Archive for November, 2013

Re-visiting Pern: Still Life With Dragons

Posted in Books with tags , , on November 25, 2013 by davidnm2009

Since handing in the corrections on the PhD, I’ve recently found myself managing a remarkably long commute. If I’m lucky, and all the connections are on time, I can do it door-to-door in 2.3 hours. If I’m not lucky – “if”! he says it like misfortune is in doubt! – then it can explode to any length of time you want to imagine.

The trains between Hertfordshire and Cambridge are truly terrible. I’ve been genuinely astonished by how bad they are. I suspect that one could swallow some rails and sleepers and vomit a better railway line.

Anyway, 4.6 hours of commuting per day has given me a lot of time to read. As well as new books, I’ve also been re-visiting old favourites. One of them is Anne McCaffrey’s “Dragonriders of Pern” series.

These books were one of the first serious, ‘grown-up’ sets of SF novels that I encountered as a child. As a kid they had a lot to recommend them. An entire alien planet. Dragons. Psychic powers. Dragons. Adventure. Dragons. Life-or-death meaningful epic struggles against an enemy that didn’t bother you with any annoying moral complexity (no, not R’gul, I meant Thread, of course). Oh, and did I mention that there were and are dragons? I’m sure you get the idea by now 🙂

But it’s been a long time since I looked at any of them – more 15 years, in fact. To an extent, I’m actually coming to them with a blank slate. Reading them again has proven interesting. Needless to say, there are some unorganised comments after the cut…

(I’ll note that I have the usual mix of squee and criticism. I should point out that the dragon books are a series that I like, hence I’ve thought them over quite a bit. Although I do have some points of quite sharp criticism, that’s actually a side-effect of being a fan of the series – if I disliked it, I’d have less to say because I would have dismissed it from my mind long ago. Anyway, now that disclaimer is out of the way, let’s proceed…)

(Also remember that these are just the opinions of another random person on the Internet, and this not to be taken too seriously.)

(One final note: I’m not dealing here with the Todd McCaffrey novels. Classical Pern or bust, dammit!)

Continue reading


After The End

Posted in Personal with tags , on November 25, 2013 by davidnm2009

Last week, a long saga reached its ultimate terminus: I formally-graduated from the PhD.

The ceremony was at St Albans Abbey, a beautiful ancient building right at the heart of St Albans. The ceremony itself lasted a couple of hours; to my surprise, the doctoral thesis titles were read out, and the Vice Chancellor actually talked to us. I felt nervous as I had no robes – there were problems with my booking for the event (of course), so I wasn’t able to get registered in time to order a set. Luckily no-one commented on it, although I’m sure it was noticed.

Myself and the other astronomy doctors were sat behind a massive stone column; we could only see the proceedings via way of a 1984-style telescreen! Ironic given that it was happening only yards from where I was sat, but it might as well have been on the Moon for all that we could see.

Anyway, it’s all completed now. I have the fancy-posh certificate, the Very Final Ever copy of the thesis has been deposited with the Research Archive and there is nothing more that should happen or indeed can happen. Since the whole thing has been such a protracted struggle, this feels rather strange. It’s a bit like that feeling when you leave the house and realise you’ve forgotten something, but you can’t quite remember what. There’s that odd, nagging sensation of something that’s not quite right.

The PhD course has been an interesting few years, certainly. I’ve certainly learned a lot, some of it even about science. Probably the most important lesson I’ve learned is when not to tolerate a bad situation – I can think of at least a couple of things I should have done that would have led to a much better experience. I suspect these sorts of regrets might be universal to all courses of postgraduate study, though. A research degree is an enormous undertaking, and not really something that you can ever be fully-prepared for.

I’ve discovered several things about myself that I wouldn’t have otherwise known. To my enormous surprise, it emerges that I’m a competent public speaker. More strangely than that, it emerges I actually enjoy it, too. I’ve gained an insight into the real inner workings of scientific research. (People talk more about jobs [those that there are] and budgets [especially when such things are unavailable, which is frequently the case], and rather less about the ‘gosh and wow’ stuff that you see on TV documentaries.) I’ve also made friends and been to new places.

There’s not really much else to say, I suppose, except ‘Goodbye to the past’!