No More Nails

Friday 27th May 2016

I was talking with a friend who made a joke about how the crucifixion would have been very different with No More Nails. This got me thinking...



Sadly, they never replied...



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Pizza oven

Friday 20th May 2016

I've always wanted a pizza oven at home but we just don't have the room to build one. So when Dan asked me if I wanted to build one in his garden I jumped at the chance!

All about the base

First of all we laid a brick base for the oven topped with a layer of paving slabs. We put a layer of fire bricks, from an old night storage heater, as the floor of the oven. I've never done bricklaying before - it was fun!


The oven

A few weeks ago we built the oven. We started with a dome of sand the size of the inside of the oven and then covered it in wet newspaper.

On top of this we put a 5cm thick layer of wet clay/sand mix and left it to dry for a week. The first time we did this we only left it for a day, and the dome collapsed when we removed the sand!

Once it had hardened we cut a hole in the front, removed the sand and started a fire inside to bake the clay hard.

A couple of days later we made the arch. This was another sand former in an arch shape at the front of the oven and then built an arch out of bricks with a clay/sand mix for the mortar. In hindsight this should have been a cement mortar but hey ho. Then we added a thick sawdust/clay mix as an insulating layer.

Cooking up

The moment of truth - we fired it up to make the first batch of pizzas! OMG they were good. The oven took about three hours to get to temperature and then the pizzas cooked in under a minute.


Final layers

The final layers were another clay/sand layer and then a strong cement mortar as a final waterproof layer at the end. We decided to cover the arch in a layer on mortar too, because the clay/sand mix that held the bricks in place didn't look very strong. We made a little door to go at the front and it's all done!


Paint job

Well almost. Dan wants to paint it so here are my favourite three ideas for the paint job. Vote for which one you think looks best!







Leave a comment below saying which paint job we should go for, or suggest an alternative.


Your vote

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Friday 13th May 2016

Following on from last year's experiment where I compared the cleanliness of the dog's feet versus my own, I thought we'd have a rematch with our tongues.

Here we see the subjects waiting for the cultures to grow - the petri dishes are pictured in the middle of the photograph, growing in our temperature-controlled laboratory environment. Highly scientific.

The big improvement this time is that I bought the right kind of agar. Last year I bought plain agar powder, this time I bought nutrient agar - the clue is in the name!



My hypothesis is that my dog's saliva kills more bacteria than my own.

Old wives tales abound regarding dog saliva, and studies have confirmed its antimicrobial properties against some kinds of bacteria. As the French saying goes, Langue de chien, c'est langue de médecin, although I don't think I'd want a doctor's tongue in my wounds either.

Conversely, human saliva contains a wide variety of bacteria which are harmless in the mouth but can be a serious risk in open wounds. People say that a bite from a human is the worst for infections, although maybe I'll try that one another time.



I made up a batch of nutrient agar plates and placed them in the fridge to set. I avoided washing my hands for 18 hours to get a good build up of microbes, and then gently pressed the fingers of my left hand into one plate, and my right hand into another plate. These were labelled as Before plates.

I held my left hand out for Stanley, who licked it for about ten seconds. I pressed my left hand into another plate, labelled After. I then licked my right hand for about the same amount of time, trying to mimic the dog's style and technique, although it was noted this his tongue is much more raspy. I pressed my right hand into a final plate labelled After.

The petri dishes were sealed and grown on a radiator in a warm room for four days.



Left hand - dog

The amount of green fungal spores visible is definitely reduced in the After plate, but there is more of the yellow (bacterial?) growth visible.


Right hand - human

The amount of green fungal spores may be slightly reduced, but not as much as the dog plate. There is also more yellow (bacterial?) growth visible.



We can see that dog saliva is better at killing some kinds of fungus than human saliva, but there are some kinds of microbes that neither saliva inhibits. More research is needed into this phenomenon before dogs can be prescribed on the NHS for wound cleaning.



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Casino trip

Friday 6th May 2016

One of the things I love most in the world is looking through the window into other people's worlds. Earlier this week three of us from my local poker club went to the Genting Casino in Plymouth for my first ever real life poker tournament.

We arrived at 6:15pm, and were almost the first in the door. The hostess was extremely welcoming, in a way that I found a little disconcerting - it's not normal in the UK and feels quite false. Kind of like how friendly strippers are.


Dark and warm

The casino is a strange place, dark and warm with soothing flashing lights encouraging you to spend your money. I was expecting the continual clatter of coins but all the money is electronic now, you put your casino card in the slot machine and it spits back the winnings onto the card.

I can't imagine ever feeling comfortable in this space, but the majority of people were obviously regulars who were completely at home.


He's a maniac

The game started at 7pm with 18 players over two tables. Over the next hour another nine joined us, almost all of whom were regulars who knew each other. I took this to be a bad sign. The guy to my right turned out to be a maniac, going all-in with pretty much anything, which is handy because that's where you want that kind of player to be seated. He saved me a lot of chips by making huge bets, allowing me to comfortably fold.

The thing that surprised me most was the hyper-male environment. Playing online you don't know anyone's gender, and I'd kind of assumed that there were some females players. I realise now that I was probably wrong about that. The only two women at the tables were dealers, and I only saw a couple of no-tails all night in the whole casino.


Getting it in with nines

The next thing that surprised me was how aggressively everyone was playing. I hardly got to play a hand in the first two hours because people were making bets for most of my stack. It made me play very tight, and the only hand I got involved in early on was my pocket nines all-in against AK - I was a 55% favourite and won. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Slowly I grew to realise that most of the players on my table weren't serious poker players - they were just gambling for the sake of it. Some of them were £40 down within an hour. They kept buying back in as quickly as they could, then going all-in on the very next hand. This is really different to our little Losty Poker Club where everyone plays quite sensibly in comparison.

After 90 minutes we went on break, and immediately most of the players took to the roulette wheel, blackjack or the slots - another thing that marked them out as gamblers because of the poor odds of winning.


After the break

As soon as we came back from the break I was dealt a pair of queens, and played them very aggressively only to get called by AK. I was a 56% favourite, but he flopped an ace (making me a 10% underdog) to win, and my first live poker tournament was over.

I was very relieved!

I went outside for a walk around to get rid of the adrenaline, then returned to have some food and wait for my mates to get knocked out. I had to regularly fend off the hostesses who were rather pushy in trying to get me to play the other games, which I politely declined.


A third of nothing is nothing

One of my friends went out half an hour later, and the other finished 45 minutes after that. On the drive into Plymouth we'd made a rather optimistic agreement that we'd split our winnings three ways, but a third of nothing is still nothing. The only thing I came away with was my complimentary soft drink token.

All in all it was a really fascinating experience, but not one I want to repeat.


Play it safe

I picked up a copy of the casino's Play It Safe leaflet, giving help and advice on gambling responsibly. The first thing I noticed was the photo on the cover: there were as many female players in that photo as in the entire building. Maybe that's just Plymouth, but I doubt it.

The leaflet starts:

For most people, a night out at a casino is a leisure activity to be enjoyed in the same way as a trip to the football or an evening at the cinema [... ] However, for a very small number of people the temptation to push their luck or re-experience the elation of an early win can be compelling and sometimes irresistible.

From what I saw, the large majority of people there fell into their 'very small number' category. It felt like a lot of people had gambling problem, and it made me feel very uncomfortable to realise that the casino obviously know this too. They're taking advantage of these people's addictions, like a 19th century Opium den or probably quite a lot of pubs.



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