Proper ferrofluids

Friday 12th August 2016

After last week's disaster, here's a short video showing how Ferrofluids are supposed to look! I gave up trying to make my own and bought some from eBay along with some extra-strong neodymium magnets.

 

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Five percent

Friday 1st July 2016

Back in May I made a silly bet with a friend that I could lose 5% of my body fat more quickly than he could. I learned a lot about nutrition and completely changed my relationship to food along the way! My diet has always been pretty poor and if I'm going to live to be a hundred I need to sort it out. 

We don't have any lawyers at Lost In Thought, but if we did I'm sure they'd say that I'm not a doctor, this isn't dietary advice and you shouldn't follow a diet from some random blog that you found on the web. 

 

 

Measuring time

I bought some body fat calculation scales which use electrical impedance along with your weight to calculate your percentage of body fat.

I started off weighing 68.4kg with 18.4% fat according to the scales. This means I'm carrying 12.6kg of fat around. Ew! This is a mixture of subcutaneous fat, under my skin, and visceral fat which surrounds my organs and is considered the bad fat.

An average range for a 40-year old adult male is 18% - 24% body fat. If I somehow manage to lose 5% I'll be in the fitness body fat category according to Wikipedia. I can do fitness.

This makes me smile because Alfie, who I'm competing with, is starting at 15.9% so he'll be in the athlete range at 10.9%. Not sure I could do athlete, but good luck to him.

However my calculations tell me that if I'm going to lose 5% fat I have to shed 7.5kg of fat and I'll weigh 60.9kg. I've never been that light in my life and I'm going to look skeletal.

The other way would be to increase the percentage of non-fat, either by gaining muscle or by drinking lots of water to increase my total weight. Another quick calculation tells me I could drink 27 litres of water to achieve this. According to this article six litres of water will kill a 75kg adult human, so that's probably out. I told you I'm not a doctor, right?

I'm going to have to work out a lot and keep an eye on my muscle mass (which the scales also tell me) and try to put on muscle as I lose fat. If I start losing muscle as well then it's going to take even longer.

 

Day 1

Today is pretty hard. The scales tell me that my resting metabolism is 1550 kcal per day, so I set that as my food goal in MyFitnessPal. I quickly realise that my diet has always been very heavy in carbohydrates and fat, very low in protein. This is bad, I need to be eating lots of protein to build muscle in between workouts.

So I start learning about nutrition for the first time in my life. I've only ever used MyFitnessPal to count calories before, but now I start keeping an eye on the ratio of carbohydrates to fat to protein.

 

Day 4

Hmm, I'm 0.9% fatter than I was when I started but 0.4kg lighter, so all I've done is lose muscle (or become dehydrated). The reading on the scales jumped about a lot during the first four days so I'm going to say that 19.5% is my new starting body fat and I'm aiming for 14.5%. Or am I cheating already on day four?

 

Day 5

I've been reading up on the best ways to lose fat and the consensus is that I need a low carbohydrate diet. This encourages your body start burning fat, but the constant low blood sugar is making me feel dizzy. I'm trying to eat 50% carbohydrates, 30% fat and 20% protein.

Here are the MyFitnessPal charts of my carbs (blue), fat (red) and protein (green) ratios for three days at this point, as you can see it's hard to stick to the ratios!

 

Day 10

Back to my original fat levels and lost 1.3kg. The dizziness has gone now. I've changed to 40% carb, 30% fat and 30% protein. This is a huge amount of protein: at least a chicken breast, a steak or a fish every day, which is unusual for me. My coffee intake seems to have gone up dramatically, not sure if this is related.

 

Day 15

Okay, we're starting to get somewhere. I've lost 0.7% fat and only 0.1% muscle so it looks like I've got the balance right at 35% carbs, 35% fat and 30% protein. My normal meals of pasta with some kind of sauce have been replaced by a grilled chicken breast, half a head of steamed broccoli and a small portion of quinoa. 

 

Day 20

After a weekend of serious walking I wonder if I might actually achieve this goal. I've now lost 1.8% fat and put on 0.8% muscle. The scales tell me that my visceral fat has gone down too, which is an unintended health benefit. I've eaten more fillet steak in the last month than the preceding 40 years. I'm really hungry a lot of the time though, which isn't a good sign. 

 

Day 25

Starting to get a bit bored of this now. One thing I've learned is that how much I need to eat during a day is very different to how empty my stomach feels. In the past I'd always eat when my stomach rumbled, but I realise now that I don't need to.

Eating loads of salad and loving it! Here are some more MyFitnessPal ratios:

 

Day 30 

I think I can keep this up for about another week at the most. I'm losing about 0.1% body fat a day on average, so I might make it to 14.5%. I'm down to 64.3kg, the lightest I've ever been as an adult. I've discovered that the best time to take my measurements is when I'm fully hydrated, so I've taken to drinking a pint of water mid-morning, waiting for my body to pee out what I don't need and then get on the scales. 

 

Day 35

This morning I step on the scales and I weigh 63.8kg. I glance at the mirror and I look too thin. I've been feeling a bit weird, light-headed and a little angry. I've lost a lot of weight and not much fat for the last five days, so I think I'm about ready to give up. It's been a really interesting experience, not one I'd like to repeat but I've learned a huge amount about nutrition. 

There's an increasing body of evidence to suggest that we shouldn't be counting calories but eating a high fat, lower carb diet. There's an interesting article here. To quote from it:

The EPIC study revealed that one can [of cola] a day (approximately 150 calories) was associated with substantially increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Conversely, PREDIMED revealed that consumption of a handful of nuts, (30 g of walnuts, 15 g of almonds and 15 g of hazelnuts) or four tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil per day (approximately 500 calories) significantly reduced the risk of heart attack and stroke. 

 

Day 39

Done it, woohoo! I've been away for three days at a dance music festival, not eating or sleeping much. I hopped on the scales when I got home and I'm down to 14.5% fat! I feel pretty good to be honest, like I've got a younger body, a lot more energy and feel more alive (despite the festival). 

Here are the final graphs:

That was hard work

This has easily been the hardest thing I've done for Lost In Thought, but also one of the most rewarding. I've stopped logging my calories for now because I don't want to lose any more weight, but I'm still going to eat sensibly with more fat and protein and fewer carbs. I didn't think my 5% fat loss was going to be achievable without some serious weight lifting, and I'm really thrilled that I achieved my goal! I'm going back to weighing myself once a week instead of every day, as all the health professionals recommend. 

This is lunch today to celebrate. I know what it looks like, but this is actually what I wanted to eat for lunch. Kat's smirking reading this, because she can't believe I would ever choose to eat it. But in all honesty I've completely changed how I feel about food and drink in just over a month. 

 

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Licky

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!

 

Hypothesis

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.

 

Method

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.

 

Results

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.

 

Conclusion

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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Teaching the dog to count

Friday 1st April 2016

Over the last few months I've been teaching our dog Stanley to count. I'm a big fan of Chinese dog trainer Huj Ly Ur and her amazing work getting dogs to drive, skate, and of course count.  

Here's a video of Stanley's progress.

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Home made spectroscope

Friday 4th March 2016

Pretty much everything we can observe about the universe comes from the light we can see from stars. I've been doing an Astronomy course over the last year and I've come to realise just how much information can be obtained from light!

One thing that's really impressed me is how it's possible to find out all kinds of things about the composition of a star from looking at its spectrum. For example helium was observed on the Sun before it was discovered on Earth.

For a few quid I bought some diffraction gratings which smear out an object's light into a wide spectrum. 

Making a spectroscope

Apart from the diffraction grating, it's all simple stuff. I bought ten gratings from Amazon for £3 if you'd like me to post you one, and I also have some spare razor blades.

You'll need:

  • Black electrical tape
  • Cardboard
  • A long cardboard tube, about 10cm diameter
  • A razor blade
  • A 500 lines/mm diffraction grating

We need to block out almost all the light except for a very thin slit at one end of the tube. This makes for clearer lines in the image.

First of all, cut a circle of carboard that's about the same size as the tube diameter. Cut a rectangle from the middle of the circle that the razor blade will cover. Now carefully break the razor blade in two (obviously it's very sharp) and tape one part to each side of the circle, making sure the sharp bit of the blade protrudes from the semi-circle, like the top right image below.

Now tape the blades onto the card leaving about a 1mm gap between the two halves of the razor blade - like the bottom left image below. A smaller gap gives a clearer image, but needs more light to show a spectrum. 1mm seems to work for me.

Now tape the disc to one end of the cardboard tube, making sure that you still have a 1mm gap when you've finished. When you're done it should look like the bottom right image below. You can check it's okay by looking down the other end of the tube and you should see a very thin slit of light.

Now you need to attach the diffraction grating to the other end of the tube, like this. Make sure that the grating is mounted in the same orientation as the slit, that is when the slit is vertical, the text on the grating is the right way up.

The easiest way to do this is to hold the tube up to a CFL-type bulb in your home and place the grating at one end.

Rotate it around until you can see clear lines in the spectrum - if it's the wrong way round you'll just see a single unbroken line spectrum.

Have a play with it and you'll see what I mean.

Once you've got it in the right orientation, tape the grating to the other end of the tube and you're done! Yes, I taped this one upside down.

 

So what am I looking at?

Good question. White light isn't one colour, it's a bunch of different wavelengths. When you look through the diffraction grating at a light source, you'll see rainbows off to either side of the slit. The grating spreads the light out into different wavelengths like a prism.

At the blue end (normally depicted on the left, but you might have yours upside down!) is light with a wavelength of 390nm, and at the red end most people can see up to about 700nm. Most lights produce radiation beyond these wavelengths, but you can't see into the ultraviolet or infra-red so it just looks black.

Different light sources display very different spectra. I took some rather beautiful photos so you can see what it looks like.

 

Incandescent lights

Old school incandescent tungsten bulbs, and halogen lights, produce their light by becoming incredibly hot and emitting radiation as visible light. When you look through a spectroscope at one of these lights, you see a continuous spectrum of light like this:

These kind of lights actually emit more radiation in the infra-red than in the visible part of the spectrum, but my camera and your eyes can't see this, so the red just fades out as the wavelength gets longer on the right side. This is why these lights are really inefficient and also why they're really hot to touch.

 

Compact fluorescent light

About a decade ago everyone switched to compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs in their homes. These bulbs work in a totally different way to incandescent lights. They contain mercury atoms which emit energy in the ultraviolet. We can't see ultraviolet so the inside of the tube is coated in phosphors using various metals including europium and terbium which absorb the UV energy and re-emit it at very specific visible wavelengths.

The mixture is chosen carefully to give a particular colour of light which is how you get warm, cool and daylight CFL bulbs. But unlike incandescent bulbs, they only give off a very specific set of wavelengths of light, as you can see above.  With the help of my good friend Wikipedia, you can identify exactly which atoms are emitting which parts of the spectrum shown.

Mercury's pretty toxic so we'd ideally like to move away from CFLs over time. And also as you can see, the light isn't actually that good compared to incandescent bulbs, which is why a lot of people don't like them very much.

 

LEDs

Enter the Light Emitting Diode. These are lower power still than CFL bulbs, and their spectrum is much more like tungsten bulbs.

Don't be fooled though, LEDs also only emit a very narrow set of wavelengths (I'm not sure I fully understand why) so they are also covered in a layer of phosphors. Most household LED lights gives off a blue light which the phosphors absorb and re-emit as other colours.

Because the mix of phosphors is so clever it gives the appearance of a full spectrum, but you can see a dip in the blue part of the spectrum, and less at the red end than an incandescent light.

The horizontal stripes in the image are due to the shape of the LED torch that I used. Good LEDs produce a very nice colour, use a tiny amount of energy and last a really long time. I'm gradually moving all our lights over to LEDs, starting with the halogen bulbs.

 

Sunlight

You'd think that the cleanest, most complete spectrum would be sunlight, but that's not the case. The inside of the sun is rather hot, and so it radiates light as a broad spectrum. But as the light passes through the outer parts of the sun, and through the Earth's atmosphere, cooler atoms absorb specific wavelengths of light and the resulting spectrum has characteristic dark bands, which you can clearly see in the image below.

These are called Fraunhofer lines after the person who discovered them, and each one is caused by a specific atom. This is how we know the composition of the Sun, and also how helium was discovered - absorption lines were seen in the Sun's spectrum that didn't correspond to any elements that scientists knew about on the Earth.

 

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Choice

Friday 26th February 2016

It's always fascinated me that most people take as long to buy a pair of jeans as a house. Is there a fixed amount of time that we're willing to consider making a choice, or is it just easier to buy a home?

 

How do you make decisions?

I have friends who agonise over the smallest decision, buying What Hi-Fi for six months before choosing a new set of speakers, and others who buy the first car they see because they like the colour.

Others have never had a successful relationship because they're always looking for the perfect partner, and those who settled down for life with the first person they met.

There are loads of articles on the web to help you make decisions, and even software to do it for you.

I seem to make the right decisions a lot of the time without really knowing how to go about it. 

Decision paralysis goes back centuries, even appearing in Aesop's fables. The most common way to resolve it is to artificially limit your choices.

I've always joked that Kat is vegetarian because she doesn't like too much choice on a menu, but she genuinely seems overwhelmed when we go to veggie restaurants.

 

Don't overthink the question

This is the mantra for our pub quiz team. If the question is "Which is the only gem stone that isn't mined from the ground" don't argue about whether the answer might be Moldavite, just write down pearls and move on.

This is the Centipede's Dilemma a lovely poem by Katherine Craster from 1871:

A centipede was happy – quite!
Until a toad in fun
Said, "Pray, which leg moves after which?"
This raised her doubts to such a pitch,
She fell exhausted in the ditch
Not knowing how to run.

Quick decisions

Here's a quick test to see how you do at making decisions quickly. You'll be shown several stacks of coins, and you need to click on the stack which is the most valuable.

The test involves your ability to make the right decision quickly, so you haven't got time to add them up - take your best guess.

Start

Question 1/5

Click the stack of coins which is the highest value.

Question 2/5

Click the stack of coins which is the highest value.

Question 3/5

Click the stack of coins which is the highest value.

Question 4/5

Click the stack of coins which is the highest value.

Question 5/5

This is the last one.

Results

Thanks for taking part!

You got 0 out of 5 right in 0 seconds.

...





More complex decisions

As an example, we're currently looking to move to Spain for a year or two, for a new adventure. But Spain's a big place, and so we artifically narrowed it down to the east coast because I want to be near the sea.

We flew into Malaga and drove up to Barcelona. We made notes about every town and city we passed through, and gave each one a score out of ten. The icons on the map below go from red (<4 points) through orange (5 points), yellow (6 points) and into green (7+ points). The map is interactive if you want to see where we went and what we thought about it.

But as it turned out, we didn't need to do this. As soon as we arrived in Valencia, we both decided that this was the place. We were just over half-way through the trip, but it just felt right.

 

Go with your gut

The more I read about decision making, the more I understood that the basic rules are to evaluate the options and then go with the one that feels right to you. Obviously this doesn't apply to some decisions, like air strikes against Daesh, which need a bit more debate. But most of your day-to-day decisions, and a number of the larger ones, can be done just going with your gut.

I've started applying this philosophy to my life and it's really working out well! I was in the Co-op trying to work out whether I wanted sausages, chicken or prawns for dinner. I realised that I kept glancing back at the prawns, and they were delicious.

 

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Leftie

Friday 22nd January 2016

 

Nothing is designed for left-handed people

In five minutes I found these things in our house which are hard for southpaws to use:

This made me try a bunch of different things with my left hand. I already eat with my cutlery the left-handed way, thanks to liberal parents who let me decide which way round I wanted to hold the knife and fork as a child, without telling me that people would look askance at me in restaurants for the rest of my life.

Some things I found especially difficult were using a mouse, writing and greeting the old chap.

 

Writing my with left hand

I wrote a full side of A4 (in an upside down spiral-bound notebook, there's another one!) each day with my left hand, and after a couple of weeks there was a real improvement. Here's my progress.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 7

 

Day 14

 

 

Both hands at once

There are some interesting Youtube videos of people writing with both hands at the same time (normal as well as mirrored), a woman who writes with her hands and feet at the same time and even a woman writing with both hands in different languages.

There's always someone more hardcore than you.

 

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So how did I do? The introduction at the top of the page was written with my left hand. Did you work it out?

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Silent Sunday

Friday 6th November 2015

Maybe I'm a bit of a masochist, but I like experimenting on myself. Continuing on the alliterative theme from Mobile-free Monday, I wanted to see if I could be completely silent for a whole day. This was never going to happen on a weekday at work, so Sunday seemed like a good day to try it.

Here's what happened.

 

Midnight

We're driving back from a party when midnight strikes. I suddenly feel like I want shout - why didn't I do this a few minutes ago?

 

12:15 am 

Messed it up already by speaking to the dog - "do you need to go to the toilet before we go to bed?" Does that even count? It's going to be very hard to control the dog without speaking.

 

8:00 am 

I set a reminder on my phone telling me not to speak, which is what wakes me up.

I guess the easy thing to do would be just communicate by text all day, or get a Stephen hawking style robot voice app. That's probably cheating. 

 

9:00 am 

Go for a long dog walk on Bodmin moor with a very understanding friend. She tries to be silent too and lasts all of ten seconds. I have a whistle to communicate with the dog, but feel a bit bad blowing it at my friend when I want to attract her attention from a distance.

It's very hard to communicate without speaking, I wish I'd played charades more.

My friend tells me off for laughing, but there's no way I could stop doing that for a day. At some points on the walk she starts communicating using gestures too, angling her hands over her head as a sign for a house.

We need better gestures for question words - instead of why, when, how etc I'm reduced to looking bemused. If I was doing this for any longer I'd definitely learn sign language. 

 

Noon

I'm trying to not use writing to communicate, but it's really hard. If you were illiterate then a day (or vow) of silence would really cut you off from the world. Monks apparently had their own sign language.

I'm concentrating really hard on a computer-related task, then turn to Kat and accidentally start a sentence! This is surprisingly hard. 

 

1:15 pm

I wave at Kat from across the kitchen to see if she wants a cup of tea. She suggests that I use the whistle, but is that cheating? I'm not sure. I'm quite enjoying my silence, it frees me from having to communicate with people. I like to have a day without communicating at all, but that would be very hard indeed.

 

1:30 pm

The hardest time to remember not to talk is when I'm concentrating. I finish watching a YouTube movie about a scientist who died from snakebite and then say out loud "what a silly man". Kat is taking great delight in telling me to shush.

 

3:00 pm 

It's such a beautiful day that we're walking the dog again. I'm really enjoying the contemplation of being quiet. Is Kat deliberately misunderstanding all my gestures, or am I unintelligible? A bit of both. Try miming "Here is my secret stash of sticks if you're looking for some to throw for the dog in future."

I realise how much of my normal speech is just silly puns and jokes, both of which are very hard to do with gestures.

Luckily I haven't yet had to interact with any strangers alone. Kat handles the ticket woman at the castle, and I'm doing a smile-and-nod-politely to the other walkers we've seen out.  

 

4:30 pm

We bump into a few friends in town, but Kat kindly tells them that I'm not talking today.

On my own I would have transgressed all sorts of English social niceties.

 

4:45 pm

Accidentally spoke again. I swear it's computers that put me off.

 

5:45 pm

Watching a Charlie Chaplin movie, Modern Times. Now there's a man who can do silence well.

 

9:00 pm

Pub quiz, this is the home straight. I've got a pen and paper, all I have to do is avoid saying hello to our team mates as they arrive (failed on the first one) and shouting out the answers.

Several people start conversations with me in the pub and I look awkward. Luckily Kat explains that I'm not speaking, and it makes me smile that none of them seem surprised!

11 pm

It's been a really interesting day. Being silent (or trying to) has been very relaxing and a good experience. Give it a go!

 

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Me and my genome

Friday 16th October 2015

I just got my DNA sequenced. We're living in the future.

 

A very short history of DNA sequencing

1995 - A few months before I started university the first free-living organism's DNA (Haemophilus influenzae) was sequenced at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. This bacteria has 1.8m base pairs.

2001 - A couple of years after I left university, the Human Genome Project published the first complete human genome at a cost of $3 billion. Human DNA has around 3bn base pairs.

2015 - Fourteen years later I can get my DNA analysed for £125.

 

Sorry, what?

A company in the States called 23andme offers personal genome testing. You spit in a test tube and send it to them. They look at your DNA to identify your ancestry, assess your risk of genetic diseases, predicted response to drugs, and check for inherited conditions. They started in 2008 but only began offering the service in the UK at the end of last year.

Ever since I found out they were offering the service in the UK I've wanted to get it done, and writing it up here seemed like a good excuse to do it! This blog is the best idea I've ever had.

So what have I learned?

 

Photo by Steven Coles, https://www.flickr.com/photos/stewf/270942458

I am the 0.1%

No real surprises here, I'm 99.9% European.

The remaining 0.1% is from Yakut, a part of northern Russia the size of India with less than a million inhabitants. This explains why I've always loved playing the board game Risk!

An estimated 2.8% of my DNA is from Neanderthals, compared to a European average of 2.7%. Neanderthals are the closest evolutionary relatives of modern humans, who went extinct about 40,000 years ago.

 

Genetic Risk Factors

This is the bit I'm really interested in, I'm not that bothered about how much DNA I share with Neandethals. 23andme looks at sections of your DNA that are associated with an increased risk of a variety of diseases. If you come up as a higher risk, it doesn't mean that you're definitely going to get the disease, but you might want to look into it further.

23andme gave me typical risk for nine genetic risk factors including Parkinsons, but it did flag up higher risk for two diseases that I wasn't aware of. It turns out that the rest of my family are well aware of one of them, so I'm looking at ways to avoid it.

For the other genetic risk I've registered for clinical trials with the National Institute for Health Research, to see if I can help find a cure in case I get it! I'm not really concerned about this, it's a late-onset disease and there's no history of it in my family who have all survived way past the age it normally appears.

 

Drug response

This section of the report gives me the all-clear for expected responses to drugs like Warfarin and Abacavir which can cause problems if you're sensitive to them.

It gave one abnormal response, I'm likely to metabolise a certain kind of medicine more quickly than normal. So if I ever do need to take it, I can let my doctor know that I might need a higher dose than most people.

Given how much doctors seem to hate self-diagnosis and information gleaned from the internet, I can only imagine my doctor's response to this.

 

 

Inherited conditions

A clean sweep here for 45 inherited conditions. To be honest I'd probably already know if I'd inherited most of them, like cystic fibrosis or the delicious-sounding Maple Syrup Urine Disease.

 

Guess Who?

The last section is fun - do my genes match me? According to 23andme:

  • I'm likely to have straight-ish non-balding blonde hair and blue eyes
  • I drink an average amount of coffee and metabolise it more slowly than average
  • I can taste bitter things, I have typical odds of disliking coriander and can smell asparagus in my urine after eating it
  • I have a lower than average preference for sweet foods. 

 

Summary

Absolutely fascinating, I'm really glad I did it. If you're interested here's a link - let me know what you discover!

 

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Astrology

Friday 9th October 2015

I've always assumed that Astrology is complete rubbish, but I've never actually paid any attention to it. So I thought I'd do some experiments to see if it stands up to any kind of close examination. Here are the results of my experiment.

 

1. Does my star sign match my personality?

I am apparently a Sagittarius. I assumed this meant that I have four legs and I'm good at archery, but here are a list of traits of Sagittarians according to six different websites.

I asked Kat to score how many she thinks apply to me, I'll leave it up to you to decide which she chose.

Website #1 Website #2 Website #3 Website #4 Website #5 Website #6
  • kind-hearted
  • open-minded
  • enthusiastic
  • quick wit
  • thirst for knowledge
  • mental acuity
  • strong
  • stubborn
  • loves finer things in life
  • appreciates beauty
  • feelings buried deep
  • generous
  • enthusiastic
  • passionate
  • adventurous
  • direct
  • performs well under pressure
  • unemotional
  • generous
  • dependable
  • down to earth
  • patient
  • independent
  • persistent
  • high-energy
  • eager
  • idealist
  • passionate about justice
  • equality-promoting
  • practically grounded
  • creative
  • reasonable
  • perceptive
  • sensitive
  • compassionate
  • self-doubting
Score: 6 Score: 3 Score: 3 Score: 3 Score: 2 Score: 4

 

In fact, only three of these are traits for Sagittarius, the ones in the columns with the dark backgrounds. #2 and #4 are Taurus and #6 is Pisces. So on average 61% of the Sagittarius traits match, against 55% of the traits for the other signs. Not a great start, but it's a small sample size so I'm not sure we can read too much into it.

You'll note though that are is some degree of consistency between the traits for Sagittarius: enthusiastic and passionate both appear on two different lists, and generous appears in both of the Taurus lists.

Result: inconclusive

 

2. Do these personality traits agree with other people?

I know three people who share my birthday, so they should share these Sagittarius traits too. I emailed them a list of these traits and asked their partners to tick the ones that applied. I didn't tell them what it was for. Only one replied (fair enough, it was an odd request): Mr H matched 72% of the Sagittarius traits and 33% of the non-Sagittarius traits, which is a much stronger match than me.

Result: promising

 

 

2. Do my horoscopes agree with each other?

This seems like a fairly basic expectation of a horoscope. If they're predicting my future, they should at least agree on what that future is. I Googled horoscopes, opened the top six websites and found today's text for Sagittarius. I've summarised them into bullet points:

  • horoscope.com - You'll get an angry call from someone far away
  • Yahoo! - You're able to work more quickly and efficiently.
  • cainer.com - What's positive, this weekend, may well be possible, if you believe!
  • horoscopes.co.uk - Together with someone close, you could be planning for the future.
  • Elle - You could blow a situation way out of proportion
  • Daily Mirror - Today you will recognise when someone is feeding you false leads.

There's 0% consistency between these, there's not one common theme among them without stretching the words to breaking point.

I've also just noticed that Russell Grant provided the predictions for both Yahoo and the Mirror website, which don't even match up to each other.

Result: fail

 

 

3. Does my daily horoscope predict my day?

If they really are true, then I should be able to see correlations between what my horoscope predicts and what actually happens in my day.

In the examples above for today, I would argue that the last one about being fed false leads does make sense! But that means if it's false it's true then it's false and we're in some kind of mind-melting paradox.

I'm giving Yahoo Russell a chance to predict my future. Here are my predictions for a week, and my experiences:

Friday

  • Russell predicts: You're able to work more quickly and efficiently.
  • My day: No, I spent most of the day elbow-deep in a database and hardly achieved anything.

Saturday

  • Russell predicts: You'll be asked to make a personal sacrifice for a loved one. 
  • My day: I agreed to go to a vegetarian restaurant for lunch, does that count?

Sunday

  • Russell predicts: People are receptive to your particular brand of genius. 
  • My day: Thanks for the compliment, but no.

Monday

  • Russell predicts: You're determined to reach your goal, even if it means going above and beyond the call of duty.
  • My day: This doesn't sound like my Monday, can you be a bit more specific please?

Tuesday

  • Russel predicts: Your income is steadily improving, although you might not see a discernible change yet.
  • My day: The first part is true, but I have noticed it.

Wednesday

  • Russel predicts: Attending a religious, educational or cultural gathering will put you on the path to romance. 
  • My day: Ooh! But no.

Thursday

  • Russel predicts: A financial shortage is putting a crimp in your social life.
  • My day: Utterly wrong, today I calculated that we're debt-free for the first time in 20 years!

Result: fail

 

Summary

And there you have it. Unsurprisingly this isn't the first ever scientific study into astrology, this study from 2003 found that astrological effects for 110 variables were not detectable in 2,101 time twins born 5 minutes apart. [...] The effect
size due to astrology was measured as 0.00 ± 0.03. I'm not sure what the units are there, but I don't think it matters much.

But I doubt it's going to change anyone's mind either.

What star sign are you, and has a prediction ever come true? Leave a comment below.

 

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Drink driving

Friday 28th August 2015

Having previously said I don't drink, I'm going to see how drunk I can get and still be under the UK alcohol limit. I decided it was a teeny bit unethical to get behind the wheel, so I'm going to test myself on GTA V instead.

I created a simple course that mimics my everyday life. So I'm going to drive from my luxury penthouse apartment to the clothes shop for a new dress, then go for a haircut before driving to the golf course.

But first, Science™. Or if science isn't your thing, just skip to the heading marked Sober.

 

Blood alcohol concentration

When a bottle says that it's 5% or 40% alcohol, that's the amount of the liquid in the bottle which is pure ethanol, the stuff that gets you drunk. So a pint (568mL) of Carlsberg Export at 5% is 28.4mL of ethanol (568 * 5 / 100).

In the UK we use a system called units to make it easier to keep track of what you've drunk. One unit is 10mL of ethanol. So a pint of Carlsberg Export is 2.84 units (28.4 / 10), although it just says 2.8 on the can to avoid confusing drunk people.

Still with me?

Drink drive limits are expressed as the amount of ethanol in a certain amount of blood, or breath. The UK drink drive limit is currently 80mg of ethanol per 100mL of blood (or 35 μg per 100mL of breath). 80mg/100mL is more commonly expressed as 0.08 BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration).

But how much do I need to drink to stay below that?

 

The Widmark method

The generally accepted method for calculating blood alcohol is the Widmark method, which is gives the blood alcohol concentration in g%:

BAC = (0.8 * ethanol in mL * 100) / (weight in Kg * 1000 * gender constant)

The gender constant is 0.68 for men and 0.55 for women and relates to the different amounts of water in the bodies of men and women. Re-arranging this to give me the most I can drink and still be below the UK drink drive limit gives me a wonderfully simple formula:

Ethanol in mL = weight in Kg * gender constant

For me, this is 47.6mL ethanol, which is 4.76 UK units. This is just over a pint and half of Export, or four shots of gin, which is what I'm going to drink.

I know before I even open the bottle that I'm going to be utterly incapable of driving anywhere.

 

Sober

First, I need a benchmark, so I drove the course sober in 5 minutes and 39 seconds.

 

Drunk in the game

If you've played GTA V, you'll know that there are all sorts of ways to get high in the game. As an extra benchmark I wanted to get plastered in the game (still sober in real life) and then drive the same course to see what time I get. The vehicle swerves all over the road after you've had a few and is very hard to control.

The main problem here is that you can't shop or get a haircut while the police are after you, and drink-driving catches their attention pretty quickly.

It didn't end well and no matter how many times I tried, I couldn't get to the golf club without dying. Here's an example.

 

Drunk in real life

To be honest I wasn't looking forward to this, it's definitely one of the worse ideas I've had lately. But here goes.

I drank four shots of gin and a pint of tonic water in ten minutes and then tried to play the game. I got round the course in 7 minutes 12 seconds, but I found it hard to navigate the menus and failed to buy a dress or get a haircut.

There's no way I should be driving in real life. My driving wasn't that bad, I could control the car much easier than being drunk in the game, but I found it very hard to concentrate on playing and keeping the truck on the road. I guess this is why we have drink-drive laws! Apologies for the mumbly, slurred commentary in the video.

 

Want to give it a go?

 

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Fruitarian for a week

Friday 24th July 2015

I once told a vegan friend that I thought she was pretty hardcore for voluntarily keeping to such a strict diet. 'No way,' she told me, 'fruitarians are hardcore.' That was ten years ago, and ever since then I've thought of them as the radical extremists of the food world.

So I thought I'd give it a go for a week. I've always had a fairly distant relationship with fruit: I'll eat strawberries with cream, watermelon and a grape or two, but I'm going way outside my comfort zone here.

 

What's the point?

There are a wide range of reasons to be fruitarian:

  • Religious - for example Jaines who follow a path of non-injury towards all living beings
  • Environmental - some estimates put agricultural greenhouse gas emissions at 18% of the total. Eating organic is a big part of the diet (but not one I'm following)
  • Ethical - some people take issue with the way that meat is raised
  • Health - but it can be hard to get enough vitamin B12, calcium, iron and zinc

 

What do Fruitarians eat?

Fruit, duh.

Of course, it's more complicated than that. According to Wikipedia, people who eat 75% raw fruit consider themselves to be fruitarians, a figure that fruitarian.info states as 50% or more. The Fruitarian defines it as "raw fruit and seeds only". Blimey.

I couldn't find a strict definition of what fruitarians eat. The general consensus seems to be fruits and nuts, mainly or entirely raw. Think of it as a raw vegan diet - any plant products you can eat raw, so no grains, pulses, bread or potatoes.  Most importantly (for me) they don't consume coffee.

Some fruitarians only eat one type of food at a time, so if you're having peaches for lunch, then that's all you eat. Have a break of 45 to 90 minutes and then eat a different kind of food. Now that's self control.

 

Monday

8am Last night I crammed myself full of chocolate and chips at the pub quiz, but I was still hungry when I woke up. Feeling slightly scared, I made an early morning trip to our amazing local grocers and bought £30 worth of fruit to try to keep myself alive until lunchtime.

9am Breakfast is a banana, a handful of grapes, some figs, dates, strawberries and a passion fruit. I've probably committed a terrible mistake already, but I'm feeling pretty good.

12pm I'm surprised to find that I'm not massively hungry, but I'm waiting for the inevitable caffeine headache to kick in this afternoon. Lunch is some watermelon, another banana, a peach, some dried apricots, cherries and more grapes.

1pm The caffeine headache begins. I really want an espresso, hot water and lemon is really not doing it for me.

4pm Feeling insanely hungry, I cast about for something substantial to eat. There's only fruit! Mild panic attack ensues. Can I really keep this up for a week?

6pm One upside of a fruitarian diet is that I'm spending much less time preparing food. Dinner is a massive plate of salad, followed by half a coconut and half a bag of pistachios. Caffeine headache still dominating the experience, and I'm feeling really tired.

 

Tuesday

9am While walking the dog this morning, I considered eating some his dry, tasteless biscuits. Don't judge me. Another big plate of bananas, peach, strawberries, figs, dates and pistachios. Starting to feel a bit more familiar now, but the caffeine headache is making the experience quite unpleasant.

12pm I've had enough of the headache, so one cup of coffee later and I'm feeling great! Lunch is a big plate of salad and avocado, followed by watermelon and coconut. Still not sure I can do this for a week.

7pm We're going to out to celebrate with a friend tonight at a restaurant, so instead of behaving like an idiot and demanding a fruitarian meal I've decided to eat a normal dinner. After all, it's only 50-75% raw fruit, and I need some vitamin B12, right? Dover sole never tasted so good!

 

 

Wednesday

9am Back to a fruity breakfast this morning with a banana, mango, strawberry and blueberry smoothie, some figs, nuts and coffee.

12pm Another big plate of salad, loads of coconut and pistachios. You get the idea. I'm amazed how just one cup of coffee a day sorts me out.

6pm My Wednesday evening exercise class almost kills me. Need more food.

7pm Another social do at a pub tonight with a noticable lack of anything fruity. I settle for a pork pie, sausage rolls and a cheese sandwich.

 

Thursday

9am I'm really enjoying a pure fruit breakfast, I might carry on with this after the week is up. Melon, banana, strawberries, blueberries and passion fruit.

12pm Getting in my stride now, I make fruitarian sushi rolls using grated cauliflower instead of rice. It's pretty decent, although the cauliflower doesn't have the same sticky properties and fragments a little.

6pm Trying to keep up the diet this evening, so I have a big plate of salad for dinner.

10:30pm That didn't work at all, I'm really hungry so I scoff a bowl of Weetabix and a Magnum.

 

Friday

9am Another big plate of fruit for breakfast. Still enjoying it, but I'm going to be so happy when this is over.

12pm Another big plate of salad. Finding it hard to be excited about salad.

6pm I need all my energy for poker night, so consume a burger, a bag of cookies and bunch of soft drinks. And it works!

 

Saturday

9am Yet more fruit.

12pm Yet more salad. Just holding out for dinner.

8pm Meat feast pizza, hooray!

Sunday

8am Squash match this morning. A breakfast smoothie just doesn't cut it, so I munch a mid-match Mars bar.

12pm The diet restrictions are starting to crumble as I have a plate of pasta, cheese and salami for lunch, followed by sweets and cake at the town fair.

7pm Hunger takes over and I go into a feeding frenzy, consuming anything I can find in the house. The dog is lucky he doesn't have bite marks on him.

 

Conclusion

I won't lie, this week's been really hard. I'm not a natural fruit eater and I've found it very difficult indeed to get enough calories when I'm doing any kind of exercise. I'm now 2kg below my target weight.

I can just about see how people follow diets like Raw 'til 4, but I just don't understand how anyone can be fruitarian for any length of time! But somehow they do. Michael Arnstein has been a fruitarian since 2008 and he can run a hundred miles in 12 hours, so my original hypothesis has been proved - fruitarians are hardcore.

To some people, this experiment will look like a total failure - I was 100% fruitarian for around 36 hours. But I see it as a real success - I've got a new appreciation for fruit. I can see myself continuing with fruit for breakfast, but not every day.

Have you ever tried this? Think you'll give it a go? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

 

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Are Facebook ads worth it?

Friday 10th July 2015

Every time I post a new blog, Facebook hassles me to Boost this post so I thought it would be interesting to see whether it makes any difference to how many people read my blog. I'm not that bothered about actually increasing my readership, but I'm curious to see what happens. 

At the beginning of May I wrote about an experiment to find out who I should vote for in the general election.

So I gave Facebook £15 and told them to promote my post for 3 days, so £5 per day. Facebook estimated that it would show my post to 2,200 to 5,900 people. Apparently 13 of my friends have boosted a post too, if you're one of them please leave a comment at the end of the post!

After three days, it gave me some pretty stats. The image below shows the number of people reached. Facebook showed the post to 8,086 people (more than they estimated), roughly 50/50 male to female, mostly in the 18-24 age range and overwhelmingly using mobile devices.

The next image shows engagement - the number of people who actually clicked on the post. Out of those 8,086 people only 62 clicked on it: a 0.77% click rate. It's still split pretty evenly between male and female, still mostly 18-24 and entirely on mobile. There is however a spike in the 45-54 age range too - maybe this age bracket is more interested in politics?

 

Finally,it gave me a summary of the costs to attract each of the clicks. This is interesting, it cost me 25p per female click but only 22p per male click. Clicks from the 18-24 age range are 19p each but a whopping 53p from the 45-54 age group. Why are these people so much more expensive to target?

I was expecting a lot more for my £15; 62 clicks and just two likes seems very expensive.

Have you ever tried Facebook advertising, and did it work? Leave a comment below.

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Mentos eruption

Friday 29th May 2015

I've seen some great Mentos and Diet Coke eruption videos on Youtube, and I've always wondered whether other soft drinks work too.

Here comes the science.

Hypothesis

The Mentos eruption works just as well with any kind of soft drink, but it doesn't work with Fruit Mentos or sparkling water. It will be more explosive with powdered Mentos because of the increased surface area.

Method

12 bottles of various soft drinks and 12 packets of Mentos were bought from a local supermarket. The bottles were opened and a packet of Mentos (eight sweets) was dropped into the bottle using our patented delivery mechanism (an empty Berocca tube).

Results

Screenshots were taken from the video at peak foam. The images were scaled to make the bottles the same size and the eruptions were plotted on a pretty graph.

The average heights of the eruptions were calculated. Note that Coke Life and sparkling water were not included in either of the diet or regular averages.

  • Average height: 26cm
  • Average diet drink height: 26cm
  • Average sugary drink height: 34cm
  • Average Tesco drink height: 32cm
  • Average Coca-Cola drink height: 28cm

Conclusion

Our experiment shows that soft drinks containing sugar can produce higher eruptions than diet products, and that it does work with Fruit Mentos but not with sparkling water. Powdered Mentos do not produce a higher plume than whole sweets.

Sadly our delivery mechanism left a lot to be desired, and to be honest the height of the eruption a lot to do with how many Mentos were delivered into the bottle before it started foaming.

Wikipedia explains the science behind it. The world record for the most number of simultaneous Mentos and Soda fountains is 4,334 bottles at once!

Thanks very much to my awesome cameramen Jay-yoh and K-Herb.

 

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How old can I look?

Friday 8th May 2015

I must admit I'm not a fan of the selfie, but in the interests of science I took a bunch of photos of myself to see how Microsoft's how-old.net website reacts to different expressions. How old can I make myself look?

 

From above

Fair play to Microsoft, they got this one spot on - I am indeed 39. Lucky guess?

 

Angry

I've read articles saying that the best way to get a young score is to pull a neutral expression that minimise any lines on your face. I can add a decade by looking angry.

 

Confused

Result! An extra 16 years by looking confused.

Kat always says I look like Beaker from the Muppets when I pull this face. Sadly the website couldn't tell me how old Beaker looks:

 

Gurning

I can only hope I look this good at 48.

 

Scowling

I'm pretty sure I've got a face. Maybe it's too old to detect.

 

Tongue out

Bit surprised by this one, is this what 52 year old men do?

 

Black and white

This is the same picture that scored me 39 at the top of the page, now scores 49 in black and white. What's going on there? Maybe it thinks that the world used to be in black and white and so anyone with a black and white must be old?

 

Saturation

I wondered how Photoshop could change my age, if black and white adds ten years. Going from least to most saturated (left to right) takes me from 48 to 44, but at the extremes it couldn't detect my face. Young people are more colourful, obviously.

 

Me too

Finally, I thought I'd try putting multiple copies of myself in the picture and see if it gave the same answer:

I think we've learned something important here: how-old.net needs more work. In a row of six identical colour photos of me it can only spot faces in two of them and gives them ages of 44 and 51, and in black & white there's an 8-year age difference between six identical photos, from 40 to 48.

To look as old as possible, I need to look confused. Have a go yourself and see how old a score you can get, then leave a comment with your tips for looking old!

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Who should I vote for?

Friday 1st May 2015

I decided to run a competition to find out who I should vote for in the general election. Did you know that we're having an election next week? Maybe you hadn't noticed.

I can't remember who I voted for last time, it was either the Greens or the yellows. One thing I do know is that I've never voted for the winning party nor had my choice of MP elected.

 

Choosing a colour

First I took a number of tests to see who I should vote for.

The fascinating Political Compass has a very thorough test that plots your politics on a grid (see image), and put me nearest to the Greens but miles away from all the other parties.

I went through the extremely complex Vote For Policies website, which gave me a 50/50 split between Green and Labour.

I took the poll at Votematch and I scored 82% for the Greens, 73% for Labour and 66% for the Lib Dems.

I also took the quick I Side With poll, which gave me 97% Plaid Cymru (?!) 95% Green, 94% Lib Dem and 92% Labour.

Finally, just to make sure, I took the very quick Tickbox poll, which told that I should be voting Green.

So far, so good - it looks like I should vote Green.

However they're almost certainly not going to win here (in 2010 they got 1.7% of the vote) so is there any point voting for them?

So I thought I'd put all the candidates to the test and score them.

 

Our candidates

Here in the constituency of South East Cornwall we've got six candidates, with William Hill's odds in brackets:

 

My questions

I thought it would be interesting to see where they stand on issues that are important to me, so I emailed all of them with three questions covering, local, national and global issues.

I did this before the 2010 election with three different questions that were open-ended. I got a very poor response so these questions are much quicker with simple yes/no answers.

Hi [first name],

I live in Lostwithiel, in South East Cornwall where I believe you're standing in the general election in May.

I haven't decided who to vote for yet, so if you've got a few minutes I'd appreciate your thoughts on the following questions:

  1. Do you support plans to build the UK's first spaceport in Cornwall?
  2. Do you support Dignity in Dying's campaign to legalise assisted dying in the next parliament?
  3. Do you think we're doing enough to tackle climate change around the world?

If you'd rather speak to me, call [my number] any time.

Best wishes,

Mat.

I'm going to score them on: how quickly they respond (3 points for the first to reply, decreasing by one each time); the way in which they respond (4pts for a long call, 3 pts for a short call, 2pts for a long email, 1pt for a short email, 0 if they don't reply), and how much their responses correspond with my views (0, 1 or 2pts per question).

 

Andrew Long - Mebyon Kernow

Andrew replied within quarter of an hour of me emailing him, and gave detailed, well-reasoned responses to my questions:

  1. He's in favour of the spaceport, as well as continued development of the AeroHub at Newquay Airport.

  2. He's in favour of assisted dying provided the proper safeguards are in place. He pointed out that this is his personal view, as Mebyon Kernow doesn't have a party policy on the issue.

  3. He doesn't think we're doing enough to tackle climate change, he thinks the government should be encouraging wave energy and geo-thermal as well as existing renewables, and he believes that we need to protect our land for the production of food.

So 3pts for replying first, 2pts for a long email, and 6pts for his answers to my questions.

Total: 11 points

 

Phil Hutty - Liberal Democrats

Phil called me within an hour and a half of receiving my email, and we had a very interesting fifteen minute conversation. He's very bright, enthusiastic and passionate about Cornwall. I'll paraphrase his answers:

  1. We didn't talk much about the space port as he didn't know too much about it, but more generally about the Cornish economy. He'd like to make Cornwall more appealing for business by dualling the A38, adding a second railway line into the county and cancelling the Tamar Bridge toll.

  2. He was in favour of assisted dying, providing the right safeguards are in place.

  3. He thought we should do more to tackle climate change. He mentioned some interesting new technologies that can replace fossil fuel-generated power, and said that he sees wind and solar farms as an interim step for power generation until better technologies come along. He said that he was in favour of building new nuclear power stations if they're needed, to reduce our CO2 output.

So Phil scores 2pts for replying second, 4pts for a long call, and 6pts for giving answers that agree with my opinions.

Total: 12 points

 

Declan Lloyd - Labour Party

Declan responded in a couple of hours with a short email. To paraphrase his answers:

  1. He thinks Cornwall is the best place for a spaceport and will bring quality employment

  2. He agrees with people having the right to die with at their own time, with the correct oversight.

  3. He thinks we're not doing enough to tackle climate change, and opposes mining for shale gas.

So Declan scores 1pt for replying third, 1pt for a short email, and 6pts for giving answers that agree with my opinions.

Total: 8 points

 

Bradley Monk - UKIP

Bradley responded within about four hours. He sent a long email with detailed replies to my questions. To summarise his reply:

  1. He fully supports a Cornish spaceport and the highly paid jobs it will bring to the county

  2. He fully supports assisted suicide, having been personally affected by the issue

  3. While he's skeptical about the human involvement in climate change, he agrees that we need a wider mix of energy generation, but doesn't think wind and solar are the sole answer.

If I'm being honest I was surprised at how eloquent and well-reasoned Bradley's answers were, and I was expecting his answers to include references to the EU and immigration, which they did not.

So Bradley scores 2pts for a long email, and 4pts for giving two answers that agree with my opinions.

Total: 6 points

 

Martin Corney - Green Party

Martin sent me an email reply within a week, here's a summary:

  1. He supports the spaceport because he loves technology and sees it as part of a Green world.

  2. He is against assisted dying because of the risk to the vulnerable.

  3. As you'd expect, he doesn't think we're doing enough to tackle climate change and believes that fossil fuels should stay in the ground.

So Martin scores 2pts for a long email, and 4 pts for his answers to my questions.

Total: 6 points

 

George Trubody - Independent

George replied with a long-ish email after week or so (after I chased him), his replies were:

  1. He would welcome the investment and jobs that it a spaceport would bring. He made the point that Newquay Airport is owned by Cornwall Council who have always struggled to make it profit, so any new business would help.

  2. He didn't know enough about assisted dying to comment.

  3. He doesn't think we're doing enough to tackle climate change.

So George scores 2pts for a long email, and 4 pts for his answers to my questions.

Total: 6 points

 

 

Sheryll Murray - Conservative Party

Unfortunately Sheryll didn't reply to me, so I'm unable to give her a score. This is a shame, because everyone says she's a nice person and a good MP, and because I really wanted to back the winner for once.

 

 

 

Conclusion

I've learned that I'm a natural Green voter, but this year I'm voting for Phil Hutty, our Lib Dem candidate.

Sadly too late for this election I discovered that it only costs £500 to stand as a candidate in a general election, so I've added it to my i-Spy Book Of Life for the next election in 2020!

I hope I can count on your vote.

 

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Mobile-free Monday

Friday 17th April 2015

I often find myself compulsively checking my phone. I know it's not healthy, so I thought I'd try turning it off for 24 hours to see if I could cope.

Some days I might check Facebook twenty times, like a nervous tic, to see if friends have posted anything exciting or liked my stuff. And I know it's not just me, some friends are constantly on their phones while we're out together or even just sitting about chatting, which seems pretty rude but I know I do it too!

So I turned my phone off before I went to bed on Sunday night, and didn't turn in back on again until Tuesday morning. Here's the diary of that day.

Monday

5:00 am Woke up to find the dog on the bed, taking up more than his fair share of the space again. Couldn't get back to sleep, and normally I'd put my headphones on and listen to a podcast on my phone. Lay there for a while cursing this experiment then fell asleep.

9:00 am Got up and instinctively reached for my phone to listen to some music while I had a wash. Washed in silence instead, which was eerie.

9:30 am Had to ask Kat to check my calendar on her phone because I'd totally forgotten what we were doing. Started making notes on how my mobile-free Monday was going, and I had to learn to write with a pen again. My handwriting was even worse than I remembered.

11:00am Went out for a walk with friends who were all on time, luckily. Kept reflexively checking my pocket to make sure my phone was there, and my heart skipped a beat when it wasn't. Every half hour or so I wished I'd brought a camera with me to capture this beautiful walk, but then relaxed into it and just enjoyed the view.

2:30pm Tried and failed to do mental arithmetic (if 217g is 12% of the total weight, what is the remaining 88%?) and ended up using the calculator on Kat's phone. Is that cheating? All afternoon I had a vague sense that I was missing out on lots of exciting Facebook posts or messages from people inviting me to wild parties.

8:00pm By the evening, not having a mobile felt natural and really rather pleasant. Started reading a book and became totally engrossed in it.

10:30pm Decided that I might do this every Monday.

 

Tuesday

I turned my phone back on in the morning, and one solitary text message was waiting for me. Nothing exciting happened, I didn't miss out on any parties and the world didn't stop revolving.

I finished the book at lunchtime and started another one.

 

The next Monday

I thought I'd do it again the next Monday, just to see what happened, and I didn't miss the phone at all. The only problem was trying to arrange a date with friends, because I didn't have access to my calendar and I had no idea what's in it. My handwriting was just as bad as last week.

 

I'm not sure I'm going to do this every Monday, but it's given me a new perspective and made me think before I reflexively reach for the phone to entertain me in every moment of downtime.

Have you ever tried a mobile-free day?

 

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Walking a thousand miles

Friday 13th March 2015

A while back we built two websites for Cornwall NHS - one to help people track calories and one to track the distance that they walked. I learned that I should be eating no more than 1,800 calories a day, and walking at least 10,000 steps per day (about 4.5 miles).

This was news to me so, serial hobbyist that I am, I obsessively measured data about myself. I got the awesome MyFitnessPal app and tracked my weight, food intake and exercise.

Hypothesis

Last summer I decided to see how quickly I could walk 1,000 miles. Before I started on July 7th, I came up with two predictions:

  1. I'd be finished by Xmas - so it would take less than six months
  2. On weekdays where I walk the dog, I walk twice as far as when it's not my turn

So I tracked my steps every day and fed them into the programme that came with my pedometer.

Results

I started well, but I was surprised how much more I walk in the summer compared to the winter. My maximum was 15.2 miles walking the South West Coast Path in early November, and Christmas day was my worst day, walking just 1.6 miles (and probably eating the most calories too).

Conclusions

It turns out I don't walk as much as I thought:

  1. It took six and a half months in total (199 days), I averaged just over 5 miles a day
  2. On dog walking weekdays I walk 1.6 times further (5.6 vs 3.4 miles)

The other statistic that came out of the pedometer programme was that I burned over half a stone (4.1kg) of fat while I walked!

Anyone want to borrow a pedometer?

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Mucky Paws

Friday 16th January 2015

I've never understood people who wear their outdoor shoes in the house. Maybe they watch where they tread more than I do, or maybe I'm a bit OCD?

But then again, our dog has free run of the house and he regularly treads all sorts of things into the carpet, the sofa, and our bed.

So I thought it would be interesting to see what has the most bacteria - his feet, my shoes or my hands.

I did a science degree a long time ago, so I dusted off My First Book Of Science Experiments and tried to remember how it all works.

Hypothesis

My hypothesis is that the dog's feet are dirtier than my shoes.

Method

I bought 10 petri dishes (£5.50) and a pack of nutrient agar (£2.49) from eBay (I love eBay), mixed up the agar with water and boiled it for 25 minutes to sterilise it. In the most scientific way I could, I placed five samples onto the dishes, each one twice for extra Science Points™

  1. Stanley's front paws (labelled F. Paw 1 & 2)
  2. Stanley's back paws (R. Paw 1  2)
  3. My hands (Hand 1 & 2)
  4. My shoes (Shoe 1 & 2)
  5. Control, with nothing on it (Control 1 & 2)

I'd been washing my hands regularly and wearing gloves while I made up the plates, so my hands were a bit too clean for a good sample. To make the results more interesting I brushed my hands through my hair, round the back of my ears and then shoved them down the front of my trousers for good measure.

The control samples had nothing placed onto them, they were just sealed up like the other samples for even more Science Points™. It's been at least 15 years since I've done any kind of real science, so I expected the control samples to be the most heavily contaminated!

I piled up the dishes into two stacks of five, then placed them in my highly advanced incubator (on top of the radiator in the guest bedroom) and left them for five days.

Results

Five days later, and the results are in:



The dog's feet harbour more bacteria and fungi than my shoes, but they're pretty similar.

There's quite a lot of variation between the samples, so I wouldn't call this a good result. The thing I'm most impressed by is that the control plates are clean (the dots in the photos are bubbles in the agar), which means my aseptic technique is better than I thought it was.

Most of what you can see in the bottom left of the Shoe 1 sample is where I broke the surface of the agar, not bacterial colonies. And even though I tried to make my hands dirty, they're the cleanest sample of all.

[Edit: It's been pointed out by somebody with more Science Points™ than me that me that not all bacteria and fungi are bad. Indeed you've got more bacterial cells in you than your own cells.]

Conclusions

  1. We should probably stop the dog sleeping on our bed, or at least clean his feet.
  2. I can still do science!

 

What would you test?

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