Tag Archives: 2014 posts

My Review of 2014

The year began with some new teaching, on X-ray diffraction, which nicely coincided with 2014 being the International Year of Crystallography, and a research trip to Hannover. I had already attempted to go to Hannover in late 2013 but was thwarted by passport problems (see last year’s review). This trip went successfully, although I’m not sure if anything will come out of the project in the end!

The early months of the year were dominated by teaching activities, and there isn’t much of significance to report.

In June I had my final external examining trip to the University of Kent, and my second one to Nottingham Trent University. I have enjoyed the Kent post; the NTU one is challenging in that my role is less clear, but I am always well looked after, and everything is well organised. It was also nice to spend a couple of nights in the centre of Nottingham.

I was back in Kent in July for the Eurodim2014 conference that I had helped organise. It went very well, and as always it was good to see old friends, including several who came to the Eurodim1998 conference at Keele. I gave a talk in a session dedicated to Patrick Jacobs (see earlier posts for more details), and one of my PhD students, Scott Walker, attended. I also met Giordano Bispo, Mario’s student, who will be visiting me at Keele later in the year.

In August I had my usual trip to the Great British Beer Festival (see post for details) and it was as good as ever.

At the end of September, just before the start of the Autumn Semester, Angela and I had our first proper holiday for several years, a week at a resort hotel in Greece on a half-board basis. It was wonderful – because of the location and the fact that we didn’t have to do anything! We flew to Thessaloniki from Gatwick (after an overnight stay, of course), and were taken to and from the resort by coach. The holiday included some interesting trips to places of local interest, and we took part in some of those, as well as just enjoying the hotel amenities. We came back relaxed and refreshed, and I was straight into the Autumn Semester.

We have revamped our third year modules, and I had a new module on Quantum Chemistry which included material that I hadn’t taught for 15 years or more. So I wasn’t at all sure how it would go down with the students. I’m pleased to say that the module got good reviews, but I will have to wait and see how the exam goes before I can comment definitely.

My academic visitor from Brazil, Giordano Bispo, arrived at Keele on 18 October. He settled in quickly, and formalities like police registration were more straightforward than anticipated. Since arriving he has made good progress with his research, including presenting some of his work at a conference, as mentioned later.

Also in October, I was invited to give a lecture on Careers in Science Communication at a Life Sciences Careers Conference at Staffordshire University. This was a very interesting experience, and it was nice to wear my science communication hat again!

The semester was punctuated on the home front by our having to move out of our flat for 5 days to have some asbestos traces removed. It was a pain to arrange, but we were put up very comfortably in the Keele Management Centre. When we moved back into the flat the kitchen had to be repainted, and we decided the floor had to be resurfaced. It took some time to order the tiles, but thanks to some amazing work from Angela, everything was back in place in time for Christmas!

At the end of the semester I attended the annual RSC Solid State Chemistry Group meeting, which was held in Glasgow, along with Scott and Giordano (who presented a poster). This was a particularly good meeting, and was a fitting end to the year.

Christmas was spent at Keele, and was nice until I went down with a bad cold/flu bug which knocked me out for 5 days (and counting). But I’m hopefully recovering in time for the New Year!

Musical activities in 2014 included concerts with my orchestras in Nantwich and Middlewich, and my return, after several years, to the Keele Philharmonic Orchestra. This latter event was particularly pleasing, and the concert featured an amazing performance of Grieg’s Piano Concerto at a concert in December. Also, on a musical theme, I purchased a tenor trombone this year, having come to the conclusion that if I was going to regularly play 1st trombone parts, it would be needed. Following my friend and fellow trombone player Bob Crawshaw’s advice, I chose a Vincent Bach ‘Stradivarius’ instrument; a straight concert-style tenor instrument with no extra Bb/F tubing. I used it first at a concert in June, and I am very pleased with it. For the Keele concert I played my old trusty bass trombone, which I hadn’t played for a while.

On the computing hardware front, I purchased a Google Nexus 7 tablet at the end of 2013, which I have used throughout the year. But I finally came to the conclusion that Android versions of Microsoft Office that do the things I need are unlikely to appear, so I used some of my external examiner payments to purchase a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet, which is absolutely superb, and should serve me well on my travels and when working from home. In January I will also be upgrading my trusty 2-year old Samsung SG3 smartphone, which has served me well but which is now behind in its Android OS version, and can’t receive 4G, which will hopefully appear in our area soon!

To conclude, 2014 has been an interesting and challenging year, and I look forward to (and expect) much of the same in 2015.

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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,000 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 50 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Films, plays, music and exhibitions in 2014

Compared with 2013, I saw fewer films this year. I started with Last Vegas (on my birthday), and also saw: Devils Due, The Book Thief, Muppets Most Wanted, Rio 2, Grace of Monaco, Earth to Echo, Mr Turner, Paddington and the last of the Hobbit films; a total of 10. Of these, I would mention three as particular favourites: The Book Thief (for its charm), Grace of Monaco (for historical interest), and the blast of the Hobbit films for shear excitement and special effects.

I saw 3 plays in 2014: Blithe Spirit, Black Coffee and Dangerous Corner. All were greatly enjoyed.

I attended 5 concerts (not counting the ones I was playing in, which are mentioned in my general review), and these included an excellent LPO concert at the Victoria Hall featuring the guitarist Milos. The highlight of the year was seeing the Seekers in their 50th anniversary tour in Manchester. Two excellent tribute bands, Abba Reunion and The ELO Experience (an annual event now), and a showing of the Snowman with a live orchestra and soloists made up the rest.

I saw three exhibitions in London during the year. At the British Museum I saw Gems of Chinese Painting and Japanese Netsuke; at the Royal Academy, Dennis Hopper photographs, and at Tate Modern an exhibition of the work of Malevich. Of these, the Dennis Hopper photos were truly memorable.

So, slightly less ‘culture’ in 2014 but not a bad year nonetheless!

Books and Authors in 2014

The books I have read in 2014, in alphabetical order of author surnames, are:

Billingham, Mark: ‘The Bones Beneath’
Booth, Stephen: ‘The Corpse Bridge’
Craig, James:  ‘A Man of Sorrows’, ‘Shoot to Kill’
Christopher, Paul:  ‘The Sword of the Templars’
Davis, John Paul: ‘The Plantagenet Vendetta’, ‘The Cromwell Deception’
Hannah, Sophie:  ‘The Telling Error’
Hill, Susan:  ‘A Breach of Security’, ‘The Soul of Discretion’
Hillier, Michael: ‘The Wolf of Hades’
James, Peter: ‘Want You Dead’
King, Stephen: ‘Under the Dome’
McDermid, Val: ‘The Skeleton Road’
Meade, Glen: ‘The Snow Wolf’
Picoult, Jodie: ‘Leaving Time’, ‘The Storyteller’
Rees, Emlyn: ‘Wanted’
Rendell, Ruth: ‘The Girl Next Door’
Savile, Steven: ‘Lucifer’s Machine’, ‘Immortal’
Vine, Barbara: ‘The Child’s Child’

This is slightly less than last year, but still a reasonable number. James Craig once again published two of his Inspector Carlyle books, and Ruth Rendell appeared twice, as herself and as Barbara Vine. John Paul Davis published three books this year, of which I have read two; the third one will be a 2015 entry.

New authors for me in 2014 included Paul Christopher, who has written a series of books on the Templars. Having read the first, I am sure I will be trying the others. I tried a couple of Jodie Picoult books after a magazine recommendation; she has published prolifically and I will no doubt try some more of her books in the future. I also read my first Stephen King novel, Under the Dome, because I wanted to compare it with the TV serialisation (conclusion: there is very little similarity apart from the general theme and some of the main characters).

I write book reviews when I can, because I know this helps the authors, but I don’t always have time. And I had a problem with one review I wrote this year when I was criticised for giving too much away (of the plot). It seems to be a fine line between providing enough and too much information! Since writing reviews can be time consuming, this has slightly put me off, but you will find reviews, from me of some of these books on Amazon and Goodreads.

To conclude, I enjoy reading when I have time, and interacting with an increasing number of authors on social media helps me to keep up with their latest offerings. I still use a Kindle for most of my reading, although I’m on to my second one because the first developed screen problems and had to be replaced. I’m looking forward to more good reading in 2015.

Review of ‘The Cromwell Deception’ by John Paul Davis

This is the fourth book by John Paul Davis that I have read, the previous ones being ‘The Templar Agenda’, ‘The Larmenius Inheritance’ and ‘The Plantagenet Vendetta’. I am pleased to say that it lives up to the standard of the previous books, and, like them, I will be giving it 5 stars on the Amazon and Goodreads rating systems.

The book is concerned with the historical disappearance of some of the crown jewels, in particular the diadem of St Edward, which was last seen when King Charles I was removed from the English throne in the Civil War. It had always been assumed that these jewels were lost (or in the case of gold, melted down). However, when a manuscript is found which points to their possible location, it is bought anonymously at an auction in London by an aristocratic art dealer from Angers, France, who then sets out to recover the jewels from clues contained in the manuscript. He is a descendent of the Plantagenet Dynasty, and regards the jewels as property of his ancestors, which must be recovered.

The manuscript points to important information being contained in a portrait of Arthur Heselrige, who was an ally of Oliver Cromwell, on display in the National Portrait Gallery. It turns out that this portrait was actually painted over a portrait of Cromwell, which contains information about the location of the jewels. This painting is stolen by thieves acting on behalf of the French art dealer, along with a new acquisition by van Dyck, which is about to be unveiled in a few days.

The book then describes how the art thieves, pursued by the National Portrait Gallery Director and her staff (who want to recover the paintings), try to use the clues in the painting to find the jewels. This involves visiting major battle sites from the Civil War, as well as, in the end, the church where Cromwell’s wife was buried. At stake is the recovery of the paintings, particularly the van Dyck, and attempting to prevent the theft of the jewels if they are in fact found. The conclusion is exciting, with an extra twist at the very end.

The storyline moves at a fast pace, and as with previous books by this author, I found it hard to put down. I recommend it!

The annual 2-day Christmas public transport shutdown

A year after I posted this, and it’s still relevant!

Rob Jackson's Blog

I am writing this on Boxing Day, 26 December, the second day on which there are almost no trains or buses running throughout the UK. Certainly in my area, there are no local buses at all, and no trains on the West Coast line from Stoke or Crewe. This has become a normal experience in recent years. My question is how this is allowed to continue in our 24-hour society?

A few years ago we went to New York for a few days over Christmas, flying out on Christmas Day. On arrival at LaGuardia in the late afternoon (we had flown via Detroit), we found all the transport services running as they would on a normal, and this continued on the 26th. Maybe a comparison with a major city is unfair, but it does show a difference in attitude. A 48-hour closedown of public transport would be simply unheard of…

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End of teaching update

I have done my last teaching for 2014. Today’s Materials Chemistry and Catalysis poster session went surprisingly well, and even those whose posters were not the best defended them with conviction. Of course, marking remains to be done, but my next undergraduate lecture will be on X-ray diffraction, in 2015!

I now switch to research mode, with a conference tomorrow in Glasgow. My academic visitor from Brazil, Giordano Bispo, is presenting a poster there, and I have the job of judging the posters (hopefully not single handedly). And of course I hope for some new research ideas for the new year!

Christmas will be quiet, and spent at Keele. After this busy semester a quiet time will be most welcome! I wish everyone a Happy Christmas and best wishes for 2015.