Connection

After these first few months volunteering in the hospital, and now in the hospice, I am starting to come away with impressions. Things that stay with me, things I find myself thinking about offsite, things I am trying to learn how to digest.

The most important one is connection.

When you’re vulnerable like this, in the hospital or dying, things get pared down to the absolute essentials. Bodily functions, simple things. I got a good night’s sleep. A dish of ice cream.

The people whose suffering haunts me the most are those who don’t have anyone there for them. They are alone, navigating a system full of strangers, at a time in their lives when they are at their most vulnerable. Their suffering is amplified because of this. Continue reading

Eat sh*t and … thrive!

IMG_1040Everybody’s talking about the microbiome these days. If you’re not taking probiotics, you’re probably eating sauerkraut and swilling kombucha. I know I am.

What’s the Microbiome? I’m glad you asked. See, the human body is made up of about 10 trillion human cells. And that same body is also home to 100 trillion bacteria. Your mouth, nose, armpits, bellybutton, skin and especially your gut are teeming with thousands of different species of bacteria. Collectively, they’re called the microbiome. If you took them all out, they’d weigh about 2 kilos.

And then you’d die, because they play a crucial role in keeping you alive. Continue reading

Huh? Say What?

There are so many things that don’t translate between languages. I could list reams of French one-word concepts that cannot be captured quite right in English. Every time I see one of them in a text I’m supposed to be translating I cringe. Vulgarisation. Valorisation. Territoire.

And then there are the turns of phrase. I understood that péter un plomb or péter un cable meant to be really pissed off, but for the longest time I had a really hard time visualizing someone farting out a bit of lead shot or wiring. In French yoga, downward facing dog is chien tête en bas. But I heard chat a tomba. The cat fell. Indeed.

So my interest was piqued when I received EPFL’s weekly Science question for translation last Sunday. There is, apparently, a word – or rather, one syllable – that has the same meaning in every language in the world. Continue reading

Holy hairballs, Batman! It’s not junk after all!

Greetings from hibernation nation. I did say I’d come out if something really big happened. Guess what? One of my current scientific obsessions was Big News today! No, don’t go away – it’s not the microbiome. It’s my other obsession: junk DNA. I’ve written about it before, here and here and here.

In a stunning “no doh?” development, a vast international array of researchers has discovered that the 99% of the human genome that was considered “useless junk” isn’t junk after all. Continue reading

10 reasons to get a good night’s sleep

Today is world sleep day.

In celebration, I urge you all to drop everything and take a nap.

As I mentioned back in April last year, research has shown that getting 8 hours of sleep a night is important for optimal cognitive function. We all know how crappy we feel when we’re sleep-deprived. Brain fuzz takes over. We start to yawn uncontrollably in an effort to oxygenate our exhausted neurons. Our eyes start hurting and feeling dry, prompting us to rub them for relief.  Every horizontal surface starts to look attractive. But there is a lot more to it than just feeling lousy.

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Spiraling down the double helix

It’s almost mid-month.  I’m at about 19,000 words, about 3,000 words behind my carefully calculated NaNoWriMo goal. (I’ve made an excel spreadsheet). I took my blood pressure yesterday and realized that stressing about keeping up with my self-imposed word count is not helping anything. In fact, my scientific approach to this endeavor – just 2,000 words a day, gives me 5 days off – is totally ludicrous. Creativity doesn’t work like that. I should know better.

Take yesterday. The central theme of my plot involves people researching induced pluripotent stem cells. Informing myself on this seemed the sensible thing to do, so I started reading. Now, I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that the topic of stem cells has been around forever. But did you know that human embryonic stem cells were only discovered in 1998? We’ve only known about these suckers for a dozen years? Continue reading

10 reasons not to wear a tie

I was chatting with Dave this morning, and he mentioned he had an important meeting at work.
So you’ll be putting on a tie? I typed. Morning humor. Everyone knows geeks don’t wear ties.

That got me thinking. Ties don’t make a lot of sense, but like makeup and pantyhose, they’re firmly ingrained into our concept of “appropriate apparel.” The more I thought about it, the more absurd it seemed. I did a little investigating and have come up with ten good reasons for men not to wear ties. Pull this out next time someone says “dress code.”

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The smell of rain

In the vast open country of New Mexico you can watch the rain coming from miles and miles away. The clouds roil up from the Southwest, a mass of slate gray stretching out over the sky. A really dark cloud brings hail and driving rain, which will make the arroyos run. Lightning flashes in the distant dark mass; I count the seconds until the thunder booms.

One chimpanzee, two chimpanzee, three chimpanzee…

Three miles away.

Then it happens. The wind picks up, and the smell of coming rain envelops me. I go outside and drink it in viscerally. It doesn’t exist like this anywhere else on Earth. What does it smell like? Rain. Rain in New Mexico. Continue reading