Mental Indigestion

by Jim Caryl

Category: Uncategorized


Apologies for my absenteeism this week, I have been busy researching some family history for an upcoming post, which I hope to finish soon. If you’re looking for some light Sunday reading however, please consider a selection of my other posts:

Fallacies of logic – how logic is abused to achieve nefarious and intellectually dishonest ends.

Bio-suit – how human do you think you are? An essay about the human microbiome, the zoo of organisms that live on us, and in us – without which we wouldn’t be here.

The strength of great apes – describing the folly of engaging in an arm-wrestle with a Chimpanzee in the pub.

A cure in the toxin – describes the early use of bacterial infection to treat some forms of cancer.

…and finally, a book recommendation, ‘Three cups of tea‘.

Latest discovery….

Portal (copyright The Onion)

Ground-breaking research, reported by The Onion.

Artistic breaks…

Final_smallI’VE had a long weekend away, re-kindling my artistic proclivities by staying in a yurt on the edge of a moor in the Preseli Hills of Pembrokeshire; also the source of the blue stone used to build Stonehenge. It is an ancient landscape of winding roads, erratic stones strewn across the landscape, burial barrows, stone circles and various other random dolmens. Overwhelmingly Pembrokeshire is defined by its patchwork of green fields that hug the coastline right up to the lips of the characteristic Pembrokeshire cliffs.

On the way down to Pembrokeshire was Aberystwyth, home to the sister of my alma mater university, and also home to a fine promenade (see pictures below), great cafes, and delicatessens. Also not far from Aber is Machynlleth and the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT). When I first visited the CAT 12 years ago, on a university field trip, green technologies were bulky, poorly commercialised and required a significant commitment to implement. However, times have changed, and it’s never been easier, or cheaper, to make the change to green energy, water and waste recycling, and sustainable lifestyles. The CAT is looking a little dated in some areas (most notably the rickety old water-powered funicular, which isn’t exactly a technology that should be rickety), but in other areas it has continued to grow, develop and implement newer green technologies.

One thought-provoking CAT display is a pictoral time-lapse of landscape (mis-)development between 1953 and 1975, with obvious connotations of the negative impact of urban development. I photographed them and reassembled them here, which is the image on the left of this post.

Also at the CAT I discovered the Small House Society, something I’m sure has been rather more successfully promoted in the USA, but alas has received little notice over here. Spending time in a yurt, with a small adjoining shed containing a mini kitchen and shower, a hay bail to piss on and another small shed containing a sawdust toilet pit, it makes you wonder just how much space we really need. I guess the point it, if you live in a beautiful place, then sacrificing your living space isn’t too much of a chore; if you’re trying to ‘get back to the garden’ in a Joni Mitchell sense, then surely it’s better to have more garden than house? It’d be nice to see more communities of small (<300 sq yd) houses, rather than sprawling urban ribbon development.

Speaking of the yurt, on the same grounds was a pottery studio where I learnt to ‘throw a pot’, which is apparently pottery parlance for the making of a pot using a wheel. I have subsequently returned home with several new dishes, some random small pots, a coffee mug, a milk jug and a strong desire to add ‘Potter’ to my long list of alternative creative career options.

Four days isn’t really a lot of time to see everything, and rather than bore readers with a long account of a destination that you are better off visiting, rather than reading about, here are a few taster photos:

Traditional barn roof, mid-Wales Polytunnel at the Centre for Alternative Technology, Machynlleth, Powys Potting table, CAT, Machynlleth, Powys

Garden waste stove put to multiple uses, CAT, Machynlleth, Powys Aberystwyth promenade, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion. Aberystwyth pier

Aberystwyth beach jetty Book shop next to the Old Merchant House, Tenby, Pembrokeshire Brooding sky above an otherwise sunny Tenby beach

Lifeguard flag, Tenby beach One of my first thrown dishes Pentre Ifan burial chamber, erected 3,500 BCE!

I will add to these as and when I make headway through the seveal hundred captures I made!

Zen t-shirt folding…

If there’s two things that people should know about me, its that I fold shirts and tie shoelaces a bit differently.

Periodically I feel compelled to post this video on how to fold t-shirts. I have been doing so for three-years now, on various blogs. So for those of you who don’t fold your t-shirts correctly, here is how it’s done.

As for tying shoelaces, well:

With a more detailed description of how to do so.

More science later folks.

Wordle of the month…

See what I’ve been writing about this month in one typographitastic image, courtesy of Wordle:


April 2009 Wordle

Writing time…

So the university has afforded me some free time for the next five days, which gives me the perfect opportunity to get caught up on some of the science blogging I’ve been planning. In the next few days I will be posting some pictures and video that fall into the broad category, ‘Life in the lab’. In this I will be discussing topics, in no particular order, such as:

‘I’m just running a gel…’, – what does this line, often used by lab scientists, actually mean?

‘Using biology as a scaffold for building nano-electronic circuits…’ – this is some of the research I am involved in.

‘Toy’s for science boys (and girls)…’ – Yes, there are geeky tool kits (I call them toys) that we use in molecular biology. Most people won’t know the point of using them, let alone that they exist; I’ll attempt to explain why they’re cool.

Finally, I will be doing a research blog on ‘Targeted antibiotics…’ – new approaches to make antibiotics more useful, and that take out the ‘bad’ bugs, but leave the ‘good’.

Amusing encounter…

When exiting a pub in Keswick (Lake District) at the weekend, I walked headlong into a blind man and his Alsatian guide dog who were heading into the pub. He laughed and apologised, then told me, “Sorry, I’m following the dog; he never misses a pub!”


Welcome to Mental Indigestion….

Not sure how you’ve arrived here? I set up a DNS forward from my old ‘time to waste’ blog. You will find all the content from that blog in this blog. In fact, there is very little difference, other than that the name and domain of my blog now match.

I have every intention of up-scaling my coverage of science, which will be in bite-sized pieces to help prevent mental indigestion. So if anyone is suffering with brain biliousness and needs an intellectual Alka-Seltzer, then you’ve come to the right place.


Oh those bishops…

Today in the Guardian the religious affairs correspondent reported, with what I hope is apparent irony, yet another absurd statement issued by a subset of the Catholic church. It seems that at the recent Conference of Catholic Bishops in the USA have issued a warning to healthcare workers and chaplains about the dangers of reiki, an alternative Japanese therapy, describing it as lacking scientific credibility and that it could expose people to malevolent forces.

The church’s guidelines apparently state:

A Catholic who puts his or her trust in reiki would be operating in the realms of superstition, the no man’s land that is neither faith nor science. Superstition corrupts one’s worship of God by turning one’s religious feeling and practice in a false direction.

The Catholic church, apparently having no sense of irony, but demonstrating apt use of semantics, clearly feels superstition is a dirt word.

All I can say is that when the Catholic bishops truly understand why they cannot accept any other superstition, they will understand why I don’t accept theirs.

The story of my life…

It’s so true it scares me. Cheers Jorge.