Wednesday, 24 October 2018

positive reinforcement

Wanting a routine and ritual to better her own practise, tinkerer and engineer Simone Giertz (designer of some hilariously unhelpful robots that are just glad that they can participate) is prototyping, we learn from Swiss Miss, a perpetual calendar with responsive buttons that light up like a golden star.
There are a lot of twee and coddling gimmicks lying in wait to ambush one’s attention but I certainly would not count this idea and method (you can use actual gold stars and a calendar too) among them. Sometimes by being too adult we are also too arrogant to understand how encouragement and motivation can nurture and enrich. Just as a recent episode of Hidden Brain masterfully exposited, many seasoned professionals might believe that their experience and expertise is insulted by consulting something as pedestrian and rudimentary as a check-list, much of the world—from rocket-science to brain-surgery—is run off simple protocols. None of us are above earning our gold stars either.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

noli me tangere

For the first time, as Hyperallergic reports, the eighteenth century Austrian grimoire Touch Me Not! is available as a full colour facsimile with translations of the German and Latin texts—which is rather a unique primer on the dark arts, focused nearly exclusively on the transgressive and with few pretensions to spare for the best intentions of the practicioner—especially one who has failed to take a sufficiently reverend approach for the esoteric arts.
Also being sufficiently girded with psychedelic substances whose potions are also laid out in the book can’t harm either. Warnings abound throughout the visceral compendium not to meddle in such matters and the Touch Me Not! is the final proscriptive in the work’s title “A most rare Summary of the entire magical Art by its most famous Masters of the Year 1057”—though this embellishment of ancient provenance is probably only meant to entice contemporary (circa 1775) even more. Still the command does also conjure what Jesus uttered to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection—there is too much invested in every iconographic tradition for it just to be a coincidence and for it not to carry some echo of significance. Similar to the weight given in medical circles to the placebo effect (meaning I will please), classically trained surgeons were often instructed that most organs in all but the most dire of emergencies beseeched “noli me tangere” and that invasive measures were seldom advisable.

Thursday, 30 November 2017


Ginglymoid and ginglyform are infrequently invoked anatomical terms that derive from the Greek ฮณฮฏฮณฮณฮปฯ…ฮผฮฟฯ‚ for a hinge. These skeletal structures refer and describe specifically to the type of joint that permits movement along one plane only—like the knees and elbow, differentiated from the ball-and-socket joints of the hips and shoulders, which were dubbed synovial by Paracelsus, most likely arbitrarily.

Friday, 20 October 2017

nosce te ipsum

Despite the prevalence, pedigree and seeming verisimilitude and versatility of the maxim, Know thy Self, Professor Bence Nanay writes it is a potentially dangerous directive, making a pretty persuasive case that we’re wilfully blind to the gradual changes in our personalities, tastes and characters and sticking with the self-same choices and preferences, which are importantly within our control but yet may be misinformed or no longer complimentary to the person we’re becoming, may help perpetuate this delusion.
Not that there are no consistent qualities and abiding principles in our lives, but holding tenaciously on to a self-image that may not be an accurate reflection of oneself is a potential source of tension.  It is also impetus to keep doing things that one does not particularly care for and even resents, because we mentally shroud the contradiction with cognitive dissonance that makes us think our choices are own rather than a resigning to habit because we’ve squandered all of our energies on self-censorship and keeping up appearances. What do you think? We especially liked the quote from Andrรฉ Gide on how “A caterpillar who seeks to know himself would never become a butterfly.” We ought to strive to reacquaint ourselves with ourselves daily to avoid repairing to vanity and pandering.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017


Some cancers are more pernicious than others oncologists are finding due to bacteria that can metabolise a certain strain of cancer-fighting medications taking up refuge in tumours and gobbling up the drugs before it can be used to combat the malignancy. Developing resistance to traditional treatments is potentially catastrophic and if we lose the efficacy of all antibiotic remedies we’ll find our healthcare reverting to that of the Middle Ages but this seemingly novel resistance through a sort of unintended symbiosis certainly bears out further study and may be more prevalent than expected—all the more reason to protect what resources are in our quiver.


One hears the phrase navel-gazing bandied about quite often in a (mostly) figurative sense to call-out egotism or indulging in self-absorbed pursuits, but we failed to realise that contemplating one’s belly-button is an ancient prescribed practise rooted in yogic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Mediating on the navel—the seat of the sacral chakra—is a heuristic tool that aids in reflection on the self and the wider Cosmos or inducing a trace-state.

Sunday, 10 September 2017


While I was not exactly expecting ancient aliens or magical rites and happy that scholarship has prevailed and that concern for women’s well-being was a matter taken seriously (though purportedly a bit gimmicky and patronising) in the 1400s, it was a little bit of a let-down to learn that the mystery of Voynich manuscript, released to the domain of citizen-science recently, has been deciphered.
The bizarrely illustrated treatise (especially when taken without context) rediscovered on the antiquarian circuit in 1912 had an unknown provenance with text that defied decoding captioning strange rituals and unrecognisable flowers and herbs. Created just on the cusps of the introduction of the printing-press in Europe and probably for a patron’s personal use and reference, the manuscript represented one of the last vanity publications of the times and was riddled with abbreviations, ligatures and shorthand that would be known to contemporary medical students but not necessarily to linguists and cryptographers. While we are sure other academics will want to weigh in and there is probably a useful tip or two contained in the volume, in hindsight given the Roman penchant to regard bathing as a panacea and the general paucity of writing on women’s health, it seems rather amazing that it went misunderstood for such a long time. At least we are left with the intentionally coy and evasive Codex Seraphinianus to ponder over the meaning of—though its author is just as unlikely to confirm or deny our interpretations.

Monday, 26 June 2017

grand rounds or house-call

While the US over-class is conniving to liberate millions from any semblance of health-security, an innovate company in Seattle called Artefact is designing the preventative healthcare delivery platform that could make, as Fast Company reports, all those shrill arguments and dire predictions somewhat of a moot point.
A less sinister narrative than we usually associate with the internet of things, one’s prying devices’ paternalistic well-meaning are reframed as one’s partners in health and will collectively summon (at a free moment on one’s calendar without having to worry about scheduling conflicts, day or night) a fully automated, mobile doctor’s office to take one’s vitals, provide a diagnosis, and perhaps even a treatment plan and dispense a prescription—or make a referral to its human counterparts, as needed. There’s no reason that healthcare should be so fraught and atrociously expensive in a rich and developed nation, but the fact that such a vision has not yet attracted any financial champions makes me think people are too fearful of the disruption to industry and aren’t undeserving of being under-served. What do you think? Without the cadet-cartels that are put in place to keep of safe but are often just a profit opportunity, there’s probably not much money in keeping us healthy—without keeping us in suspense. Given the state of affordable housing and infrastructure, maybe there are too many details to work out and physicians on wheels ought to be deployed to poorer nations with resource stretched too thin already that might truly appreciate it.

Monday, 12 June 2017

twitch and tantra

Though I’d venture that the benefits of yoga don’t come in the form of a perfect pose and could even prove harmful (I embrace the fact that I’m an awkward mess and don’t get discouraged), a wearable technology clothier is introducing (with consultation by instructors) a pair of leggings—yoga pants and the athleisure industry comprise a multi-billion dollar market—that has a suite of sensors embedded within the textiles that can detect in conjunction with one’s mobile device the position that one is trying to assume and gives feedback with battery-powered pulses to correct one’s posture and stance. The company is designing other interactive sports apparel (which would be a potential leveller of handicaps for other games) and though I have a few reservations concerning the appropriateness of bionics in yoga, I’ll bet that the system would be beneficial for a beginner without the ability or means to seek out a yogi.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

fromageries occitanes

On this day, as our faithful chronicler Doctor Caligali informs, among other things in the year 1070 according to turophile lore (a highly specific date), Roquefort cheese was accidentally invented when a shepherd stashed his noontime repast in one of the Combalou caves in order to pursue a fair maiden—or what have you. Returning to retrieve his lunch after the appellation d'origine contrรดlรฉe standard number of months for maturation, the ewe’s cheese had transformed into Roquefort, which perhaps came in handy after such a dalliance as clinical trials have shown that the mould in the cheese can combat gangrene and venereal diseases.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

natron valley

Never mind the hiring underlaps at the Centres for Disease Control and the frittering away of institutional knowledge that means America is woefully ill-equipped to face the next virulent outbreak—meaning that the nation becomes a vector for the rest of the world, or the heartlessness of stripping health-coverage from those most in need of it, routine surgeries and treatments are being postponed because of a rather baffling shortage of medical grade sodium bicarbonate (baking soda).  Used in a number of treatments, health care providers are getting desperate and suspect that the scarcity—which has occurred periodically—is the unfortunate collusion of factors chief among them being there’s little incentive in making this basic ingredient—unlike the proprietary drugs that rake in huge, exploitative profits. Perhaps some substitute is about to be brought to market that performs the same function at eight thousand times the cost. Most other governments would intervene before things get to point where healthcare is at the mercy of a few powerful cartels.

Friday, 10 March 2017

hr 1275

Amidst the flurry of coverage, I missed the fact that the House Resolution that replaces the Affordable Care Act is actually called the “World’s Greatest Healtcare Plan of 2017.” That really throws down the gauntlet, I think, and is inviting challengers to come up with something better, which is a pretty low bar for access. Perhaps one without lifetime caps, mental healthcare coverage, coverage for reproductive health and support for new families, affordable rates for the elderly and infirm?  What superlatives would you give to Dear Leader’s other real or threatened accomplishments of corporate welfare and codified xenophobia?

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

bed of nails

A far better solution than surfaces coated with antimicrobial chemicals which are just as prone to propelling the survival of the fittest as any other hygienic strategies, material science to looking toward the dragon fly, as TYWKIWDBI informs, for a novel way to repel germs.
Engineers have created a structure out of black silicon, nanopillars, that are very punishing to the cellular membranes of bacteria, just like the topology found on the insects’ wings. Once on this sort of surface, should the microbe move it will be sheared to pieces. Other research projects have yielded nano-structures that inhibit the bacteria sticking at all or being disruptively slippery to discourage cohesion and infection.

Friday, 24 February 2017


Having installed an Attorney General who once quipped that he thought the Ku Klux Klan were acceptable until he found out that they smoked pot, Dear Leader’s administration seems to be poised to reverse his stated position of respecting states’ rights not only on telling people whose company that they can use the facilities with but also when it comes to recreational marijuana use.
In the interest of perpetuating the scapegoat narrative of rapists and drug-dealers and reefer-madness, the federal government may weigh on the wisdom behind the decisions of Washington, DC, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, California, Nevada, Alaska and Colorado to allow the use legal use of the substance for enjoyment and for medical research. I’m sure that at least pharmaceutical companies and the prisons industries would benefit from the migration of cannabis production from a taxed, regulated regime back to cartels and smugglers. I anticipate a whole raft of alt-truths and questionable science articles to attack and discredit the dope fiends amongst us. What do you think? People are already awake—and sleepless, and while there are numerous other priorities to protect in the environmental and social justice arenas, I wonder if this might be the contravention that pushes Americans to truly rebel or secede.

Monday, 6 February 2017


Via Super Punch, we discover that engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have created translucent amล“boid robots composed almost solely of hydrogel—a rubbery substance that’s fairly robust, enabling these little gelatine machines to dart around quickly and punch quite above their weight with flagella and pseudopodia.
The video demonstration that includes enveloping and then releasing a fish is a little scary to imagine, given their near invisibility, but the potential is really staggering from cleaning up pollution in the oceans to making surgery a matter of swallowing a pill. Not only are the robots able to evade visual detection, appearing only as a ripple, they also have the same acoustic and fluid dynamic properties of the surrounding medium when relaxed and solid objects would pass through them without realising it—just a ghostly organising principle for water. It makes me think of the undersea aliens encountered in the 1989 James Cameron film The Abyss and wonder if such technological surrogates will be our ambassadors for first contact.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

doping or spider-sense

Via Marginal Revolution, we are invited to entertain the notion that we could—and are currently, could tune our bodies not just with exercise or fad diets or self-medication but with more sophisticated forms of gene therapy, whose advocates and early-adopters encourage one to try at home.
One experimental method that smacks a little of Frankenstein involves temporarily stimulating cells to produce certain proteins through electro-currents purported to stimulate longevity and overall health—but not anchored in one’s chromosomes and genetic makeup permanently and the effects only last weeks to months before a re-charge is needed. This sort of gene-regulation is radical enough in itself—especially as a DIY project, but as the technology behind gene and DNA editing called CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats), think of the potential for individuals to understand and successful tweak their biochemistry and mutate themselves to attain super-human abilities.

Friday, 9 December 2016


I can recall when having to call in sick was—rather than being unburdened to do those things that one was going to do regardless without being bothered by tasks that came one’s way—a time for self-reflection and a privileged glimpse into the world of breakfast time television or early afternoon game-shows and by that time a little battery of assessments as to whether one’s well enough to return to work or school and whether or not one was allowed to be other than chaste and guilty for one’s truancy or goes easy on one’s self.
Fortunately, I haven’t often found myself incapacitated for any length of consecutive days, but after taking a tumble recently—and my impatient self is absolutely beside myself that it was only yesterday, am on doctor’s orders to rest and recuperate and contending with that second-opinion of cabin-fever (also a terrible malady). Maybe I’m growing too impatient for resiliency to kick in—what with work and the holidays, and unwilling to admit there are trap-doors in the stage for all these things, because being unwell isn’t the mediator that it once was with so much living and narrative loops accomplished vicariously and virtually. And now, getting better slowly but struggling with the basic steps of rolling over and getting out of bed, dressing and ambling across the room, it seems as if for the first time in a long time that the gaps in time and activity aren’t filled and obligated and I’m better for—struggling as I am with my limbs not cooperating properly and having to cost-out each movement in terms of the pain it’s expected to cause and making each step a very ginger one. Disabled, however temporarily, and finding one’s self halt and lame, give one an appreciation for dimensions, heights and what’s considered to be human-sized that’s nearly as significant lesson as is being sure-footed.

Friday, 18 November 2016


The uncanny visual acuity of our friend the Mantis Shrimp (who’ve been blessed with a whole range of super powers including battle claws whose joust can create a sonic boom) could teach scientists how to make more advanced polarised lenses that could discriminate between the signatures of diseased and healthy tissue. Their compound eyes, described as hexnocular, allow the shrimp to communicate and flirt at a spectrum that no other creatures are privy to are inspiring engineers to replicate the optics which may lead to remarkable early detection of cancer and dementia, able to study what goes on in organs and neurons just with a superficial glance.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016


Vice Magazine interviews neuropharmacologist and addiction expert David Nutt who has spent the past two years developing a “chaperone” drug to introduce to the public that will replace alcohol, by imparting the good effects of drinking without the most delirious ones.
Dr Nutt had been pondering the idea for some time previously but did not have the medicinal tools at his disposal until a recreational chemist accidentally created what’s being called alcosynth and subsequently donated the formula to science. Dr Nutt predicts the demise of traditional booze within decades and will have his first field trials in Germany soon—due to the UK’s drug protection laws stymie research and distort social harms.  What do you think?  Will this catch on or become the disdain of purists?

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

tables and triage

Before the design duo created furnishings that defined the Mid-Century Modern era, Charles and Ray Eames developed splints, prosthetics and a body litter (a stretcher, a gurney) for the US Navy ahead of America’s entry into World War II.
More on the Eames’ other surprising projects here and here. The skills honed in mass-producing these medical devices conferred on them the talent and feel for working plywood that was expressed a few years later in their iconic, undulating lounges. Every item in this chain, from the form-fitting splint that could protect a wounded leg to the classic chairs, reflects real homage to the human body and how it carries itself. Take a peek at the splints as part of an exhibition in Leeds courtesy of Hyperallergic that explores the place of sculpture and design in prosthetic limbs and the process of healing and making whole.