Democracy and bending the rules – 96

We had an election here in the UK yesterday (yes this was written in December). Because of this, I have been reflecting on why we, as a society, tend to vote against our best interests. I used to believe that it was because people were ignorant and therefore easily tricked into voting against their interests.

I no longer think this is as significant a factor as I used to; I now believe that it is the aspirations of people that are causing potentially poor decisions to be made.

In the UK we don’t really have an ‘American dream’ to aspire for, or so I thought. Perhaps we do, maybe we want to be those classical Tories who go to Eton college and then to work in the city.

Like our working-class American cousins, most of us are closer to being homeless than we are to being wealthy, and you would think our voting would reflect that. Instead of admitting that we may not be middle class and voting accordingly, we vote for the party we want to be a part of rather than the one that might help to get us there.

I know I am the odd one who bothers to look at the manifestos of each party and then decide who to vote for based on the one that ticks the most of my boxes. I won’t tell you who I voted before. Still, seeing as I am in academia, it might be easy for you to guess if you know the direction academics tend to vote.

Speaking of academia, I am working much more than normal at the moment so that I can meet the relatively arbitrary deadline of finishing all of my experiments by Christmas. This includes working in the lab both days of the weekend, which is not advised. Not for any reason other than there is no one around to help you if there is an accident. A sensible rule that is not always headed.

Technically, you’re not allowed to work alone in a lab alone, although I would imagine not a lot of work would get done if this was enforced. You do have to have to use your initiative and disregard the rules on occasion, there are often people coming in and out of the lab, so the risk is quite low. However, this is not true on the weekends.

Sometimes you have to break the rules?

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?

Missing the wave – 88

The man who got into writing when media had advanced through two different formats, video and audio, is a fool?

Getting into blogging in 2019 is, unbeknown to many people, a bit like getting into steam-powered vehicles – times have changed.

Do you ever feel like switching to video or audio? I imagine most of you are not only interested in writing but in other forms of media to. For me, blogging is something that is a skill-building exercise. I started this because I wanted to improve my writing, not to become a writer; a by-product of creating this blog is that it would look good on a CV, or so I hope.

This is the student mentality, you have to be forward-thinking and plan things around getting a job. In my fantasy world, I see myself working for myself – and very little work actually happens. I am aware that it on average, you can make much more money by selling your time to someone else. Nine out of ten businesses fail and all that.

Anyway, have any of you out there transitioned from one media to another? I would love to hear from you.

In the world of being a student, this week, I have been fairy unproductive; in the short-term, at least as I have spent most of the week learning about neural networks. This means that I didn’t get any of my actual work done, but I may have discovered a new skill that I can apply to my work.

Halfway through writing this, my partner and I went on a walk down the river, I had an interesting point I wanted to make before I left and now I can’t remember it. I remember thinking that I should write it down before I went, but of course, I didn’t, and now I regret it.

I had a slight setback this week that ended up being a blessing in disguise. Every time I want samples, I have to hire a car and collect them from a distribution centre. At the beginning of my PhD, I was supposed to have someone else arrange this for me (one of my supervisors who is high up in the company that gives me samples). Still, they went on maternity leave, and I ended up having to do all the work. I am not scared of work, but I am also ‘just a student’. Because I am just a student, I am easy to ignore.

I spoke to the head of agronomy for my PhD sponsor, and he said I should name drop him if I ever have any problems. To put this in context, supermarkets dominate the food industry in the UK. You would think the people who produce the food would have the power, but this is not the case. If the supermarkets choose not to take the growers food, they can no longer sell their food, and they go out of business.

So IF I name-dropped this guy, my samples would be delivered out of fear. As someone who has had a job before and has experienced this, I did not want to take this course of action. I always hated the corporate culture, the fact that we are all adults, but have to pretend like some are superior to others while we are in the office.

If I were the employee at the company and someone name-dropped a higher-up employee to get something done, I would hate them. This is why I was reluctant to name drop, even just cc’ing on an email is too much for me. I suspect, my reluctance to do this is one of the many reasons as to why I will never be at the top of a corporation.

How much of an ass-hole are you willing to be to get where you want?

A writer’s warm-up – 87

It is relatively early in the morning for me to be writing. Still, I have a lot of other writing-related things to do today, so I am trying to get a head start on it.

As I am not at my prime this early in the morning, and the mind is still a little foggy, something has occurred to me.

Do you, a writer, have a warm-up routine before starting?

I imagine writers are not the breed to have such a formality, but maybe there are some of you out there that are more structured in the process. I come from a background that is more athletic than academic; in the world of performance, having a warm-up routine ensures you start as close to optimal as possible.

The warm-up is for the mind as much as it is physical; the mind-muscle connection is real. Given this, it makes sense to me that before starting to write, there may be a benefit to do a form of warm-up. Having a quick google, it seems as if it is a concept that already exists. I am surprised that with all the effort I have put into ‘Learning to write’ that I have not come across this idea before.

I suppose that editing makes this idea less relevant, the allure of getting more words on the page is probably more appealing to most people. The type of writing I do lends itself to getting words onto the page and then editing down rather than editing as I go along.

Anyway, the reason I am starting this early is that I have to start putting together another piece of writing. At some point during my PhD, I have to undertake a three-month internship with a non-academic partner. The one I am going to apply for is a government organisation that conducts research into waste management in an attempt to guide policy. Throughout my research, I have referenced their work heavily, so I feel as if I know them quite well.

I have had some email correspondence with one of the lead researchers, and from the emails we exchanged, I am very confident of securing the placement if I can get to the interview stage. To get to the interview, I have to create a POSTnote, I know, I hadn’t heard of one either until I saw it was one of the requirements. It is a document that synthesis the research and relevant literature in an attempt to brief politicians. The documents also become available to the general public. You can see some examples here.

The one catch with this report is that it has to be about something not directly related to my field. Seeing as this is a document only to be used at the interview stage, I feel as if I could be a risky and produce one that is within my field and thus make it easier on myself. However, I know that data is the lifeblood of the company. I will be potentially joining, so I am going to make my piece about AI and agriculture and hope that it sticks.

So, I am off to do some research, this has been a proper warm-up for the challenge to come!

I hope you’re all having a much more enjoyable weekend than I am!

Growing pains – my views on growing an audience

I have noticed that a lot of people have been asking for advice on how to grow their blog over the last few weeks. I am not sure why that all of a sudden people seem to be asking me this.

Maybe I have passed a certain threshold of followers that has given me blogging credibility and people now see me as someone who knows what they are doing?

What I think has happened, is that many people have started blogs in January and seen that it is very difficult to actually get anyone to look at your work. So, they have started to do what any practical person would and are trying to gather information as to how to build an audience.

Well, I will address this again, but only briefly as I have addressed it many times. The first thing you need to understand is that after you put up your post on WordPress or any other platform, there will be a brief window of time where it is visible in a public space – e.g. reader. After this, it gets buried by everyone else posting stuff.

If you are writing about stuff that is of general interest, a post about how adjectives work, for example, there is a chance of getting some traffic via a search engine, but it will be tiny. I wrote about nouns once and now if you type ‘thematically meandering’ into google on the first page is that post – I have no idea why.

Presumably, if that post is high on googles rankings you would expect that post to be viewed more than others: it isn’t.

So, you’re not likely to get many people who stumble upon your blog; you’re going to have to go out and get people!

Marketing isn’t a massive Industry by happenstance. Read their work, comment on it, like and share etc. They may do the same for you, and you can grow from there. What I am trying to tell you is that it is a lot of work to build an audience, and you should probably spend a decent portion of your time marketing.

I attended a course once that was part of a scientific program, it had a lady there talking about social media and influencing – so we could better communicate our work. She said you should spend around 10 % of your time on marketing, and after this year of blogging, I tend to agree.

The Utopian dream of writing a blog post with your coffee in the morning, posting it online and having everyone read it and even make money from it is an utter fantasy! And we should all be embarrassed to have even thought like this.

It is no less passive than any other form of employment, and it is a lot of hard work! Sorry to ruin your fantasy, but isn’t that always the way?

Normal programming will resume next week.

Update: I will add useful links here as and when I find them.

19/8/19 – I have realised that people have been re-posting their old posts. When they appear in the reader feed they often have hundreds of likes and comments. I had no idea how they are doing this until now. They use a plugin for WordPress that automatically re-posts for them. However, there is a way to do this manually. If you look at any of your posts and then click on the ‘document’ tab and look at the bit where it says ‘status and visibility’ you can see when it was published and change it to a time in the future. Then it will be re-posted at that time. Here is a link as to why you might want to do this.

Go here for all your WordPress search engine optimization needs

Do you know what you want to do with your life? – 72

Well, for those of you that have been following my recent posts, I have relatively exciting news for you: I remembered to order coffee this week.

I certainly needed the exogenous boost this week as it has been physically exhausting. It was a combination of long days working in the lab and extra training runs. I have added in an additional 5 km a week in my training as I have a half marathon next Sunday.

I have been accustomed to not having any breaks when I am working in the lab. Most of the time I don’t need them as I am only working for a few hours at a time, and then I go home and do some office work. This week, however, I have been running a few experiments at the same time which means I am working all day, and as I do not normally work all day in the lab, I am relatively unfit. This is my guess as to my tiredness; it could be something completely different of course.

I was so tired that last night I did not go out for drinks with my colleagues, I binge watched Ricky Gervais’ new Netflix series ‘Afterlife’. It was definitely worth a watch, and I felt as if there were lots of subplots I was missing – something that might be picked up with a second viewing.

Periodically, whenever I have a study going on – which is six months of the year – I have to go into the lab on a Sunday. I have to do this because the timings on one of my experiments mean I have to evaluate the results 48 hours after I set it up. As one of the days where I take samples is a Friday, I have to go in on a Sunday.

All I have to do is record the results, and it only takes a couple of hours, but It still means I cannot go away for a weekend during these six months. This is something that probably would not happen If I had a regular job; however, the fact that I occasionally have to come in on the weekend is a price I am willing to pay for a relatively free life. Every time I think being a PhD student is tough I remember the days where I worked in a warehouse, and am instantly reminded that my life is far better than it was, and where I could end up if I stop trying.

The reflection on where I could still be, the warehouse, is something that was brought up in a recent phone conversation with an old friend – yes, remember talking to people by voice? He has a 1st class degree from a good university, but is still struggling with that universal problem ‘ what shall I do with my life?’ I am becoming more and more convinced that for most people there is no answer to this question. Most of us drift through life choosing the best path we have available at the time, or at most trying to stack the odds toward a path we might like.

To those lucky few that genuinely know what they want to with there life from a young age and actively pursue it, I am envious. Although, I imagine there are negatives that I cannot see.

Learning the hard way – 71

I have done it again; these words are coming from the mind of an un-caffeinated coffee addict. Once again I have failed to inform my partner, who handles our online shopping delivery, that we are low.

I feel quite absent-minded and uber susceptible to distraction, but I will get through this post even if I have to run to the closest coffee shop.

This week, I had a meeting with one of my funders which is the head of the agronomy section of a major premium retailer here in the UK. As with all things we consider with high importance, they are usually far less of a moment than we had imagined, and this meeting was no exception.

We had lunch in the senior common room, and then I gave a presentation about all of the work I had done over the past year. Contrary to the persona my subconscious had given to this person; they were not a corporate dragon whose sole purpose was to ridicule and take away my funding. They were an ordinary functioning member of society who was a nice, encouraging person like many of us.

So, another week has passed, and it was relatively drama free. It has just occurred to me that I should have hyped up the details of this week’s events for storytelling purposes. But that just wouldn’t be me, I am trying to give a more honest and accurate account of what is happening, plus it is easier to write like this.

I did have one legitimate drama this week. For one part of my experiments, I measure colour changes in crops over time. I do this as it can be useful in assessing disorders with the crop. I do this by taking images and then analysing them with software.

For the first time in my life, I had a drive fail on me. When I went to load my images onto the computer, the images were not on the SD card. This is a disaster as I cant just re-take the images as time is essential with this experiment, so the conditions have changed since imaging. Re-taking the images is not an option.

When I put the card into the computer, I can see that the amount of space available is consistent with the amount of space that there would be given my images were still on there. So I know that they are still on there I just have no way on accessing them.

I ended up on google trying to find a solution. After a few hours, I found a program called photorec, and my mind has been blown. Not only did I recover 80% of the files, but I have also learned a valuable lesson as to how computer memory works.

When you delete something, it is not actually removed…

What actually happens is that it becomes un-allocated and therefore it can be written over by new information, but until this happens all the information is still there. This allows us to recover some files if they are deleted by accident, but if the drive got into the hands of someone with malicious intent, the things we though we had deleted might well be accessible.

I have since learned that to be really secure when you’re getting rid of a data drive you should run a program that writes junk data over the entire drive to ensure the deleted data is no longer accessible. There are many programs that will do this for you with the most recommended being called ‘boot and nuke’ which I quite like the name of.
That was my drama. A potentially catastrophic event, with respect to my experiment, was avoided and I learnt a valuable lesson. I am always wondering why I have to learn things the hard way, but I will be slightly less harsh on myself this time as I am not sure how I could have prevented an SD card failing.

All the best,

See you next week.