Keep Calm and Think of May Week

Essays are now over, what a relief! The last paper was ok with only a bit of making stuff up and hoping for the best involved.

Afterwards I met up with my sister and mother as it’s my sister’s birthday today. Now I’m off to the pub to celebrate the end of essays!

Today’s exam represents 17% of this year’s grade, and 12% of the total time spent in examinations. 25% of the marks and 53% of the time spent in exams remain.

Once More Unto the Breach Dear Friends

Three essay papers done, only one left.  Thank goodness for that, I’m getting rather bored of writing essays now!  Two of the essays in this exams went alright, but the third went rather pear shaped to say the least (where “pear shaped” = made up something random and hoped for the best)…  Fortunately, I wasn’t the only person who messed this question up, and a considerable proportion of the year disliked this paper, so it could be worse!  Dinner is soon, then off to the library for the penultimate essay cramming session!

Today’s exam represents 17% of this year’s grade, and 12% of the total time spent in examinations. 42% of the marks and 65% of the time spent in exams remain.  I’ve never been especially fond of essays, and soon they’ll be over (at least until next year that is).  One more UL evening beckons, before it is only practical papers that are the problem.

Here Be Dragons

Day two of ten can safely be considered completed.  Whether it can be classed as successfully completed however is anyone’s guess, although it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting.  It’s good to get the core paper out of the way, and, with it being in the morning, I’ve still got this afternoon to get to grips with the option courses, which are the subject of the exams tomorrow and Friday.  Today’s exam represents 17% of this year’s grade, and 12% of the total time spent in examinations. 59% of the marks and 76% of the time spent in exams remain.

My book about the library arrived today, it looks pretty interesting, but I’ll have to wait until after the exams before I read it.

Before all that UL business, I think a hearty lunch is in order.

A Descent into the Maelström

The first is over, merely another eight remain.  Doesn’t sound great, but it’s a good start.  So, what question did I answer for the synoptic paper?  What could possibly be written about for three and three-quarter hours solid?  Well, I went for Exoplanets.  Turns out my astronomy keenness of several years is actually helpful!  I managed to get some random comments into the essay, including referring to “Davey Jones’ Locker”, whether aliens could speak fluent English or not, and porridge and Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  Overall it went surprisingly well.

We got sent emails today reminding us to hand in all our practical work next week.  I wasn’t aware of the fact that we needed to do this, and so there are large gaps in the practicals I’ve been able to locate. Cortisol levels are sky high at the moment, I’m not going to lie, especially with the core essays tomorrow!

For those of you who are interested, today’s exam represents 4% of this year’s grade, and 12% of the total time spent in examinations. Including the 20% of my grade that will be determined from my mapping project, 76% of the marks and 88% of the time spent in exams remain.

In other news, there was a third anonymous donation to my pigeon hole yesterday afternoon of a couple of packets of sweets.  Not sure who it was this time, but as before, whoever you are, you have my deep gratitude!

Fun things that have happened include the ordering of the Sedgwick Club stash (always nice to get some of that), and my book about the UL is now in the post (see my previous post entitled “Groundhog Day).  I also found a fiver that I didn’t know I had in a drawer which was nice.

Anyway, now that the first paper is over, it’s back to the UL for me alas.  The core paper is tomorrow morning, and with 4 essays to be written, it’ll be a morning filled with glorious fun!  Let the cramming commence!

NB: If you want to read the story after which this post is entitled, you may find it here.  It’s a good one!

The Calm Before the Storm

Today is a Bank Holiday Monday in the United Kingdom.  Well, that’s not technically true.  Today is a Bank Holiday Monday unless you’re a Cambridge undergraduate.  Some of my friends have exams today (although luckily I don’t).  As I’ve probably already mentioned, mine begin with gusto tomorrow, but the nightmares about them have already started (I’ve had three so far, hooray)!  On the bright side, owing to the totally arbitrary nature of the questions on the first paper, my revision for it this morning has consisted of me looking at interesting things in geology on the internet (and legitimately being able to say that it’s useful and relevant revision).

One anecdote springs to mind on the relationship between bank holidays and Cambridge.  One undergraduate, upon learning they had various lectures etc. on a Bank Holiday in exasperation asked their supervisor, “How come there are no Bank Holidays at Cambridge?”, the supervisor promptly replied, “Because Cambridge University existed long before the banks did”.  So there you have it, case closed.  Luckily however, the UL is open, which effectively saved my life.  Revising without the University Library is analogous to scuba diving without a tank of oxygen, it’s probably not going to end well (as the other libraries are either full, or have lots of people to talk to, the latter of which is enormous fun, but not conducive to studying at any great length)!

My exam timetable (the physical manifestation of stress), or “Satan” to its friends, looks like this (so expect a precipitous decline in the quality of prose on this blog over the next week or so!):


It’s the Final Countdown

It starts the day after tomorrow.  At least the first paper is synoptic, so it’s not really possible to revise for, so it could be worse.  Anyway, moving onto more fun things!

I spent most of Friday in the department, as it was the final revision seminar of this term, and I had a supervision (which went well, but I’m apprehensive about how the geochemistry questions will be in the C2 practical)!  However, the most important thing about yesterday was the awesome picnic that HS organised in the common room at lunchtime, which was thoroughly enjoyable.  Also, the list of Sedgwick Club stash came out, so I’ll have to choose what to get (getting the annual photo is a given of course).  It’s quite cool seeing all the old photos up in the department, (with the 1946 and 1947 ones depicting a youthful David Attenborough).

This morning I decided to have a lie in, as I’ve been feeling a bit knackered lately.  It was amazing.  When I did get up and went to brunch, I found that there had been another mysterious benefaction, this time in the form of a cupcake on my doorstep, so my sincere thanks to those of you who made it, your kindness is very greatly appreciated!  Once brunch was over, I went to the library, which was full. Well, not quite full, the lower ground and ground floors were full, and the first floor had four desks free.  The reason for this is that the first floor, in the summer, is an oven.  After enduring 30 minutes in the heat, I surrendered, and went back to my nice cool shady room, and read my notes for a bit, before meeting LB in the café for more revision (and also a nice break).

After extensive research I’ve come to the conclusion that there are five stages of Tripos preparation:

1. Procrastination (you’ve still got ages, don’t worry about it).

2. Mild concern (hmmm, only a few weeks left, better do some work).

3. Generic fear (getting a bit bad now, actually need to learn stuff).

4. Panic (I know nothing, the exams are soon, and everyone else knows so much more).

5. Resignation (I’m going to fail, there’s not point fighting it any more, I’m just going to accept the fate that awaits me).

At the moment, I’m saying farewell to 4, heading towards number 5!

Shaken, Not Stirred

Time for some geological news.  On Friday morning, there was quite a large earthquake of the western coast of Kamchatka (in the Sea of Okhotsk), with a magnitude of 8.3. Luckily there have been no reports of damage or injuries.  Anyway, we are all accustomed to hearing about earthquakes with a magnitude of x, but what does this actually mean?  In essence, it can be considered as a measure of the energy released during an earthquake.

Modern earthquakes are not really measured by the Richter scale any more, as there are various issues it has with recording earthquakes with large magnitudes.  Instead, a different scale is used, which is called the moment magnitude scale (which does not have these problems).

The magnitude of the seismic moment is what is often reported in the news, but where does this number come from, and what does it mean? Essentially it is defined by the logarithm of the “seismic moment” (what this is will be explained later), with a few constants thrown in (so it is similar to the Richter scale, as that is what people are used to).  For those of you who are interested, the magnitude (Mw) is defined as being:


The seismic moment (M0) is defined by the following equation:


“A” represents the area of the fault that slipped in the earthquake, with “d” being the distance it moved.  “μ” is the “rigidity modulus”, which, for an earthquake, describes how the rock changes shape when one of its faces is subjected to a shear force, while the other is subjected to frictional resistance.  You can see this for yourself.  Put your hand on a wooden table, and try to slide it forwards.  You’ll be able to feel your skin resist the movement, and see it change shape slightly (look at the tips of your fingers).  It is this resistance and shape changing that the rigidity modulus describes.

Plugging in the numbers for this particular event, the seismic moment comes out as being around 3 billion trillion Newton metres. (3×10^21 Nm).  Put another way, the amount of energy this represents is enough to provide electricity for the whole of the United Kingdom for the next 250 years (or, enough energy to make about 30,000 trillion cups of tea).  For comparison, the largest earthquake ever recorded on Earth had a magnitude of 9.5, which took place in Chile in 1960, and is equivalent to releasing 15 times as much energy as the magnitude 8.3 earthquake yesterday in Kamchatka.

Some Things Never Change

It is now less than a week to go until the exams start, and so it’s starting to heat up somewhat!  Another day spent in the library writing more essays means nothing much of interest to report on that front.  I did however enjoy some takeaway pizza (ham and mushroom for me, which is, quite frankly, the king of pizzas) with AJ and HL, which was a welcome break from studying.

This evening however, I came across something rather cool!  On Facebook, there are several groups dedicated to quirky things that happen across the university, namely: “Overheard at Cambridge” (for amusing snippets of conversation that were overheard), “Odd Things Around Cambridge” (for strange sights seen around the university and city centre), and “Marginalia At Cambridge” (for various witticisms that have been found inscribed within the margins of books).  It is from this third group that the main content of today’s post is derived.

You know how children draw pictures (such as this) and give them to their parents, and it’s all really sweet and endearing etc.?  Right, well, it turns out that this is nothing new.  The librarian at Catz has come across one such child’s drawing (it was in a copy of Cicero’s De Amicitia for those of you who are interested), believed to date from the 15th century.  Yes, that’s right, a child’s drawing from the 1400s (photo below).  I don’t know about you, but I think that’s quite cool!

Drawing by a 15th century child. Photo and details: Marginalia At Cambridge/St. Catharine's College, Cambridge. Click to enlarge.

Drawing by a 15th century child. Photo and details: Marginalia At Cambridge/St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge. Click to enlarge.

Special Edition: Old Letters (or the Four “Billy No Mates” of the Alphabet)

I like old stuff, really old stuff.  Walking around this marvellous city, nothing seems more exciting than the most ancient parts (Peterhouse’s 13th century Hall – see my previous post “Living La Viva Loca“, Corpus Old Court for example – built 1350, and the Round Church from circa 1130).  The amount of history that they have witnessed is simply staggering.  At home in Surrey, things are just the same.  There’s a church in my town that was built in 1095, and two of my local pubs were established in the 14th century (although I don’t just like them for their history – they do some solid real ales and pretty decent food too, but I digress).

Perhaps this interest in the past is where I get my fascination with my own genealogy from, and why I think Archæan geology is the most interesting?  There certainly does seem to be a pattern.  My favourite rock in my collection is my 2.7 Ga (or 2,700,000,000 years old for you non-geologists) Lewisian Gneiss that I picked up on the trip to Skye last June/July.

Anyway, all that aside, it is my rather archaic and outdated orthography that has prompted this inaugural special edition.  I’m sure you’ve noticed that I enjoy using “æ” (capital “Æ”) in my writing (both typed and handwritten) to denote “ae” (or simply “e” for those of you from North America).  I decided to do some digging around to see if this delightful character had any chums, or whether it would instead be classified as being “forever alone”.  At this point I feel it would be somewhat prudent to bung in a quick disclaimer, as I am not even remotely close to being any sort of linguistics expert.  If any English or ASNaC students are reading this, and there are major errors, please let me know, as I’d like to be accurate!

The first revelation I came across was that “æ” (named “ash”) used to be in the Old and Middle English alphabets, but its current usage in words such as “mediæval” is merely a combination of “a” and “e” (in linguistics speak, this combining of letters is apparently called a “ligature” – no I hadn’t heard of that word before either) rather than “æ” sensu stricto.

Nevertheless, there are several other letters that have sadly been culled over the past 1,000 years.

The first of these dearly departed friends is named “eth”, or (as an alternative spelling) “eð”.  This probably gives you a clue as to what this letter looks like – “ð” is the lower case, with “Д being the capital. It was used to denote a “th” sound (such as in “thank you”), and is still, like ash, used today in modern Icelandic.  “Д lost the popularity contest at some point in the 13th century, and was replaced by our next character.

This cheeky chappy replaced poor old eth, but only lasted about 200 years.  Given that it replaced eth, it had the same pronunciation.  So, allow me to introduce – “þ” (lower case), “Þ” (upper case), or, for those to whom he is yet to be acquainted – “thorn”.  Thorn is also used in modern Icelandic (although I don’t see why both eth and thorn are needed if they’re pronounced in the same way, perhaps someone who speaks Icelandic could comment below).

Third in our rogues’ gallery is the letter “wynn”: “Ƿ” (capital), “ƿ” (lower case).  Wynn was used for “w” sounds, until it got replaced by “uu” which then became “w” – hence why “w” is called “double-u”.

The final letter in this line up is named “yogh” (pronounced “yog” as in “yoghurt”, or “yoch” with the “ch” like that in “loch”).  Yogh looks like “Ȝ” in its upper case form, with “ȝ” as its lower case.  This letter’s pronunciation was quite hard to find, as I had to sift through (i.e. ignore) lots of strange sounding terms that only linguistics students are fond of.  Finally, I found out that yogh was used as a “g” (as in “bag”), and as a “y” sound that’s written as a “j” (as in “Jarlsberg” – which is an excellent Norwegian cheese for those of you unfamiliar with it).

So, there you have it, four abandoned letters from English.

There Is Such a Thing as a Free Lunch

Well well well, here we are again.  Another day in the ‘bridge, but this time, more fun things than essays happened!  Yes dear readers, you read that right, it wasn’t a typo.

Well, I did write an essay in the UL this morning, but then there was the annual Sedgwick Club photo which is always an entertaining event. After that, it was off to the Red Brick Café for lunch.  I was ordering something to drink when I was offered free cake.  Never a man to turn down a bargain I readily accepted said food for lunch (unorthodox perhaps, but it was free so I’m not complaining).  Anyway, I’m now back in the library writing another essay, however, the sun has come out, and the view is lovely, so it could be much worse (picture attached)!  Anyway, I’ll go back and finish this essay now, and then it’s the end of lectures party in college this evening.