Tuesday, 28 August 2007

A251 World archaeology

What have I done???

Here I am, a died in the wool scientific type, and I'm taking an Arts course? I struggle with the essays in S103, I barely scraped a pass in O level English, I'm humiliated by the S204 essays, so why would I pick an arts course?

Actually, why did I pick an arts course? I'm not sure I have a good answer or reason.

OK - so there were a couple of things in its favour. Archaeology - which I can barely spell the same way twice - is more scientific than, say, analysing the motives of Shakespeare, or writing a novel. It also has no exam. Its also all eTMA based, which unlike all the science courses I'm on means you can submit course work electronically! Call me paranoid, but trusting work to the postal system just seems archaic these days!
The other thing in its favour is its in the dead season - September-January, when there aren't really any 2nd/3rd level courses in sciences running - at least none I need for the degree I'm aiming at.

So here I am, sitting with a huge book The Human Past: World Prehistory and the Development of Human Societies that at nearly 800 pages looks like a lot of reading.
It also comes with a study guide, a calendar, a CD with 4 talks on it, plus the usual stuff such as the CD-ROM of software (which I now have about 10 copies of - of various vintages), a stop press and an introductory letter.

Looking at the calendar gives me my second shock after the size of the book, the first TMA is due in late September. I'd vaguely hoped there would be nothing much to hand in until late October by which time my S204 exam would be history. Oh well, if I'm going to get out of my comfort zone, it might as well be well out!

However for now, I don't have much time to look into it much. I need to finish the S204 course for which I've now done nearly all the reading and complete the last TMA for that. Then hopefully I can do enough for A251 TMA-1 and then go into S204 revision mode for the exam.
Hey - its a plan, whether it is a reasonable one, I'll let you know!

Friday, 24 August 2007

S204: TMA-5

This TMA turns out to be the worst so far.

It all starts off gently enough. Question 1 is a question asking about the stomata in plants.
I figure that's a pretty easy one, and its only 800 words so how hard can it be?

I then discover an entire chapter devoted pretty much to this subject in the book - OK so its going to take a bit more work. At least its work I know about and its just assembling he facts and stuff in the right order.

Then there is a choice of two options. One on microbes which looks at genetics of fungi. Another one about nutrients in plants. I'm usually reasonably good at genetics usually, but I know fungi are a bit odd, but this will probably make a good learning experience.

It starts off gently enough with a few definitions and a bit about restriction enzymes - not too bad, it needs a bit of research but it all looks good.

Then I get to part e(ii) of the question, and suddenly I am completely and utterly stumped for the first time in this course. There is some data presented and its all rather confusing. Probabilities in the 0.2 range I find confusing. A figure of 0.05 is usually biologically significant, but 0.2 is not that far away from 0.05, certainly nearer to it than it is to 1.0. I go around in circles on this part of the question for ages - several weeks.

I managed to find the original paper its based but it wasn't much help. My tutor comes up with some suggestions but it doesn't make it any clearer in my mind. Lots of other people are stuck on this too - the sensible ones move onto Q3 instead. I ask a friend who is a senior lecturer in neuroscience and deals with genes all day long if he has any suggestions on how to approach it, he has no ideas and passes it onto a colleague in genetics. He takes it home to look at, but I don't get an answer! Well at least it makes me feel better.

I try and convince myself I can do this, and keep picking away at it. I eventually come up with an answer to all parts of the question, but they are more expressions of hope than anything else.
I leave it for a couple of weeks whilst I'm away on SXR103 and SXR270 residential courses, but it doesn't get any better looking at it with a fresh perspective.

Its my lowest point of the course so far. I know the exam is coming up and I've worried a bit about that, but its more how can I cram all these facts into my head sort of stuff - solvable stuff - at least in principle. I didn't really have any issues with the understanding, more the remembering. This episode has rather shaken my confidence though.

Monday, 20 August 2007

S204: Book 6 Animals

The last book!
Finally getting to the end of the course, and another 270 pages to read. Its not quite what I expected for a book with this title.

The first chapter is about diversity of invertebrates - ok fair enough. Then we move onto insects and similar things, which are invertebrates too. Next its parasites, and some of the pictures are enough to turn you off the whole subject!
Then we're onto vertebrates - you know, mammals, reptiles, fish - but it focuses mainly on their tissue types and how these are used by different things.
Finally a chapter on the molecular biology of the vertebrate and its evolutionary passage.

It sort of covers most of the things I think such a book should, but it sort of sneaks up on them. Nothing is covered in much detail really. I mean, its covered ion much more detail than most people would know about, but somehow it all seems to go by so fast. Eyes, nose and taste are covered, but not things like livers and kidneys. The blood system is covered, but not the heart.

Still - its getting towards the end of the course, and its good that there isn't too much else to remember for the exam.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

S204: Book 5 Plants

Another largish tomb to digest. Book 5 is all about plants.

It starts off with the simplest of plants like mosses and so on, and works its way through the whole field. There is quite a lot of detail, and the start of the book I find rather heavy going as it introduces all the different types and their various ways of reproducing. Its a lot of alphabet soup here as all manner of new terms and structures are described in quick succession. Everything under the sun has a new somethingaphore or blastothingy

However it does get into more of the stuff I like, such as the mechanisms of photosystems and the molecular detail of transport systems and such like. Yes, I know I'm weird but thanks for asking! CAM and C4 plants also get a mention - you'd have though RuBisCO would have sorted itself out by now, I mean its had several hundred million years to get it right, if not several billion!

Then we get into water transport, stomata and xylem, followed by phloem and sugar transport and all that stuff. There is a lot of detail on this and its all quite interesting, but again there are a lot of words to learn. Sieve tubes, companion cells, pressure-flow, cohesion-tension theories etc.

After that we explore the flowering mechanisms, and also re-examine the auxin theory of phototropism. This has changed substantially since I last looked at it, it seems the early researchers came to premature conclusions based on reasonable evidence.

It rounds off with a section on microbes, seeds and interactions between them.