In brief...

I'm a Nature-lover, aspiring conservationist, and wannabe traveller in search of outdoor adventure.
My interests vary from conservation to education to heritage to Nature (biodiversity & wildlife) to outdoor activities to life in general.
They occupy most of my waking moment.
Do read my blogs, follow me on Twitter (@jocelynesze) and friend me on Facebook (subject to my discretion). Visit my Nature blog, Nature Rambles, at http://natureramble.wordpress.com.

UPDATE 2 Apr 2017 - This site is no longer maintained, please visit jocelynesze.wordpress.com if you're interested in more recent writing.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Pretending to be a computer geek.

As anyone who knows me would know, I'm not much of a computer or tech geek. I don't care very much for the latest tech stuff nor do I really know what they do. I got the current MacBook Pro (MBP) I'm using in late 2011 (according to the laptop), when I somehow managed to destroy the previous one (something to do with flattening the screen too much). Passed that on to my older brother who managed to rehabilitate it. So I am somewhat of a brat, just getting a new thing to replace older things. But that's obviously pretty bad for the environment, and I'm trying to cut down on having things I don't need (which is really hard :/ So many books and outdoor kit).

I'm starting to realise however, that my 'childhood' dream ('childhood' cos it was more like when I was in my late teens; I was one of those iffy city kids who didn't like being dirty) of being a field biologist will likely never be achieved. It seems modelling/GIS skills are more in demand than field identification/sampling skills, and it's a lot easier to gain the latter skills by volunteering and hanging out with cool people (ie fellow biology geeks). So anyway, I'm trying to really brush up my coding skills (mostly R, but I've been trying to learn Python on my own to little avail due to my lack of discipline) and become familiar with GIS software. My MBP had started running really slowly sometime earlier this year, and my older bro suggested upgrading some of the hardware (RAM and hard drive). He had made the suggestion a year or so ago, but I brushed it aside thinking I didn't need it. Definitely wrong I was, and after dallying the whole summer, I finally got round to it last week.

I had issues with one of the plug-ins for QGIS, and it turned out it was cos I was on a fairly old OS (10.7 Lion). So I backed up my stuff and updated to the very recently released 10.11 El Capitan last Tuesday. I've always been rather apprehensive about the updating and upgrading of computers, probably cos in the past, things ALWAYS go wrong, and you lose everything/you have to reset all your preferences and stuff. I've gotten so used to doing things a certain way and having things look a certain way that I don't really wanna change, and if I had to I'm not sure I could make it like it was previously.

To my immense relief though, the transition was really quite smooth! Everything remained pretty much the same; my desktop picture, the extensions/plug-ins I had, the shortcuts I used etc. Sure, the look is slightly different but I can't pinpoint what it is and that doesn't really bother me. One thing though that was not the same after I updated was my language preferences. I'm on the 'British' keyboard (so I can easily type £), and I realised I was back on the U.S. one when I tried to type £ and got # instead.

By Friday, the Solid State Drive, RAM memory cards and the hard case enclosure I ordered had arrived and I had the weekend to do the hardware upgrading. I was rather excited and unnerved by the prospect of doing it, excited cos I've never done anything like that before and I can't wait to have an awesomely fast laptop, unnerved cos I was afraid I might ruin my laptop. I borrowed screwdrivers from our computing office, a fairly normal cross screwdriver and a Torx star-shaped one. Then I sat in my room and got ready. Backed up my computer into Time Machine again, and this time it took agesss. It started out being 9 hours, then 10, 12, and eventually 'about a day'. I cloned my HD to SSD at the same time, basically following these steps. Though I looked through several websites to make sure they were all saying about the same things first, and consulted my older brother and another friend, who were basically my tech advisors.

I left everything running over the weekend, and came back on Sunday to find that yay, nothing bad has happened. I used Super Duper, following this recommendation, but when I got back I couldn't tell if my SSD had really been cloned. I tried rebooting using the option start combo (holding down the option key while switching on the MBP) and selecting my SSD as the start up drive, but wasn't sure if it was really working, cos there were supposed to be some other options for me to select after I did that, but none came up (might be an El Capitan thing). I eventually rebooted from System Preferences to check that cloning was successful, before actually physically making the switch.

Wasn't entirely sure what this 'Other' was...

Cos my HD showed this...
Everything went rather well, I didn't lose any screws (used blu-tac to help me keep them in place), didn't break any fiddly little parts, and managed to fit the 8GB memory cards and the SSD back in place. Huge sigh of relief when I turned it back on and it worked :)

Blu-tac yay!
Before, with the HD and 2x2GB memory

After, with the SSD and 2x8GB memory!

So yay me, I was feeling rather pleased on Sunday night. I have had some issues, like R software not allowing me to open up dialog boxes to save/upload files (resolved that by using RStudio instead, or command line script), and more annoyingly, the new Preview not allowing me to annotate PDFs with text boxes anywhere I want on the document with a click, though that was already an issue with Preview in Yosemite. And occasionally, the text box annotate option just wouldn't load, forcing me to use note instead. Also, for some reason my Microsoft Office 2011 required me to revalidate my software with a key code thing, which I obviously don't have with me. Thankfully Imperial provides its students with Microsoft 365 for free (though just for the duration as an Imperial student), so I still am able to use Microsoft Office.

Strangely enough, my laptop is still making quite a bit of noise (the whirring when I'm making it do a lot of things for me), and I still need to troubleshoot that. And for some reason my memory used is 9-10GB even when I'm not doing anything more than I used to do with my 4GB RAM. So still trying to figure out a lot of things, but hopefully I will be happy with what I have now and be able to use this machine for a lot longer.

What I had to buy
Samsung SSD 850 EVO 500GB (£120)
Crucial 16GB kit (8GBx2) DDR3 PC3-10600 Unbuffered NON-ECC 1.35V 1024Meg x 64 (£65)
2.5 Sata To Usb Hard Drive Caddy Hdd Case Enclosure (£3.80)


NB: I realise that one reason why I've always put off updating OS/upgrading hardware is the amount of time it takes. Like, there's no way I could have done it while in Cambridge, how was I supposed to do work otherwise??

Friday, October 23, 2015

On being a scientist and faithful.

For the second night in a row, I can't seem to sleep. I lull myself into a dream-like state, and then something, I know not what, interrupts and I am suddenly awake, unable to fall back asleep, try as hard as I may. This night, there were a bunch of people talking and smoking on the benches not from from my hall, despite it being 12.45am (and I had put myself to bed about an hour earlier), somehow not realising that perhaps, some people might like to sleep. I tried to drown their voices with Yiruma, then gave up and started reading on my Kindle (Travels in Alaska by John Muir, in which he describes wonderfully wild and pristine landscapes), then tried to go back to sleep as my eyelids grew heavy. But lying prone in a state of awakeness is I think, one of the most wretched feelings, especially when there is a need to get up early-ish in the morning. I gave up, and decided to blog. Perhaps this was an issue on my subconscious that was bothering me, though I don't think so.

Tuesday nights are bar quiz nights, and though I am terrible at bar/pub quizzes, I enjoy going to the ones here at Silwood (and perhaps I should have made more of an effort to go for the ones at Peterhouse, but anyway). Earlier in the day on Tuesday, a friend made a remark about the lack of an existence of god, to which I replied that I had to politely disagree, and subsequently we agreed to have a polite discussion on the matter after the bar quiz. This issue, possibly one of the most divisive especially in the company of biologists, is perhaps rather soon to broach, it being less than 3 weeks since the start of term (and meeting people). After three years in Cambridge though, I think I felt a lot more prepared and able to take on such a discussion -- in my first year at Cambridge, I can't remember at which point within the year it was, but my housemates suddenly had a discussion on morality and religion, and I was confronted with defending my faith against a group of slightly hostile atheists. Not exactly pleasant, and I was not the most well-versed in matters of my faith, though I'd like to think I have improved since then, in no small part thanks to Fisher House.

Anyway, so it was a civilised discussion with a few others who seemed interested in the topic - it must be said that most people stayed away from it - and well, I tried to explain how the two seemingly conflicting areas of science, with its logic and evidence, and faith, which is just that, reconciled with my being. I truly do not think I can live without either, and to me, they fit well and are hugely important to me - though of course, my faith brings me more joy and peace than science possibly could (perhaps transiently). To me, science is for now, but faith is for ever, and much as I strive to do good in the present and to do something worth leaving behind, I remind myself time and again that I live not for this life but for eternal life. It is hard to say that to disbelievers though, even those (or perhaps especially those?) who have fallen away from the faith, because that just sounds like fluff, probably. And anyway, they need logic, which is not always evident in faith. That's why it's called faith?

I did concede though, that the Catholic Church does have stands on certain issues that others might disagree with, or think outdated, because morals shift with time and age. Is that being heretical? Regardless, it was not a debate and I did not have to convince people that I was right (not that I could, I think, especially based on just words), nor did I have to be convinced that I was merely a fool for believing, and it ended amiably.

Still, slightly distressed for there were no other believers to lend support (not sure if they're all just in hiding or it is a true negative. My floor mate living opposite me is Catholic too but is away this week), I sought comfort in Eamon Duffy's The Heart in Pilgrimage: A Prayerbook for Catholic Christians, which I bought (and got signed) when he launched it last year in Cambridge.  And St Therese of Lisieux had some thought-provoking words on doubt and faith:

"But during the days of Paschaltide, so full of light, Jesus made me understand that there really are souls bereft of Faith and Hope, who, through their abuse of grace, lose these precious treasures, and along with them, the only pure and lasting joy. He allowed my soul to be overwhelmed with darkness, and the thought of Heaven, which had consoled me from my earliest childhood, now brought only conflict and torture. This trial did not last merely for days or weeks; I have been suffering for months, and I still await deliverance. I wish I could express what I feel, but it is beyond me. You must have passed through this dark tunnel yourself to understand how black it is. However, I will try to explain it by means of a comparison. Suppose that I had been born in a land of thick fog, and had never seen the beauties of nature, nor a single ray of sunshine, though I had heard of these wonders from my childhood, and knew that the country where I lived was not my real home--there was another land, which I must always seek. Now this is not a story invented by the natives of the land of fogs, it is the solemn truth, for the King of that sunlit country came and lived for thirty-three years here, but the darkness did not understand that he was the light of the world. But, dear Lord, your child has understood; she asks forgiveness for her unbelieving brothers, and is willing to eat the bread of sorrow as long as you will it. For love of you she will sit at this table heaped with the bitter food of sinners, and she will not stir from it until you give the sign. But in their name, and in her own may she not say: "O God, be merciful to us sinners!" Send us away justified. May all those on whom the light of faith does not shine see at last! O my God, if that table which they defile can be purified by one that loves you, I am willing to remain there alone to eat the bread of tears, until it pleases you to bring me to your kingdom of light: the only grace I ask is, that I may never offend against you.

When weary of the surrounding darkness, I try to find some rest in the thought of a life to come, my anguish only grows. It seems to me that out of the darkness I heard the mocking voice of the unbeliever: "You dream of a land of light and fragrance, you dream that the Creator of these marvels will be yours for ever, you dream of escape from these mists where you now languish. Instead, rejoice in death, which will not give you what you hope for, but an even darker night, the night of nothingness!" ... Dear Mother, this description of what I suffer is as far removed from reality as the first rough sketch is from the model, but I fear that if I wrote more I would blaspheme. Maybe I have said too much already. May God forgive me, but he knows that I try to live by faith, though it bring me no consolation. I have made more acts of faith in this last year than during all the rest of my life.

No doubt, dear Mother, you will think I am exaggerating the night of my soul. If you judge by the poem I have written this year, it must seem as though I have been flooded with consolations, like a child for whom the veil of faith is almost rest asunder. And yet it is not a veil. It is a wall which rises to the very heavens and shuts out the starry sky. When I sing of the happiness of heaven and what it is to posses God eternally, I feel no joy, because I sing only about what I want to believe. Sometimes, I admit, a little ray of sunshine shines into my dark night, and I enjoy peace for a moment, but later, the remembrance of this ray of light, instead of consolation, makes the blackness seem thicker still. And yet never have I felt so deeply how gentle and merciful the Lord is. He did not send me this heavy cross when it might have discouraged me, but at a time when I was able to bear it. Now it simply takes away from me whatever natural satisfaction I might feel in longing for heaven."
 - The story of a Soul, ch IX

And now, it's almost 2.30am, it is once again silent (thankfully) save the occasional car, and I think I should be ready to sleep. If the writing style in this post seems oddly contrasting with previous ones, I can only say it's likely the influence of Serengeti Shall Not Die by Bernhard Grzimek, which I have been reading while waiting for scripts to run on QGIS/R. And a post on that book is imminent once I am done with it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Cambridgesick.

Is it not strange how seasick means being sick at sea, carsick means being sick in a car, but homesick means you miss home? [I just googled the etymology of 'homesickness': 1756, translating German Heimweh, from Heim "home" (see home (n.)) + Weh "woe, pain;" the compound is from Swiss dialect, expressing a longing for the mountains, and was introduced to other European languages 17c by Swiss mercenaries.] It just makes it awkward, cos when I want to express my longing for Cambridge by saying Cambridgesick, it could potentially also be interpreted as being sick in Cambridge.

Anyway, it's another layer added on top of being homesick, only it's a fresher wound. Cos it's my 4th year abroad, and while I still do get homesick, I've always been at Cambridge, whereas now I don't even have the comforting familiarity of cambridge. And it's funny, the things that I actually miss. The pretty buildings, wonderful music, reassuring chapels, Grantchester and the river Cam, and most of all Fisher House. I think it's always on Sundays that I miss Cambridge the most.

But I guess this is just life, things, places, people flit in and out of your life, and the reel just goes on.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Starting life as a graduate student

Right in the middle of the first week of my MRes in Ecosystem and Environmental Change at Imperial College London now, and it's still kind of a honeymoon transition period. Despite London being in the name, I'm not actually based in London (please don't ask to come and visit, there is absolutely nothing here to do), but in between Ascot and Sunningdale. It's a pretty and nice, quiet place to be, but it's also far from the nearest train station and shops (30 minutes walk), and the trains to London are slow (1 hour).

My main gripe at the moment though, is that it's far from any climbing centre. I seem to have a knack for choosing terrible places to study (from a climber's perspective). Cambridge with it's one and only tiny bouldering gym, but at least it had a pretty awesome mountaineering club, and now Imperial's Silwood Campus which is at least a 30 mins drive to the nearest climbing centre (Craggy Island) and with about 100 students, little hope of forming a vibrant climbing club. Especially given that I can't drive/don't have a car anyway, unless I find other keen climbers it's not looking likely.

Work-wise it's still a pretty gentle start, for my course at least. Just about 7 of us in it for this intake, but for our lectures we're mixed and matched with other courses, and so far it's just introductory ecology, evolution and conservation. As our lecturer said, it's like an undergraduate course in that, but in a week. Not envying students from other backgrounds (physics, math, psychology) who have all that reading up to do.

I'm having to cook all my meals now for myself, though there is the refectory if I want to slack off on breakfast or lunch. Isn't too much of a problem for now, though perhaps at some point I'll get bored of my own cooking (cos I'm not into fancy cooking, plus Tesco the supermarket is too far to decide to whip something up on a whim).

I am undeniably missing Cambridge, for its convenience, pretty buildings, quaint/weird practices, and most of all the people. But wells fresh start here I guess (and having to make friends and do small talk again). Though not really when there are a smattering of people from Cambridge here as well. I am for now, still the only Singaporean around.

It's also been drizzling most miserably since Monday morning, and it's finally stopped. Gonna go for a wander (the only thing that is available as a free and convenient past time, unless you like pressing weights in the gym) while there's still light, though we did cover most of the grounds during our treasure hunt on Monday in the pouring rain.