Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Snapshots of Hell: The Cambridge Round-up, Week 4: More Protests, Asses, and Simon Singh's Cambridge Conspiracy

Okay, so this is very late, but you can't blame me, I have carpal tunnel syndrome. Har har! *waves sick note triumphantly* ("Maybe if you spent less time on the PC and more time doing essays you wouldn't. Bwahahahahahaha!"--Editor. Waitaminute, that's me. Why am I editing myself?) Or at least, it feels like it. Which is why I'm late in posting this week's Round-up. What a shame that a lot happened this week. *winces with every keystroke*

Cambridge Students Actually Show Up At NUS Protest in London

Last Sunday, students from all over the country left their booze, their clubs and their mounds of unfinished work to descend upon London and take part in what was hoped would wake the old geezers in government up to the fact that students aren't the placid drunken weed-smoking sheep they used to be. (Or are we? *dum dum DUMMMM* --Ed.) The National Union of Students organised a demonstration in London to protest the introduction of top-up fees that mean British universities get to cover their arses and save themselves from financial mismanagement by digging deeper into their students' pockets.

I've said before that students in Cambridge are sometimes slower to pick up a pitchfork and join the mob than their counterparts from elsewhere. But this time I'm happy to report a grand total of seventy (yes, 70!) students of ye grande olde madhouse took time off from their essays and showed up. One of them, Donnacha Kirk, wrote for Varsity:
Sixty Cambridge students won’t change the world and the overall turnout of roughly 5,000 won’t have Tony Blair drawing up white papers in the morning. Yet what we did was to mark a debate that is far from being as settled as the government might pretend.
She also hit home a point I saw about the protest:
The NUS demo was studiously a-political. Their campaign to “keep the cap”, while worthwhile, is pathetically defensive for our own national union. We shouldn’t be fighting on the government’s terrain. We should be disputing the whole concept of charging students for their education. We should speak out loud against the commercialisation of our universities and the creation of a “degree marketplace” where you study to increase your future earning potential, not for love of your subject.
All true, but I hear those sniggers out there at that last sentence. Where else but in Cambridge can you find people still defending education for the sake of education, you ask? I'd love to rant about how people doing degrees for "love of your subject" are scrubbing floors in their local Sainsbury's whilst hordes of Japanese students are studying "traditional" money-making subjects, becoming super-rich and buying out our economy, but I'm not touching that subject with a ten-foot pole. More and more Cambridge students have discovered this blog, as well as who I am, and the next time I get lynched on the street I don't want it to be because of something I said here. (Not that I've been lynched on the street before. Oh no. That was just...a minor altercation involving me, a girl, and her huge 6-footer rower boyfriend.)

Making an ASS Out of You and Me (But Mostly Just Me)
Sometimes I feel like I was born to suffer. No, this isn't another rant about how a mediocre student like me was thrust into one of the nerdiest universities in the world and made to feel inferior every day, or about how girls aren't swooning before me despite me being dashingly handsome, amazingly witty and an Oxbridge medical student to boot (though those are all valid reasons that deserve lots of sympathy and hopefully a few phone numbers --Ed) but a far more basic trait. One that has plagued me from the very day I set foot in this university, one whose foundations were laid on the very day I was born, and one that threatens to hang above me like a curse for the rest of my life.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, my initials are A S S.

No, really. You can't make this stuff up. Even my official university email address, which is based on your initials, calls me an ass every day, and tells supervisors and lecturers alike that they have just received an email from an ass. Worse when your lifelong dream is to become a published columnist, and that when your local newspaper finally prints a mindblowingly impressive and philosophical article by you, they HAVE to go ahead and print your full name:


At least I can take pride in the fact that every day I bring laughter to postmen, porters, University registration staff, and cashiers. (Yes, it's on my credit card too. No, you can't have a picture.)

Famous Dude Simon Singh Comes to Cambridge
Simon Singh is one of my favourite authors. He's part of the revolutionary first wave of authors making science-y subjects more accessible to the general public, albeit in an interesting way, which is good for people like me, who is so thick I can't even understand the jargon in my textbooks half the time. More and more authors are jumping on the popular science bandwagon nowadays, but Simon was one of the first. Being a Cambridge alumnus himself, Dr Singh came up on Thursday to deliver a lecture entitled Cracking the Cipher Code about the Cipher Challenge, ten coded ciphers that he set at the end of his book, The Code Book.

Author Simon Singh gives relationship advice in code

Apparently four of his ten ciphers were solved by a very smart dude with lots of free time called Andrew Plater, who, surprise surprise, came from Cambridge. Thus cryptographers, casual readers and other people with way too much free time on their hands began to put two and two together, and came up with The Cambridge Conspiracy:

1. Simon Singh went to Cambridge.
2. Andrew Plater went to Cambridge.
3. Ding ding! The answer must be in Cambridge, silly.

And so Dr Singh received a call from the University Library saying that that month alone his thesis was read more times than when he actually published it to gain his degree.

He also gave us a look at his ultra-cool Enigma machine! Yes, the famous German code thingy that was all the rage during World War II until a bunch of sadly anonymous people at Bletchley Park figured it out, partly thanks to the attempts by the German dude in the following story to be clever. According to Dr Singh, during the war the Germans were sending nonsense messages to disguise activity and throw the Allies off. One of these messages was intercepted by a woman working in Bletchley Park, and was unfortunately just as unintelligible as one of my pathology essays the rest of the messages. However, this clever lady took a long look at the message, and noticed that it had no W's in it at all. The Allies didn't know much about Enigma at the time, but what they did know was that its coding mechanism was such that it never replaced the coded letter with the actual letter, ever. Hence this lady realised that the entire message was simply some German operator hitting the W key over and over to send out a red herring. Now knowing both the input and the output, the cipher could start to be worked on. And the rest, as they say, is history.

One thing he said was medically related, though. When asked what future uses he foresaw for cryptography, Dr Singh named medical records for the NHS central database, saying that they all use basic principles of coding. Now all Dr House needs to do is become a cryptographer.

And Finally, A Dose of Fireworks
The 5th of November always makes me melancholy and philosophical. V for Vendetta was one of my favourite movies. Every Guy Fawkes Night, the Cambridge City Council holds a fireworks display on Jesus Green. It's the one night where all of Cambridge (and I mean ALL--try walking in the opposite direction against the human flood 5 minutes before the fireworks) congregates in the green and stands together to watch the lights in the sky like little children. For those 20 minutes all the pressure, all the pain, all the problems are forgotten, and we gape open-mouthed. Even the idiot engineering student (look at the one in the middle with that silly grin) next to you explaining how fireworks aren't really magic can be forgiven when you see the child gurgling happily in front of you, pointing up at the patterns among the stars:

Standing there looking up at those blossoms of colourful light and thinking of what the government's doing to this country, I feel like a better use for fireworks would be what Guido Fawkes suggests.

A belated happy Guy Fawkes Night, folks.


Anonymous said...

the 1812 overture is quite something huh. btw what is ur middle name?

Dan said...

not telling. privacy issues. hahahah..

hey dude, why are u so paranoid about ppl knowing who you are? didn't you put up your actual pic like quite some time ago? :P

The Angry Medic said...

I did, yes. But that was way before I opened my big mouth. And today in town I bumped into both (yes, BOTH) proctors in full robes stalking around. They didn't see me, though, but I suspect this was partly because I was running full tilt in the other direction when I saw them. I think it's a sign.

Dan said...

whoa... proctors patrolling the streets?!! nooo!!

what have you done?.......

Nighteyes said...

Wow. I never knew those were your initials. Really though, there's nothing to be ashamed about.

(Stifles laugh)

Hey, if you have Guy Fawkes night, do you guys do the bonfire as well?

Dan said...

yup. one hugeass pile of burning stuff.

on another note, the angry medic was spotted in selwyn college last night. we wonder what he was doing there..

could it be because dr house was from selwyn?

The Angry Medic said...

I'm not really paranoid about my name. What I AM miffed about is that Varsity grossly misspelled my name, AND made my dad's name my middle name, thereby christening me ASS. So actually no, my initials are just a very comfy AS, but thanks to Varsity (and some VERY weird University email-account-naming staff) I am now a legend. Sheesh.

And yes, Dan, that was exactly what I was doing in Selwyn. Trying to soak up Hugh Laurie's sardonic manner for my next post. And for no other reason, nope. Ho hum.

*whistles innocently*

HospitalPhoenix said...

Good little article!

Dan said...

"the legendary ass"

i also don't get how the varsity managed to misspell your name.. it's just two very common names. what a bunch of retards...

oh and i saw a proctor patrolling the street today too. man, you sure know how to escalate a situation :P hehehehe

Kate said...

Did you burn an effigy of Pope Paul V on your bonfire?

The Angry Medic said...

Dan: If me and my blog suddenly disappear, you know what to tell the authorities. Search the proctors' homes!

Kate: heh. Sadly I'm not from Lewes, so nope, no Pope-bashing this year.

YOU'RE not from Lewes, are you?