PhD Blog Posts

Contentment of Perseverance – 94

An avocado, apple and a banana walk into a fridge. As part of my research, I am looking at how things degrade in the consumer environment. By consumer environment, I mean a refrigerator. I will be capturing the colour change of various salad products; then showing the resulting time-lapse images to ‘consumers’, so we can find out when people will and will not eat the product. Then we will be able to predict how long the shelf life should be based on the rate of colour change.

That is the simple explanation anyway.

Here is my test video looking at things that change colour quickly!

Each second of video is 2.5 hours in real-life. One of my collegues sugested I submit this to the tate modern. All I need to do now is think of a pretentious title. How about: Contentment of Perseverance.

Producing a system capable of this is something I would have never predicted doing during my studies, seeing as I have no background in computer science or electrical engineering – or tinkering for that matter. You would think taking a time-lapse video inside a fridge is as simple as putting a camera inside a refrigerator and pressing go. The kicker is that the light needs to be only on when the image is taken, as firstly, the light is not always on in a refrigerator, secondly light will affect the product that is being studied (as light affects plants).

Put the light on a timer? That would probably work as long as the clocks on the camera and timer are synchronised. Instead of trying to figure this out, I linked up the camera and light to a computer, and then the computer controls the timing of both, which keeps them in sync. A fraction of a second drift may cause problems over the 2-3 weeks I need the time-lapse to last for, it would be a disaster of the last portion of the time-lapse was pure darkness as the light did not come in.

By building this system, I have learnt so much about electronics, and I believe I could see myself as a tinkerer In future – where is my shed? It’s much more fun learning how to make things yourself rather than buying things pre-assembled. I come from a line of tradesmen and engineers, so I guess this finding is not so surprising. However, I do feel as though I should have done engineering rather than food science. Looking back, it does seem rather strange of the younger me chose to study food and nutrition.

If you could do it all over, what would you change?

Although I believe that if I did it again, I would do something else; I also know that this type of thinking is illogical due to the fact I have already done the thing I said I would do differently – hindsight.

The great restorer – 94

One odd side-effect of being a student that I did not anticipate is the financial efficiency that I have had to develop. For me, this has developed into a habit of fixing and maintaining things myself rather than paying other people or buying new items.

I spent four hours today changing the bottom bracket in my new (to me) pride and joy, a mid-1970s Puch Alpine bicycle that I bought for £45 from a local cycling charity. The bike is old enough to be my father. Of all the things I own, I think it may be my favourite, and I can’t quite express why I like it so much. <Insert Image>. Something is satisfying about keeping kit running that has been a work-horse for, I assume, several people before me. Although, whoever had it before had very ugly handle bars, I have since changed them for much prettier matching brown leather ones.

Vintage puch alpine road bike


Last-weekend I repaired the battery on my iPhone 5s, and now it works better than ever – and it only cost me £10 and some time on YouTube. I have been tempted, and very close to, purchasing a new bike and phone over the last few months when they both had failed me. But for some reason, it now has become amusing to me to see how long I can keep them going. I have started to notice people make nostalgic comments towards my phone when I get it out, which is interesting – it was released in 2013.

When it comes to technology, especially phones, it seems that anything older than five years is museum-worthy. In fact, my previous phone (the iPhone 3gs) was in the science museum of London a few years ago when I was visiting. I had one in my pocket, and everyone found the moment when I pulled it out for comparison hysterical.

More than merely saving money, which I must admit is a nice perk, I also get to learn things by fixing my stuff, and for me, this has become a hobby itself. It is a win-win situation when you try to fix something; you’re ready to replace it anyway, so if you break it trying to fix it you’re at no loss. If you fix it, you save yourself some money that could be put to better use.

Fixing the things you have rather than purchasing the latest version of that item may be a subversive act in 2019 as consumerism is considered a pillar of morality. Anarcho-punks of the future will be those that can wield a soldering iron, huffing on the fumes of the rosin liberated from the flowing solder. When that time comes, as a contrarian, I will be forced to innovate and turn towards consumerism.

If I put half as much effort into my writing as I did my bike, I might have got much further through my thesis and produced some half-decent content for this site. But, alas, the time that I will be happy to call myself a writer is ahead of me – not too far I hope, Ideally before the end of my PhD, but having said that it would be typical for this time to come long after it was necessary.

I wish everyone an enjoyable Sunday, is anyone doing anything exciting?

On not being a sell-out – 93

This one is not going to be related to my escapades as a PhD student as I have something else I would like to write about.

It is something that I have been thinking about for a few years, but I have not had my thoughts gathered sufficiently as to explain them to you until now – I hope.

I still do not know if there is a word for this phenomena, so perhaps you can let me know. It is the idea of taking advantage of those less savvy than yourself for your own personal gain. I wouldn’t say that it was exploiting, but approaching that kind of idea.

We all do it to some degree, if we sell something we rarely do it at cost, we add on a margin. This type of capitalisation is not precisely what I mean, there is more of a moral component to what I am thinking of.

The main arena for the kind of behaviour I am thinking of is marketing and PR. I first noticed in the music industry. Take a look at any famous band, and you will see that they have an anti-establishment vibe to them, yet regularly will appear in commercials selling things.

I recently saw an advert for Beats headphones – I can’t think of a brand trying to be more mainstream – which used Billie Eilish as the model. I don’t know much about her, but from what I do, she presents herself as very alternative. So when you see her in an advert for beats headphones, you may sense an abundance of inauthenticity. The younger me would not have noticed this, but I am starting to see inconsistencies like this more and more.

Essentially my question is if you can, should you exploit your unsuspecting followers/fans/fellow humans for your own gain?

After all ‘there is a sucker born every minute’.

Should I exploit the suckers?

It feels as though everyone else is.

It almost feels as if it would be a subversive act to not ‘sell-out’. A pursuit that never fails to be undervalued.

There have been many instances where I have seen ‘influencers’ point their audience towards a website, that they have been paid to promote for their followers to get scammed. One apology video later, after taking large sums of money from the suspect paymasters, and the whole ordeal is forgotten about.

Rinse and repeat. The sheep are being fleeced etcetera.

Politicians used to tell lies to try and make the data fit, they don’t even bother doing that any more. They just say what they want and deal with the minority of people calling them out, mainly by dismissing it as fake news.

So as a someone who is relatively tech-savvy, it would be easy for me to exploit all of you – those reading this.

The question is… Why shouldn’t I? After all, everyone is getting away with it.

There are a lot of people, it would seem, that are happy to take things at face-value and do not think on it any further.

Should the ‘strong’ pray on the ‘weak’?

Anyway, use the offer code ‘SlowDegredationOfOurMoralFibre’ for ten percent off of that thing that the person you look-up to has and therefore you need.

Moving house – 91

This is the 91st entry into my weblog, since starting this in October 17 I have only missed a few weeks. Most of those that I have lost have been in the last few months. I’ll be the first to admit that my levels of motivation for writing and my PhD, in general, are at an all-time low.


It’s not that I have been spending my time lying on the sofa watching TV. I have been enjoying my life and probably spending too much time on other projects. I only have a limited supply of motivation, and I am spending too much in other places.

I don’t feel too bad about this as whenever I speak to other students or ex-students, and they always say there is a slump around the second year. I sometimes wonder if I am too relaxed with my job, but there have been points where I have been stressed and working hard, so I think that on average everything is going fine.


I have also been distracted by buying a new house, well when I say house I mean flat, and when I say buy I mean get a mortgage for 40% of the total value of the property. I am not that bothered about getting on the property ladder at the moment; renting is fine by me. But my partner wanted to, and I am relatively indifferent, so we are buying a flat! What this means is that we have spent a lot of time signing documents and scraping money together.

Luckily, over the last several years, I have become financially savvy and frugal. So for my part, I didn’t have to move much money around for my contribution to the deposit. I suspect this is part of the reason as to why I am not that bothered about the situation.

To me, the worst part about all of this is the actual moving process. I have only moved twice before, but the effort has exponentially increased each time. This is because we tend to move to slightly larger places each time and the amount of stuff we accumulate increase (by we I mean my partner); therefore, the number of things we have to move increases.

As a student, I am expecting to move at least a few more times as I settle into a career, so it is quite difficult to see this new home we are moving to as anything other than temporary accommodation.

I am looking forward to a fresh start with my working environment; this is probably the best part. But now, my partner has started packing up the room I am in so I must go and help.

The institutionalisation of I – 90

I have not been very active on here for the last few months. The reason for this is that I have had next to no motivation to write.
I have spent a lot of time on a website called Kaggle, which is a website for competing in data science tasks. So, it is not as if I have been idle, it’s that I have picked up a new hobby, and writing for this blog has slid to the bottom of the list.

Changing passions every few years is the modus operandi of my personality. Would I choose this trait if I had the choice? No. The reason being is that I tend to get good at a lot of things, but never master anything. If I could just stick with something long enough to learn it, then I would probably much better financially. One sure-fire way to get paid well is to be an expert in a domain. I imagine most people are like me and enjoy lots of different things, and never become a master at anything, so I don’t feel too bad about it.

Speaking of other things, I was recently asked if I would like to join a site that was setting itself up as the audio equivalent of YouTube. They asked if I wanted to audio versions of this blog. I find the idea quite interesting, I would still have to write to make scripts, but I would also have to get good at speaking. Something that I don’t do a lot of!

What are your thoughts on having an audio version of a blog?

Although my motivation is almost gone, I will continue with this blog. I am now about half-way through my PhD and feel as if I cannot stop now. I will drag myself over the line. Hating your PhD by the end of it is a time-honoured tradition and who am I to break with tradition.

I have signed up to work in the Universities call-centre for one day next week. The job is to accept or reject students to the university based on their A-level results. I have never worked in a call centre before so that will be an exciting experience!

What I have realised after signing up for this is that I am somewhat institutionalised. Turning up at a particular time and staying in one room to the end of the day isn’t something I have had to very much in the last five years. During my studies, I have been fortunate enough to do what I want when I want. So long as the project progresses and the work gets done, no one asks questions. The thought of going to an office to work seems alien to me. When I leave academia, I will be aiming for a job that allows working remotely and flexibly. Turning up to a certain location for a set period of time seems very antiquated to me now, and I wonder how I put up with it before I became a student.

I can see why people tend to stay in academia now, you do become institutionalised in some sense.

regression toward the mean – 89

I have come to the end of my surge in productivity and motivation. I find that I have cycles of motivation, where I am incredibly productive for around two months, and slowly this degrades into my least productive – which is where I am now.

This is the concept of ‘regression toward the mean’. For those that have never come across this principle before, the basic idea is that overall your performance is average. In my case, I have been performing above average for the last few months with respect to productivity, it is no surprise that now I am performing below average – overall, I am performing averagely. Here is a nice example if you want to read more. If you’re a sports fan, it is similar to how one week your team performs brilliantly and the next poorly. Or you can write thousands of words one day and a couple hundred the next. 

If you don’t recognise that this can happen, then I expect that you will be extremely disappointed in yourself when it does happen. I was.

This type of work that I have been doing this week is part of the reason as to why I feel my productivity has dropped. I have been a logistics manager; it would seem. I have been sending emails and having phone calls with many different people having very similar conversations.

The situation is this. I am partly funded by a premium retailer here in the UK, so I get all my samples via them. At the start of my studentship, the employees at the retailer were organising the delivery of samples for me. However, life happened. On the first day, I went to collect the samples, the person who was organising them was off sick, so they asked one of their interns to help me.

The original person then went on maternity leave, and the intern became my permanent contact.

The process is now this. I ring the people who produce the products – the farmers. I get them to send my samples to the retailer, where I then go and collect them. Why don’t I get them delivered from the farmer? Well, they say it is too expensive. Fair enough.

Up until this week, this system has been working relatively ok, considering how convoluted it is. But this week, my samples went missing. Admittedly, there was always the potential for this to happen. When you’re dealing with millions of products each day, you don’t tend to care about a few that are destined for a third party (me).

So, I have been calling and emailing anyone and everyone to try and find these samples. I failed. What has happened is that my address book has doubled in size. For networking, this has been great! However, for furthering research, it has been a stall.

This is by far the most hated part of what I do, although I am sure most people would probably feel the same way. Does anyone like organising the thing more than the thing?

Thesis Reflection Attempt no 3: The beginning of a thesis’ checklist….

I am a masters student in Performance Studies, with a particular interest in dramaturgy and dance. I am also fascinated by philosophy and science and I am interested in exploring how these different fields of study can interact, challenge existing modes of knowledge, and offer alternative ways of understanding concepts such as cognition, embodiment and experience.

Ok, now I feel like I am starting to actually get somewhere…

Yesterday, I had this sudden burst of thoughts while I was on the train, so I noted them down on my phone, and I think they might be a good way to start my thinking process…

I think after you reach some critical points during the thesis process it is important to identify the issues that were creating issues and mental blockages… And then, I remembered a book that I read recently written by a Atul Gawande a doctor trying to figure out ways to deal with complex situations…The title of the book was The Checklist Manifesto, and however odd or funny it might sound he uses some really interesting examples on how a good checklist can prevent to a large extend a wide variety of even deadly incidents…I am not going to elaborate further on that, but it might suffice to say that it has been mastered by aviation professionals, civil engineers and construction workers and their success depends heavily on checklists…In the book, he even presented very compelling examples and evidence in order to encourage more and more doctors to use checklists…

All in all, the point that I want to make is that it might prove also useful to try and employ this strategy for my thesis….these critical points that you might encounter during your thesis are moments when you learn something, whether this had a positive or a negative effect, and by trying to condense and codify them, you might prevent the same issues from coming up again, even in a different form…I don’t know about the rest of the people, but I think that some of the problems that I encounter might manifest in different ways, but actually originate from the same source, maybe that is a thought, a specific insecurity, an attitude that I have acquired over the years and I continue to enact, without me really realizing, and most of the time without realizing how detrimental it might be for my mood, and the way that I decide to approach things….. Soooooo what should my checklist include???

These are the first points that I came up with while on the train:

  • Accepting that you might need to let go of an idea – Veery important!!! I tend to get stuck on a specific way of doing things that has proven many times in my life and for very different things to be very counterproductive….
  • Learning to identify when advice and help is needed – I have this also very annoying attitude towards things most of the time, where I want things to be perfect and I think that I should be able to do everything on my own…But then, you end up getting stuck in your own mind bubble…also very counterproductive as well as frustrating
  • Start writing, formulating thoughts, even when you feel you don’t have any – Sometimes ideas don’t just appear, and inspiration can’t just pop out of nowhere. Yes, it is true that some days you have a, let’s say a more “productive” mindset, but unless you maintain and oil your machine regularly, it will eventually get stuck and then you would need twice the effort to make it run again… So, it’s good to start writing…whatever that writing might be, just to open the tap and let the water running. I think this is why I am also doing this blogpost…writing in such an informal context, without being worried how “correct” I am, whether my thoughts construct a convincing argument, they are “well- researched and backed up by other authors, helps me get into the mood and into the flow if writing…In my mind, I am now considering this an essential part of writing my thesis…and I am actually very, very surprised at how many words I was able to generate in the last three days, with literally no struggle, no effort.
  • Let the text speak for itself – Another important element, don’t try to impose your own desires and wishes on a text. On a superficial level you might think that two authors are saying similar things, but when that time comes when you need to bring them together it suddenly doesn’t work….and then you get stuck….If you see that something does not flow and cannot be explained and connected in a simple and precise manner, then it might be wiser to distance yourself from the text(s) and rethink your approach…
  • By trying to articulate your ideas in an informal setting you are testing the extent in which you have truly comprehended the material – Really useful exercise and also connected with the previous points about accepting help or advice, or even just be excited about what you are doing and try to share your ideas with people who are interested in listening, I think I have underestimated the power of communication until now during this process…
  • If you are not able to construct a consistent narrative then you might need to re-evaluate how your ideas are linked – Also connected with the point on making the text speak for itself…it is very important to be open to the flow that research generates. There are certain things that you can control and other that you can’t… and in the end this is the point of doing research you want to find out more about something…if you already knew everything you wouldn’t enter into this process… but then exactly because you don’t know everything, you don’t know exactly where the text that you are reading will guide you …you start with some assumptions but maybe your initial assumptions might be wrong… of course you start working on a topic that you are more or less familiar with you already have an intuition and some explicit or less explicit reasons why you choose that, but it is again extremely counterproductive to try to impose your ideas on your research sometimes you might need to…just go with the flow…

Well, if I might say, I am quite satisfied with the first draft of my checklist…it will definitely need to go through many trial and error checks and I think I will have something more concrete only after my thesis has finished…maybe even several months later…But I think it will be fun to see where this thing goes…

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