28 October 2006

Saturday is Cleaning Day - Don't forget to turn your clocks back!!

Fall is upon us, and the leaves are turning here in Glasgow. Tonight we, along with the rest of the world that observes this strange practice, turn our clocks back 1 hour. Those of my flatmates who come from more southern countries who do not do this are quite taken aback by the whole process and it seems rather silly to them. Usually I'd say it seems rather silly to me too, being a staunch supporter of Saskatchewan's choice to not do the Daylight Savings Time thing, but I am looking forward this weekend to an extra hour of sleep, and to a slightly brighter wake-up time.

It is actually significantly darker here in the morning than in Minden, even though latitude wise we are really only about level with the top of James Bay. However, as my flatmate (and engineering student) Lilliana showed us this morning, the Earth's tilt makes Glasgow actually farther away from the sun than James Bay, so the days here are quite a bit shorter. Not as short as in, say, Iceland... but shorter than I am used to.

My week of hell turned out to be busy, but not really hell. I had a full week of labs, oddly symmetrical with 4 labs dealing with blood, semen, and saliva sandwiched by 2 labs dealing with document analysis. For one lab I got to drip blood from different heights and at different angles (food grade animal blood) and observe what it did. What a mess that was. Blood dries really fast and gets really sticky, so getting it off of things like wood and carpet is awful. The cleanup I think took the longest of any lab I've had. Alot of people were complaning about the smell of the blood too, but I didn't find it all that bad. Then again, I've also been to visit an 1,800 head hog farm... and the smell of 1,800 pigs is waaaay worse than a little tupperware container of animal blood.

Today I got up early and did my laundry. Did my bedding, clothes, and towels. All in all I did two loads, wash and double-dry, which costs me £4, which today is around $8.48 Cdn. Stupid considering the same in Canada (using the exact same machines) is $6... and as low as $4.50 because you don't actually need two dries to dry your clothes. I hate doing laundry in the first place, and I hate paying this much for it even more. But it's either that or stink.

I also cleaned my room today (how boring is my life right now that cleaning my room is bloggable material? ;-), darn school for getting in the way of my vacation in Scotland!). Hoovered everything (our hoover's name is Henry), dusted... Mom would be proud!

To backtrack a little. Tuesday night we celebrated Eid with Shabnam. She made a huge spread of Indian dishes. It was soooo good! We had guests and everything. Got a little "beatiful and interesting" with the wine (no, not really... but it's our joke when we go out for beer or have wine). Lesley's Mom who is in Scotland this week also joined us. It was really fun! I'm going to have to try making savayya sometime, a very tastey dessert made of noodles and milk.

Oh, and I've gotten to meet Kate, our new flatmate from China a little better. She's a year younger than me (yay! I'm not the youngest anymore!), and she's very very friendly. This is actually her second year at Strathclyde doing a multi-year Master's degreen in marketing.

Anyway, that's really all that's fit to blog for now. Shabnam and I are going to walk down on Glasgow Green for a little exercise (I've had to tighten my belt a notch, if you can believe it!) and then I've got some residual homework to do from the past week. Enjoy your extra hour of sleep everyone!

19 October 2006

Jigsaw puzzle of death: University Update

Well, my mouth is finally starting to feel better, as is the rest of me. I may finally have this new microflora licked (knock on wood).

My time has been primarily filled with lectures and labs, and trying to take care of myself in terms of food, shelter, and clothing. I started Tai Chi on Monday which will hopefully help with the health thing. Found a great food joint called Best Kebab. Burgers for £1.90, huge döners for £3.70 (and I mean huge... an entire meal in a sandwich), and other Turkish fare. Anyway, for days when I'm tired of eating the same chicken soup for 3 days in a row, it make for a relatively cheap way to break up the culinary monotony.

We got our 8th flatmate last week. Kate from China. So far I haven't had much of a chance to talk to her. That's what happens when you get a new addition when school is in full swing. Luckily she isn't fresh off the plane or anything. I think she's actually been going to Strathclyde for more than a year - so she knows the ropes already.

Yesterday we did this wicked glass breaking and reconstruction group exercise in the lab. We had to break and reassemble a pane of glass, as well as record how far the glass traveled, and other instructive facts. Reassembly was like doing a giant, very sharp jigsaw puzzle.

The scribbles represent the dirty outside surface of the window... something that would be used to determine the inside and outside surface of each fragment of glass. But forget the technicalities of it... it just looks really cool!

Today I did fingerprint enhancement and recovery. This one started out a little rocky, but wound up being really fun and interesting. It's a really dirty job though. The powder sticks to everything (as it should) and gets everywhere if you're not neat and tidy about it. I'm proud to say that me and the other girl working on it managed not to make a complete mess.

Anyway, here's a fingerprint of my own I lifted off a piece of paper using aluminum powder. Isn't that just too cool. Yes, I'm a total geek! ;-)

I have tomorrow off, hurrah. But next week will be my second week of hell (the first being the 8 instrumental labs I had in the first week) with the entire week packed with labs, as well as tossing a student staff meeting and some lectures into the mix. After that, my labs space out again for another couple of weeks.

Anyway, time to go eat that chicken soup! Cheers!

14 October 2006

I feel like I am taking part in a medical experiment...

Those who have been talking with me outside the blog know that I have been hit this month with case after case after case of malidy seemingly one right after the other. It started with a sinus cold, turned into a cough, wound up with a coldsore, then got a stomach thing, and now I've got a mouth full of canker sores. The way I look at it is that all of these things I usually get inside a typical year, and being in a new climate with new germs and microflora, it's not all that surprising that I'm spending my first month effectively ill.

The hardest thing to sort of "cope" with is trying to find remedies to all these problems. Back home I am a compulsive label reader when it comes to off the shelf medicine. I know the difference between tylenol (acetaminophen), advil (ibuprofein), and asprin (acetasalicylic acid). I know that dextromethorpin is for coughs (though not very effective in my experience), pseudoephedrine is for congestion, and that night time cold medicine usually has some form of antihistamine to aid with sleep. All of these things are quite readily available in Canada, without so much as a second glance from your local pharmacist.

Here, I've been falling back on my label reading habits to make sense of the myriad of strange brands and potions used to relieve my various ailments. Here, "tylenol" isn't around, but medications containing paracetamol are effectively tylenol - paracetamol just being a different name for acetaminophen... exact same stuff. Once I had that down, I felt a little better. Here, Sudafed wutg pseudoephedrine is OTC only, with the off the shelf version being the far more inferior phenylephrine hydrochloride - seriously, this stuff doesn't stand a chance against the type of blockages my sinuses are subject to.

Finally, we come to the combo cold meds... those day time and night time caplets which make life with a cold so much easier. Here, they are much the same as in Canada. Some acetaminophen for your aches and pains, some pseudoephedrine for your clogged up sinuses, and a little antihistamine to knock you out at night. Much the same save for the active cough ingredient - pholcodine. Pholcodine is possibly the most effective cough suppressant that I've used... but it is part of the codine family, which is an opiate, so makes you feel pretty druggy. So it's "take it and go lay down" type of cold meds... but when you're coughing your brains out it does the trick. Keep in mind this is available OTC, when in Canada pholcodine is generally prescription only.

Now we go from the strange to the rediculous. Anyone who knows me knows that when I get cankers, or mouth ulcers, I get them bad. Sore ones which make eating an absolute trial. Probably the best remedy I have for them is dabbing a little hydrogen peroxide (the kind you can get off the shelf in Canada... hear that... OFF THE SHELF) on them. It hurts like a bitch, but it speeds the healing time quite alot. Swishing with lots of Listerine and salt water also keeps things moving along quite nicely. The other day I went out to find some peroxide, but couldn't find any. So I wound up buying TCP, which says it's for mouth ulcers. It's an antiseptic, but smells like the inside of a hospital. So when you swab it in your mouth, your breath then smells like a hospital as well. It's gross and, while it did relieve them in a small way, didn't relieve them enough to be at all worth it. So today I thought I'd ask someone at the pharmacy where I can find hydrogen peroxide. She tells me it's over the counter. I'm like, okay, odd. I go ask over the counter and I get the oddest look from the lady (such an odd look that my flatmate sort of stepped away from me for a minute) and then was told, quite curtly, "We don't do that here." Right, you're willing to sell opiates OTC, and not 1% hydrogen peroxide to swab on my bloody mouth ulcers.

The only thing we can figure is that my flatmate had just bought some OTC Sudafed (you know, the kind that actually works, with pseudoephedrine) for her bad sinus congestion, and both pseudoephedrine and hydrogen peroxide are used in meth production. But do I really look like someone who is making meth in my spare time? I was seriously waiting for the police to descend on me right there in boots. I half think they logged the time so that they would know which frame on the CCTV recording to look at if they busted my "lab". What a surreal experience.

Honestly, every time I walk into the chemist I feel like I'm involved in some strange socio-medical experiment. >.<

12 October 2006

View from the Penthouse - University Life Update

Wow. I have been incredibly busy. I need to start taking those multivitamins I bought.

When the fire alarm went off in our building a couple of days ago, I came to realize that there are alot of people in the M.Sc. Forensic Science program living in our block. Apparently we're being dubbed "those CSI people." It never ceases to amaze me that when I talk to people who speak english as a second language and they look at me blankly when I say I'm taking forensic science. But then I say (tiredly) "CSI" and the lightbulb goes on. It's like in Dogma when Alan Rickman is talking about being the voice of God, and Bethany stares at him blankly. "You people. If there isn't a movie about it, it's not worth knowing, is it?" Lol. Pop culture is a powerful thing.

Labs started last week, and they got off to a really rough start for me. The picture to the left is another view out of my bedroom window. That's Todd's Bar. I like Todd's normally because it's never very full and we can slip out and have a pint if the fancy strikes. However, Monday nights seem to be event night at Todd's and that begins at around 10 o'clock at night... which you all know is my bedtime. The festivities last until around midnight, and then the lollygagers all stumble home hooting and hollering for another hour after that. When Todd's is busy, I've given up on going to bed at all, and have resigned myself to watching tv until most of the hooplah has died down. Sunday nights, somewhere on campus, there is another loud party going on with music and a band... not so bad to listen to really... until the drunken partiers walk home... right past Todd's bar again. So, Sunday and Monday night got me very little sleep, and I wasn't a very happy camper walking into the unknown Tuesday morning.

Anyway, we are being thrown into the deep end in terms of labs. Basically, you get plopped down in front of your experimental materials, instrument, whathaveyou, with a set of sometimes dubiously clear instructions and basically told "have-at-'er". Now, to some people this is a-okay. To a bunch of M.Sc. students who are likely all over-achievers (I include myself in that) it turns you into a little ball of stress. Oh, did I mention that there really is precious little access to someone to ask questions of? As I said, chucked in the deep end with maybe only 5 waterwings to share between us. But, other than the stress and frustration, I am learning quite alot. Having many preconceptions broken, getting to play with some pretty cool equipment, and really enjoying all of it.

I'm also getting a little more involved in my program than I thought I would. I volunteered for class rep (mostly because people were not eager to volunteer for the position), so I am second of two class reps that have to go to about 3 meetings a year. Should be interesting.

My favourite labs so far have been the hair and fibre ones. Not to get too technical about it (because I tend to rabbit on about it when I do), there are some microscopes which fire UV light at the fibres which makes them glow different colours depending on what kind of fibre they are. There's a kind of rabbit fur which glows red... very cool. There's another microscope which uses polarized light (like in your sunglasses) to make the fibre glow different colours, and based on those colours it is possible to tell approximately what type of fibre it is - they use this in geology too. I got to use the comparison microscope to view two fibres side by side and try to match unknown fibres to known ones.

My absolute favourite lab was using the ESDA. It's a machine on which you put a document, lay film over it, then sprinkle toner on. The toner collects in any indentations that are in the document (say, from someone writing on a piece of paper over top of it), and lets you see what marks are there. We had to go through different kinds of pens, paper, and pressures of writing, then finally tested an unknown document. The message on the unknown document was definitely a confidence booster when up until this point you feel like you're doing everything wrong. I didn't keep my ESDA lifts though (basically contact paper is layed over the toner and the film cut off to form what basically looks like an overhead) because they were pretty dirty.

The labs I've hated the most are the GRIM (Glass Refractive Index Measurement) - the general concensus among staff and students is that GRIM is a very fitting acronym. It's basically a system that looks like you could play pong on it. Any sudden movements and it freezes, something I managed to do twice. I mean, my Windows 98 system still runs faster than that computer. Anyway, I didn't get any workable data, and need to do a late submission using a classmates data... but we get two tries on every lab, so it's okay.

The other lab I hated was comparing toolmarks using a comparison macroscope (like a microscope only lower magnification). This is hard! Two hours staring through this thing and I only felt remotely comfortable matching one set... and I might still be completely wrong about it. However, this is something that takes years of experience and training to work with, and really the point was to show how difficult it is, and how the comparisons are very seldom neat and pretty.

Anyway, enough of labs. Last night we went to the International Students pub night. It was alright for the first little while, but then it got really crowded and the volume of the music started going up and up. So by the time we left our ears were ringing. I don't think I'm going to go to another one of those. The only fun was hanging around with the flatmates and with some of the guys we went to Edinburgh with.

Friday we might be taking a break from beer and a burger to try some place new. We love the Counting House, but routine can be a killer. Anyway, enough of me rabbiting on about nothing. Another busy weekend coming up (got to grocery shop and do laundry), and then a busy week next week.


Mexican Night and Canadian Thanksgiving!

Ola chicas, como estas! Saturday night was Mexican night! We all went to the big Tesco up in St. Rollox and got taco stuff, and had tacos and margaritas. We invited a couple of people and all had a good time sitting and chatting - AND EATING!

Monday was Canadian Thanksgiving, which creeped up on me really fast. Lesley and I had been talking about doing a Thanksgiving for awhile, so we held a mini-Canadian Thanksgiving. I roasted a chicken and baked a square sweet potato pie (sweet potato because I couldn't find canned pumpkin - though I believe it is around -, and square because we don't have a pie plate), and Lesley made corn and mashed potatoes and gravy. Anyway, aside from me having to put the chicken in again for another 10 minutes, the dinner turned out well, and everyone seemed to really like it, even the square pie! We're going to hold a big proper American Thanksgiving, which we'll be able to plan a little better.

Pictures of both events are up on my flickr account, go have a peak!

01 October 2006

West End

Today Lesley, Shabnam and I took the underground over to the west end of Glasgow. The Glasgow underground is incredibly easy to navigate. It's £2 return to ride, and it just goes around in a big circle. You can either take the Inner Circle, which goes west, or the Outer Circle which goes east. It took us only 10 minutes to get to Kelvinhill, which is where Kelvingrove Park, Kelvingrove Museum and Gallery, and the University of Glasgow is.

That said, the underground is also a little scary to ride as well... for me anyway. Given that the only other "underground" I've ever ridden is in Toronto, and is not really all that much underground, this was a new experience for me. The platforms are, by and large, tiny. When the train comes in the wind picks up on the platform and the very small train (tall people mind your heads!) comes in with a roar. Once your on, you blast through the dark tunnels that seem to have only 6" of clearance around the entire train, with the cars swaying side to side. But, it is a quick, cheap, and presumably safe mode of transport around the city.

Walking around the west end was like being in a completely different city. This is completely strange when you come to the realization that you're only 2 miles from George Square. The west end has a reputation of being the more posh end of Glasgow, and I suppose it is to a certain degree. But going over there I am lead to believe that it is more a leftover of the time when Glasgow was quite a bit more rough around the edges. The west end simply got cleaned up first, and Glasgow central is certainly catching up.

The first thing we saw was Hogwarts... er the University of Glasgow (left). No, Harry Potter was not filmed at the University of Glasgow, but compared to the more utilitarian style of Strathclyde's buildings, it certainly could have been.

After wandering around the University we went through Kelvingrove Park. The park is very pretty, very green and full of trees. The River Kelvin runs through, and you can cross over it by foot bridge at several points. You might remember Lord Kelvin, who invented the Kelvin scale of absolute temperature (c'mon science geeks, don't let me down!) and who's alma mater is Glasgow University. Anyway, the title of Lord Kelvin, if I understand it correctly, is actually named after the river and not the other way around.

Facing Kelvingrove Park is Kelvingrove Museum and Gallery. This is a massive museum which was completed in 1901. The building actually backs Argyle Street, which has lead to the myth that the building was built backwards to spite the architect. The myth has it that the architect was so distraught he jumped to his death from one of the towers. This isn't true. The truth is that the museum was built facing the park intentionally, and in part because the 1901 International Exhibition was held there. In 2003 the museum was closed because the blond coloured stone had become black from coal dust. The stone was cleaned by using a rubber compound to coat the stone, which once pulled off pulled the coal dust with it. All the artifacts had to be moved out at the time, but some of the larger ones like Sir Roger the elephant and a giraffe had to remain and have special enclosures built around them.

At the Kelvingrove Museum, admission is free. There is also way more to see than you can in an hour or so. There are rooms devoted to nature, women's rights, Scottish art and history, just to name a few. There is also a cafe, kids area, small reference library, and a massive organ which plays on certain days. We're hoping to return to hear that in the not so distant future.

The weather was beautiful today, but we arrived home just before it started to pour rain. I got a great picture out my bedroom window of a rainbow coming down over the Royal Infirmary (right). Tomorrow my classes start in ernest, and I will be putting my nose to the grind-stone. I do plan on seeing more of Scotland and Glasgow, but school is going to have to come first... at least for the next little while.

Anyway, I've uploaded pictures of the west end trip to flickr. You might notice that I've taken many photos off of flickr. This is because my flickr account has a limit of 200 viewable photos and rather than just have the most recent photos visible, I thought I ought to just leave up my absolute favourites from my past trips, and have room for new ones. Anyway, go over and take a peak.