Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Vocabulary conservationists unite

April 22, 2012
Close-up of Rosetta stone replica

Some ancient words (from a replica of the Rosetta stone, pic by Chris 73)

Do you love words? Do you think the diversity of the English language makes the world a better place? Does you’re face wrinkle into a grimace of utter revulsion when you see the error in this sentence??

Then you’re (aaaaah) in the right place. I wept some silent pedantic tears when I learned that Associated Press are facilitating the misuse of the word ‘hopefully’. I do realise this is a lost cause – in fact I consciously made the same error in an email today. But that doesn’t mean I won’t mourn the passing of ‘hopefully’ as in ‘full of hope’, rather than ‘I hope to’.

This wistful train of thought prompted a sudden realisation. Certain words have become endangered species, ignored or exploited by the unaware or uncaring, abandoned to extinction or deleterious mutation. We need to save our vocabulary!!

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Sunshine – the wonder drug

January 30, 2011

sunshine makes me smile!

When I was little I visited some incredible caves in central Italy – the Grotte di Frasassi. I was a bit of a nervous child, and walking down into the dark through a huge tunnel carved out of solid rock was pretty scary. I was happier when the caverns opened up inside, into a space bigger than St Paul’s cathedral and filled with stalactites and stalagmites.

The thing I remember most clearly is a scary story the guide told us, about a group of monks who had become hopelessly lost inside the caves. They tried to trace their way back out by running their hands along the walls of the passages in the rock, but after days and days they still hadn’t escaped, and their fingers had worn down to the bone. Luckily I wasn’t quite little enough to believe this, but I still felt very relieved when we walked out into the sunshine again.

You certainly don’t have to go underground to feel the mood-enhancing effects of sunshine. January in London is a pretty dismal month, especially if you’re getting up when it’s still dark. So a few sunny days in the past couple of weeks have really cheered me up – I can almost feel the corners of my mouth twitching when the sun comes out.

This isn’t just about my mood. The bright light is affecting my brain directly, through special cells in my retina. The cells send signals to an area of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, and from here signals travel on to the pineal gland. This tiny gland secretes melatonin, the hormone that  controls the body’s rhythms, regulating everything from the activity of enzymes in the liver to processes in the brain. (more…)

What’s the point of science?

October 5, 2010
Blue sky

Blue skies research costs money!

Saving money is never much fun, especially when you have to save billions. But it can give you a chance to think about what you actually need, and what you can do without (new shoes in my case).

The recession is a good example of this. The government is planning to cut research funding, perhaps by up to 15%, so scientists are fighting their corner and trying to persuade MPs and anyone else who will listen that science is vital – sign the petition if you agree!

Obviously science has made the world a better place – people don’t often die of smallpox any more for one thing. But is that the only reason why science is vital – because it brings practical benefits? What about science for the sake of it, ‘blue skies research’ that aims to satisfy our curiosity about the world we live in? (more…)

Hooray for whale poo

June 16, 2010

Their poo rules

The story about how sperm whales are doing their bit to combat climate change through their poo made me smile this morning. It’s one of those small random facts that makes you think ‘wow, the world is an amazing place!’ while also wondering who on earth would think it had been intelligently designed. Saving the world with poo is not very poetic.

We’ve got cows, who are causing problems with their farts, and whales, who are saving the world with their poo. It’s the circle of life! Or something…

Maybe it’s just that our puny human brains are too small to understand the grand plan behind it all. But I think our problem is the fact that we feel like there should be grand plan in the first place.

Either way, it’s always nice to be reminded how much we don’t understand. The more we know, the more there is to know (thank goodness for that).