand of the wind had not knocked Martin Archer's toothbrush into the accommodating safety of our flat, but had nothing short of grabbed it and thrust it out of the barely open window. The cheek of it and on a Sunday afternoon of all times.
A brief inspection of the ground below confirmed our worst suspicions: literally meters below our window Martin Archer's toothbrush lay recumbent and wretched on a mossy paving stone. Worse still: the plastic cup was strewn across the ground in two pieces. Martin Archer refused to show emotion, but I know that on the inside he was crying. We all were. In that moment we all grew older. The best laid plans of leaving a toothbrush on the window sill had gone awry.
The next part of the story basically features Martin Archer going outside and retrieving his toothbrush and plastic cup. Andy and I thought this was hilarious, but I'm not sure I actually understand why. Instead, I'll recount a more exciting version of this tale.
In order to avoid detection during the recovery operation I suggested to Martin Archer that he dons all black clothing so as to better blend into the April evening. He selected a black leather jacket and a stout pair of shoes, appropriate for the conditions underfoot and for abseiling off the side of our building to directly retrieve his dental hygiene products. He doesn't mess about.
But halfway into the mission disaster threatens to strike as Martin Archer almost misses the toothbrush, potentially compromising the whole operation and jeopardising years of meticulous planning. "Goddamit!" I shout over the radio. He gets the message.
Based on the dual benchmarks of firstly recovering Martin Archer's toothbrush and secondly recovering and mending his toothbrush cup, the operation was a success. To celebrate, we reconvened in the kitchen for debriefing and banter.

(Readers will be relieved to know that after recovering his toothbrush, Martin Archer threw it away and did not use it).