Tag Archives: Research

Sainte Anne, psychiatric hospital in Paris

I’ve been researching psychiatric conditions because the story of P7698 starts with two Innerscape Residents needing treatment. One of them is Keith Marsden, a minor but charming character who appeared in both ‘Miira’ and ‘Nabatea’.

Anyway, the Residents respond better to therapy when it occurs in a hospital setting so suddenly, I needed a mental hospital. As Keith Marsden lives in Paris, it seemed reasonable to start my search there. And boy did I hit pay dirt!

The link below leads to an article with lots of pictures of this amazing hospital, right in the heart of Paris. Not only is it an utterly beautiful place, it’s a good hospital too. If you read the history, you’ll realise that much of modern psychiatry originated at Sainte Anne:

https://www.cherrychapman.com/2014/05/05/sainte-anne-psychiatric-hospital-in-paris-a-hidden-sanctuary-of-nature-and-art/

For those who don’t want to read it all, here are some pictures. First up a map showing Paris:

By ThePromenader at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1753317

The thick brown line denotes the original arrondissements of Paris. Within that shape, the area shaded in dark orange is the 14th arrondissement where Sainte Anne is located.

The next picture is of one of the old buildings. The campus is huge.

This pic gives you some idea of the gardens too. Back when there were no treatments for psychiatric conditions, patients were encouraged to work in the gardens – fresh air, sunshine, purpose, exercise. These days we’d call it occupational therapy.

Anyway, the setting is superb and gives me a great location to work with.

Happy Weekend!

Meeks

 


New tech…rebuilding teeth

As someone who has had more root canal treatments than she cares to remember, this new tech is very close to my heart gum indeed. 😉

Okay, jokes aside, researchers have come up with a way of doing root canal treatments that may allow the dental pulp inside the tooth to re-grow. If the dental pulp does regrow, it radically cuts down the likelihood of re-infection later on.

Watch this video for an overview:

If you want to know more, you can read the entire article on New Atlas

As an ageing sci-fi tragic with temperamental teeth and a phobia about dentists, I can see this treatment totally revolutionising dentistry. Instead of a mouthful of fillings, or those awful, fake choppers, maybe we’ll all have a mouthful of bio-identical teeth.

Bring it on, I say!

Meeks

 


Autism – nature PLUS nurture?

‘A new study is offering a clue into the origins of the disorder by finding a single dysfunctional protein may be responsible for coordinating expression in all the genes that result in autism susceptibility.’

I took that quote from an article on autism research published by New Atlas. I strongly recommend reading the entire article but the gist is that:

  1. Researchers have found hundreds of genes implicated in the Autism Disorder spectrum, not just one ‘master’ gene.
  2. These genes are like switches that can be turned on or off.
  3. While these genes are ‘off’, the person may have a tendency towards autism, but they will not be autistic – i.e. there will be no symptoms of autism.
  4. There is a protein called CPEB4 which ‘…is vital in embryonic development, assisting with neuroplasticity and helping regulate the expression of certain genes during fetal brain development.’ In other words, this is a good protein.
  5. In mouse models, not enough of this protein leads to brain structures and behaviours that are characteristic of autism. In other words, the lack of this protein causes those autism-related genes to be switched on and the result is Autism-like behaviour.

Now, mouse models are just an approximation of the human condition, but they do lend support to the idea that autism is not just a genetic condition/disorder. Instead, it may well be a case of environment acting on an underlying pre-disposition. And if that is the case, then maybe one day we’ll be able to keep those Autism related genes switched off.

Have a great weekend,

Meeks

 


Intergenerational care – the way of the future, I hope

At 65, I have no intention of shuffling off to an aged-care facility any time soon, but the mere threat of ending my days in one makes me shiver. You see, I’ve visited a few, and even the best are waiting rooms for the last train.

Here in Australia, in-home care is becoming a buzz word, but even if the idea gets the funding it needs and actually takes off, it won’t solve the problem of loneliness. And it won’t solve the problem of the frail, not-so-very-old who need the kind of care that only a nursing home can provide.

I was chatting with online friend, Sue Vincent, about the prospect of robots being used in aged care when Sue pointed me to this link:

http://theconversation.com/combining-daycare-for-children-and-elderly-people-benefits-all-generations-70724

The article opened my eyes to research that’s being done into how best to combine care for the bookend generations – i.e. the very young and the very old.

This is the bit that did it for me:

‘After we filmed our documentary, one lady who attended the care facility told me that you don’t think about your age when you are in the company of young children. The little ones brought a new sense of vibrancy and fun to the centre, and the focus was no longer on watching time pass but on living in the moment.’ [emphasis is mine].

Not every older person is going to want to have direct contact with young children – all mothers know how tiring toddlers can be – but there are so many other things an older person could do behind the scenes to make together-time fun.

I know because I do some of this behind the scenes stuff at one of the community houses at which I volunteer. They have a small day care centre run by dedicated staff who never have enough hours in the day to prepare all the little things needed for the childrens’ activities. I’ve made countless lumps of playdoh, cut out pictures, squeezed easter eggs into tiny knitted ‘chickens’ [created by yet more volunteers], wrapped Christmas presents, helped with fund-raising raffles…the list goes on and on.

My point is that helping behind the scenes, at one’s own pace, can be just as satisfying as doing one-on-one with the kids themselves. Why? Because it gives older people a sense of purpose, a reason to ‘get up in the morning’.

In my humble opinion, having a sense of purpose is what we all need to ‘live in the moment’.

-hugs-

Meeks


Sometimes I surprise even myself…

Apologies if I’ve been less visible of late, but I’ve started writing again, and that tends to give me tunnel vision. The story I’m writing is the long delayed, next chapter of the Vokhtah saga.

The story of my psychopathic hermaphrodites languished for four years while I wrote Innerscape, but now they’re back, and I’ve had to re-acquaint myself with their world all over again. Part of that process was to do a backwards outline of the original story, and that’s where this post comes in. I’d actually forgotten that I wrote this preface to the Vokhtan to English dictionary:

Due to the radical differences between Vokh and human physiology, this sound guide is an approximation only. Where humans speak by forcing air past their vocal chords and then shape the resultant sound in the mouth, the Vokh and iVokh use their mouths for eating only. Their lungs are located in their wings, and they inhale and exhale through hundreds of small cilia on the leading edges of their wings, by-passing the mouth entirely. Thus the sounds they produce are akin to the multiple sounds produced by a pipe organ. Even pure sounds have a resonance human speakers cannot match.

Adding to the difficulty of accurately representing the Vokhtan language is the native speakers’ habit of deliberately distorting their speech with ‘chords’, in order to convey tone and inflection. Harmonious ‘chords’ – like the major 5th in human music – denote agreement, pleasure, delight etc. Discords, on the other hand, can imply a range of emotions from disbelief to contempt. Yet despite the musical quality of Vokhtan, neither the Vokh nor the iVokh have ever developed the concept of music.

Vokhtan for human speakers is further complicated by the fact that the spoken language also includes an array of scent cues produced in glands at the base of each cilia. These scent cues are aspirated with certain audible sounds to form a combined sound/scent amalgam. For example, in the word ‘Vokh’ the ‘h’ at the end represents both the sound of the aspiration, and the scent denoting respect or admiration, something humans are incapable of reproducing.

Please keep these difficulties in mind when attempting to speak Vokhtan.

lol – I really did spend a lot of time thinking about the Vokh and the iVokh. From 2004 to 2012 to be exact. There was so much to discover about them. I mean, they all have sharp claws, right, even the much smaller, less aggressive iVokh. But sharp, pointed claws tend to get in the way when you’re not killing something, so how were the iVokh supposed to craft anything?

The ladies reading this post will immediately recognize the problem of nails that stick out half an inch past the end of your fingers. So how did the iVokh manage? By doing what we do, of course. They squared off the tips of their claws. But wait…how would they have cut their claws? Clearly they would need tools of some kind. Not scissors, no, but something like a small nail file perhaps. Except that nail files don’t grow on bushes. The iVokh would need Smiths to make the nail files, and the Smiths would need metal of some sort…

And so it went. Every idea came with its own baggage of pre-requisites, and each day of writing revealed some new discovery. It was an exciting time, but that was then. Now, I have to relearn all these tiny, yet important details so I don’t make any horrible mistakes, like saying that one iVokh punched another.

The iVokh certainly fight, but not with a clenched fist. Why? Two physiological reasons:

  1. Even with their claws blunted, striking with a clenched fist would drive the claws into their own palms, and
  2. Both iVokh and Vokh hands are quite weak in comparison to the rest of their bodies. They do have opposable thumbs, but they only have two fingers, and those fingers are long and spindly. A punch would probably break the whole hand.

And these are the little things that I have to learn all over again. If anyone’s interested, I’ve been trying to do a graphic of the hand. Still very much a work-in-progress, but here it is:

cheers

Meeks

 


#science – the best discoveries are often accidental

The modern world is built from materials our cavewoman ancestors could never have imagined – just think silicon and plastics. But now, thanks to 3D printing, and research into graphene, MIT scientists have discovered a powerful new geometry that will change our world yet again. You see, the geometry that can turn 2D graphene into a usable 3D form works just as well on other materials such as steel and concrete:

To me, however, the most fascinating part of this discovery is that it came about as the by-product of research into something else. Like Marie Curie, who discovered polonium and radium while researching uranium, the MIT scientists did not realise all the other uses for the geometry until after they had created it for graphene.

3D Graphene may or may not become the next you-beaut material, but the geometry used to create it will become the next ‘great thing’. Why? Because it will reduce the cost of manufacturing common materials while simultaneously increasing their strength. Imagine a single span of concrete ‘foam’ that’s capable of bridging an entire river, or cars that can protect their occupants from even the worst of crashes. Or, my personal favourite, how about a dome capable of covering an entire city?

Domes have been a favourite device of science fiction writers for a very long time. We’ve imagined them on distant planets, protecting human colonists from all sorts of dangers. Planet X has a toxic atmosphere? No problem. Just pop up a dome and away you go. Planet Y is an ocean world? Still no problem as domes can be built on the sea bed.

But why travel to distant star systems when domes could be used right here on Earth, to protect us from runaway pollution and climate change?

Unfortunately, the technology to actually build such huge, unsupported domes simply has not existed…until now [maybe].All that’s needed for this next ‘great leap forward’ is the development of manufacturing grade 3D printers capable of producing such materials in quantity.

Given how quickly 3D printers have gone from cutting-edge curiosities to mass produced, ‘domestic’ products, I don’t think we’ll have long to wait.

So excited!

Meeks


When science meets fiction, and they have a love-child

Vuk picMy thanks to the Passive Guy for highlighting the following article in the Guardian.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2015/jan/21/real-science-science-fiction-sf-scholar

The article talks about the symbiosis that exists between hard science, and the speculative, highly imaginative and sometimes unlikely stories we weave from it.

I count myself as one of the ‘we’ even though most of my formal education was in the humanities – philosophy and languages to be precise. But before I began my arts course, my favourite subject at school was biology. Sadly I was not so fond of math, and no one told me you needed both to take biology past year one level at uni. so… -sigh-

Just because I could no longer study biology did not mean I stopped being interested in it. I continued to read layman’s articles in the area for years [thank you New Scientist!]. And that interest manifested itself in every weird and wonderful creature in Vokhtah, including the Vokh themselves.

Did you know that there is a species of worm that is essentially an hermaphrodite? When these worms mate, they literally duel with their penises to determine which becomes the sperm donor, and which the donee [?].

I swear, I did not make that up! It was one of the many, many things I researched before I created the Vokh. In fact research is the core link between scientists and writers because a world, no matter how imaginative, has to follow rules, plausible rules, otherwise it becomes fantasy not science fiction.

For example, although there are some elements of Vokhtah that are more ‘fantasy’ than anything else, [the power to heal, for example] I did spend months researching what my creatures would see when day changed to night, and one sun followed the other across the sky. I knew very little about binary star systems, and even the scientists could not tell me precisely how two suns would affect things like weather, and the day/night cycle, so the Vokh calendar is very speculative indeed. But I did try.

Other, ‘softer’ areas of knowledge informed my writing as well. Hungarian is my so-called mother tongue, and I studied French and Japanese at uni, along with a smattering of Mandarin and Spanish, so it was almost inevitable that I would get carried away with the Vokh language.

At first, I only wanted a few alien sounding names so I drew on Hungarian for the name ‘Vokh’. The word was based on ‘Vuk’, the name of a popular child’s toy in Hungary. That’s what the cute picture up the top is all about. You were wondering, weren’t you? -smirk-

Once started, however, I could not seem to stop and ended up with a Vokh to English dictionary-slash-encyclopedia.

Yet more research went into cross-over technologies such as blacksmithing and hunting. [Some of you may remember my post about the Poacher’s Knot in which I talked about hunting methods and very simple snares.]

But I digress, badly. My point in all this is that you don’t have to be a scientist to write science fiction, [although many, like Isaac Asimov were]. I believe the only necessary qualification for a science fiction writer is the need to know how things, and people tick.

-cough- Or in my case, how sociopathic, flying hermaphrodites tick. -cough-

Happy Australia Day!

Meeks

P.S.!!!! I just found my 13th review of Vokhtah on Amazon. -dance-


Real stats about online harassment

We all know that statistics can be twisted to prove just about anything, so the first thing I do when I stumble across any research is to check its provenance [as much as possible]. In this case, the stats relating to online harassment come from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. They claim that they take “…no positions on policy issues related to the internet”. I’m not sure I’d accept that statement at face value from any organisation, but in this instance, I can’t see the point of any bias.

In terms of accuracy, I’d be more inclined to question the survey technique itself as it relies on ‘self assessment’ rather than some kind of objective observation. Nonetheless, with a large enough sample size, statistical trends about what we think we feel/know/experience tend to be more accurate.

Gah, enough caveats; on to the data itself. You can find the full report on the Pew Research Centre website :

http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/10/22/online-harassment/

For me, the points that made little bells go off in my head were these :

“Fully 92% of internet users agreed that the online environment allows people to be more critical of one another, compared with their offline experiences. But a substantial majority, 68%, also agreed that online environments allow them to be more supportive of one another. Some 63% thought online environments allow for more anonymity than in their offline lives.”

The researchers do not connect the dots, but I find it hard not to do so. Anonymity is the digital equivalent of wearing a mask, or a balaclava; it allows us to indulge the parts of ourselves we usually hide.

In the real world, we have to be diplomatic in order to get on with others in our families, friendship groups, work groups etc. Online, however, anonymity allows us to vent the thoughts and feelings we usually censor. Why? Because we can get away with it.

By the same token, people who do not hide behind anonymous identities online may feel the need to be ‘nicer’ than they might be in real life. Why? Because their online reputation filters back to real life, and no one wants to be seen as ‘nasty’ or ‘selfish’.

[Does that mean I’m nastier in real life than online? Gawd, I hope not, but I probably wouldn’t admit to it even if it were true…]

Whether your views on human nature are as cynical as mine, one thing does stand out from the data – there is an awful lot of nastiness going on. Have a look at this graph:

anonymity stats 2

 

Now I don’t want to flog a dead horse, but the scale of the problems caused by anonymity really is huge. And we have to do something about it.

Given how inventive we humans can be, I hope that we can bring civilisation to the internet whilst still protecting those who genuinely do need to remain anonymous, but long term, our behaviour must have consequences or we’ll destroy the very thing that makes the internet so wonderful.

My thanks to the Passive Guy for spreading the word about this research.

cheers

Meeks

 

 

 

 

 


Eltham Gateway Deathtrap – important bushfire information.

I don’t think it will surprise any of you to know I’m paranoid about bushfire. What you may not know is that even I can be surprised. In a bad way.

The link below will take you to a very well thought out, well researched document about the extreme bushfire danger threatening not just the Warrandyte area, but also the far more built up suburbs to the west and north of Warrandyte. I’m talking Eltham, Research, Diamond Creek etc.

http://www.elthamsdeathtrap.com/

The reason these areas are in such danger was illustrated not long ago when an out of control grass fire threatened new housing estates in Epping, a northern suburb of Melbourne.  Epping and surrounding areas are poorly serviced by through roads. When the bushfire alerts went out, the roads leading away from the path of the fire became gridlocked. Not only could residents not evacuate safely, the fire services were having trouble getting to the fire. It was a disaster waiting to happen.

In my area, the danger is complicated by the fact that the Yarra River literally cuts us off from the suburbs to the south, and there are just two narrow bridges crossing the river. One bridge chokes the north-south exit from Eltham,  while the other is 13 kms to the east at Warrandyte. My bridge chokes the east-west exit.

As I live in Warrandyte, I have known about the danger posed by that east-west bridge for years, but it was not until I read the Eltham Gateway document that I realised we were pincered between two bridges and the river. Have a close look at the CFA map if you don’t believe me.

The worst fires always come from the northwest. That means people have to evacuate to the south. But the river is in the way. Can you imagine the chaos, and loss of life, if a bushfire like Black Saturday forced us to flee across either of those bridges?

I can, and the image of mangled, burnt out cars lining the roads to these bridges scares me to death.

Even if you think you know all about the possible dangers, please, PLEASE read this document. It is quite long but worth reading, especially for those who plan to evacuate in case of danger. Leaving at the last minute may not be possible, and even leaving early-ish may be more dangerous than you know.

Stay safe

Meeks

 

 


Bushfire season 2011/12 is over

I hope I haven’t jinxed myself but I honestly can’t see how a fire could hit Warrandyte now – the air is crisp and cool, the grass is a vibrant green and you can almost smell autumn in the air…oh wait, that could be alpaca poop.

For those who don’t know, alpacas almost always poop in nice, discrete piles, as if they invented the idea of latrines. This highly civilized way of defecating means that you can walk around outside without having to wear gumboots all the time. Unfortunately it also means that the smell is rather concentrated. There is a pile of poop about 10 metres from my office window so when we have a  north wind blowing I have to seal the office off. Nonetheless I’m  not complaining. How could I when the alpacas have manicured the grass so nicely?

I have about 1/2 an acre out the back and at the moment it is as well cared for as a putting green! Except for the piles of poop of course; they look like small green volcanoes with a black caldera in the middle. The black part is the poop while the green part is the well fertilized grass around the poop. Not surprisingly the alpacas won’t eat the grass that’s too close to their piles. Can’t say I blame them but the green volcanoes do look a little odd.

Alpaca volcanoes aside though I am pleased to say that the alpaca experiment has been a qualified success. They have done a very good job of keeping the grass down directly around the house and their clawed toes are much kinder to the soil than other introduced grazers such as cattle or sheep. The one downside in using them as part of my fire prevention strategy is that they will only eat the native grasses when there is nothing else to munch on. This was partly my fault as I sowed some special alpaca feed* in the flat spots around the house during the last winter of the big drought. These grasses stay green even when the rest of the grass has gone your typical summer brown but with all the rain we’ve had the last couple of years the alpacas have been spoiled for choice and have ignored the brown stuff with disdain. Even so they have kept the area around the house well mowed and that is all I can ask for now. Come winter I am going to try and extend their pasture further downhill. If it doesn’t take because of the steepness of the slope I’ll have to think about putting in a bit more terracing [gah…more work].

So having alpacas is not a magic bullet but they are better than mowing by hand or, as seems to happen a lot in Warrandyte, not mowing at all. I know that everyone is busy and I know that many of the people in Warrandyte are new to the area but removing fuel load is part and parcel of living here. It is NOT an optional extra.

I know it’s not feasible but I’d love to see herds of alpacas wandering along Brogil  creek and keeping us all safe. They might be a bit of a traffic hazard but at least they’d do a better job of reducing the fuel load than Nillumbik Shire.

Yes, I know I’m a grumpy old ratepayer but you’d think that at $656 per quarter our local council could do something a little more practical than  telling us to clear out our gutters. Every time I receive one of their expensive newletters full of hot air and self congratulations I wonder how a shire that let, nay caused so many people to die on Black Saturday can escape all accountability.

-sigh-

I truly do wish that being elected to local council was like being chosen for jury duty – an unpleasant civic responsibility that no-one in their right mind would want to do. Then at least we might get some local government that was truly unbiased, a-political and not driven by ambition or self-interest. Come to think of it that could work at state and federal levels too…

Back to reality. Alpacas are herd animals and need the companionship of two or more of their kind or they get a bit psychotic – much like people in solitary confinement – so having just one is not a good idea. One way around this problem is to join together with your neighbours in owning and caring for them. I am one of a group of three neighbours and our four alpacas keep a total of about 2.5 acres mowed. To make things easier we invested in side gates that link our three properties. We all get on really well and that helps too.

The bottom line though is that Warrandyte is a fire prone area so if you live here then you must find some way of keeping the fuel load down on your own property. The danger may be past for this season but it will return and when the next fire does come through we will all be on our own so it makes sense to do what we can now.

If you don’t believe me do the math : there are three CFA fire stations dotted around Warrandyte, North Warrandyte and Research. As far as I know each of those fire stations has 2 fire trucks. That makes 6 in all yet even if there were twice that many they would not be enough to protect the 7393 people living in Warrandyte [2006 census figure].  So yes, the reality is that when the next bushfire sweeps through Warrandyte we will be on our own so doing things to help ourselves should be as much a part of the culture as enjoying the ‘serenity’ of living among the gum trees.

And with that homage to The Castle,  I’m going to go out amongst my own gum trees to shovel some alpaca poop. At least it makes good compost.

* Note : ordinary lawn seed is NOT good for alpacas as it can make them bloat which is serious!


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