Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The robots are coming... And they’ve been programmed by 10 year olds!

On November 27th and 28th Bath University hosted the First Lego League, a worldwide annual event involving school children between 9-16 years old. It being a Lego competition, all robots must use the Lego RCX or NXT bricks for ‘brains’ and the rest of the robot must be built using only Lego parts. The kids then have to program the robots to successfully complete the various Nanotechnology missions.
The robot starts out from a base, and then races off to complete as many of the 9 missions as possible in the allotted 2 mins and 30 secs. Some mission examples include getting the robot to release a bucky ball containing smart medicine into bone marrow, start a molecular motor, initiate molecular self-assembly or test the strength of a nano tube.

Sounds complicated and very difficult even for such intelligent students of life as yourselves? Wondering how a 10-year old can do it? You will be amazed at what children can do! Yours truly happened to be refereeing the competitions over the two days the event ran for, and I have to say there was some ingenious work going on. The children were full of confidence and being cheered on by CBBC celebrities Anne Foyle and Ade Adepitan certainly seemed to help (not to mention all the chocolate, balloon fashion shows, URB music and pyrotechnics).
Surely these kind of events show that science can be fun, exciting and educational at the same time. Let’s hope that this event has inspired the next generation of roboticists and engineers to go on and create an (environmentally friendly and ethical) brave new world filled with the wonders of nanotechnology.

A LEGO tournament in action. This picture is not from Bath, but the setup is identical

The importantance of this was further stressed during a Bristol CafĂ© Scientifique evening (27th November) where Dr. Alan Winfield posed the question, “How would you feel if your robot vacuum cleaner asked you not to switch it off? We were given a brief history of modern robotics, including some of today's uncanny looking robots like Cronos (machine consciousness project, see also previous post) and EVA (an 'artificial empathasizer'). The discussion centred around the ethics of conscious machines and trying to figure out exactly what it all means (we don’t know). There was a clear schism between those who believed in the evolved (benevolent) robot kind and those fearing dehumanisation. These are very big questions indeed, and you might find their relevance tricky (unless you spend your time in Star Trek land where DATA rules). If they seem irrelevant to you, please read my previous entry which covers this subject in more depth.

Perhaps an anthropomorphic point of view will help you get the idea: spare a thought for the super-evolved IPodRobo which just loves to play music and wished you never, ever switched it off because then it feels so, so very lonely and sad...

Check out this video of EVA - a bit uncanny eh' ?

This article was originally written for the Bath University Student paper 'Impact'

Monday, December 04, 2006

Right, I've got another article to write but I think I'm going to do that later this evening or tomorrow... It's all about ROBOTS!! Which are coming to get us!!!
Well, guess what I got my first paper published (WoooHOO!). It's for The First IEEE Symposium on Artificial Life or Alife07 for short. Now, did you click on the link? Well if you did, then you'd see that the conference is in .... HAWAII.... I really really want to go, I think I should be able to afford it, the ticket is "only" around £500 so it is doable. I know you can always go to Hawaii, but when do you ever have an excuse?

Second bit of excellent news is that I got a new Job (Jubiidobidoo!). I shall from now on only be addressed as Miss Web-Author-at-BUCS (that's Bath University Computing Services, and yes, I hope you know that I'm kidding, I don't actually want to be addressed like that...).
I'll be rewriting the online documentation for them, together with another girl (whom I shall be meeting today, when I'll be receiving my training). It's all very exciting and good. I'll be working mostly from home, so it's also very convenient. And the people seem very nice, which is really refreshing from the previous job.

I even get to experience a proper Pagan Wicca ritual this coming Friday, courtesy of my new boss
It's something I've been interested in for a few years, but never really had an opportunity to explore properly, so I'm really glad that I'm finally given the chance to see what it's like.

And for your pleasure I have decided to start posting some of my culinary successes. The first dish is a puff pastry pizza, inspired by Gordon Ramsay:
  • Take one ready-made puff pastry dough, roll it out and mark out a 1cm edge using a sharp knife (without cutting through the dough).
  • Place in oven proof dish with fairly high sides, but don't worry about if you don't have one, a flat one will work fine too.
  • Brush (or in my case spoon as I don't have one of those fancy kitchen brushes...) some egg wash onto the edge (one egg yolk mixed with a couple of tablespoons of water, Ramsay only uses posh mineral water, but I'll use any ol' shit).
  • Heat up the oven to around 180C.
  • Now, Ramsay only uses butternut squash in his recipe, but I've been daring and used a bunch of different veg. In the pictured dish I have used butternut squash, courgette, red onions, tomato and swede. Cut them in to small but fairly chunky bits and shallow fry these until slightly softened.
  • Sprinkle some Oak Smoked Cheddar on the puff pastry and add the veg on top, sprinkle the veg mixture with sage (fresh is best, but whatever you got is fine).
  • Bake in the oven for 20mins or until the puff pastry looks done (that's all puffed up, brown - but NOT black) and sprinkle with more cheese just before you take it out.
  • Served here with oven baked beetroot, which I've then fried in balsamico and watercress.

Yummy for your tummy!!!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

So it's been too long again... Oh well, that sort of thing happens when you're busy. But I've got loads of stuff to write about, perhaps a bit retrospective, but you'll still get all the news, just later rather than sooner, if you catch my drift...
First I've got a little article for y'all to read:
A couple of weeks ago I went to my first Cafe Scientifique in Bath. For those who have never heard of the concept it's a world wide scheme based on the French cafe culture, based around the informal way philosophers and artists like Picasso, Sartre and Beauvoir used to sit and discuss the great problems of existentialism and what not. This informal exchange of ideas allows a free and unrestricted way of talking about things between people with all kinds of backgrounds. The theme for Cafe Scientifque is perhaps is not surprising - science. There are many, many different topics - check out the website for details on the nearest event to you.
The event in Bath is in a really nice pub called the Raven - actually it's the pub of the year. They serve a marvellous Merlot and cook delicious food as well. But most importantly it is the host for the Cafe Scientifique.
On the evening of Monday the 13th of November the speaker was James Randerson, The Guardian science correspondent who authored the front page article ‘Revealed: the lax laws that could allow assembly of deadly virus DNA’ (16/10/2006). I think I should just mention that Mr. Randerson is actually a Doctor Randerson, as in PhD in Evolutionary Genetics (which he happened do at Bath University). Anyway, in his report Randerson showed how small segments of the genetic blue print (oligonucleotides or oligos in ‘science slang’) for smallpox could be purchased from companies who produce DNA segments. The report resulted in a public enquiry as to whether this technology should be more restricted. Randerson, himself, had his sample of DNA smallpox sent to his very own flat (much to his girlfriend’s horror, we were told at the Raven).
The title of the talk posed the question ‘Is scientific openness fostering bio-terror?’. As usual during a Cafe Scientifique event the guest speaker talks for no longer than 30 minutes, which is then followed by a lively (and sometimes rather heated, but always polite) debate between the speaker and the audience.

Randerson is not the first to question the safety in recreating virus that has long been extinct. The New Scientist has published quite a few articles on the same theme, notably on the level of safety in the labs that the various dangerous viruses are stored. For Randerson, though, the issue isn't so much about storage, he asks the much more basic question as to whether scientists should just because they could. The crux of Randerson’s argument was that even though “Intellectual freedom and sharing of information are central to scientific progress, and any restrictions on that will make science harder to do and could limit society's access to future medicines “, he still asks whether there should be “restrictions on who has access to the materials and equipment that can be used to make viruses in the future, and are the scientific benefits of resurrecting a strain of flu that killed more people than the First World War worth the risks?”
During the debate that followed it was widely recognised that there are limits to what legislation can do. The consensus was that to some extent researchers and research institutions should legislate themselves, perhaps by signing some kind of anti-terror declaration. This type of self-legislation could create an awareness around the potential dangers involved in the day-to-day research that most biology students and staff deem safe.

Although I think that that's very much in the academic spirit and all, then there's currently a slight problem with implementing such a lassez-faire approach. Namely, due to another article in the Guardian ("Universities urged to spy on Muslims" 16/10/2006) where it leaked a document sent out by the Department of Education which stated that it wanted Higher Education Institutions ( HEI - such as universities) to keep an eye on Muslim students (!!!).

Now I can't really see how that would work together with a "self-legislative" attitude. Something smells very fishy to me, it smells of Hitler's Germany to me, where everybody tells on everybody else, just to be on the safe side and in return no one feels safe and nothing gets done. So perhaps academia should just be left to its own devices and instead the HEI could be used to create a debate about the types of chemicals, tissues, and other biological artefacts are available to them, what they are used for, why they are used and indeed be there to educate people in general about safety. I think that would make people feel much more safe. Another thing could be to look at how other countries deal with this particular situation. I know that in Denmark they have an anti-bio terror unit, which specialises in bio attacks if and when they should happen, rather like a Fire brigade. But when I suggested this idea, at the Cafe Scientifique, Randerson seem to think that prevention was better than minimisation of damage. Well, of course, I agree with that, but on the other hand he also admitted that if someone was going to do it, they could do it whether or not there was self-legislation, government legislation and so forth. This is why I suggest, create a debate, make people (and especially the companies supplying the goods) aware and educate about how it can be avoided. But definitely not by creating some kind of watchdog culture, that just breeds more hatred (hence more attacks) and more insecurity for all parties involved.

And that's my 2 cents worth!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

So I’m a little bit behind with keeping you all up to date. I think it may symbolise my life in general at the moment. Just busy, busy, busy - trying to keep on top of things and ending up feeling very stressed. Not good. My thought was, perhaps I will catch up with myself by updating the bloggetiblog? Maybe just in my mind, but that’s where it counts!

OK, lots have happened. The excitement started on the 27th of October - 3 days before yours truly turned 27 years old (we’ll get to that later!).

In fact it’s quite an adventure and so should be told like one:

Stage 1
We were going to a party in London, New Cross - a friend of mine (her name is Ilona) is a arts student at Goldsmiths and it was her 21st birthday party. It was all planned, we would get there around 21.00, which was late but it was impossible to bend time any further. I finished uni at 16.15, Alan worked ‘til 17.10 and Eccles finished at 17.00 in Bristol. The plan was to rendez-vous @ 18.20 Bath Spa Station. Of course, sod being sod and the law being what it is, the buses were experiencing serious problems getting anywhere on time. Apparently, a gas pipe was leaking somewhere and roads were duly closed. It took me 2hrs to get home (it usually takes 20mins), I was not even dressed and the party was fancy dress (theme: gory vaudeville), I was not even sure if my skeleton tights which I had ordered from Ebay would arrive on time. It was all very stressful!
I got home, the tights had come by post (yes!) put them on, packed too much shit (had to bring sleeping bags, presents, change of clothes, beer, vodka, mixers...) got changed and got out of the door all in the space of 10mins! I had to walk to the station, because of the bus problem, but literally made it with TWO seconds to spare. Alan had cleverly gotten ready from work so he was on time and Eccles was waiving at us from the train. Stage one completed successfully....

Stage 2
The train journey itself was rather uneventful, just the usual spillages of alcohol whilst trying to mix drinks on a train, refusal to use public lavatories resulting in pee crisis (fortunately catastrophe was avoided), excruciating ticket prices, battling boredom, putting on make-up whilst on a moving train and going somewhere you’ve never been before.
Stage two was successfully completed when we arrived at Ilona’s house.

Stage 3
Final touches were put on my skeleton dolly costume and I entered the public domain of a beginning party. Much alcohol was consumed and much annoyance was experienced due to my inability to engage with people who refuse to have any opinions on anything (wtf?!). I’m recently encountering this type of person more frequently than I care and I don’t understand where it’s coming from. I especially see it in people in their early 20’s - I don’t know what they talk about amongst themselves. I ended up getting too drunk (mostly to numb the iritation and anger I was experiencing) and went to bed without making a complete arse of myself (and without throwing up)
Ilona in the background, Me, Anna and Eccles
Stage three successfully completed.

Stage 4
Eccles suggest we go camping with Chris (another ex-fellow flat mate from Colchester, now in Torquey) - today! Since I love camping and being impulsive, I’m very enthusiastic and optimistic about this turn of events. Besides I don’t enjoy London very much and prefer the great (healthy) outdoors. But before all that, we must restore our energies by eating an absolutely lovely breakfast (next to a not so lovely road). Breakfast and goodbye’s accomplished we jump on the train to journey back to Bath and Bristol.

Stage 5

2 hours later the next stage commences. Well to be honest it never really stopped, because throughout the journey back I was umming and arring as to whether to go camping or not. It was pretty far away (actually I wasn’t even sure exactly where it was we were going), I was pretty damn hungover, fed up with trains, tired, grumpy, and very skint. Every ten minutes I would announce to Alan that I was either going or not going. Eventually, I packed a bag, ate some soup and went to Bristol where I met Eccles. We got on another train, to Exeter St. Davids and Chris met us when he got on the train at the same station, and then subsequently made us travel illegally (but honestly, we owned up to the train conductor by telling him the truth and he was very understanding about it) to Newton Abbot, where we got off. We got our final supplies (such as batteries for the single flash light we managed to bring with us) and jumped into a taxi. It was 22.30 when we arrived. The taxi driver seemed to have a bit of a screw loose himself venturing into a long tale of aliens, sectioned friends, neuro-scientific trivia (which was wrong btw) and some more aliens. By the time we arrived to our destination Eccles and I had spent more than 8 hours traveling, not counting the previous day’s journey. We opened the taxi door to a heavy mist and complete darkness enveloped us a the taxi drove away and left us alone at the edge of Dartmoor.

Misty weather - it looks like rain, but it's not
Stage 6
Fortunately we were in safe hands with Chris as our guide. Having grown up in area he had many a years of exploring the moor. But it was a bit scary anyway, it being the equinox and as all good pagans know the time of year when the border between the living and the dead is at its thinnest. I felt a bit .. hmm ‘flaunting’ in my skeleton sweatshirt, as if I was mocking the dead there on the moor (as if on cue we started talking about the many ghost stories centered around the moor, we never mentioned it again though, probably because we’re all yellow chickens). Let it be said, disappointingly, that nothing out of the ordinary happened that night, although I was pleased that I’d never finished watching “The Blair Witch Project”. I have not seen mist so thick for a long time, only in the mountains, Chris directed us to a location and we managed to circumvent most of the cow pat when laying down the tent. The tent was one Eccles had found in his house, it was a large tent and we’d never put it up before. But even though we were tired, it was late, dark and misty we managed without no problems and quickly made our little nest. The rum, beer and wine was opened and the relaxation commenced, followed shortly by a deep sleep echoed with drumming of rain on the tent (there’s nothing quite like it).

Stage 7
We woke at 06.00. Bright and early with the sun rising and giving us the first view of Dartmoor. It was beautiful, and worth every painful moment, all regret dissipated and being there was all that was on my mind.

Chris made us some kind of sausage-wrapped-in-bread breakfast (a speciality of his), a pot of coffee was boiled (a tea towel was used a strainer) and soon after we were of on a walkabout in the beautiful surroundings.

I found a small waterfall with a prayer cave next to it

I also came across "letterboxing" which I've never heard off before, so it was pure luck to find it.

Eccles' protecting me from the fierce (wild) Dartmoor ponies. First I was curious and started approaching them, but then I got a bit anxious when all 3 of them started approaching me curiously... Very cute. And as you can tell from this photo, we had quite nice weather too.

Stage 8

As we returned to camp several hours later for our lunch, we saw that many people were now coming to take their Sunday stroll. Which seemed quite surreal to me. It was as if we were camping in a public park (which of course we were, it just didn’t look like any park I’d seen before). And we did get a few odd looks, but most were friendly.

After our lunch we went for another walk and then came back to pack things up.

Our tent in the middle of (what we thought) was nowhere, but which was a both a popular tourist and local attraction.

A groggy "hello" from me...

The mist comes rolling in. In the photo we have Eccles and Chris and the side of a Tor (can't remember which now...)

Stage 9
Fortunately a friend of Chris, Richard, was kind enough to come and give Eccles and me a ride back Newton Abbot. It was supposed to be so easy. On the train and be home in a few hours. Instead we were unaware of a train change, and continued on our merry way to Reading, where we had to change to go (back!) to Bristol. I then had to wait 40mins at Bristol to get a train (two stops!) to Bath. It was painful, and this time around there was no beautiful scenery to take away the painful journey memories. I’m sure they’ll dissipate with time... But until then I’m very hesitant about boarding a train!
I arrived home at 23.30. And that my friends is the end of the weekend tale.

Monday, October 23, 2006

For that very special occassion:

The Red PVC Kilt

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Serial Killers: All they need is love

The lecture theatre was filled to the brim, people were sitting on the floor and those who weren't cheeky
enough to push their way through Dr. Joanna Phoenix, the organiser, were turned away due to to safety regulations. Fortunately, I was one of the cheeky ones and found myself a spot on the floor.


The lecture was part of the Sociology of Crime and Deviance course run by Dr. Joanna Phoenix (University of Bath, Department of social and policy sciences) , who decided to make this a talk public as she thought there would be a public interest in this grisly topic (perhaps the great public interest was used by her to demonstrate some, to us unknown, point to her students?) She sets the scene by issuing a disclaimer and how this talk links to the rest of her course. Firstly - the disclaimer: The University of Bath is not doing a forensic psychology course. Secondly - the course looks at the reasons for crime, by objectifying crime, rather than looking at the rights and wrongs, the morality and ethics of crime. In general the course deals with the mundane, ordinary, everyday sort of crimes that we are all guilty of. To prove this, she asks the audience how many of us has committed a crime this week (e.g. crossing the red light, littering, using an invalid bus ticket, etc.)? In response the lecture theatre ruffles and shuffles uncomfortably, enough said.

To make the link between the extremeness of a serial killers violent crimes and the everyday offences of the ordinary person she asks us to reflect whether the questions Diaz puts to the serial killers during his one-on-one interviews are helpful and whether they are appropriate in regard to revealing both the serial killer's and the mundane criminal's reasons for their actions.


A nervous Professor Joseph D. Diaz (Fayetteville State University) steps up and begins by giving a definition of a serial killer:

  1. A serial killer commits multiple homicides
  2. There is a "cooling of period" for an extended period of time
  3. The killings take place at multiple locations
  4. The murders produce a physical reaction in the killer (e.g. sexual gratification)

The last point was further emphasised by differentiating between e.g. a gangster who does several drive-by shootings in order to rise in the gang ranks and that of a serial killer. The former is driven by social reasons such as group acceptance while the latter is driven by an internal force (note - although I don't see why these two factors wouldn't be able to coexist... and I think to some degree, as will be explained elsewhere in the blog, that there isn't really much difference between gangster killers and serial killers).

Furthermore, some serial killers do not have any physical reactions, such as increased heartbeat when killing, but remain eerily calm during the murder. Other common characteristics of serial killers are:

  • Average age between 30-45 years
  • Above average IQ around 112-115
  • Caucasian

Male (I assume, all examples were male and all serial killers were referred to as he) (see notes)

Of course there are exceptions to these rules, the Peruvian child serial killer was given as an example to this.

The impossible psychopathic serial killer

According to Diaz, many people make the mistake of thinking that serial killers are psychopaths. This, he believes, is due to the popular culture portrayal of serial killers as psychopaths, when in actual reality it is not possible anymore than for Diaz to play pro for the Liverpool football team. A psychopath could be sure that he was killing somebody, while in fact he was simply stroking a cat. A psychopath can hear voices, e.g. the voice of God telling him that all people in green t-shirts must die. Contrary to a serial killer whose killings would be very calculated, taking every step to avoid arrest. Whilst the psychopath could stand next to policeman and still kill the women in a green t-shirt, regardless of his own situation. In short, the psychopaths would generally not know what they were doing, i.e. they suffer from delusions and as such would be able to pass a lie detector test (note: not that lie detectors are worth very much...).

A serial killer's true nature is that of a sociopath. Sociopaths, in terms of objectivity, are bit like babies in that they don't have it. Babies don't care about your disposition when they cry in the middle of the night. They can cry just because they want to, because they can, because they are hungry, because they are happy, it does not matter to them whether you like it or not. They, babies and serial killers, care only about their immediate needs. A serial killer's objective state can be aligned to that of a 3-4 year old child.

Portrait of a Serial Killer

Dennis Andrew Nilsen (a.k.a "Des"), lived in a small flat in North London, a homosexual and used to frequent all male bars. He describes himself as gangly and awkward looking (he is 6'5" tall), in photographs he looks uncomfortable in his own skin. He feels uncomfortable around others, which according to Diaz is due to events occurring in his formative years where the sense of objectivity/subjectivity develops. By the time he was arrested he had killed 15 men, who he had raped and mutilated. When police came to his flat to arrest him, they found the bodies (or parts of the men's bodies) in various stages of decomposition. Dennis Nilsen was most interested in the lower parts of the men's bodies and would keep these. He would repeatedly have sex with the body parts and keep these for several months.He is basically a necrophiliac, like the infamous Eddie Gein who the characters in the films 'Psycho' and 'Silence of the lambs' are based on.

The original Eddie Gein

The interviews

During the interviews Diaz had to carefully phrase his questions in such a way so Nilsen always felt he was in control of the conversation. The aspect of control was also why he kept the bodies for such long periods of time, that way he felt has was in control over the men. In one of the interviews between Diaz and Nilsen, Diaz wanted to know how he dealt with the smell of the decomposing bodies. But he could not ask flat out "Didn't your apartment stink?" So instead, he cautiously asked, if he hadn't found the smell in the flat nauseating? Nilsen replied, that it wasn't any different to someone getting used to the smell if they worked in a hog house. The fact that Nilsen, or Des, as Diaz referred to him, compared the men to hogs illustrated a point. He would take from the men what he wanted, to him they were not men or individuals, they were just people, not victims nor humans, but general people-objects. Nilsen would use the ambiguous term "the people" whenever he described his activities with his victims. It was as if he was talking about a prop (c.f Erving Goffman for further stage analogies). His activities with "the people" included watching TV, dancing and taking baths. When talking about these events it was as if he was describing intimate moments, but without actually using the word 'intimate' or even without knowing what it was. Diaz' theory is that in general it is this feeling of intimacy, or the lack of it, which drives the serial killer. The serial killer strives to shut of the feelings of inadequacy, the sense of anger, abandonment, loneliness. Diaz likens these feelings to those most of us will experience during a relationship break-up, when we no longer know what to do with ourselves because the person who knows us best has left and that intimate link between two people has been severed. Another example would be how you would feel in a social situation, e.g. a party where no one speaks to you and you are all alone with no friends or how you would feel if your love was unreturned. These are feelings that serial killer has all the time just a hundred times stronger and deeper. According to Diaz, the serial killer will start to have these feelings around the age of twelve to thirteen, during those years they begin to feel different to everybody else as their lack of social skills, fear of failure and never feeling they'll be OK increase.

Jeffery Dahmer was another serial killer, convicted in 1993 and beaten to death by a fellow inmate in 1997 . During his prison time, he and Nilsen frequently wrote letters to each other and became close. Nilsen told Diaz "that it makes me so mad that they'll treat him like that." The serial killer has no sense of wrong, in the traditional sense. To them it's crazy that there is almost 6 billion people in world/usa? and that they can't kill one or two of them every now and then.

This lack of normal perspective turns up again when 'Des' mentions how he suffers from deep feelings of inadequacy. "That the only reason "it" (i.e. the murders) happened was because I was gay and to had to play along with all that teasing." This resulted in feelings of alienation at the age of 14, but, Diaz asks, does that mean you will go out and kill? To 'Des' he has not done anything that is a big deal, it is all just a natural progression of things. In general he feels that a great injustice is being done to him. For instance he has written a 4000 pages long book which the Home Office refuses to let him publish (but which his lawyer has managed to smuggle out and keeps secret) this makes him feel he has no rights. To get an accurate profile Diaz has to look at other sources of information during the interviews because most serial killers have trained themselves to a life of secrecy from a very young age where they have had to conceal their true selves.

Question Time

This concluded the main talk with time for questions from the audience.

The first question was whether the killing was part of the game. Diaz explained that serial killers generally hate to kill and have to get very intoxicated in order to commit the crime. Although he, Nilsen, would get very excited about it, like very intense butterflies in the stomach, which mixed with alcohol would inevitably lead to him throwing up during the act. His pen pal, Jeffery Dahmer, also hated killing. Described using the bodies to become something they could not be without them. Apparently, he was not interested in the power that comes from killing and insisted that only his methods were different to other people, not himself.

The next question regarded the killers' planning technique and whether their high IQ was a correlate or a causality of their disposition. In reply, the example of the "Green River Killer" was given. Gary Leon Ridgeway, hunted in the same area for 25 years and killed an estimated of 100 women, primarily prostitutes. He was clever enough to know that there were certain variables that he could control. For instance he picked up women in his car by having his baby son in the car seat with him. His thought was "What do women need to see in order not to see him as a threat?".

Gary Leon Ridgeway

Someone also asked if there was any patterns to how serial killers murder - they usually use their hands. There are only two known killers who have used guns.

"Why are most serial killers found in the U.S.? Diaz thinks that it is because of a culture of male domination, giving the example of going to war with no reason. A fearful society, where anyone who is not male is not good enough e.g. a survey was made where the following question was asked: "Who would you vote for a gay or a female president?" The majority of respondents replied: "none". The need to just have power, to have power over others is part of the American ideal, the image the Americans have of themselves permeates the culture. Any insecurity results in an need and enjoyment to assert itself and getting into a fight. It is very difficult to be taken down a peg for Americans, a feeling that the country experienced when attacked on 9/11. The consequent (over-) reaction was a result of this "pegging down".

Final question: "Would he do it again if he was set free?". Diaz does not think he would be likely to kill again as Nilsen is in his sixties and so no longer has a strong sexual drive. But think he would certainly become confrontational as the need for being in a position of power will never go away.

For interested parties and more detailed information, a book will be published in the next few months describing the case of "Jeff".

For further details and information take a look at the papers by Diaz ( I couldn't find the last paper online but he seemed like a pretty nice guy so would probably email it to you if asked nicely) :

"Killing as an initiator of self-change: A symbolic interactionist comparison of the etiology of Dennis Nilsen and Jeffrey Dahmer" in http://www.internetjournalofcriminology.com

"The working of the mind of violent offender: Psychopaths and sociopaths" forthcoming in Police Review (Nov 2006)


More links from:

The Dennis Nilsen story from CrimeLibrary.com

The Jeffrey Dahmer story also from CrimeLibrary.com

Corky's Crime Writings - featuring both "Jeff" and "Des"

My (humble) Opinion

OK, I'm not sure about the question that Dr. Jo asked us to keep in mind. I mean, I don't really think he went over the interview techniques he used very much. He just mentioned that he has to make Nilsen feel in power. I guess that applies to most people, if you want information from them then you need to make them feel in control, otherwise they'll feel threatened and clam shut. But that's about it really. He didn't mention what other ways he'd gain his information from, besides leafing through the letters that Nilsen and Dahmer sent to eachother (more info is available in the papers).

I think my main point to make here is that I found the distinction between gangster killings and serial killings interesting. Especially after Diaz had introduced and identified the motivating aspects of the murders to be emotional for the serial killer, whilst claiming that the for the gangster killer they were purely social. But at the end he conceded that there is a social aspect to serial killers (in America at least), it being the need for control. Surely, one wouldn't succumb to the kind of peer pressure involved in becoming a part of gang, if you don't really crave to have that same sort of intimacy a serial killer is supposedly craving and also cultivated in gangs. Where feellings of safety, acceptance, brothers in "da hood" being a family, perhaps a family you're not very likely to have if the stats of broken homes in the ghettoes are anything to go by (Reference). But hey - I'm not one of the 15 to 20 people involved in doing this kind of serial killer criminology study in the world, so what do I know...

Oh, and in the papers he mentions women killers so although in the lecture they aren't mentioned - they are out there! In the papers the difference between a serial killer and a gangster is also made more clear (in that there 's usually a longer period between kills and the gangster doesn't get sexually aroused by the kill - although I'm not so sure about the last bit or the first one for that matter)

For further details and information take a look at the papers by Diaz ( I couldn't find the last paper online but he seemed like a pretty nice guy so would probably email it to you if asked nicely) :

"Killing as an initiator of self-change: A symbolic interactionist comparison of the etiology of Dennis Nilsen and Jeffrey Dahmer" in http://www.internetjournalofcriminology.com

"The working of the mind of violent offender: Psychopaths and sociopaths" forthcoming in Police Review (Nov 2006)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

My lovely deli job is proving to be less lovely than I thought it was to begin with. Which is very unfortunate because it means I have to find another one. I haven't quit yet as I need to find something else first (my financial situation could be better). I have applied for a web developer job at uni, it would be more than perfect, but we'll just have to wait and see. The problem with the deli job
is that it's just too demanding. For the past week I've had to get up at 6am every day. Can you believe it!? It means that when I've finished my shift I'm just soooo tired and I have to go to bed ridiculously early. I've already missed 3 lectures (and it's only the first week) just because I'm so overwhelmed. My mood is deeply affected by it and I end up getting really low and negative. It's a problem and it's essential that I solve it.

I have taken some more photos of the Oldfield park neighborhood that I live in, in Bath. As the name suggest, this area used to be a collection of fields. Archeological finds show medieval field patterns, often based upon water courses, which in turn have produced the twisting streets of Oldfield Park.

Last month I was at the BA Festival of Science invited by the ABSW who did a networking session 'til late so I stayed the night. During the networking session I managed to get 'commissioned' to do a piece by Martin Ince (Science journalist/editor, Media adviser/trainer, Contributing eidtior to the Times Higer Education Supplement, editor of THES World Univeristy Rankings, Treasurer of the Association of British Science Writers and author of 8 books) I suggested to write about the talk entitled 'women in science'.
I wrote the following piece:

Women in Science: Fulfilment or frustration?

Sara Connolly from ASSET began this afternoon’s debate with statistical evidence showing that women, on average, get paid £2500 less a year than their male counterparts. It is not the first time startling proof of discrimination against women in SET (Science, Engineering and Technology) has seen the light of day.

When the ASSET survey included employer responses to the question of how they think the situation should be improved, examples were; through equal pay audits, transparency in pay setting and promotion, reviews, commitment from the top and working together with the employees. When the predominantly female audience was asked by the Chair (Jenni Murray from Radio 4’s Women's Hour) if anyone had undergone a pay audit at their workplace, only one person was able to say yes.

Another problem highlighted by the ASSET survey showed that although there are more female undergraduates than men, this trend declines with seniority, the result being more men at the top than women.

Panellist Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell's comment to the “leaking pipeline problem” was "Let's have exit interviews as a matter of course". Dr. Irene Lorenzoni suggested working together, making policy and structural changes.

The panel also included Dr. Jo Dicks who was obviously pregnant and so a prime candidate for answering the Chair’s question, “What do you do once you have a child?” As it was Dr. Jo Dicks’s second pregnancy, she knew that it was necessary to do "some deep thinking" and "make really sensible choices" due to demands on her time.

She also advocated mentors, which she thought could help streamline your career. Other solutions for combining family life with a career in science came from panellist Professor Peter Main, who suggested “outputs, not inputs”, changing work hours and a more enlightened view of working from home.

A number of issues important to women in SET were discussed, including that of aptitude, unconscious biasing, stereotyping, marketing of motherhood (the new name of mother is “leader”) and how to avoid becoming a portfolio research scientist.

The debate also returned to the topic of underpaid women. All agreed that pay differences should be illegal and should be decided on a goverment level. As if on cue, a slightly delayed MP Dr. Ian Gibson (Labour) joined the rest of the panel. Unfortunately, he lived up to the political stereotype by avoiding giving straight answers. After much prodding from Jenni Murray who asked, “Why is there not a stronger political will to implement the equal pay act?”, he said that it would require prosecution, and to do that women have to act first.

Towards the end, after much discussion, an audience member asked the panellist if they thought it would be different if the majority of leaders in a hypothetical institution were women? To that Burnell replied, “In my last job I had a female boss and she was tough as nails".

The other panellist agreed that perhaps it’s not the old generation that needs a helping hand but the younger generation. It seems that young women today are surprised when they have to fight for their rights. The old battles have been left behind and new ones that are different from those 25 years ago have arrived.

These new battles do not just concern women but young men as well, so that they can have the choice to stay at home and still have a career. Debates like this can help create awareness, political pressure and confidence, and help women to network. The danger lies in preaching to the converted.

Magdalena Kogutowska

But I never heard back. A few days ago I went on the BA website to see if I could find out what had happened to my article. Well, it had been scrapped and replaced by this one

Oh, well. I think it was because it was a bit late. At least I gave it a shot. But I wish they'd let me know.

I have had a pretty bad week to be honest, but I've cut back on the 6am mornings this coming week so hopefully I'll get more fun out of the week. Last Tuesday I managed to sign up to a bunch of societies at the societies fair. So I have a meeting with the student paper 'Impact' on Monday, my first 'digital darkroom' photography class on wednesday, and also a meeting with the Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institution, plus need to arrange another gym induction as I missed my first one and make sure to make ALL my classes/lectures/seminars.

I have a few ideas for the 'Impact" meeting on Monday. Mainly to write about and interview researchers on campus. I think it would be really nice to know what people are doing and I think it has potential to help foster interdisciplinary bridges across the various departments. And - not to forget - be a brilliant journalistic experience that could help me get a job/placement in the future!

Oh - I almost forgot - I haven't smoked for a good two weeks now! Well done me!

Monday, September 25, 2006

So. I have finally succumbed to the publish(-yourself)-or-perish attitude that seem to be in vogue these days. Well, it's really more a rational decision that has finally taken root. Blogging, I suppose, is an excellent way of keeping in touch with people, practice writing skills, and giving people a piece of my mind. But the main thing here for me is really to have a platform for people I know to hook up with me. We're all so spread out all over the world that even though I'd love to write you all personalised letters every month - it just ain't gonna happen. I also don't like the idea of writing mass e-mails, so I'll do this instead. In this case you have choice, you can read or not, write me or not - no pressure.

I've just moved to Bath (England) from Colchester. It's a HUGE improvement! I took a few photos for you to peruse at your pleasure. I will hopefully take more as Bath VERY scenic. All the brochures, magazines and whatnots keep referring to some giant filmset, but to me it's still looks a bit like DisneyLand (although that's probably not true as I've never been to DisneyLand - and it's certainly, one would hope, not nearly as sinister...).

I moved to Bath to start a MSc in Science, Culture and Communication at the University of Bath . I have my Induction on Friday. It's very exciting. And courtesy of a bursary from the Association of British Science Writers. Well not the induction, but the fact that I get to go on the course...

Watch this space for more bloggetiblog