On the home run with the Infectious Disease (SK320) revision

Three weeks from today, it’ll be down to the final morning of the SK320 revision before the exam in the afternoon.

For a 30 point course, the volume of material is enormous with 1400 A4 pages. That’s roughly equivalent to 2000 normal Open University sized pages and doesn’t, of course, include the 20-odd tutorials with their associated notes. Some of the “read if you have time” references were even larger with HEAT running to around 3000 pages all by itself.

So what’s left to revise? Well, loads seeing as it’s been taking longer than expected to get my revision notes into shape.

I’m in the midst of phase one, in which I go through my copy of the learning outcomes and chapter summaries and add diagrams and notes from the text that seem to be missing from the summaries. Given the sheer volume of the original text, this is taking ages to do and I really need to get that done in the next two weeks before I move onto phase 2 of my revision. For S377, this took a while due to the diagrams but it’s mostly text this time around. The group this year has one very visual person who’s been plugging away running up diagrams for many of the major topics which look like they’ll be quite useful in that final week.

Phase two, which I do in the final week is reading through the enhanced summaries produced in phase one. For SK320, there are 30 pages which amounts to roughly ten pages per block – a fairly manageable amount of text to read through and, hopefully, memorise. Also in this phase I’ll be looking over the past papers and specimen exam paper. Since this is a fairly new course, there are only two past papers but in principle I could also look at the past papers of the predecessor course, S320.

One addition to phase two this time around is the part C topic which, this year, is on MERS. We’ve to research this and on the day will be asked to write a report on specific aspects of it. I’ve read over the initial research and given that it’s only a 500-600 word answer that they’re looking for, that’s probably enough to read over. What I’ve not, yet, done is sort out two potential tables or diagrams which they want in the answer.

Finally, there’s also the business of gathering together the things for the exam bag. This time, that’s fairly easy as it’s the same things that I needed for S377 which means the various coloured pencils, rulers, pens, pencils, Lucozade, wine gums and ID. Going by the quite strict timelimits on the parts of the exam, there won’t be time for a whole lot of “wine gum moments” but it’s hard to say at this point as I’ve not really looked at any past papers.

Last, but not least, is a bit of familiarisation with the exam format. As with most biology papers, this is divided into three distinct parts. The first is 10 from a choice of 12 short questions covering the whole course but not in a whole lot of detail. As always, these are a bit hit and miss but, usually, my revision notes get me through this section. The second part is the data handling question which can sometimes be done without knowing a whole lot about the course itself though it can throw you a bit if you know nothing about the topic covered. Finally, there’s the research question which this year is on MERS. I’m not really keen on that type of question as you could do loads of research and find that they asked something that you didn’t cover or you could do a very basic amount and find that it was on exactly what you’d read.

Marks-wise, if you’ve passed the assignments, the overall course mark is entirely dependent on the exam mark. That in turn is broken down with 50% on the short questions and 25% each for the data handling and research questions. The research question has a peculiar marking scheme: 1 mark for a title of up to 10 words, 2 for an abstract of up to 40 words, 2 each for your introduction and conclusion, 2 for each of two diagrams/tables, 2 for the style and 12 for the content. Given that the question they tend to ask you to address usually seems to have four parts, that’s three points per part so it’s not a total disaster if you can’t answer one or two of them. Thus far, I’ve done rather well with the marks on this course and a disctinction seems within striking distance but, of course, that could change dramatically on the day.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

What about a holiday in the UK?

Much as you might think that holidays have to be abroad, that just isn’t the case at all.

For every category of holiday that you get abroad, there’s somewhere that you can do the very same thing at home.

Disneyland? No, but there’s Alton Towers. Sea and sand? There’s hundreds of miles of it right around Great Britain! Cheap family holidays? Caravan Parks have long been a fixture in the UK holiday season. They provide all the facilities that you’ve probably experienced in leisure parks abroad.

What about those caravan parks though? Put the old style image of Butlins out of your head when you think about a modern caravan park. You’ll get all the facilities that you’d expect in a “normal” holiday resort from pools to modern spas along with a nightlife that would put many places to shame. As far as the “caravan” goes, think of it as a small house because it’s in a whole different league than any caravan you’ll have seen if you’ve not considered them for a few years or have only seen those being towed along the road.

And that’s just the resort. Many of them are located a short distance from major attractions offering you an additional range of activities.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

How detached from reality are the Northern Ireland politicians?

Peter Robinson wrote an interesting summary of the situation with politics in Northern Ireland last week.

For those that don’t know, the government in Northern Ireland is a mandatory coalition that requires agreement on major issues. That agreement is proving to be impossible to get in the very central area of welfare reform which poses particular difficulties as Peter pointed out.

Welfare is a major proportion of the overall Stormont budget so any adjustments required to the welfare budget tend to involve large sums of money. Historically Northern Ireland has mirrored any changes in the welfare system on the mainland and the problem now is that they’re moving to universal credit and putting a cap on the benefits that a family can receive but Sein Fein don’t agree with that as they say that it imposes cuts on vulnerable sections of society. To an extent, they are correct if you take the assumption that people living on benefits are by definition vulnerable. However, to pay people what is in some cases considerably more than the same family could gain through working seems fundamentally wrong. Also worth noting is that average salaries in NI are lower than in the rest of the UK so it can pay people not to work.

In that the rest of the UK are cutting benefit payments, they are reducing the amount paid to NI by the amount that they estimate that welfare reform would save. As noted above, these are big numbers and without welfare reform these reductions are having knock-on effects in the public services provided by other areas of government in NI so, for instance, the reduction in payments to the Department of Regional Development means that they can’t afford to maintain all the street lights anymore.

However, a bigger problem is that the computer system which makes the payments is in England and supported by IT staff in England and both are in the process of being wound down as those benefits transfer to universal credit. In principle, the NI government could take over both but the money required to do that is quite staggering: Peter had been quoted £200-£300 million pounds per year to maintain them. They’re also quite old systems and he’s been quoted £1.6 billion to replace them. That’s a lot more than the NI based systems which preceeded them cost but going back to those systems isn’t a runner as the teams which supported them have long since dispersed. To give an idea of how different the scale is, the model of computer which ran all systems in the NI civil service just before they were moved to England was the same model as was used in England just to control the printers. Hence, natually, the IT teams were somewhat larger eg a typical benefit support team in NI was three people compared to 30 in England supporting their version of the system.

Finally, there’s the time issue. A decision to change to universal credit or to take over running the old systems needs to be made quite soon or those benefits affected will simply stop being paid and the deadline for that decision isn’t far off.

So what will they do? They can’t continue to not make a decision for sure but there doesn’t seem to be any clear way out of the impasse. Peter’s suggestion that they hand back welfare to Westminster is going to meet strong opposition from a range of parties. Westminster taking it back either voluntarily or compulsorily may not be easy to do either and also has a deadline as staff need trained and systems updated not to mention the reintegration of NI welfare.

What’s clear is that they need to make a decision and soon.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

The transformation of family history research

A number of new information services that have came online in recent years have transformed the ease and ability to do family history research almost beyond recognition.

First of these was the arrival of the Irish censuses of 1901 and 1911 which make location of your family in those years a whole lot easier. As always, the more information that you have the better but even having just the name of the father and mother will let you identify your family from that time rather than a family that just happened to have a father with the same name as your grandfather. If you don’t already have a location for their house at that time, this will get you one along with the ages of them and all their children, plus the occupations of those working.

More recently, the General Records Office in Northern Ireland have allowed searches of records older than 75 years and that can get you well back with your family tree in very short order. With this you can search for births, marriages and deaths and get a copy of the certificates for £2 (searches are free and may be enough for you initially). Marriages are the best place to start as with just the name of the couple you can pick up the name of the father of each of them, their age and, of course, where the marriage took place. This in turn may belp you go back a generation using the name of the groom and his father along with his age (all on the marriage certificate). In principle, that can let you go back to an earlier marriage certificate and thereby another generation though you quickly hit the 1864 limit on registrations from where it’s off to the Public Records Office and their church records.

Sooner or later, you drop off the end of the online records as the church records have not, yet, been put online (due in part to objections from the churches) but they are available on microfiche in the Public Records Office and that should let you go back another generation relatively easily (to go back more with ease depends on how mobile your ancestors were).

Which is not to forget the previous mainstay of family history research (i.e. the Mormon site) but the above are more dependable.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Beefy computers

One thing you don’t often think of for home use is a rackmount computer system.

However, that’s really what you should be looking at if you’re into something like serious gaming. Usually for gaming you’ll be sold the top end home computers but you can get a lot more for the money if you look at rackmount systems which basically start where the high end home PCs leave off so you’ve a lot more scope for heavy duty computing power.

Your only additional upfront cost is the rack itself but that’s something that doesn’t need to replace when you’re upgrading the components of your system.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.