27 July 2010

Just a little gripe

So you want to know one of the annoying little things about living here in Ireland? And just so you know, this is about food as usual. Well, it is a very strange thing to notice, but the bread here is just crazy. It's not like bread back home. Buying it, I mean. So for us kiwis buying bread means going to the supermarket and seeing loads of those plastic racks full of nice soft loafs of bread, with sandwhich and toast and extra thick slices, and they are in bread bags. Which you can open and close easily. But here, it is different. First of all the bread is not in a bag, hardly ever. It is in waxed paper, and once you open it you cannot conveniently close it again. Which sounds like such a small thing but it is not, because sometimes the package rips completely and then you're screwed. And because it is not a bag there is nothing to hold on to if you don't have a shopping bag, so you hold it under your arm and try not to squish it - but it always gets squished. On the upside, you can get a half a loaf, which is good when you don't eat a lot of bread. But on the downside, it is more necessary, because if you leave the bread in the cupboard where bread belongs here it will go stale really quickly. And finally, it is almost all white or brown. Where are all the wholegrains? And that is not actually finally, there is more. It doesn't come in different sizes. You might find a doorstep loaf but other than that all the same thickness. Which is more like toast bread so that is good. But what if you want sandwhich bread? What if I want to introduce the Irish to cheese-rolls? Which I am going to do in the near future I hope. Plus a lot of the bread is a strange shape, and the slices are too long for the toaster. And then there is all this soda-bread, which is not really bread at all because it has no yeast, it is more like what I would call a loaf. It is sort of cake like. It is sometimes quite good - but it is not really bread like for sandwhiches. Maybe for dipping in soup. But that's really all. Things here are so weird sometimes.

Here's a picture to lighten the mood.

Strike that. Make it plural. Pictures.

24 July 2010

Camping in Ireland

Last weekend some friends and I went for a camping trip out to the Cliffs of Moher. It wasn't a completely spur of the moment idea, so you would think that there would be some planning behind it. But there wasn't. It was planned so far as saying we would go camping that weekend. I looked at the weather forecast but was assured that it would all be grand. So we went camping. We left late, because some people take forever to be ready. We stopped at Fanore, which is the nice beach that you see below. Always reminds me somewhat of Oreti beach. And before we had even finished at the beach let alone arrived at the cliffs it had started to rain somewhat. As the forecast said it would. Why did we go camping in the rain? I am not quite sure.

Now before arriving at the cliffs we saw a donkey in a field and for some reason it is required that when tourists (which three of us were) are in Ireland they must make a fuss over donkeys. So we did so. It was an incredibly quiet docile animal, so somebody said that they bet it would let us climb on its back. So I did. The picture is not below. It looks rather silly. Instead I will just show you the donkey on it's own. And after I got off of its back the others all had a go. It was a bit pointless really but you would be surprised at the things that can amuse us PhD students.

So driving up the road toward the cliffs I could see this old stone tower, so I said let's try to make our way towards there. We found a road and that led into some farmer's paddocks, and next thing you know we were there at the tower. It was big and dark and mossy. The walls were all intact but the roof was gone, and inside was muddy. By this stage it had gotten quite wet, so I had to keep drying the lens of my camera off. I don't think it likes getting rained on, it always plays up on such wet days.

Below the tower we made our way down the more gentle slopes amongst the cliffs so that we could climb around the rocks. Climbing around the cliffs was actually how a large part of the evening was spent. Even when we thought we had gone so far down we were still far above the ocean.

There were gulls circling below, they were just small specks. Perhaps larger than specks. But still very small and far below us. Once you get down the slope there are huge stacks of stone towering above you. In the rain and wind they are dark and oppressive, but there is more here than a photograph shows. The ground is not just grass but all sorts of alpine plants, and the rocks when you are close to them look to be made of many layers.

Even in the rain the view is amazing. Now I have been in the sun and the rain, and while rain can be miserable in some ways, except for the drops on my lens, the view is better. When it is sunny you can barely see for the glare. And no matter season it is always insanely windy up there.

I guess it was something to do with the rain but there were little black things all over the grass. On closer inspection - they were huge slugs! Big fat ones. I guess they liked the rain. They were everywhere. So I took photos of them.

 Here is the view of the cliffs from the other side of the we spit of land that we climbed down. I liked this side better. It was more sheltered from the rain, and there were gulls nesting below. The water swirled into shallow caves in the cliff and you could hear the wind crying around the rocks.

And finally, here below you can see the impressive location of our campsite! If it hadn't been for the rain it would have been an amazing trip. It was still good in its own way. But not so much fun as it could have been. We had a campstove for cooking dinner but could not have a fire. Of course there was no relaxing outside in the late evening sunshine, but you can't really expect that in Ireland. One of the tents got flooded and by the end of the trip most everything was soaked through. All in all, it was surely a typical Ireland experience. But what does it matter, we got warm and dry on the ride back in the car.

Did everybody notice that now I can make the pictures on this thing even larger? Isn't it cool?! So that was my weekend, and it wasn't really very relaxing so perhaps that is why I didn't do a heck of a lot of work this week.

17 July 2010

Cell biology 101 - an update on my work

Well, this week has been rather unmotivated. I don't really feel that I have done a lot. But the thing about my work is that all I need to do is spend a couple of hours on the electron microscope and already I have a brand new, never been seen before result. And I at least think that my work and results are very interesting and even rather exciting so I would like to share such things. Which is a little pointless as many people know nothing of cells and their features. So today I am going to explain for you, very briefly, what this all means, so that I can show you some of my beautiful micrographs (aka photos taken with the microscope - see you are learning already!) If you do not need to be given an incredibly simple tutorial of a cell, why not just look at all my pretty pictures?

So all living things are made of cells, and some living things are actually just a single cell. We are looking at animals here so we will ignore plant cells. A cell is generally very small, but a nice large example is an egg. An egg is always a single cell. A cell has a membrane that will let some substances through but not others. So think of an egg shell. It has to let oxygen in or the chick will suffocate. Inside the egg is the white and the yolk. The white is like the cytoplasm and the yolk is like the nucleus. Now keep in mind that this is metaphor and the yolk is not actually a nucleus. As a matter of fact it is the food for the chick, primarily protein and fat. The nucleus is actually really really tiny.

So here are some cells. They are not eggs, the blue ones are oocytes. That is, an egg cell. The pink ones are what I study, the glue gland. It makes the glue that sticks the barnacle to things like rocks and ships.

So now we have the image in mind of a cell. So in a cell the cytoplasm (which remember is like egg white) is full of structures like mitochondria that makes energy for the cell, endoplasmic reticulum that makes and modifies proteins and golgi that further modify proteins. The nucleus is full of DNA, which sometimes is all streched out and invisible and other times is clumped together and can be seen as dark patches. So now I think that it is enough to be going on with. Now for some of the pictures that I spend my days making.

Here is some cytoplasm near the edge of one of my gland cells. The long wiggly bits are the cell membrane making huge long folds that reach right into the cell. It's weird, and really hard to find mention of such things in other studies, and being far from an expert I have no idea if this sort of thing is normal.

Here is some cytoplasm of a different cell. I have so far cut up two different animals and they look completely different, which doesn't help me to understand things. On the left side of this image is the nucleus, on the right the cytoplasm, full of great big empty spaces - another anomaly. As an anatomy student told me while looking over my shoulder, this is the weirdest looking cytoplasm. But what is cool about this picture is the nuclear membrane. Below is a close up.

In this close up of the nuclear membrane you will see that there are two lines (it is a double membrane) that are sort of broken up. And in the left of the image there are small circles. Now this is really cool. The breaks in the membrane are the nucleopores, and the circles are also nucleopores, seen in a different plane. You have to imagine all of this in 3D, and the cell and nucleus are not circles but spheres. So when you cut through it you might cut across the membrane and see the pores as breaks, or you might just skim the surface. Here you have a bit of both. And perhaps next time I should add arrows to the pictures. I hope you can all see the beautiful nucleopores.

Now this one is also a really great picture. This is a junction between two cells. In the bottom right corner is a nucleus, and to the left of the picture is empty space. The two black lines in the top half of the picture are the membranes of the two cells. And where you see fine lines in a ladder between the two, that is a desmosome. And the next ones are just interesting looking images. Around the edges are my gland cells. The rest is mostly unknown.

And to finish, here you can see what too many hours on the microscope results in: faces. This one is either scared or surprised. And if you want to know, it is actually a weird looking mitochondria, which looks to have enclosed some cytoplasm.

Sometimes we see many things in our sections. Often faces. Sometimes other things. Ghosts, elephants, poodles. You get the picture. Usually it is something obvious that everything can see, that is best. Otherwise you are just seeing things.

09 July 2010

Now that it is summer here in Ireland it doesn't rain every day. Just most days. But luckily while my Viennese guest was here it was mostly not-rainy. Just cloudy. With luck though you can wait for patches of blue before taking the photo, so that looking back on things we can at least pretend that the weather was nice. And the thing about living in a country that has been settled for so very long, unlike in NZ, is that you can go anywhere and see really old falling down stuff. So right near where I live is what remains of a little old graveyard. And last Sunday we went and had a picnic in a field and then found this other little graveyard.

The graves here generally have just a plain tombstone or a celtic cross on them. None of the angels and cupids that you might see elsewhere. There were buildings that we assummed where the ruins of a church but it turned out that they were big old family tombs.

They had gates with names on and inscriptions in the walls. Surprisingly it was all in English. And below you can see what we assume is an old crypt that has fallen in somewhat and so is open. There is only a small space inside, just full of broken mossy rocks.

But then we kept on wandering and exploring, and it seems that while there were these little buildings that may have been tombs there were also family plots and one big concrete block with many names on the sides. We walked around it and there on one side were no names, just some writing saying that it was erected in 1811 and a square in the middle with a handle and padlock. So we figured, they must have opened it up there, so as to put more bodies in. And there was a corner at the top that was broken. So as you do, we put the camera in with the flash on and took a picture. And writing it down now it does not seem like a very nice or respectful thing to do. But I will assure you that it is quite normal, everybody does it I'm sure. But anyway, I held my camera through the hole and pointed it downward, took a photo, pulled the camera out and had a look at it.

And I honestly nearly had a heart attack! I got the most horrible fright, and I just handed the camera over all freaked out and feeling ill because this is what I saw when I looked at that photo:

Now has anybody else just got the most awful fright? Probably not. For all that walking through and old cemetary is interesting and not at all scary, things like this do freak you out a lot more when you are actually there. And I was not the only one who freaked. I mean, even when I looked at it first and got such a fright I could see that the hand is not real, but you can't help but think what-if. Looking now I can still see how I got a fright, I mean it is quite realistic. But at the same time it is fresh and skin coloured and there is not wound, it is just a disembodied hand. So not real. Lying amongst a pile of rubble. Which, if you go back and have a look, includes many bones. Most obvious being the large skull in the bottom of the image. There are many more but I do not think it really needs to be discussed and pointed out. You might notice though that many of the bones are all dark brown and the walls are darker in places - looks like that hole was not a case of weathering but perhaps some kids broke it, chucked in sticks and stuff and set them on fire, and then threw in a mannequin's hand. Horrible. So lets just end with a nice peaceful picture. And everybody can laugh at me for being so silly to take a photo of inside a crypt and then be freaked out by some stupid kids' idea of a joke.

06 July 2010

Aran Islands

Actually, to be specific, just a single Aran Island - Inis Mor. On Saturday we (we on this occasion being myself, my two PhD colleagues and a random Aussie friend) took the ferry over to the largest Aran Island, Inis Mor (Inish More). The islands a very small, nothing like our Stewart Island, and they sit in Galway Bay so you can see them from the city. You drive down the coast a wee way and then take the ferry, it's about a half hour trip. They are not forest like our islands but more farmland and stone walls. Only once it was all stone, not farmland, and to make soil they lay seaweed and sand over the ground. There are ruined forts and monastaries dotted over the islands. Below my photo shows a signal tower, and is the highest point on the Island apparently.

And here is the view down from a point just below that tower. Everywhere is stone walls and a view of the sea. It is a long island so from most high places you can look to either side and see the ocean, but not ahead nor behind.

So on the island you hire a bike and cycle around it seeing all the sites. Even if you do the entire circumference it does not take so long, but we did not have time for that, we stopped for too long at places.

Anyway, up by the signal tower was a small fort, a big circular wall of stone rocks that you could get right inside of. And there is not really a lot to say about it, but to actually be there was really cool, and we climbed around inside for ages.

And then after making it all the way up that hill, which doesn't look like much but was actually really steep, too steep to cycle, anyway after going up was the fun part of going down. But I didn't have a helmet or anything so I was a wuss and went down with the brakes on. It was still awfully fast though, and took no time at all considering how hard it had been to get the bike up the hill.

Continued down the road, to finally arrive at the main attraction, a big fort called Dun Aengus. You cannot cycle up, you walk up the path and all the other tourists get in the way of photos. It is set up upon the cliffs so the view down is really impressive. The view up is not so impressive, a fort is really just a big wide round stone wall. So the picture below showing the outside of it is a bit dull.

This one here on the other hand is far more impressive, and does not even really capture how it looked to us up there on top of the cliffs. Inside the walls is a big flat area of stone, and you can lay down with your body on the ground and your head hanging over the side and look down the cliffs to the water crashing below. And it is insanely windy.

But you can only stay up on top of windy cliffs for so long, and eventually we had to come down. For the cycle back we took the coast road so that we could have a look at the seal colony, but there were only two seals on this occasion and they were not very close to the beach. Not like the seals back in Kaikoura that are always hanging around in large numbers on the rocks. By the time we were back on the ferry we were all so tired. And not so much then but by the next day my legs were absolutely killing me - that was a lot of cycling!