31 January, 2007

Fiddling while my blog burns

I've been putting off the switch to the new blogger template system because, like Propter Doc, I've been having trouble getting the expandable post summaries to work properly. Rewriting the javascript which did the trick on my old template to use the new metadata labels, and get past a seemingly much fussier XML parser, proved to be a long exercise in fiddling, but I've finally managed it. For those who are interested, this is the code I used. You have to be in the HTML view with the widgets expanded to insert it:

<script type='text/javascript'>
var memory = 0;
var number = 0;

Then scroll way down the page until you find the div for the post-body and insert the stuff in bold:
<div class='post-body'>
<b:if cond='data:blog.pageType == "item"'>
<script type='text/javascript'>
var permlink='<data:post.url/>';
var title='<data:post.title/>';

var spans = document.getElementsByTagName('span');
var number = 0;
for(i=0; i <spans.length; i++){
var c = " " + spans[i].className + " ";
if (c.indexOf("fullpost") != -1) {

if(number != memory){document.write('<p><a href=' + permlink + '>"'+ title + '" continues...</a></p>') }
memory = number;


<div style='clear: both;'/> <!-- clear for photos floats -->

The bit in brackets in the document.write statement can be changed if you want it to say something different. Now, when you're writing a post, you just stick the bit you don't want to appear on your front page between <span class="fullpost"> and </span>, and off you go!

Note that I didn't write the original code - I've just (I think) bodged it to work in the new system. Here's another way to do it, from someone who looks like he might know what he's talking about, although for some reason I couldn't get that to work either.

I'll be fiddling with other bits of the template in the next few days, so apologies in advance for when I break the HTML (Update: which I see is already the case for IE users. Bloody Microsoft! OK, have fixed it (sort of) although all the posts vanish to the bottom of the page if you shrink the window too much. Seriously, people, get a better browser.

29 January, 2007

New data on the revision habits of the modern student

In one of the courses I taught last semester, the exam has asked pretty much the same questions every year for the last five years. This doesn’t exactly reflect well upon those doing the teaching, and this year (my second of covering these lectures) I made a deliberate decision to do something a bit different with the questions from my part of the course. The exam is divided into two sections: a ‘numerical’ part focussed on data manipulation and calculating things, and an ‘essay’ part. For the former, instead of asking the usual question about triple junction stability and migration, I gave them a question where they had to assess the quality of some paleomagnetic data and use them to calculate when a terrane (a highly allochthonous one, no less) collided with a larger continent.

I realised at the time that this alteration could potentially act as a useful survey of the study practices of our undergraduates. The question I set was actually pretty easy – if you’d bothered to revise the part of the course about paleomagnetic field tests and calculation of paleolatitudes (I’d even, after some debate, given them the relevant equation, and therefore wondered if it wasn’t a little too easy). However, students in thrall to the art of ‘question spotting’, who only revised the small bit of the course about triple junctions, might be in a little bit of trouble.

Today I received the scripts from the exam; no-one had answered my numerical question. Not one student.

Although that means I have less marking to do, part of me can’t help but find that a little bit depressing. The weird thing is, plenty of people answered one or both of the essay questions I set – both of which asked about parts of the course which previous years' questions hadn't, and at least one of which requires some knowledge of paleomagnetic techniques to answer properly. Maybe then, this just indicates a degree of mental inflexibility (‘It’s not a triple junction question! Panic!’) rather than damagingly limited revision practices. I suppose I’ll find out when I read the essays…

Update: OK, after a bit of investigation, it seems there are a number of factors at play here:

  • Of the other two questions in the relevant section, one, on seismic moment and earthquake hazards, has been mixing and matching the same three subsections for at least the last four or five years; the other, on elastic bending of a plate in response to seamount loading, must have been seriously highlighted by the lecturer because I was asked to help with exactly the same question a week before the exams.
  • I have some testimony to the effect that the students pretty much assumed that ‘my’ question would be of the same type as it had been in previous years (despite the fact that someone else had taught the course for most of those years), and revised (rather selectively) with that assumption in mind.
  • If I’m scrupulously honest with myself, the way the question was worded might have made it seem that it was a lot more work than it actually was: not every step was explicitly spelt out, and the style (“This is the scenario. This is your data. Calculate stuff” style, rather than “Calculate x. Calculate y. Calcuate z.”) was perhaps a little intimidating. I’m open to the possibility I was also asking to much for a 45 minute question, but sadly I have no data to test that.

So, faced with two other questions they had prepared for, and one which they hadn’t and might have looked like a lot of work, the students opted to shun me. I’m not sure anyone comes out of this particularly well, to be honest. In my own defence, I have a fair number of essay questions to mark, so obviously I wasn’t being a fully bastard examiner from hell.

25 January, 2007

Milankovitch goes solar?

From New Scientist:

Robert Ehrlich of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, modelled the effect of temperature fluctuations in the sun's interior. According to the standard view, the temperature of the sun's core is held constant by the opposing pressures of gravity and nuclear fusion. However, Ehrlich believed that slight variations should be possible [due to instabilities caused by interactions with the Sun’s magnetic field]…

…Ehrlich's model shows that whilst most of these oscillations cancel each other out, some reinforce one another and become long-lived temperature variations. The favoured frequencies allow the sun's core temperature to oscillate around its average temperature of 13.6 million kelvin in cycles lasting either 100,000 or 41,000 years. Ehrlich says that random interactions within the sun's magnetic field could flip the fluctuations from one cycle length to the other.

These two timescales are instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with Earth's ice ages: for the past million years, ice ages have occurred roughly every 100,000 years. Before that, they occurred roughly every 41,000 years.

The paper is up on arXiv, and his model also has an oscillation in the 22,000 year range as well. This strikes me as a mighty big coincidence; it’s not like we’ve pulled the frequencies of variations in the Earth’s orbit - the Milankovitch cycles generally held to control long-term climate fluctuations - out of thin air. One thing I’d really like to know how sensitive the periods of these solar oscillations, if they exist, are to changes in the temperature structure of the sun, which I suspect we haven’t constrained with absolute precision. That said, a solar oscillation in the 100,000 year range might solve the problem of why it’s such a dominant signal in the climate record.

Anyone care to guess how long it will take for someone to claim this somehow has a bearing on the reality of anthropogenic climate change?

Update: Those of you who don't see the disconnect should head over to Open Mind for a clear explanation of why we think that the current short-term warning we're all worried about cannot be attributed to solar variability)

23 January, 2007

The writing in the cave walls

There’s a really nice post up on RealClimate about extracting climate records from stalagmites. Stalagmites and other speleothems form when water, percolating down from the surface and picking up dissolved carbon dioxide and other minerals on the way, penetrates into a cave system. When it reaches the cool, dry air of a cave, the carbon dioxide can escape from solution and carbonate minerals precipitate out. Take a steady drip of water, leave for a few thousand years, and voila:

The exciting part comes when we look at a cross-section through a stalagmite: just like tree rings, chemical changes in the different carbonate layers - particularly changes in the oxygen isotope values – reflect changes in the water falling on the land above the caves when that layer was deposited, and hence potentially give us high-resolution information about climatic variations over tens of thousands of years. Even better, you can determine the age of deposition using uranium-thorium dating; so what we potentially have is a source of climate records comparable to those we can get from ice cores (allowing us to independently check their chronologies), but globally distributed; you get caves on every continent, not just Antarctica and Greenland.

One thing this lets us look at is the variations in the strength of the monsoon through the last few glacial cycles. In the northern hemisphere summer, air rising above the warming land draws in moist air from the oceans to the south. The resulting rain is isotopically light (it has a negative &delta18O) because it has become fractionated by more evaporation and transport. A longer, wetter, stronger summer monsoon should therefore lead to lighter groundwater &delta18O than a shorter, drier, weaker, one; and that is exactly what we see in stalactites in the relevant regions. Here’s a record for most of the Holocene from Oman [1], showing both long term (over thousands of years) and short-term (over decadal and centennial timescales) variations in monsoon strength:

And here’s a longer term record, going back through a number of 21,000 year precessionary cycles, compiled from three overlapping stalagmite records from the Hulu Caves in China [2]. This second figure also plots the average summer insolation (black curve), and the Greenland ice core &delta18O (which tracks temperature – blue curve). The correlation is very good (especially if you look at a better version of the figure) – suggesting that the monsoon is stronger when it is warmer in Greenland. Centennial scale variations in Greenland have been linked to changes in the themohaline circulation, so these data give us some indication of the global effects such changes can have.

The variations in the monsoon being studied in these papers is a very strong climate signal, but as measurement and analytical methods get more sensitive and sophisticated (for example, the Hulu record has recently been extended back to 180,000 years ago [3]), tracking smaller regional variations in climate will become much easier. These results clearly show how, as this recent Science editorial [4] argues, “the age of the speleothem” could be upon us.

[1] Fleitmann et al., Science 300, 1737-1739 (2003)
[2] Wang et al/, Science 294, 2345-2348
[3] Hai Cheng et al., Geology 34, 217–220, 2006
[4] Henderson, Science 313, 620-622, 2006

22 January, 2007

The vacuous quantify the nebulous (again)

The news on the radio this morning informed me that today is apparently most depressing day of the year.

Being contrary, I was actually feeling pretty good today. A proper weekend off, visiting some friends in Salisbury and visiting the Avebury stone circle, meant I actually had a fairly productive Monday. So, other than the continuing lack of news on the South African visitor permit front, the only depressing thing about today was the media's insistence on not only running with a supremely silly 'yes kids, in science there really is an equation for everything' story, but also recycling it from previous years.

If taking a few values we can quantify (debt and income levels, time elapsed since Christmas), at least as many which you most certainly can't ('general motivational levels'? 'the need to take action'? Please.) and randomly planting them in a forest of brackets wasn't vacuous enough, both the culprit (a serial offender it seems) and the media seem to have missed the fact that this magic formula was quite comprehensively falsified last year...

15 January, 2007

Did you know your irony meter could go 'whee'?

It seems that the MP-nagging activities of your friendly neighbourhood science bloggers has caught the attention of Truth In Science, although I was a little puzzled that they directed their readers to this post rather than the one with the letter from my MP. The one that quite clearly states that the Truth In Science packs are “not a suitable resource for the science curriculum”.

Ah. That’s because they’re trying to spin the Department of Education’s response. A pinch of selective quoting (‘not an appropriate resource to support the science curriculum.’ becomes ‘not “appropriate…to support the science curriculum.”’), and off we go!

The national curriculum is a minimum standard. It exists to guarantee that every young person receives a basic education. Teachers are free to go teach more than the minimum requirements of the national curriculum. Even if intelligent design is “not included in the science curriculum,” this simply means that it is not compulsory in all schools. It does not constitute a ban.

So a statement that a certain teaching pack can’t be used as part of the science curriculum really means that it’s ok to use it - you just don’t have to. How kind.

But, thanks to this sterling bit of reasoning, today I learnt that my irony meter can go ‘whee’. It’s a whole new setting that I wasn’t even aware of.

Updating the geoblogosphere

Those coping with the sad loss of Down to Earth, rejoice - a couple of other new(ish) earth science oriented blogs have been brought to my attention:

Meanwhile, Kevin Vranes is jumping the Scienceblog ship, but thankfully he'll still be treating us to his climate change/policy musings at Prometheus, and going all wildernessy on us at NoSeNada.org.

Finally, if RealClimate doesn't slake your climate blogging thirst, try Open Mind (via Tim Lambert) or Head In a Cloud.

14 January, 2007

Precambrian black smokers

These are pretty cool – some excellently preserved black smoker chimneys from a 1.43 billion year-old massive sulphide body in northern China:

Hydrothermal vents occur at mid-ocean ridges or volcanic hotspots: seawater, permeating down through cracks in the crust, comes into contact with hot rocks above the magma chamber, and reacts with them as they are heated to a couple of hundred degrees C - leaching out metals such as lead, copper, zinc and iron. These hot, buoyant fluids then return to the surface at vent sites, mix with sulphate-rich seawater and rapidly cool, leading to the precipitation of iron sulphides in chimney-like structures. Here’s a more typical view:

Individual vents are generally short-lived, and when the upwelling hot fluids inevitably migrate somewhere else, the fragile spires tend to collapse under their own weight. Massive sulphide bodies – valuable sources of metal ore - are built from the debris of many generations of collapsed smokers in a long-lived vent field. So it’s quite rare to see such well-preserved fragments. I just wish the authors had included some pictures of the things in situ.

Under the microscope, you can even see evidence of fossilised microbes: on the outside of the chimneys are stromatolite-like ‘microbialites’ – layered deposits of sulphides and organic carbon, sometimes containing mineralised filaments similar in morphology to bacteria found in and around modern vents.

Hydrothermal systems - where interesting chemistry is driven by geothermal energy – is considered to be one place on the early Earth where life could have perhaps arisen; those favouring such a scenario (which includes those hoping for extraterrestrial life in places like Europa) will be happy to see evidence of a flourishing ecology in such environments so long ago.

Source: Li and Kusky (2007), Gondwana Research, in press [doi]

11 January, 2007

Too windy for wind turbines?

Certain witty and erudite public figures here in the UK have an annoying habit of making somewhat ignorant pronouncements on anthropogenic climate change, preferring to deny that it's happening at all rather than talk about the more complicated (and valid) issues of how badly it might affect us (or not), or what mixture of adaptation and mitigation would best serve us. Jeremy Clarkson is one such person. The Radio 2 DJ Terry Wogan is another. Despite his form, I was intrigued by one item of discussion (or, more accurately, lengthy mockery) on his breakfast show this morning, namely that in the stormy weather that we're currently enjoying, 'it's too windy for the wind turbines!' Ha ha ha.

It turns out that wind turbines are shut down at wind speeds above about 65 mph, because the faster rotation of the blades at high wind speeds can either overheat the generator, or cause 'overspeed' problems whereby the blade rotation becomes impossible to control or stop (see p20 of this pdf). This is a simple consequence of optimising the turbines to the usual (slower) wind conditions, but it does raise an important issue. Other forms of renewable energy such as wave and solar are also compromised by stormy weather, meaning that during a serious storm, even without damage to the distribution system a renewables-heavy generation mix could well leave a lot of us without power.

To avoid such problems, you either need enough non-renewable (nuclear, gas, coal) capacity to act as a backup, which places fundamental (low) limits on renewable generation, or you need to somehow store the energy produced by the renewables in better weather. The latter is currently impractical at a large scale, which is one argument in favour of distributed generation (where batteries and heat sinks can be used). However, it seems that people are experimenting with using wind generators to produce hydrogen fuel. Using renewable power to produce energy-rich chemicals would be an interesting way of getting round the problem; in pure speculation mode, I wonder if you could use wind turbines to turn atmospheric CO2 back into hydrocarbons?

Feel free to say hola

Higher powers inform me that this week has been declared as Delurking Week. An invitation to any normally mute, semi-regular browsers to say hello, say them; a cunning use of emotional blackmail to garner praise and validation, say I.

Still, self-assessment is a difficult thing, so in addition to random hellos, I would be interested to hear any comments, impressions, or suggestions on possible topics you might have.

10 January, 2007

Westminster: bastion of scientific illiteracy

Miss Prism’s MP favours ”a balanced approach to the various theories of origin." in secondary school science classes. Odd, I thought we were talking about evolution, not the origin of life.

So far, 2 out of the 7 MPs that are known to have been contacted about the Truth in Science packs appear to be comfortable with mixing up empirical science and religious faith. This is admittedly a small sample size, but taken with the fact that more MPs felt moved last November to rejoice about 100 years of Rugby League than register their support for the Early Day Motion about Truth In Science, it doesn’t exactly instil great confidence in our elected representatives. At least the Department of Education were prompted to action, making a strong statement which my MP gave me a preview of (update: and people coming here via the Truth In Science should definitely read). And heartening scepticism of the commentators on this short article by Truth In Science member Richard Buggs is a nice contrast to the norm, too.

08 January, 2007

Best endorsement ever?

Apparently Highly Allochthonous is 'harder to pronounce than "Pharyngula" '. It's almost tempting to change my tagline...

06 January, 2007

Titanian shores

Details of the proposed polar lakes on Titan first announced in July, have been published in Nature by Stofan et al. (see also the accompanying News and Views article). The “lakes” are found in topographic depressions, and are thought to be filled with liquid based on their very low radar backscatter, which means whatever is in them is very smooth and reflective. This might seem counter-intuitive until you realise the radar beam is being sent towards to surface at an angle, rather than just straight down. A smooth surface therefore acts as a tilted mirror, reflecting energy away at the incident angle rather than back towards Cassini; a rough surface will contain parts with the correct orientation to return radar energy.

These features are by far the smoothest and most reflective found on Titan, and the contrast with the surrounding regions is quite sharp, as the figure below shows: the top row are false colour radar data with and without noise correction, and the bottom row are horizontal and vertical profiles of the normalised radar cross section (NCRS – a measure of the returned radar energy) along the white lines shown in b. -25 dB is about the level of instrument noise.

What’s also clear in the radar images is a very lake-like morphology, with irregular edges and what look like channels draining into the main body. The similarity is really brought home by this lovely image from the JPL press release:

It’s important to note that radar can’t tell us for sure that what we are seeing here are liquid hydrocarbons, although it does indicate a material with a low dielectric constant (i.e. it’s not a polar liquid, like water), as you’d expect. The authors also note:

Our inference that the northern-hemisphere lakes discovered by Cassini radar are at least partly liquid methane is consistent with various other considerations. If such lakes cover at least 0.2–4% of Titan's surface … they will buffer the atmospheric methane's relative humidity at its observed value, removing the requirement for a putative steady drizzle at the equator. If the abundance of lakes seen in [these] data are typical of their coverage poleward of about 70° in both hemispheres, then the fraction of Titan's surface covered by lakes is within this range. More recent polar radar data from Cassini support this assertion.

It is also unclear how these lakes are filled: is it by methane rain, or do the depressions cut into a subsurface methane aquifer? If the former, you would expect seasonal variations in how large and full the lakes are. Hopefully Cassini will keep collecting data long enough for us to observe, or rule out, such variations.

04 January, 2007

Philosophia Naturalis #5: Some sciblogging New Year’s Resolutions

The New Year may merely represent an arbitrary point in the Earth’s orbit with no intrinsic significance, but the flipping over of the digits on the calendar seems to have a real psychological effect, compelling us to dream up grandiose promises to improve ourselves and our lives. Of course, we then spectacularly fail to keep most of them, but this month’s edition of Philosophia Naturalis attempts to mirror this spirit of self-improvement by asking: what makes science blogging good science blogging? A trawl through the past month’s activity in the science and technology blogosphere suggests that, at their best, scibloggers perform a number of vital functions, which we can all try to emulate:

To augment the media coverage of science

It’s an unfortunate fact that you don’t have to know anything about science to be a science correspondent for a major newspaper or news channel – if anything, having a science degree probably counts against you. The very best people overcome this, of course, but a lot of mainstream science reporting seems to consist of slightly rewritten departmental press releases (which may also have been ‘rewritten for clarity’ by non-scientists). If you want nuance and context, science bloggers are on hand to pick up those vaguely explained findings in the mainstream media – be it reports of running water on Mars, the latest results from the Stardust probe, the origin of weird gamma ray bursts, the topology of the Universe, or the year’s top 5 nanotechnology breakthroughs - and run with them.

To talk about the ‘unsexy’ science the media does not reach

Reports of cutting-edge breakthroughs are all very well, but to really understand what those breakthroughs mean you need to know the basic science as well. Blogging gives us scientists the opportunity to talk about the nuts and bolts of their disciplines, such as how particles detectors work (in the run up to the LHC being switched on next year), or how stars manufacture the elements that form us all. We can also rectify the puzzling lack of media interest in our particular (and, obviously, intensely interesting) subfield by waffling to our heart’s content about strange correlations between the structure of the Cosmic Microwave Background and the orientation of our solar system, or the ‘interpretation question’ in quantum mechanics.

We can also compensate for the media’s notoriously short attention span; the results being breathlessly publicised are only a snapshot of research programmes which can play out over decades, as various hypotheses are proposed, tested, then discarded or modified. For example, there was a lot of excitement a few months back about possible liquid water on Enceladus, but it is interested bloggers who now tell us that this is not the only possible explanation for those geyser-like plumes.

To show that scientists are people too

It’s a sad fact that the common caricatures of scientists – as soulless reductionists with no empathy, social skills, or ethical qualms (with a nice sideline in big frickin’ lasers and maniacal laughter) are not often recognised as exaggerations. Blogging gives scientists a chance to express their real voices and personalities, and show that our lives are in fact, fairly normal: OK, we may talk about methods of solving Rubik’s cubes as well as soap operas, and we may have appalling taste in T-shirts, but our jobs have both good days and bad days. And worse days. And days when our experiments produce stupid results. We make mistakes. And, of course, we have arguments. Big arguments. Over things like whether string theory is the best thing since sliced bread or a half baked blind alley, or whether the entire universe can usefully be described as a computer, or if worries that climate change science is being stretched too far to gain political traction are justified. We find the idea that we're all engaged in a battle to suppress The Truth about global warming, or evolution, or the age of the Earth, rather hilarious - any 'orthodox conspiracy' of more than two scientists would undergo a schism faster than you could say, 'splitters!'

To fight the forces of ignorance and antiscience

There is a lot of silly science out there. The media sometimes shoots itself in the foot by giving silly answers to nonsensical questions, or giving free publicity to pointless mathematical concepts (though we can also be slightly more generous).

But darker forces, which don’t just mindlessly mangle science but actively slander it, are also at work. Defending against these attacks might be like playing whack-a-mole, but it must be done: and it’s nice to see that even if the US National Park Service’s are somewhat coy over the age and geological history of the Grand Canyon, there are science bloggers willing to step into the breach.

To provide the wow factor

Who better than scientists to inspire people with their tales of just how cool the Universe is? Not enough of us take the time, which is why we still miss Carl Sagan ten years after his passing. However, if a picture speaks a thousand words, then Phil has amassed ten thousand spectacular words over at Bad Astronomy (plus a few more of his own), and the HiRise team also do their bit with more stunning images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Us geologists produce some very cool pictures too, so maybe I should take this one particularly to heart in the coming year.

Thus concludes this month’s edition of Philosphia Naturalis - may science blogging continue to flourish in 2007. Thanks to you all for reading, and to the contributers (willing and unwilling) for writing. PN #6 will be hosted by Charles Daney at Science and Reason on Thursday, February 1. Send your nominations and suggestions to carnival@scienceandreason.net, as explained here. We’re also looking for bloggers with a physical sciences/technology focus for hosting future editions; more information, and links to past editions, can be found at the Philosophia Naturalis site.

02 January, 2007

A geo-historical revolution

I’m actually in work today, despite the building being Officially Closed: you can still come in, but there’s no heating or canteen staff to provide coffee. However, an opportunity to engage in some warming ROFL’ing is provided by Adamant (via Pharyngula): a merging of the sequence of events in the geological record, scaled according to the biblically-based timescale of Archbishop Ussher, and human history. Here are some highlights which appeal to the paleogeographic nerd in me:

  • 1384 B.C.: Shang Empire scraps compass research when China drifts over south magnetic pole.
  • 1314 B.C.: On his way home from Troy ,Odysseus makes wrong turn into Tethys Ocean ;Homer writes it up.
  • A.D. 1492: Panama's rise from sea thwarts Columbus's discovery of Japan.
  • A.D. 1522: Sneak asteroid attack by Hernan Cortez smashes Aztec Empire
  • A.D. 1588: Spanish Armada frustrated by continuing absence of English Channel.

Of course, the Young Earth Creationists think that most geology was confined to the year of Noah’s Flood, so this parody suffers from being rather less ridiculous than the ideas it is parodying.

Why 2007 might be better than 2006

If I was asked to sum up my life last year, the phrase ‘treading water’ would seem appropriate. Although I passed my PhD and had two papers published at the beginning of the year, the work that went into them was mostly done in 2005. Since then, my research output has stalled a little, other than a couple of co-author credits. This hasn’t been helped by two first-authored papers submitted in June being consigned to review purgatory, but the depressing reality was that my position was not designed to help me build my own scientific career, rather to support others’ (my boss, other members of the group). This was far more depressing, and irksome, than the strange disconnect between my position (and salary) and my teaching responsibilities. Worse, my attempts to find a new job (both academic and non) had all fallen flat, so much so that offers from someone I know in the exploration industry to join the Dark Side were starting to seem tempting – a sure sign of dissatisfaction. Some have it much worse than me, of course, but I was starting to feel trapped and seriously demotivated.

Suddenly, though, a change is in the air, with an almost-to-good-to-be-true job offer from a research group in South Africa. They need a postdoctoral paleomagician to work on some really old cratonic sequences, and come February, work permit permitting (I seriously hope I’m not jinxing this by mentioning it), I’m it. Exotic fieldwork? Check. Potentially interesting reseach? You got it. A chance to escape my current not-so-inspiring job? Woohoo!

This move is not without risks, of course. I’ve gone from a permanent, if degrading, job to a fixed term (one or two years, depending on circumstances and progress) postdoc. Although the guys I’ll be working with seem to have a decent output, South Africa is not exactly the centre of the academic universe. And I’ll be living in Johannesburg, which hasn’t exactly acquired a reputation for cosiness in the past few years. However, I feel that if I turned down this opportunity just because I found the idea a bit intimidating, I’d likely spend the next few years, maybe decades, regretting it. Whatever happens, at least for now I have something to look forward to in 2007.