Tag Archives: 2016 posts

My review of 2016

In writing this review, I am reminded of a program on Facebook which gives your most used words, to show what you have been posting about. In that spirit, to describe 2016, certain words/phrases come to mind: Mame, Brexit, ICDIM2016, Pokémon Go, NSSO, Digital Forensics and AHoS! I will explain the significance and meaning of these as we go through the year.

I was grateful to have been well during Christmas 2015, having been struck down with flu/a cold the previous year. The New Year got off to its normal start, with exams, and then the new semester got underway on 25 January. My teaching was largely unchanged from last year, and my project students were making good progress, so when I was asked by Stephen Hearson to play in his production of ‘Mame’, I accepted. It involved a full week of performances (22-27 February), and normally I would not be able to commit to that. But 2016 was exceptional (I certainly wouldn’t be able to do it in the coming year), and although it was hard work, I was glad to have played; it was my first experience of pit playing for many years.

In March I attended my first LibDem conference, which took place in York, where the Social Democrat Group that I’m involved with were running an event. It was an interesting experience, and it was nice to spend a couple of days in York, which was still showing signs of the flooding that had taken place a few months previously. The event went well and the group attracted some interest, although it is obvious that we have a long way to go!

April and May were mostly spent doing teaching and administration at Keele, although we got away to London in the Easter vacation (we actually went in late March) where we went to some exhibitions and saw The War of the Worlds musical.  1 May marked 30 years at Keele for me (see blog post about this). In June, as teaching activities came to an end, I had my last external examining trip to Nottingham Trent University, and an EPSRC Panel Meeting. The EU Referendum, on 23 June, resulted in a vote for Brexit, which was very dispiriting and worrying, and which I’m still coming to terms with (although nothing has actually happened yet, there have been serious knock-on effects like the fall in the value of the £ and general loss of confidence in the UK economy).

In July, Mário visited me in advance of the ICDIM2016 conference in Lyon. We had a useful few days working together, before travelling to Lyon via London. We took the direct Eurostar service from St Pancras, which was very smooth, and got us there in a few hours. The conference itself was good, although it was a bit stressful for me given my relative seniority in the conference organisation, etc. But we presented our work, and got some useful feedback and new ideas for future work, as well as seeing old friends and colleagues. On returning from Lyon I started properly preparing for the new module on Digital Forensics that I will be teaching starting in January 2017 (alarmingly close as I write this!).  I also was occupied in supervising a summer project student, which is something I haven’t done much before, but which went very well.

In August I had my customary trip to the Great British Beer Festival, and Angela joined me there for some of the days. I talk about this in a separate blog post (‘August 2016-culture, beer and Pokémon Go’). As the title suggests, we took in some shows and exhibitions as well. I had been intrigued by the interest surrounding Pokémon Go, and started playing it on August 7th. It has had an interesting and unexpected effect, as I will mention later.

Since earlier in the year I had been planning a 70th birthday event for Richard Catlow, to take place in April 2017, so later in August I met him to discuss this. I will doubtless write more about this event in my review next year!

September included a few days in Glasgow, and a trip to Brighton for the LibDem Party Conference, where (again), the Social Democrat Group had an event (although I couldn’t stay for the actual event). Angela joined me, and we enjoyed visiting Brighton very much. I also started playing in the North Staffordshire Symphony Orchestra in September, although in the end I could only play in their first concert because my work commitments increased in November. Hopefully I can re-join them in April 2017 for their summer concert. Later in September our new academic year got underway, and I was very busy for most of the Autumn Semester.

October and November were mainly occupied with lecturing, and supervising my project students, as well as my new MPhil student. In November I was summoned by the Dean of our Faculty and asked to take on the role of acting Head of our new School (Chemical and Physical Sciences) until such time as a new Professor is appointed (AHoS). I started this job on 1 December, and as yet many of my new duties haven’t fully kicked in. I expect this to change in January however!

In December we managed to visit my mother, who was staying in Highfields Care Home in Halesworth for a month’s respite care (my sister and brother-in-law being in India over Christmas). Angela and I had travelled to London so Angela could go to the Olympia Horse Show, and the next day we went to Halesworth on a day trip! It was the only way we could work out how to do it, and it was Angela’s ingenious idea. My mother seemed OK but was treating the home as a hotel, and not really interacting with others there. We felt this would have to change if she moved there permanently. I had my customary Christmas conference in December, this time in Loughborough. It went really well, and the organisers did a great job. My treasurer’s report was accepted without problems.

And so we come to Christmas, which we are spending quietly at home. January will be full of challenges, so I need to rest as much as possible. A final comment is that, thanks initially to Pokémon Go, I started daily early morning walks around campus in September, and I have been feeling the benefit both physically and mentally from this extra exercise. I will of course continue it in the New Year.

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Films, music, plays and exhibitions 2016

I saw 12 films in 2016 (1 less than in 2015):

The 5th Way (30/01)

Dad’s Army (17/02)

London Has Fallen (7/03)

Eye in the Sky (21/04)

Florence Foster Jenkins (12/05)

Independence Day Resurgence (29/05)

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (20/07)

The Girl on the Train (15/10)

Inferno (18/10)

Arrival (20/11)

Sully: Miracle on the Hudson (11/12)

I saw 6 exhibitions:

Painting the Modern Garden (RA, 12/02)

Fashion through the times (V&A, 13/02)

Other Worlds: Visions of the Universe (NHM, 30/03)

Georgia O’Keefe (TM, 10/08)

Sicily: Culture & Conquest (BM, 12/08)

Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds (BM, 24/08)

I saw the following Plays, Music and Musicals:

Bend it Like Beckham (Phoenix, 13/02)

Rehearsal for Murder (Regent, 20/02)

The Three Degrees (Crewe Lyceum, 09/03)

War of the Worlds (Dominion, 31/03)

The Simon & Garfunkel Story (Crewe Lyceum, 23/04)

That’s Entertainment (Regent, 23/06)

The Go between (Apollo, 8/08)

Joan Collins Unscripted (Crewe Lyceum, 27/09)

David Essex (Regent, 24/11)

New responsibilities

When I wrote my post on 30 years at Keele back in May, I referred to my increased responsibilities in senior roles in my School. I didn’t mention explicitly that organisational changes were afoot, with my School, Physical and Geographical Sciences, splitting into two Schools, Chemical and Physical Sciences, and Geography, Geology and the Environment. The reasons are mainly research-based. Certainly in the case of Chemical and Physical Sciences, it may sound like a more coherent unit to research funders. Of course the old School offered economies of scale, with only one of each committee needed, when now there will be two. But hopefully that issue can be worked around, at least partially.

The University have advertised externally for new Chairs who will also take on the Head of School role; the Chemical Sciences post is advertised here. But the timescale for the appointments means that Acting Heads are needed (the posts were advertised last week with a December closing date, and if interviews are held in January the earliest someone could probably start would be April/May, and probably later).

Last week I was asked if I would take on the role of Acting Head of the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences. I agreed, regarding it as both a challenge and an honour. I start on 1 December. One consequence of this is my remaining teaching preparation for next semester has been compressed into November. This is mainly the Digital Forensics module, as my other modules are ones I’ve taught before. There are some MChem lectures to prepare as well though! The next couple of months certainly promise to be ‘interesting’.

Who does Labour represent now?

With Jeremy Corbyn’s latest decisive victory in the Labour Leadership election, I am led to ask the question, who does Labour represent now? It certainly doesn’t represent the centre left, nor does it seem to be in a position to form an effective opposition at a time when one is badly needed.

Having been a Labour supporter for 40+ years and a member from 1997-2013, I am used to differences of opinion in the party. I used to console myself with the thought that ‘Labour is a broad church’. But eventually the ‘church’ began to narrow and some members, like myself, found ourselves heading for the exit.

What is different about Jeremy Corbyn’s position is that he has been elected by overwhelming support from members who have a very idealistic position, but little practical understanding or appreciation of the kind of politics that is needed to make a party capable of forming an electable government that can deal with the many issues the UK now faces. It doesn’t help that Jeremy himself seems to be stuck in the 1970s, still talking about renationalisation, and advocating the reduction of austerity by throwing money at the problem without any consideration of where it might come from.

It remains to be seen what moderate Labour MPs will do, who don’t identify with Jeremy’s agenda. I know from my days as a member how loyal Labour supporters are, but if the situation becomes intolerable for them, and the party splits, there is an opportunity for an amalgamation of ideas and possible cross-party links with social democratically minded LibDems like myself.

Just over a year ago I joined the LibDems, partly in anticipation of what was likely to happen in Labour, but also because I saw them as a party where my centre left views might be better represented. Through LibDemVoice I got in touch with George Kendall, and together we have set up the Social Democrat Group, whose aim is to reach out to moderate Labour members so links can potentially be built. So far we have held successful fringe events at the Spring and Autumn LibDem conferences, and attended the Fabian and Progress summer conferences, with future meetings planned.

Going back to the title of this post, it is clear that Labour as it is doesn’t now represent many of the people who need it most. The formation of a new centre left grouping, formed by a social democrat consensus between moderate Labour and LibDems, might fill that gap, and in the coming weeks, months and years we hope it might become a reality.

You can find out more about the Social Democrat Group by visiting our Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/SocialDemocratGroup/, or following us on Twitter at @socdemgroup.

Pokémon Go – a ‘game’ changer for mobile device power

Pokémon Go (referred to in this post as PG from now on) has been around in the UK for a while (since mid-July). I started playing it (largely out of curiosity initially) in August, on a visit to London for a few days, where we went to some exhibitions and to the Great British Beer Festival. I was quickly captivated by the game – it fits in well with my interest in travelling, and is, in a sense, complementary to Swarm/Foursquare, which I already use all the time. Travelling to new places and discovering new Pokéstops is fun and an education in itself, as well as is (of course) catching new Pokémon.

The main purpose of this post is not to discuss PG itself, but the issues involved in using it on a mobile device. I currently have a Sony Xperia Z3, running Android 6.0.1. The PG app is relatively memory-intensive (220 Mb, compared with Facebook at 320 Mb), and although it can be installed on an SD card, I found that it was less stable then, and had a tendency to crash. So I am now running it on the phone’s internal memory. It runs pretty well, although the latest update (0.37.1) seems to take a bit longer to start up. It only works properly if it can get a GPS fix, and needs a good data signal. Wi-Fi or 4G are best, but it will work (just about) with a decent GPRS signal (‘2G’) which is still all that is often available outside cities and urban conurbations. It doesn’t usually work well when travelling, unless the phone has a clear sky view, since otherwise it can’t get a GPS fix, and often the data signal is poor as well in these situations. I have been able to use it on a bus going through a town, as long as it is either a single decker, or I am on the top deck of a double decker (so the phone can get a GPS fix).

The introductions to PG that I have read stress the need for a good data plan. I have not found this to be a problem, especially as I use Wi-Fi whenever possible. The other thing they talk about is power consumption, and as my time playing the game has increased, this has indeed become an issue. For example, let us suppose that I am able to play the game with my phone connected to its charger. I have found that the power demands of the app almost balance the power supplied by the charger, and I can’t charge my phone while the app is running! It isn’t surprising then that a fully charged phone doesn’t stay charged long if PG is running continuously. I have used two approaches to get round this problem. The first is to always carry portable rechargeable power supplies with me. I already did this in my pre-PG days, as with my normal heavy use the phone didn’t always last a full day. The difference is now that I carry 3-4 of these with me when travelling, all of which have to be charged before a trip, and recharged during it if it is longer than a day. This requires considerable organisation and planning, and when staying in a hotel, ones with multiple power points are now my favourites! The second approach is to try to be sparing about when the app is running. If it is hatching eggs, it needs to be left on when walking, but otherwise, switching off the app whenever you can is recommended. But this isn’t always possible if (for example) you are in an area with lots of Pokéstops and Pokémon, in which case, switching supplies is the only option once the phone gets low on power.

In conclusion, PG is great fun, but successful and extensive use with a smartphone requires careful planning to ensure you don’t run out of power just when you reach a particular Pokéstop, or an area teeming with interesting new Pokémon! This may become less of an issue as battery technology improves, but for now it is a serious consideration. That reminds me, it’s time to check my portable power supplies!

August 2016: Culture, Beer and Pokémon Go

As we come to the end of August, and I suppose (sadly), the end of the summer, I thought it would be good to reflect on my activities over the last month.

June and July were characteristically busy, with an EPSRC Panel Meeting, exam boards and External Examining at NTU in June, and a conference in Lyon (see previous post) in July. I also spent some of July starting preparation of a new module I’ll be teaching in the Spring Semester 2017, on Digital Forensics. When August arrived I was ready for a break, and I was in London (with Angela) for most of the week of 8-12 August. The main event of the week was my annual visit to the Great British Beer Festival, but it was not only a week of imbibing (!), as I will describe. On 8 August we travelled to London, and booked into the Tavistock Hotel, which has become our main ‘base’ in London (although the County Hotel is still good for overnight visits, as mentioned later). We had tickets to see ‘The Go-Between’ at the Apollo Theatre, and when we got there we were upgraded to better seats, which was an unexpected bonus. Michael Crawford, who was due to play the main role, was indisposed, but the understudy did a great job. It was a musical version of the book, and very effective too. The GBBF took centre stage for me on Tuesday (although Angela went to the Sicily exhibition at the British Museum, followed by a musical based on the Titanic story at the Charing Cross Theatre, before joining me at the GBBF in the evening). On Wednesday morning we went to the Tate Modern to see an exhibition of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings. I was glad to see it, but found that I liked some of her work more than others. After the exhibition, I headed to Olympia for the GBBF, and Angela went to see the Sunken Cities exhibition at the British Museum. It was very nice that Angela was able to join me at the GBBF on both Tuesday and Wednesday evening.

Regarding the GBBF, it was as good as ever, with an interesting beer selection, and good food provision. I won’t put my list of beers tried here, but they have been recorded, and are also on my Untappd account, for any fellow beer connoisseurs reading this! My only disappointment was that the Champion Beer of Britain (CBOB) announcement wasn’t made at the opening ceremony on the Tuesday afternoon. Instead we just got the list of finalists, and the results were relayed to us in the evening after they had been announced at the awards dinner. This was a great disappointment, because the Tuesday afternoon session is the Trade session, attended by many from the brewery and pub trade. They don’t all stay for the evening session, and so won’t have been present for the announcement, which when it came was a bit of a non-event. I hope very much that CAMRA return to the previous tradition, as it was a great start to the festival, and something that made the Trade session special.

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Going back to our week, Angela returned to Keele on Thursday, taking our suitcase (for which I was very grateful). I attended the Thursday afternoon/evening session at the GBBF and stayed at the County Hotel on Thursday evening. On Friday morning I went to the British Museum to see the Sicily exhibition, as this was due to finish on the coming Sunday. It was very good, and I learned some new things, including the fact that the Normans ruled Sicily for a while! It was then time to return to Keele.

I then had a week of catching up on administrative tasks, but on the following week, on 23 August I was back in London for a meeting with my old postdoc supervisor, Richard Catlow, about a 70th birthday meeting I am organising for him next year, followed by another night in the County Hotel. The following day I managed a bonus trip to see the Sunken Cities exhibition at the British Museum, a couple of weeks after Angela. It was simply amazing, and runs until the autumn, so I recommend it if you have a chance to go!

Finally, in the title of the post I mention Pokémon Go. Having heard a lot about it since it was launched in July, I thought about giving it a try, with encouragement from Angela. So I installed it on my phone on 7 August, and have been playing it ever since. It fits in with my enjoyment of travel to different places, and is actually quite educational, since many of the Pokéstops are at places of interest! Angela then joined on 21 August, so we are both dedicated ‘Pokémoners’ now! I suspect I will be writing a further post on the specific subject of Pokémon Go before long.

Some personal reminiscences of Gurnos Jones

This post was originally written following Gurnos’s death on 3 June 2016, in response to a request for reminiscences. As far as I know it has not been published elsewhere, so I am posting it here as a more permanent record.Jones_Gurnos 90x90

I started my career at Keele in May 1986, some 30 years ago. Initially I was a postdoc in Richard Catlow’s group, but I joined the academic staff as a lecturer in 1988. Gurnos was on my interview panel as Head of Department, along with Brian Fender (Vice-chancellor at the time), and Gurnos appointed me, and was my first Head of Department.

My main recollections of Gurnos as Head of Department are that he was firm in his decision making, but always fair. We had regular staff meetings (far more than we do now), and because we were a small but nevertheless independent department, we were responsible for a lot of decisions that are now made at a higher level. For example, I remember when Biology proposed the Biochemical Engineering degree (which incidentally is still very popular) we discussed whether Chemistry should be involved, and decided against it. A decision like that would now be out of our hands!

The first job Gurnos asked me to do was to run the 2nd year Physical Chemistry Lab. As a non-experimental computational chemist this was a challenge, but Gurnos had the view that as a chemist I should be able to do it. Thankfully everything went smoothly, and the main thing I remember was that students wrote their reports in hard backed lab books, and so carrying large piles of these back to my office, or even home, to mark, was a regular experience. I also became 2nd year tutor, taking over from Andy Fitch when he moved to the ESRF in France. In those days the administrative structure of the department was much simpler: there was Gurnos as Head, and Year Tutors. Students were also allocated tutors in the department (this was long before the University started the present Personal Tutor system).

Most of my lecturing in those days was done in the main Chemistry lecture theatre, which we had almost exclusive use of. The old department office was next to this lecture theatre, and there was a door from the office into the lecture theatre, which made a dramatic entrance from the lecturer a possibility!

My main social recollection of Gurnos was his famous pancake parties, which I was invited to once I had joined the academic staff. They were gatherings of the great and good, and I remember talking to some quite senior university staff there in the informal setting of Gurnos and Pat’s house in Larchwood.

In the present environment things are so different that it is difficult to think that a small department like Chemistry could survive. But Gurnos was a good head, and steered us through some difficult times. I will always remember him with fondness and respect.