Monday, 8 February 2016

George Osbourne went to the Superbowl sponsored by Google

No. No he didn't, but it did make for a good headline for this blog post. A more accurate title might have been "George Osbourne went to the Superbowl (which is sponsored by Google)", but I doubt you'd have been clicking to read this with the same fervour or anger.

However, this morning I awoke to find this re-tweeted into my timeline:

At first glance, it was interesting, and I had the initial reaction of "Of course he bloody was, neo-capitalist old boys club" which I'm ingrained, through years of hating the conservatives and their ilk, to feel.

This post isn't a defence of George Osbourne. It's not even a defence of Google. Although, it is being typed in a google chrome web-browser, but even still, I'm not sponsored by Google. This post is about how through a zest for making a point, the rantings of a comic-posing-as-a-newspaper are legitimized.

You see, we're taught that the Daily Mail is a hateful, deceitful, lying rag. Yet, this argument, with all it's rational, evidence based reasoning and logic is thrown away when an article has a jazzy headline that a) bolsters our political hatred and b) is easy to tweet without reference. Thus bolstering it as a factual reference source. Much in the same way that if we repeatedly assert that Bob Holness played the saxophone on Baker St, the original sax player is lost to history.

I decided to find out where this revelation came from, and knowing that the Superb Owl had finished its yearly flight merely 10 hours ago, I decided to do a twitter search (google wouldn't have been as accurate, and as we know would have censored everything to do with the conservatives, ahem #tinfoilhat)

In the twitter search results, there were the usual suspects in amongst a slew of tweets referencing Osbourne's free seats courtesy of google, and how this so obviously points to the reasons behind Google's lenient tax payments (as an aside, I'm sure that those who are so very angry at this set of cross border tax affairs are all reved up and ready to vote alongside UKIP to leave the EU, yeah? Fuckity Bye to You).

Yet, there were no links to any evidence or articles. Until, that is, you scrolled further down to the origin. A Daily Fucking Mail link.

Yeah, today's piece of ammunition against the pesky Osbourne, comes from the same source that we are concurrently told is a pile of lies and not to be trusted. In fairness, to the staff writer at the Mail, the headline does make it clear that it's the Superbowl that's sponsored by Google, rather than Osbourne, but then again, as Facebook news-feed mathematical challenges make it clear to us: you can appear smarter with poor use of punctuation and language than by actually being intellectual.

The article makes no note of Google paying for Osbournes flights nor seats, it even says, at the bottom line, that Osbourne was there 'privately'. Just like the other 10's of thousand's of spectators.

I guess the point that I'm trying to make is: by all means attack and debate the conservatives online, but please, let's stick to the facts and reputable sources. It'll get you less re-tweets, but it'll give you more respect.

Anyways, Osbourne probably doesn't even use an Android phone, he seems like the kind to use an iPhone, and didn't Apple get lenient tax rates too? Let's jump down the conspiro-spiral again!

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Lecturing with google Slides (Post 3: academia and chromebooks)

I'm sorry for the delay in the next instalment for my series on science and academic uses of google chromebooks. A close friend of mine passed away, and that's taken up most of my thought processes for the last week or so. Thank you very much for the response to the last post on google docs and paperpile, it was great to hear from a bunch of you via the comments, google+, and the chromeos sub-reddit. In particular, I'd like to thank the person who pointed me towards GetDataJoy as a method of coding in Python on the chromebook. I'll be doing a full write-up of that in the future. However, today's post is fairly simple and will discuss the use of google Slides for lecturing in the class room.

Preparing lectures

If you are familiar with Powerpoint and the many derivatives, then there's not really a whole lot to say about google Slides. It is simple to use for creating clean slides, with enough animations and transitions to keep the audience happy/pissed-off. I used to be an OpenOffice Impress user for all my lecturing and conference presentations, but I have been converted to google Slides for a number of reasons.

Firstly, there are helpful guides for placement of objects when you are arranging the slides. These are simple red lines which, intelligently, appear when you drag or re-size an object and let you know if you are centred or aligned with the other objects on the page.

Secondly, things just look better than compared with OpenOffice. I don't know if this is just because it's new, but I genuinely believe that the fonts and shapes are rendered better in Slides. The available transitions look great when used in moderation, although I tend to only use the 'cube' transition for section changes and leave transitions turned off for every other slide.

Thirdly, and this isn't something that I use particularly often, but I like the ability to turn up at a lecture theatre empty handed, safe in the knowledge that I can use the browser on the theatre's computer to give me my slides. Should I suffer a catastrophic loss of my laptop and/or chromebook, then this will be very useful in the future!

Student feedback and collaboration

A theme that runs through my love of using google chromebooks for my academic life is the ability to collaborate with other users. When it comes to lectures, this acts more as a feedback channel for students. Students, who opt-in, are given sharing access to my lecture slides and are then allowed to view the content in their own time.

Figure 1. For better or worse, students can add comments
If they have any questions about specific slides, they can leave comments on the side bar. At the next lecture, I am able to pull up the previous lecture's slides and work through any comments that have been left before continuing with the material. These comments also serve to help me improve the lectures for the next year's cohort. Let's call it formative assessment of my lecturing.

I am currently working on a series of lectures with another colleague, and by using Slides, we are able to directly work on the material together. This allows us to focus on what parts of the course we are giving to the students, and lowers the risk of missing parts out because we thought the other person had it covered.
Figure 2: Planning content for the students to suit all parties

Keeping the screen turned on!

During the first lecture which I presented with my chromebook, I came across a really annoying feature: chromebooks don't have an in-built feature to keep the screen on, nor do they have the ability to change the amount of time it would allow before turning off the screen. I would spend 10-15 minutes lecturing via Slides before heading over to the whiteboard to expand on an item, or work through an example. I'd get half way through the example and the chromebook would be in sleep mode, turning off the HDMI output and all. It would then take a small amount of time to come back to full working mode. Our University uses eduroam for WiFi and this is the main slow point when working on the cloud (and is currently causing me annoyance by dropping out while typing this!).

Figure 3: Keep awake button on
the button bar.
I found, through an internet search, that I was not alone in feeling this annoyance. I found a plug-in for chrome which has three settings: Default, Screen Always On, and Never Sleep. I would advise that people who want to use their chromebook to install this plug-in immediately. However, don't do as I did and leave it on "Never Sleep" when they put their chromebook back in their bag for travelling home. That didn't end well. 

Always leave them wanting more

As ever, there are things missing from Slides that I'd expect from a presentation package. Particularly, I would love to have a proper slide organiser viewpoint. Currently, slides are presented down the left hand side of the screen and are able to be organised here. This gets pretty awkward with 20+ slides that need to be re-arranged.

After writing about how much I loved Paperpile, I would love for paperpile to be available for Slides. However, this would require Slides to have Add-On's in the same way that Docs does. I find it strange that they haven't made Slides as extensible as Docs in this respect. 

Until next time

That's about all I want to say at the moment about Slides. It's a fairly basic, but very useful, addition to the google Office environment. I think I'll write about GetDataJoy in my next article, but I am open to suggestions. 

Oh! Before I go, does anyone else notice their chromebook gets really sluggish if they don't restart it after 2-3 days, crashing individual tabs, and ultimately freezing? I thought that a selling point of a chromebook was that it wouldn't do this. I'm currently using an Acer CB3-111, and trying to work out if it is on its way out and I need an upgrade (my model only has 2GB RAM), or if this is a problem that will be persistent.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Academia and chromebooks Part 2: Collaborative writing with google Docs and Paperpile

Thank you for the response to the previous post about using Google Sheets to organise a lab group. I really didn't expect to have such a high readership or engagement on the first post! That has given me motivation to carry on the series. Today's topic is Google Docs and Paperpile for collaborative writing.

Google docs for collaborative writing

There are many reasons as to why I've made the switch to Google docs for my academic writing (including the basic "I have a chromebook and it doesn't run Microsoft Word").  The main reason being that most academic writing is collaborative and therefore Google Docs is a great solution to the revision tracking and management problem.

If you work as a researcher in a University you will be aware of the high number of collaborative documents that have to be written.  I have grown very tired of the rigmarole of sending Word documents between the writers, all using different referencing packages, different styles for naming the file after revisions, and of course, different proficiencies at editing the most up to date version of the document. If there is an easy content management system, such as github, for Word documents, I've yet to see it. Google docs allows a single document to be edited by all writers at any one moment, with changes easily visible and revisions tracked.

Figure 1: Adding comments to student reports without writing it for them.
When I have a student who has to write a report, I have them start a new Google Docs document and immediately share it with my email address. That way I can keep an eye on their progress as they write it, without having to wait for them to send the first of many Word files in the early hours of the morning, which get hidden amongst all the other spam that arrives through the night. This might sound a bit 'Big Brother', however, in this case I have found that students work more on their reports if they are aware that I am keeping an eye on it.

I have to be careful to avoid writing reports for my students, and therefore, when I have a shared document with the student, I have the sharing properties set to "Can view and comment" only. With comments, I can give the student immediate feedback on their writing (shown in figure 1), and they have the option to respond, accept or (if they are bolshie), decline.

Paperpile: A reference manager for Google chrome and Docs

For a word processor to be useful for academic writing, there needs to be an easy way to incorporate a bibliography for citing other work. Over the years I have tried many different programs, from Endnote to Mendeley via Zotero, with the Mendeley being my favourite for OpenOffice work. Unfortunately, Mendeley doesn't have a Google Docs extension and therefore I had to find another option.
Figure 2: Adding a web reference to Paperpile with the Google chrome extension.
That's when I found Paperpile. This is an on-line reference manager that operates in much the same way as Mendeley. There are three parts to paperpile, the website and the extension (shown in Figure 2) in Google chrome (it is currently only available for chrome), and the Google Doc add-on. 

The Paperpile website acts as the reference manager portion of Paperpile. You sign in with your Google account, tell it where you want to store PDFs on your drive and away you go. You can manually enter information about papers, but the real power comes from the extension.  When you come across a paper that you would like to have in your reference library, you simply press the button on your tool-bar and the document is ripped of its metadata, entered into your Paperpile library and, if available, the PDF file stored to a folder in your Google drive. 

Over the years I have amassed a large reference library (and corresponding pdf folder). Paperpile had no issues when importing this in to its own library, it even has the ability to import from Mendeley while retaining any sub-folders and organisation you had.
Figure 3: Citing a document with paperpile
It is easy to cite documents using paperpile through the Google Doc add-on (shown in Figure 3), and the references are automatically listed at the end of the document (with all the standard Harvard, Chicago, etc formats that you'd expect).  The paperpile add-on also allows you to search for papers online which you don't have in your library and cite them (behind the scenes, paperpile adds the ones you use to your library).

Another great thing about paperpile is its Shared Folders. I can create a folder for each research project in my lab to act as a repository for the researchers working in that field, then they have immediate access. This is much easier than sending them email, after email, of PDFs to read, and allows them to cite the papers immediately in their documents.

I have been very impressed with Paperpile and have purchased enough licenses for my lab-group members to use it in their work. Student's have a habit of neglecting their referencing when writing reports, but through the use of google-docs and Paperpile, I have managed to improve their grades in this area. 

Imperfections: Areas that need improving

Despite giving a glowing, google-fan-boy, review of Google Docs here and to my colleagues, there are a number of imperfections and improvements that I would like to see. Firstly, and this is a really strange omission on Google Doc's part is the absence of captions for figures inside a google Document. While writing this post in Google Blogger, I can add an image and then give it a caption which is formatted and appears under the image. This doesn't, for some reason, exist in google Docs despite the common interface.

Another omission is the ability to number headings and produce a proper table of contents. Currently, I am using a third party add-on to number my headings and subheadings, which works OK except that the table of contents doesn't show the corresponding page numbers. If anyone knows of a third party add-on that does this, please let me know. 

Finally, the only criticism I have of Paperpile is the lack of an offline mode. I have seen this addressed by Paperpile, and that it is due to the design of the back-end of the database. If an offline mode was available (alongside OpenOffice and Word plugins), I could definitely see Paperpile overtaking Mendeley as the reference manager of choice. 

Next article

Thanks for reading, I'm sorry that it turned out to be quite a long post. Perhaps I should have split this in to one post for google docs, and one for paperpile. The next post will be about preparing lectures with google Slides.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Science Labs and Teaching with chromebooks (Part 1)

A new series of posts for 2016

I've decided to start a series of blog posts about my day to day life at the University of the West of Scotland where I am Research Theme Leader for Ultrasound Imaging. The main focus of these posts will be the use of a chromebook for Academic and scientific work. The reasoning behind this is to disprove the, false, notion that chromebooks are merely devices for browsing the internet and social networking.

I currently use an Acer CB11 chromebook, it's not the most flashy of devices but it does most of everything that I require. I dabbled with crouton for a few weeks to get a full linux desktop on the chromebook, however, I didn't use it enough to justify the space it took up and therefore I powerwashed the device back to the standard chromeOS. These blog posts will try and stick as close to a standard chromebook as possible.

I have a rough idea of the topics that I will cover in upcoming posts (which will start properly after this list!), and I am open to suggestions and comments from readers regarding their use, positive or negative of chromebooks in any academic environment. Upcoming topics include:

  • Running a lab-group with Google Sheets 
  • Academic writing with Google Docs and Paperpile
  • Presenting lectures with Google Slides
  • Project planning with Gantt

Running a lab-group with Google Sheets 

I currently run a small research group which focusses on Ultrasound Imaging, and developing high resolution probes for biomedical imaging and NDT measurements. I currently have 2 PhD students and 2 undergraduates working for me. In the near future I am recruiting 3 post-docs, and will have 4 visiting students working in the laboratory. Each person working in my group has their own research project which they work on autonomously, with overlap to other projects to install a group dynamic and teamwork.

I was looking for a simple method of keeping track on the research and work carried out in the lab-spaces, preferably with a method to produce reports or summaries of outputs and issues. In the past I have designed an SQL database with front-end to gather this information, but I found that this took up too much time in the debugging and design stages. Google Sheets provided a simple solution which the lab members have found easy to adjust to.
Figure 1: Google Sheet set-up for lab recording

Instead, a google Sheet was created with five, self explanatory columns (Figure 1) and a form is used as the front-end (shown in figure 2) All lab members are advised to keep the link as a bookmark in their browsers. At the end of each day spent in the lab, the user visits the form and enters their data. This has been designed to take no more than 20 seconds, and is to be used as a shorthand summary of their formal lab-books. I have designed the form such that the member selects their name from a drop-down list, this reduces their data-entry time and formalises their name as the identifier for their data. 
Figure 2: Form presented to the user
Once their content is submitted, the spreadsheet is automatically populated. Since the spreadsheet is hosted by google-docs, I have access to this data anywhere that I have internet access (via the google Sheets app on Android, or my chromebook).

However, the main benefit of using this method is the ability to have a worksheet for each member of the lab inside the google Sheets file. In each worksheet, a pivot table is used to create a live report of their work. Some of my lab members have to fill out a monthly report for their Visa requirements, and the ability to send them a monthly PDF of their pivot worksheet as a lab progress report is a real time saver. 

As part of the running of the lab group, I hold weekly meetings with the whole group to keep track of what is happening. Using a chromebook to have immediate access to these pivot tables for each lab member has been very useful for engaging with the quieter members of the group.

Inside the main spreadsheet, I have my own private columns where I can add notes and tags (project names, other supervisors etc) to expand the usefulness of the data. With this supplementary data, I have my own set of pivot tables that allows me to pull out entries relating to a body of work or project (or indeed, time period), allowing me to keep better track of what is happening in my lab group.

This method doesn't use any special software or add-ons (indeed it would work on any computer with access to google docs), and I would recommend it as a free method of logging your lab member's work. The benefit of using a chromebook is the 10 hour battery life for when I am in the lab all day and away from my office, with the spreadsheet available as an offline file for where the WiFi is patchy (hello 1970's architecture!).

In the next post, I'll talk about how I engage with my student's academic writing with Google Docs, and the use of the wonderful Paperpile app as a reference manager and citation tool.


Monday, 9 March 2015

United Colours of The Port, Greenock and Paisley too.


On Friday night I went along to the New Hellfire Club's music shop in the Hidden Lane area of Argyle St in Glasgow to watch the amazing James 'Bar' Bowen and Johnny Campbell. While I was there, I picked up a copy of San Fran and the Siscos​'s EP. It included a music version of a poem by Jim Monaghan​ called "United Colours of Cumnock". I've had it's words and rhythm going around my head all weekend.
While the poem is set in the Ayrshire town of Cumnock, it reminds me just as much about Port Glasgow where I went to High School, Greenock where I spent much of my late teenage years, and Paisley where I have come to live now. I have to think long and hard about any night out that I have had in these towns that hasn't fallen down the conversational pithole of "where are you from?"

I was born in the west end of Glasgow, but then grew up in the relatively well off village of Langbank (catchment area for Port Glasgow High School), before going back to Glasgow for University, it's a hard question for me to answer in a confident manner. I've had my house in Gallowhill, Paisley, for around 9 years now, yet I feel that I'm not allowed to respond to the question and call it my home. It's always followed up by "yeah, but you're not from here, where did you go to school?". I left school in 2001, the people asking the question probably left many years before that.

If it's not my accent, it's my shyness, or my reluctance to pepper every fucking sentence with another fucking swearword in front of fucking strangers. I am more than likely politically aligned with most of the people I meet in Scottish bars (in that, I mean that I don't tend to hang out in the Bullingdon clubs of Glasgow nor am I Little Lord Fauntleroy observing the citizens), yet they have a scepticism of me based on something I have no control over.

Yet, despite this, I don't move away. I don't think I really feel an attachment to any other place in the country. I tried living in Dundee for a few years, but the city didn't ever really click with me. Strange, since on paper it should have done so, especially with some of the closest friends that I've met up there.

That said, I have tried living in New York too, and if money, commitments, and lifestyle had allowed I doubt I would have boarded the return flight.

Why? Because it gave me most of the things that I love about living in the west coast of Scotland, but without the bagagge of classrooms, football, and hypothetical silver spoons. Hell, I even found myself living in an area with not that dissimilar an economic demographic to that of Gallowhill. Pub conversations were an anxiety-free utopia where no one that I met cared for where I came from beyond the door of the bar (once we'd established that I wasn't from Ireland, and didn't know their pal from Edinburgh).

Anyway, this wasn't meant to be a well formed blog post, more a way of bringing an amazing and brilliant poem to your attention. It hasn't helped me to truly understand why I'm drawn back here, but it made me think about it.


UNITED COLOURS OF CUMNOCK
by Jim Monaghan 

My town is a green town, but it's not a 'fuck the queen' green town,
it's a tree in every scene town,
wae gairdens freshly dug.
That's green that pours through every crack,
through pavements, viaducts, fitba' parks,
where men who suffer heart attacks,
go walks wae three-leg dugs.

My town is a blue town, a 'who the fuck are you' town,
a 'what school did you go to' town
and 'are you one of us?'
That's blue that seeps through doors and walls,
fae pubs and bookies, village halls,
where men would guard old Derry's walls,
instead o' guarding us.

My town was once a red town, another miner dead town,
a men who fought and bled town,
wae brave and stalwart wives.
That's red that came fae meeting rooms,
fae folk that worked the pumps and looms.
when burgh bands played different tunes,
and we marched for better lives.

But now my town's a grey town, a 50 mils a day town,
a watch life slip away town,
a tunnel wae nae light.
That's grey that weeps fae dying eyes,
bewildered parents, children's cries,
wae skinny arms and stick-like thighs,
and nae strength left to fight.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Digitally encoding ourselves

In the history of mankind, has there ever been a technology that has had as massive an effect on our social interactions as the internet? Sure, the ability to transmit information from city to city via pigeon reduced the amount of social engagement on the horse-drawn highways, and the data transmit rates of around 6 words per week allowed us to plan for war, but our day to day relationships with friends were unchanged.

Radio came along and increased the availability of information, but still humans would go out and meet other humans to discuss the events over a tea or a coffee, with perceptions of their closest friends unchanged unless an argument should arise. Even then, at least it was face to face with the right to reply.

Telephones took us from the safe and private walls of our houses to the mercy of a ringing bell. I know you that you don't have to answer a ringing phone, but I always feel equal parts "what fresh hell is this?" and "this might be good news".

Television's emergence in the 40s and 50s did have a greater effect on social activities, first it was the parents who stayed in to watch their programs while the newly emerging sub-group of the "teenagers" went out to cafes and concerts. Through this emerged a fear of the teenagers and a rebellion against the parents, and perhaps one that has continued to this day. Role reversal started occurring with the introduction of youth based soap operas, then home-based computer games, and eventually the internet.

With the internet as we know it now, it is not merely the interactions between the youth and the elders who's interactions have been altered. The very fabric of friendship has been altered to an almost unrecognised state from ten, perhaps even 5 years ago. All because ever increasing numbers of us are digitally encoding ourselves on to the internet.

It's not lossless encoding though, it's iMP3 rather than iFLAC. I like to look at social media websites in the same way that I'd view a car park filled with my friend's cars. Sure, I can recognise the driver from the littered items on display through the windows and locked doors but it stops short of showing me the full person and how they came to be who they are today.

We say that we know people "In real life" as a qualifier about how we know an actual human being, rather than their digital encoded self. I have many people who I know and am fond of In Real Life(TM), that I find hard to stomach online, and I am sure that there are many, many people who can say the same about me. It always amazes me when I get home from a rather shit gig or a dull night out to find out how a fellow attendee had a "pure totes amazing night last night", as if the event didn't take place if it falls below a perceived enjoyment threshold.

Radio and Television might have made us question our towns and cities, but it never had the ability to make us question friend or foe inside such a close circle of people.

We live in an age where "pics or it didn't happen", where the blue and grey colour scheme of facebook comments assert allegiance and opinion beyond context and in-jokes, where apologies are posted for public sympathy rather than forgiveness from those we have hurt, and where people find they have to live up to, or stand-by, their digital representation to complete strangers (who are doing the same in return).

I sometimes look at my Facebook, or at my Twitter, or whatever and wonder what, or who, my encoded form says that I am. Yeah, that I like music, that I play music, I do a bit of science, I can be partial to the odd lash-out, I like having a drink with friends, and that I don't like the Conservatives.

Yet, it misses out so much more that are none-the-less-real because I have chosen to make them artifacts of the encoding process.

We can have dull nights, and we're all the better for it.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Let's not make this even more of a rich man's world.

With my job, I get to travel around a lot. From Minneapolis to Heidelberg, New York to Nice, I've enjoyed the ability to visit countries and cities with a frequency that I otherwise would not have been able to afford. The main activity of these trips is work related, be it presenting at a conference, having meetings or carrying out lab experiments. However, every single academic would be lying if they tried to say with any conviction that they haven't made use of such trips for a bit of pleasure.

A typical oversees conference (of which there are several each year) will cost around £1000 to attend. This includes the registration fees of the conference (several £100s depending on the conference), the accommodation (usually for more than 3 nights), flights, local transport, and any dinners needed outside the onslaught of free conference food. I'm not sure about you, but I can't really justify spending £1000 on a holiday for myself and my wife each year let alone several times a year in order to full-fill the conditions of my employment.

Naturally, you are not obliged to go to conferences, but missing out on attending means that you isolate yourself from the academic community of your field. Your name doesn't get out there, and you find it difficult to form the collaborations needed to bring in more funding for more work (and conferences).

So, why am I bringing this all up now? Well, I recently returned from a conference in the south of France where the dinner table turned to politics. There was a general dislike of politicians from the PhD students (and a couple of eminent professors) rising from the expenses scandal. Even outside the academic field, this is a major complaint for politicians.

Let me make this clear: We were sitting in a fancy restaurant in Nice, eating fine food, listening to people complain about Expenses being Exploited by Politicians, all before collecting our receipts so that we could claim back the dinner later!

Did any of these academics order a side salad with a side of water? Of course not. The amount we are allowed to spend on our per-day food costs isn't infinite, but it is enough that trips for work are comfortable enough that discussions can be held away from the screaming kids of a Burger King.

I'm not a rich man from working in Academia (I'd be in industry if I wanted that), but also, I am not an academic because I'm a rich man. If the expenses weren't there, most of the scientists working in the UK universities wouldn't be able to afford to do their job. This would ultimately close off the job to the upper echelons of our society (would a shallow gene pool really give us the best science? Prince Phillip, PhD etc?!).  It could also lead to increased intervention by companies, privately funding science and guiding it and its results towards their own ends*.

So, back to politicians:

Let's look at it the other way, let's cut every single politician off from the 'gravy train' of expenses. Let's make an MP for Inverness attend parliament and meetings in London on their own cash. Let's have the MP for the Highlands and Islands (Is that a constituency?) travel between London to Mull to London to Bute and back again under their own funds. What kind of people would be able to do this kind of job? Rich people. People with massive amounts of disposable income that they can use to fly around the place.

Is this the type of person that we want to restrict the job of running our country to?

Or, do we want to have a system in place such that the MP for the most northern parts of Scotland, or the MP for the most rural parts of Wales, to have the same ability to do their job as their South of England counterparts? I'm not saying that the current system is perfect, I believe that the amount of expenses available should be based on distance of travel. However, it absolutely should not be scrapped altogether because of a few bad eggs.

Ranting about a politician claiming £1.50 for a bottle of Irn Bru? No matter how much of an absolute, scheming, bastard that politician is, it only serves to divert attention away from more important matters (see also: politicians picking on a Glasgow Bar's sense of humour, or new politician's younger self's Twitter feed).

So, next time I'm at a conference, I will be on expenses, but because I want to keep my job (and I don't have the luxury of the public voting me in and out), I will play the game and have a sandwich and a bottle of Irn Bru rather than the caviar, foi gras and gold ice cream.

*Some of my work has been funded, in part, by a private company, but I have never been pressurised to or compensated for, guiding the results towards the companies manifesto. Science is Science, and if it doens't say what the company want's, then that's still what the company gets.