Saturday, 30 June 2012

How is it nearly July already?!?!?!

Hello everyone! I feel like this post should come with a safety announcement, so here is me giving one.

As is increasingly obvious, the longer I leave writing a blog post the higher the likelihood that said blog post becomes a long, winding gallimaufry (WHAT A WORD) of a thing where stuff doesn't really follow on from one another and it's all a bit of a mess.

This will be one of those. If you want to leave now, I don't blame you. Here's a funny picture to amuse those leaving us at this point. For those who are staying, I suggest you get a cup of tea NOW. Seriously, I think this is by far the longest post I have ever written. Tea is a requirement to survive this post.

So, why have I been so monumentally crap at posting recently? WELL, I've had a lot on my plate you know.

#1 Teaching

Now, I properly enjoyed this this year. I had six first year Natural Scientists and it was my job to teach them some maths. I think I did this pretty well - they were all bashing out some good practice papers by the end - and through a wonderful karmic cycle (i.e. "getting paid"), this has resulted in me being able to build myself a new completely kick-ass bike.

 **ADVANCE WARNING** I expect the next blog post to be a photo diary of me building my new bike. If you find bikes boring as hell you might want to skip that one...

Never before has a webcomic been more relevant:

But yes, I don't know really, there was something about teaching a bunch of self-motivated students, building a rapport with them, occasionally digging them out of confidence black holes etc. that I found really intensely satisfying. I did once tell one of them I would hit him with a rolled up Tripos paper if he didn't remember the vector triple product.

He remembered the vector triple product.


#2 Invigilating

Now I was initially quite excited about the prospect of invigilating, namely because (a) you got to wear a gown

(b) you have POWER (albeit extending mainly to telling people when they can write and when they can go to the toilet...)

and (c) you are basically getting paid to do nothing.

This last point turned out to be the sticking point. Now the rules are that you're not allowed to read anything while doing this. Have you ever tried doing nothing for three solid hours in complete silence? It's HARD. Time just fucking stops.


The first one I did I essentially fell asleep with my eyes open. It was very much a case of "lights on but no one's home". I visited places in my brain that I do not want to visit again. Bad.

Next time I came prepared. I brought a pen.

So there I was, me, a pen, three hours and over 10000 blank sheets of exam paper. Bring it the fuck on.

First attempt. Passable. Drawing bike components from memory is quite hard.

Second attempt. Smashed it in the face.

Bottom bracket & cranks/Rear derailleur

Front derailleur

Crankset mmmmm.

OK, OK, so the exploded drawings I had little versions to copy off, but still. I am vaguely tempted to take some techinical drawing classes or something because they were FUN to do (getting those ellipses right in the last one was really hard).

So yes, if you were unlucky enough to be in one of the exams I was invigilating and I ignored your call for more paper for ages, this is why, sorry :-/

#3 Mark checking

The third instalment in "My life is average [Cambridge edition]" was having to check the marks on a bunch of scripts (the stuff I do to fund this bike...). YES I KNOW THIS SHIT IS BORING BEAR WITH ME.

I emailed the guy and was like

Me: "Soooooo how many of these things are there?"
Him: "170."
Me: "Fuck."

Him: "Ooooo and I need them done by Sunday morning." (It was Thursday evening and I had a wedding on Saturday).
Me: "Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh shiiiiiiiiiiiittttttttt".
Me: "P.S. You owe me chocolate for this."
Him: "I'll bring some over." (He did as well :D)

So that was how I spent one Friday.


It was also interesting to see just how retarded Cambridge students can be at putting a very self-explanatory cover sheet on their scripts. There were upside down ones, back to front ones, many incorrectly filled out ones and some with ALL OF THE TREASURY TAGS IN THE WORLD holding their scripts together. All of this naturally gave me The Rage as it slowed me down so I came to hate these cover-sheet retards. Slowing me down like that. BASTARDS.

Next week my rage @ general incompetence will be elevated to new heights as I actually do some actual marking (for the STEP exam, the FUCKING EVIL maths entrance exam-type thing you get as part of a Cambridge maths offer. One of the badgering hardest exams I ever took). Five years I think is enough to get over the mental scarring that I have associated with those papers...


So yes, Cath Bishop (CATH BISHOP) went to my college when she was in Cambridge and so came down to coach our college eight a couple of times during the term.

Now I am not usually made speechless, but I was when I met Cath Bishop :)

 Now I have two rowing races that I just *love* watching. The first is the M2- in Sydney where the French pair go utterly bat shit crazy at 750m to go:

The second is Cath Bishop and Kath Grainger becoming World Champions in the 2- in 2003. Now there just isn't a decent video of this on Youtube so I'm going to have to direct you to the World Rowing video feed, then you need to find 2003 -> W2-. WATCH IT. WITNESS THE DISBELIEF OF THE COMMENTATORS. WATCH THE PREVIOUS WORLD CHAMPIONS BE TRAMPLED.

I have never been able to make my mind up which I prefer.


:D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D

#5 Rowing

I know right, mentioning rowing on this blog? THAT SHIT SHOULD BE BANNED.

I've mainly been caught up in Bumps the last few weeks. I don't know if it's because I've been in Cambridge too long, or I'm just a completely grumpy bastard, but every year there are a few nice new shiny awesome boats on the Cam (this year Queens' got a new Hudson for example) and every year I'm a bit more like "Hang on, we're racing to try and crash these increasingly nice boats into each other?" It might just be because I own my own boat and that always increases how tetchy you are about equipment DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT TOUCHING THAT BOAT OR I WILL HURT YOU IN WAYS BEYOND YOUR COMPREHENSION and, well to be honest, the CUW eights are in much worse state than a lot of the college VIIIs and we don't actively try and crash our boats into stuff.

Yeah, I'm a miserable bastard, but I personally think that Pachers and Filippis and Hudsons are built for being rapid over a 2K straight and not hauled round all the bends on the Cam and into someone else's stern. Meh. Flame me if you will.

Other news includes standing for the CUW Presidency and completely failing to get it, which sucked quite hard indeed. It's always the way when you put yourself forward for these sort of things that you just know it's going to be awful if you don't get it but I like to think that I have a bit of a backbone so I did it anyway. Sadly CUW have realised that I am a bit crazy and rageful so they don't want me anywhere near a position of power! In hindsight I should've played to this and made this my election poster as this is clearly the impression that anyone who meets me gets:

However I have never, to my knowledge, eaten any novices nor stomped on any buildings, though I did once kick a cash point quite hard when it swallowed my debit card. I also think that starting to eat novices would get in the way of my standard diet of mainly dairy products and cereal which I would want to avoid.

Still, not being CUW President gives me the opportunity next year to spend more time with this thing

and trying and get good at cycling round very fast to the left with no brakes... >:D *laughs evilly*

Other stuff on the rowing agenda was a trip to Belfast to race the Queen's Belfast girls in a kind of WOOOO RACING BOATS IN A BOAT RACE kind of way. We lost to them, which sucked for us but this was cancelled out by a magnificent lycra swap I made.

One CUWBC triallist onepiece --->

I cannot (a) not look insane or (b) have my eyes open in any photo of me taken ever. It is a physical rule entrenched in the very fabric of our cosmos. I am also not very good at matching colours when I wear clothes.
Now, I have a confession to make. I have a vice. It is embarrassing and it encompasses all aspects of my life.

I, Anna Railton, am addicted to kit.

It started innocently enough with this cycling jersey back in the day when I was little (OK, three years ago)

I rode that bike into the ground (as in the bit of the frame that holds the bottom bracket was fucked) :-( RIP first road bike
 Then it progressed to swapping a Cambridge short sleeve for an Oxford one (everyone in the squad hates it when I wear that - thanks Zoë :D) and I've never really stopped. I've now got Newcastle Uni leggings, a Queen's Belfast onesie, THIS onepiece (after a few months of bullying)...

A Girton College M1 lycra, or, HOW TO LOOK LIKE A PACK OF CARDS

I've also recently been sent these two beautiful specimens:

From the Vesta girls - guess who designed their Seville training camp stash for them...! Thanks guys :D
...and this, which is outstandingly retro:

(Thanks Ralf!)
Basically all I really need now is a random longsleeve and a random gilet and I will be able to wear a complete set of completely random kit. I have equivalent Cambridge stuff to swap people! EMAIL ME. FEED MY ADDICTION AND EMAIL ME.

Also a random story on the way back from Belfast; we ran into this rather amazing woman while waiting in the airport:

Olympic torch oooOOOOOooooooooooo

We, being the nosy busybodies that we are, asked her how she got to carry it. I bet you can't guess what she said? Bear in mind this girl was probably not much above 5 ft ...

...she said she got to carry it because she'd won the Military Cross on tour in Afghanistan.

Felt pretty small when she said that, not going to lie. Some googling and it turns out she is called Kylie Watson [Telegraph article] and she is completely amazing.

It was nice to know though that some actual worthy people get to run with it (as opposed to people like this tool)

Carrying the torch while updating Twitter? FUCK. YOU.

and well yes, it was a humbling experience really.

#6 Not getting a hair cut or buying a new skirt

 I am in general quite bad at remembering to do things like (a) shave my legs (mainly because I give precisely zero fucks about pretending to be feminine) (b) get my eyes tested (my current glasses are on a prescription from >5 years ago after dropping my actual pair in the river...oops) and (c) cut my hair, because getting your hair cut both costs money and is boring.

But, you know, it'd been a while, I can't really see anymore, I thought I'd get it sorted.

Drawing my hair like this all the time is far too time consuming so for the purposes of this blog I always have short spiky hair.
Literally the very same day I was going to phone the hair-cutty man a good three people came and sort of inverse complemented (or the "complement put down") my hair.

You know the complement put down? Where you say something along the lines of "Oh! You're looking so much slimmer lately!", where the unsubtle undertone is that you were a massive behemoth before. Yeah that. Like every day for a week. It was like they were prompted by some higher power, it was so co-ordinated.

So, the result is I still haven't got my hair cut, I still can't really see though the stuff and the inverse complements have stopped, which presumably means that my hair now looks shit again => there is a one week window every six months where my hair actually looks OK, and the rest of the time it is shit. FUCK YOU HAIR.

A similar thing happened this week with skirts.

Now, predictably, I don't own a lot of skirts. You can't cycle in them, you have to think about not sitting like a bloke while wearing them, they take up space in your wardrobe that could be taken up with more rowing and cycling kit... they are in short an annoying piece of clothing.

The truth is, I own a single skirt. This is its story.

(OK, I'm fucking lying, this is not the complete life story of the fucking skirt. That would be fucking boring.)


It was 2010. It was boat race week and I was in Henley. Unsurprisingly not much actual rowing takes place the week before the boat race so I was loafing round the town.

I saw the skirt in question and I purchased said skirt because, at that moment in time I owned precisely zero skirts and I figured this was a poor state of affairs. It also matched my blazer (my only criterion when buying smart clothes as boatie events are the only place I wear smart clothes...) which was a fucking win. Debit card out and BOOM, Anna Railton owns a skirt.

Fast forward a couple of years. The skirt has not seen much action. But then! I get invited to a wedding! It's the first wedding-of-a-friend I've been to! Woo! I SHALL WEAR THAT SKIRT. People wear skirts at weddings! That is a completely acceptable thing to do! HURRAH!

I go the wedding. What I forgot was that this wedding was of my Blue Boat 2010 cox. One of the few people on earth to ever see me wearing this thing AND SHE ONLY WENT AND NOTICED.

*Her exact words. This actually happened.

And that is why I shouldn't wear skirts. I think I shall stick to wearing lycra. It's safer that way.

#7 Trying to do MATHS

I am now a good nine months into my PhD (have to submit a first year report soon, FUCK FUCK FUCK) and I seem to go through stages of *reasonable* productivity intermingled with phases where I am completely paralysed by how much work I have to do. Proper rabbit-in-headlights stuff, where the solution to having to do loads of stuff do nothing at all. (Nice on brain, thanks).

Still, stuff moves forward slowly. Maths at the moment is being fuelled by some properly excellent 80s/90s classics and, while I can't really say if it makes me more productive or not, it is badgering good fun.

An example:

I should probably explain what I am trying to do in this here PhD of mine. Are you sitting comfortably? (you probably aren't after struggling through this ridiculously long post, but never mind) Then I'll begin.

1) A star forms from a mahoosive cloud of gas (mainly hydrogen) and dust collapsing under its own gravity. I initially drew a picture of this before realising that the Hubble telescope does this sort of thing better than me.
So, the Eagle Nebula (well a bit of it) aka "The Pillars of Creation". The column on the left is seven light years tall. Think about it - that is MENTAL. (Light from the sun takes eight minutes to reach Earth...) Interestingly, we think that these have already been destroyed by the blast from a nearby supernova, but we won't see the flaming destruction for another 1000 years, sadface. Again, mental. (Also, I found out the other day that some clever people have inferred when the Earth witnessed supernovae from looking at isotopes of certain elements in icecores. I mean COME ON. That shit is awesome.)

ANYWAY.  As a star forms there is always a bit of angular momentum knocking around so you get a disc of gas and dust around it. This is what these *actually* look like (as seen by Hubble again)

So the black line is the disc itself and the halo around it is the less dense stuff reflecting the light from the star (which is masked by the dusty disc) and the cool red jets are red jets :)
and here is a nice artist's impression which gives you a better idea what's going on:

I can't find the source :-(
Right this disc is called a protoplanetary disc because, well, because planets form in them. The idea is that the dust grains in the disc coagulate till you get slightly bigger dust granules and so on. This is all well and good to get from the tiniest grains all the way up to about a metre in size, and is fine to get you from 10km size asteroids to fully fledged planets BUT BUT BUT there is a problem.

Basically, if you try and smash metre-sized stuff together you don't end up with bigger rocks as they just destroy each other (whereas when you get a little bigger there is enough self-gravity to hold the debris together).

SOOOOOOOOO (this is going somewhere), the current idea that the way you get over the metre gap is by trapping the dust in vortices which you get in the disc. And this is what I'm looking at - the stability of these vortices when you put dust in them. (If they became unstable when you do this, we've got problems...).


I FUCKING LOVE VORTICES! (That's the Baja Peninsula off the coast of Mexico btw). BIG VORTICES.


Now to finish, something that is beyond scientific comprehension:

#8 Forgetting to wash up my REGO bottles

 For those who don't know, Rego is a powered sports recovery thing, and you make it up with water in one of those Protein shaker bottles stacked guys have in gyms. Has anyone ever noticed the following?

I swear there is no smell on earth quite like the smell of gone off Rego, and it happens SO FAST. I pity those who, like me, forget about a sealed empty in your bag for a couple of days, you naively open it and all the fire alarms in the street go off it's so pungent. My god.

Right, man, I need to wrap this up. Ummmm. Yeah. I still have a tonne of posters left if and anyone wants stuff drawing on them, just drop me a line. (There seems to be a trend for asking for badgers... you guys are weird :D).

Now, I MUST SLEEP. Night!


  1. Kylie Watson is completely nails, Will.I.Am is an utter ballsack....

    1. Yes. Yes he is.

      There were quite a few comments at the bottom of that Telegraph article saying she only got the MC because she was a girl :'-( I'd like to see them try and fix someone's bullet wound while being both shot at and judged by the soldier's comrades for being a woman...

  2. I am not sure I can comment on all of this post's awesomeness all at once. I might have to come back to this :D

    You get to mark STEP papers? That's kind of awesome. And probably kind of heartbreaking? (like, "Oh man, I empathise with you, little potential-pre-Cambridge student, but I CAN'T GIVE YOU THE MARKS because you DIDN'T WRITE THINGS DOWN!". Although I get the impression that in STEP you have a bit more leeway to give marks for signs of intelligent life (even if incoherent) than in most other exams ...)

    Oh! I am genuinely going to learn to ride a bike! (Rather than vaguely intending to like I have for the last 5 years). It will start badly. Like a 6 year old. But I will! (This week Chris and I went through the shed a bit - it is FULL OF STUFF - and rearranged things until we could actually get the bikes out. And pumped up the tyres. And found that one of his brakes isn't working at all (but the problem is a bolt which should be easy to replace. That might get done today)) *Might* manage to get out to some relatively unobserved bit of green space and scoot around later today.

    Your pictures of bike things are awesome. I can imagine the boringness of invigilating ... I did some invigilating for A level exams before coming up to Cambridge (I was working as a teaching assistant then) and they were ... quite dull. At least they were mostly, like, an hour or 1.5 hours though. Although no gowns.

    1. So the STEP marking starts next week. I was very pleased to find out that I could actually *do* the question that I'd been allocated to mark... MY DEGREE HAS TAUGHT ME SOMETHING WOOOOO. I am a bit scared at being a little bit responsible for someone's STEP mark.

      I am sure the learning to ride a bike thing will go swimmingly :D I am not sure whether it is easier to learn to ride when you are smaller and therefore less concerned about falling off. They are inherently stable things though - you'll be fine! When you eventually make it out onto a road, just assume that everyone around you is an idiot and will probably do stupid things any minute - this is by far the best way of staying safe out there :)

      Yeah... three hour exams. URGHHHHHHHHHHHH.

  3. complement = a hat would complement that outfit
    compliment = three people complimented anna railton's hair
    sorry :)
    other than that i love you!

    1. I did not even know there were two spellings of that... Man. *plays the mathmo card*

    2. Is now the moment to mention that it is "bear in mind" rather than "bare in mind"? *runs and hides under the table*
      This in no way detracts from the awesomeness of the post, it just proves I have OCD :)

    3. Do you like annoying spelling and grammar nazi-ism then? Or does it give you more rage (to fuel more entertaining blog posts... this is win-win for me)?

      it's spelled 'tetchy'
      the singular form of 'criteria' is 'criterion'
      There is too much roughage in diary products for most people's digestive systems. Thus I suspect you mean 'dairy products'.

    4. Oh dear GOD it has not been a good post for retard spelling errors... SORRY.

    5. Fellow pedants! MY PEOPLE :)

  4. Ultimate vorticity ...

  5. There is an awesome girton hat to go with the one piece...

    1. Oh god. Good job I am not really a hat person :)

  6. My brain imploded somewhere in the middle of reading #7 :)
    But I would still like a poster please?

  7. I was going to say this is almost the best blog post I have ever read except for the fact that you don't ride a Brooks saddle, but now I see that you do.

    1. I own two Brooks saddles (both Swifts) and soon I will probably own a third (Swallow?). MMMMMMmmmmmmmmmmmmmmMMMMMMMMMMMmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm Brooks :)

  8. Oh you utter utter arse! I have actually launched a mouthful of tea onto my computer at the Haddaway drawings. My IT dept are on the phone hating me remotely!

    1. MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA (that is my evil laughter) :)

  9. I managed to read this entire thing without tea (including telegraph articles and video links), muhahahha.

    Now back to doing Science. Good luck with CPGS :D.

  10. Comment to #8:

    After a workout, I enjoy drinking my protein drink (mixed powdered whey and water) from a recycled powerade bottle. I am such a cheapskate that I want to get every last mg of protein out of it, so I keep filling the empty bottle with water and drinking until it is completely clear.

    Then I just let it dry until it's time to refill it with protein powder.
    If for some reason I don't do this, and it sits for a few hours, I don't even try to wash it out, I just end up tossing the bottle.

  11. Seville is the best city in Spain for biking!!!