One-third semester update

Almost unbelievably we are a third of the way through the Autumn Semester. Here’s a record of some of the highlights so far.

I’ve been teaching my Forensics Arson module for 3 weeks now, and last week we had our now traditional arson demonstration from John Caulton. This year the weather held, and the students seemed to enjoy it and find it interesting. As an added bonus we had an appearance by Jack the ADC (accelerant detection dog in normal parlance). Here’s a typical photo from the demonstration:

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I have two more lectures in this module, and next week we will look at data from Kuwaiti oil fires!

My project students have all made a good start. One of the projects has started with looking at doped SrAl2O4 for sensor applications, inspired by Philippe Smet’s talk at Eurodim14 back in July. Another project is looking at zeolites for environmental applications; this is a trip down memory lane for me, since I haven’t worked on zeolites for many years (the last publication was in 1998!) We started with zeolite A, but have moved on to heulandite/clinoptilolite. With Keele’s focus on environmental issues this topic seemed appropriate. The third project is a spin off from my teaching; transparent conducting oxides are materials of current interest, and doped ZnO/ZnS have applications here. Although my methods can’t handle the electron behaviour, we can get some useful information about the energetics of doping these materials.

Finally, a week ago my visiting researcher from Brazil, Giordano Frederico da Cunha Bispo, arrived in Keele. His first week was taken up largely with administration, but I’m looking forward to him getting his project underway.

Looking ahead, I have my new lectures in Quantum Chemistry coming up, as well as my contribution to the new Materials Chemistry and Catalysis module. Plenty to keep me busy for the next 8 weeks!

By-election results October 2014

The results of the by-elections held on 9 October 2014 are predictably being over-hyped in the media. OK, UKIP won in Clacton and came a close second in Heywood and Middleton. But I don’t think these results are as significant as some would claim.

Concerning the Clacton result:

(i) By-election protest votes are not unusual, and the coalition government are pretty unpopular now

(ii) The UKIP candidate was well known in the constituency, being the previous MP, so he may have benefited from votes from those who liked him as their MP, as well as actual UKIP supporters.

Concerning Heywood and Middleton, UKIP pushed Labour hard, but they still didn’t win the seat. I think that pattern will be reproduced in the General Election next year. UKIP may get some close seconds, but few actual wins. We’ll see if I’m right!

Using a smartphone with O2 in Europe – update

On my recent trip to Greece, I tried out O2’s £1.66 daily European data allowance. I’m pleased to report that it ‘did what it says on the tin’, and I was able to keep using my phone for social media and photo uploading throughout the trip without any problems. I used WiFi when possible (but as mentioned in my last post, this was restricted to my hotel in Greece). But it’s good to know that the cost of using a smartphone, at least in Europe, is now reasonable. Last year I found I had to keep topping up, but the £1.66 charge now covers a full day.

So I’m pleased to sing the praises of O2 on this occasion! Of course there is still an issue with travelling outside Europe, and there it may still be best to use an international SIM card, as I did on my last visit to the USA.

UK Airports and Airport hotels: deficiencies in amenities

I was prompted to write this post having just returned from a holiday in Greece which included staying in an airport hotel at London Gatwick (twice) and spending some considerable time in 2 airports (the other being Thessaloniki).

The first point I wanted to make is on the familiar theme of WiFi provision. I regard WiFi as essential whether my trip is for business or pleasure. Unfortunately many hotels, including those at airports, don’t seem to agree with this! At the very conveniently located Hilton in Gatwick South Terminal there is WiFi, but unless you’re a silver or gold HHonors member, it’s charged for. Some Hilton hotels have free WiFi in their lobby areas, but not so here! Added to that is the ‘Faraday Cage’ effect of most modern hotels, which neatly blocks most phone data signals (or at least severely attenuates them). So  effectively there’s little connectivity in the hotel unless you pay (and the WiFi signal didn’t seem particularly strong anyway).

Once in the airport, the only WiFi I could find was in the business lounges. OK, it was free, but you pay to go into the lounge! At least there was a good phone data signal in the airport (HSDPA or 3G, and presumably 4G, although my SG3 doesn’t receive 4G).

Arriving in Greece there was a good phone data signal in Thessaloniki airport, but no accessible WiFi that I could find. And during the coach journey down the motorway to the hotel, the phone data signal was consistently strong (unlike most UK motorways, for example). At the hotel there was free WiFi which worked well most of the time, so I have no complaints there. The impressive part of it was the router on the beach (see me using it below)!

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Turning to amenities in general, a final and related point is about the opening hours of shops, restaurants and bars at airports and airport hotels in the UK. I arrived back at Gatwick at just after midnight on Monday night/Tuesday morning. Nothing was open at the airport, and by the time we had finally made it to the hotel, nothing was open there either. So there was no chance of a restorative drink or snack to make up for BA’s apology for in-flight catering! If airports are going to make money from late arriving flights, shouldn’t they provide facilities for the passengers, as happens for example at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam? Or should I just accept it as a consequence of UK narrow mindedness?

THE SCOTTISH REFERENDUM 2014: A Nation Decides

Rob Jackson:

Essential reading!

Originally posted on angiesallsorts:

The referendum ballot boxes have been counted from an unprecedented electorate turnout of 84.51% and Scotland has decided to remain within the United Kingdom. The No campaign (against independence) gained 55.3% some 2,001,926 votes cast, whilst the Yes campaign (for independence) gathered 1,617,989 votes or 44.7% in the polls. From the 32 council voting regions only 4 had a majority Yes result (Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, West Dunbartonshire & Dundee).  Personally I’m surprised the winning margin of votes was more than 10%, all along I thought there would be a narrow Yes decision for independence. My husband on the other hand felt a narrow No majority would prevail, so we are both glad the outcome was more decisive. I write this within a few short hours of the final result being declared, and I am personally relieved at the outcome. Having taken a brief look at the TV news reactions and…

View original 1,102 more words

The Scottish Independence Referendum Result

Of course I’m pleased and relieved at the referendum result. A majority of 55% for the NO vote is  significant, especially after the (apparent) closeness of the predicted result the weekend before last. In the last few days I have been increasingly concerned about not just the effect of a Yes vote on Scotland, but on the whole of the UK (about which very little was being said). So I am all the more relieved at the result, from the perspective of the whole of the UK.

In the end I firmly believe the result was mainly down to a rational distrust of the SNP’s glib promises, which they couldn’t substantiate, as well as of their habit of crying foul whenever they couldn’t answer important questions (like the ones on currency, EU membership, pensions, defence etc.)

Promises have been made that the Scottish Parliament will get additional powers, and this is going to have a knock-on effect for the rest of the UK. Significant political change is afoot, but that’s for the months ahead. For now, to quote the late Margaret Thatcher, I say ‘Just rejoice at that news . . . Rejoice’.

The Scottish Independence Referendum: final thoughts

Having posted twice on this topic already (on research funding and on general issues), as well as re-blogging Angela’s post, here are some final thoughts in advance of the referendum on Thursday. I’m expecting the media buildup to be almost unbearable, so after today I’ll be avoiding it as much as possible!

The first point, as mentioned in a Facebook update on Friday, is that it has become clear that Alex Salmond and his SNP cronies will stop at nothing to get votes. For example, universally unpopular government policies like the bedroom tax are being rolled out as reasons to vote for independence. The point is that the way to defeat such policies is to vote in a General Election, and they certainly shouldn’t be regarded as something that inevitably comes with government from Westminster. And there are many other examples of such policies being misused in independence arguments..

The second point is the assumption that an independent Scotland will automatically keep the pound, and EU membership. The SNP’s response to being told that neither of these will be the case is to claim bullying and therefore to hide their heads in the sand, ignoring the issue totally.

The third point is very much tied in with my job, and is the topic of research funding, which I posted on before. Last week I spoke to a Scottish academic who told me that many of his colleagues were developing escape strategies in the event of a Yes vote. Why? Because at stake are grants from the EU and EPSRC, which Scottish universities have been very successful in getting. In fact although I don’t have the precise statistics to hand, they have been disproportionately successful in doing so in relation to their size. EPSRC funding comes via taxation, so it is not clear how it could continue in its present form in an independent Scotland. And EU funding depends on membership, which would not automatically continue.

The fourth point is that the SNP government often boast about having things like free prescription charges and free university tuition. But where does the finance come from? Taxation, of course, and much of it from the UK as a whole. This will largely disappear with independence, so in fact these perks are mainly a result of being in the UK. But try telling that to Mr Salmond!

Finally, as eloquently explained by Angela, there’s the issue of Scots living outside Scotland not getting a vote. This seems almost unbelievable, and I’m surprised it hasn’t been challenged in court. Instead there will be many frustrated and disenfranchised Scots who are powerless to influence the future of their country of birth.

In concluding, I’m hoping for a No vote. It will be close, but I think there are enough sensible level-headed voters for common sense to prevail. If the outcome is Yes, it will be like being hit in the face by a large wet fish (a Sturgeon?) Here’s hoping for No!

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