You might have seen this document doing the rounds on social media; the questions to ask before giving up.  Many have thought it’s a great list; others may wonder why these things need to be spelled out.  For someone with mental health problems, sometimes a nudge or reassurance is necessary to get the small things to happen.  And then progress can be made on the bigger things, like actually living one’s life.  For sure, it is not going to solve all your problems for you, but it isn’t meant to.  For me, I do have days where everything seems overwhelming, scary, and nothing is achievable.  It’s that feeling of hopelessness and inertia that can ruin a day, and become it’s own self-fulfilling prophecy.  But ticking things off this list one-by-one gets me to a healthy place where I can be slightly closer to normal (whatever that is), or at least functional.

Click on the image to download the PDF.


Click on the image to download file
Click on the image to download file




The Psychopath Test is one of my favourite Popular Science books. Jon Ronson’s writing style is interesting and accessible; he covers unusual topics and brings them to an audience who might otherwise dismiss them as mere oddities. He covers topics that are serious, but are difficult to take seriously. He’s a bit like Louis Theroux, but less telly-oriented.

The Psychopath Test isn’t just about psychopathy; it covers other mental health and social issues, and delves into the weird world of some curious individuals. I’d recommend it to anyone; it’s enlightening and very readable. But this post is about the test named in the title.

A big part of the book is about how we categorise mental health disorders, and how the definition of said disorders is evolving and broadening (the chapter on the DSM-V is very good). The Hare Psychopathy Checklist has 20 “questions”, rated 0 (not at all), 1 (somewhat applies) or 2 (definitely applies). Here they are, courtesy of www.minddisorders.com:

  • glib and superficial charm
  • grandiose estimation of self
  • need for stimulation
  • pathological lying
  • cunning and manipulativeness
  • lack of remorse or guilt
  • superficial emotional responsiveness
  • callousness and lack of empathy
  • parasitic lifestyle
  • poor behavioral controls
  • sexual promiscuity
  • early behavior problems
  • lack of realistic long-term goals
  • impulsivity
  • irresponsibility
  • failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  • many short-term marital relationships
  • juvenile delinquency
  • revocation of conditional release
  • criminal versatility

The assessment isn’t done by simply ticking 20 boxes, it’s carried out during a detailed interview with a psychiatrist. But some of the items above seem… worrying. Obviously some can only apply in certain circumstances (i.e. you cannot commit a parole violation unless you’re already in the criminal justice system), but some seem dependent on society’s chosen moral benchmarks (many short-term marital relationships, and “promiscuity” may seem reckless and sinful to some, but part of an ordinary lifestyle to others). As society changes, do we reclassify mental illness to suit our own prejudices?

Yes, the questioning takes account of many different factors, but how many of these can combine to give a false positive? Who doesn’t know someone who is impulsive, irresponsible, and with no realistic long-term goals? Sounds a bit like the 21-year-old version of me…

Of course, the book is written in a way to get the reader to question such things. It doesn’t set out to rubbish the fields of psychiatry and psychotherapy, but to think about them critically. Of all the branches of medicine, this is one of the newest, and perhaps one where we are making discoveries the quickest. We have a limited understanding of the human mind, and I would be surprised if we have anything approaching a complete knowledge of its workings in my lifetime. However, this book will give you a good overview of the current situation, and some of the (admittedly esoteric) ways in which we got to where we are now.




This weekend is stressful, not because of all the crap things I have to do, but because of all the good and exciting things I’m overwhelmed with.  I’ve been having a tough time with work, mental health, uni, home life, and just about everything else, and while I’ve achieved a lot and resolved many of those problems, I just need a rest.

And so I’m missing Winchester Science Festival, which provided the perfect birthday weekend last year.  I’ve spent the last two weeks moving house, chasing deadlines, and spending money that I don’t have.  So while I know I would have the Best Time Ever, I know I’d end up paying for it.  And so I’ll be spending the weekend up North.  But like all fun-filled weekends, I still have too much to do.

I’ve been invited to a play, two board game nights, and it’s ComicCon 2015!  All this without even leaving the city.




I found out about the International Fixed Calendar in a random conversation with my boyfriend (this is a pretty typical chat for us).  I’d not heard of it before, and a quick search on Wikipedia yielded this:

International Fixed Calendar – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

But then it got me into an interesting spot of bother. During the same conversation, I jokingly told him what my birthday was using this calendar (it uses much of the same language and structure of the Gregorian calendar, but an additional month, Sol, is inserted between June and July), which is a date that looks like 15 days earlier than it really is – both calendars have a year of 365 days, but the months are of different lengths.

I didn’t realise he’d used this date to add to his birthday calendar until my present arrived on 7th July… meaning that I unintentionally had two birthdays this year. Oops.

Compare dates in the Gregorian and International Fixed calendars using this spreadsheet: international fixed calendar




It’s easy to get annoyed when someone takes your idea and presents it as your own, but recently someone used a quote from one of my posts here in a talk they gave, and I felt pretty darn good about it! They did tell me that they’d been reading my blog, so it was really nice to get recognition.

Also hoping to give some talks of my own soon (next month I have one lined up at work, one at university, and one for a skeptics event), but I’ll try not to rip off anyone else’s ideas in the process (hehe).

It is an interesting thing though.  Crossing over from the point when it feels like your ideas have been pinched to seeing that your view has been recognised.  Sort of like arguing with someone and then realising that you are both arguing the same point (this happens to me a lot.  I think it’s a Skeptic Thing).





(Subtitle: And Why Can’t Young People Just Pull Their Pants Up?)

Huh, today I had a conversation that reminds me:

1. why it’s sometimes necessary to step outside of one’s echo chamber

2. some people need to step outside of their echo chambers

In this day and age, it’s accepted by most people that climate change is happening. It’s not a matter of opinion, and I find it bizarre that we even need to have this discussion. The evidence and models all support the theory, and 97% of all climate scientists concur on this.

Unfortunately I considered climate change denial to be the preserve of Daily Mail readers and Tea Party members, but apparently this is not always true. I spoke with someone who, after telling me that the measurements don’t support the science (they do), and that the models are wrong (up to this point, they’re not), that the scientists don’t really know what they’re talking about and are full of doubt (no).

And how do we know this?  Well, sometimes it gets a bit cold.  The mere existence of winter debunks global warming for this person.  We even had snow four years ago.  Clearly trends mean nothing, because we once had an icicle.

Another gem: they read an article in which the temperature on the day the Titanic sank (14th April 1912) was recorded as being the same as some other day at some point since then, somewhere else in the world.  Conclusive proof of zero warming, then.

I found this hard to counter, not because I don’t know the facts (I do), but because this was a socially awkward situation.  The people I was with were of a generation that expects “young” people (the under-50s) to defer to them simply by virtue of them having existed for longer (yay, other generations have prejudices too!), and if I had “caused a fuss” it would not have worked in my favour.

And if I had said something, would I really have got anywhere?  Might I just have reinforced their ideas, and alienated myself so that they don’t listen to anything at all I have to say?

Even worse, the scene was set by the same group having earlier made derogatory comments about some twenty-somethings queueing for a show.  Apparently the interests of the young aren’t worthwhile or relevant, even when we don’t know what those interests are.  Also, they dress a bit funny and they are therefore threatening.  Young people that look like… me.  I’m not even sure if they noticed I was in the room.  Or listened to a word I said.  And maybe that’s the problem.  I’m different, so they pay less attention.  People do tend to pay attention to people who are more like them, and those who deny climate science have a vested interest in doing so – profit, fear of change, or feeling alienated by a scary concept.

[ASIDE: A big part of why this annoyed me was the respect factor.  Not only is it really ignorant to deny facts or views from someone solely because they come from a different group to you, but it’s also a bit crap to hear people basically rubbish my field of expertise, something that has been studied in depth for years by far more people than just me.  So yeah, it was a bit rude, and a part of this did feel like a personal attack.  But their arguments were without any basis, which makes it doubly annoying.  I knew I was right but everyone else decreed that their version of ‘correct’ was more palatable.]




I have a real problem with saving drafts of things on my desktop, for a number of reasons:

  1. My desktop is stored centrally on the university’s system, so if I log in remotely from my office, it takes an age to load.
  2. I save stuff on my desktop to print, as a draft, to compare, for notes, and then forget about it – so at a later stage I’m scared to delete it, Just. In. Case. (don’t get me started on my Recycle Bin issues)
  3. This then makes me incredibly disorganised, and makes items 1 and 2 worse and worse.
  4. My desktop ends up looking like this:
I will totally, definitely, need all this stuff one day.
I will totally, definitely, need all this stuff one day.

So I’ve now started a “one-in, one-out” policy. Files should be deleted as soon as they’ve served their purpose but in the likely event that this doesn’t happen, I’m forbidding myself from saving any more files there until I remove at least one superfluous file. Which means I have to actually go through past drafts and figure out what they were for and if I still need them (I have NEVER gone through the digital dross and found anything useful. Not once.)

This is just one step towards a more organised life. Digital clutter is just as bad as the physical sort!

N.B. Given that I wrote this post at work, the rule also applies to this file. Email to myself and then delete. No exceptions.



There are two problems with Mam Tor:

1. It’s a chuffing great hill and exhausting to climb,

2. A road fell off the side of it.

The first one is the good sort of problem, the kind that is enjoyable, a challenge, and easily solved. The second is the kind that gives the Highways Agency a major headache and gets resolved by ignoring it and pretending it’s not there. Well, sort of. The road was abandoned and now looks like a scene from Fallout, which is kinda cool. The old road is accessible by foot, which is the way I explored the whole of Mam Tor. The story goes like this:

 Mam Tor: The Problem
I have a ridiculous amount of work to do, having taken a week off to get my first year report sorted and my house move done and out of the way. But I was bored, and I was not going to spend my holiday doing all work and no play! And so, I asked a mate if they’d like a jolly jaunt to the Peak District. Mam Tor lies between Edale and Castleton, and we began our journey at Edale Railway Station. Upon leaving the train you are plonked on a desolate platform in the middle of nowhere – but take a few steps beyond the concrete and you find yourself in a green idyll. Everything about this part of the world is truly beautiful; detached from the grey, grimy, yet marvellous world of cities that I usually inhabit.We set off south toward Mam Tor, sort of making it up as we went along,but roughly obeying the map in the railway station. To my utter delight (no, really), we soon found a car park with some public toilets (I had been holding it in since Manchester), but not only that, it was one of the checkpoints from a 27-mile walk I’d done a year previously. So I had a wee and got all nostalgic about a car park, and then we were on our way again.

We got on to the main road and found a path down to the base of the hill (you don’t fully appreciate the ‘down’ bits until you’ve done a fair bit of ‘up’), which was flanked by innumerable foxgloves. These were so beautiful, and followed us most of the way across the hill. Tons of buttercups too, a bit like nature had joined a flower-arranging class and was showing off its skills.

dog roses
dog roses



foxgloves in the forest
foxgloves in the forest
And then the ascent. I was pretty sure I’d done this bit before as well, but my memory wasn’t as clear. I may have been distracted by the angry sheep, some of which had horns and looked like they could do some serious damage. So I just climbed the well-defined, yet sometimes precarious, path to the top; in as nonchalant a fashion as possible. Because sheep notice that sort of thing. Pausing for a rest every so often, it felt good to look down the hill to see how far we’d come and how far we were from the scary farm animals (haha, I grew up in the countryside, would you believe?). I’m in much better shape than when I did the 27-mile hike, and this time it felt good rather than agonising to feel the pull on my muscles and hastening of my breath.

I didn't hang around to get a picture of the sheep, but this sheep turd was unthreatening enough to pause for.
I didn’t hang around to get a picture of the sheep, but this sheep turd was unthreatening enough to pause for.

We made it to the top, and – more memories. We were at a junction in the path that I’d formerly crossed, by walking along the top of the ridge. While tempted to abandon the mission and just climb up the bigger, more impressive hill, the route to the old A625 was downhill, and therefore a desirable option. The path down the hill was well-trodden and carved out in to the hill like a mini-gorge, but also so smooth as to not have enough footholds. But it’s ok, there was plenty of gorse to cling on to in the event of slips (OUCH OUCH OUCH). We followed the path down towards Castleton, with yet more foxgloves and angry sheep, and entered a wooded area. Out the other side, we were at our destination.

Here are some pictures from the cool forest-y bit at the end of the path down the other side of Mam Tor:


root staircase

wood, trees, etc

almost there



The rain started, and we sought shelter under a tree to change into our waterproofs. I used my electrical engineering knowledge (ha) to advise that it was perhaps a poor idea to shelter under a tree in the thunderstorm, and seeing as it didn’t look like stopping any time, we diced with death no longer and set on our way. The next photos were all taken when the rain sort-of-looked-like-it might-stop-if-you-really-really-wished-for-it-to-but-it-was-never-actually-going-to.

The image (right) is from Google Maps, with a section of the road just… missing. One night in 1977, following the legendary hot summer of ’76, and a period of heavy rainfall, half the road disappeared. Thankfully it was overnight during a less busy time. Astonishingly, one lane of the road was kept in use until 1979, when it was decided that it was no longer sustainable or safe to maintain the road.  a625


looking up to the road from the footpath
looking up to the road from the footpath

you can still see the road markings
you can still see the road markings

deterioration of the surface

where a section of road has fallen away, you can see the layered construction
where a section of road has fallen away, you can see the layered construction

the road is warped and looks like pictures I've seen of earthquake zones
the road is warped and looks like pictures I’ve seen of earthquake zones


road surface cracking under tension

storm drain inlet structure intact even though the road has fallen away underneath
storm drain inlet structure intact even though the road has fallen away underneath

how much damage is due to erosion, and how much due to weathering?
how much damage is due to erosion, and how much due to weathering?

exposed soil, perhaps as a result of a recent slip
exposed soil, perhaps as a result of a recent slip

that dip in the road is actually a precipice
that dip in the road is actually a precipice

looking up at the higher road section
looking up at the higher road section

this drain is still attached to the road, but is purely decorative

crumbling road surface
crumbling road surface

more road markings
more road markings

road to...
road to…

Some of the rain got into my waterproofs, but because it was pretty hot as well as rainy (yay British summer!), I was also feeling a bit sticky from my own sweat. So it was kinda gross, but worth hanging around to take these pics:

After leaving the old road, we headed further down the hill in to Castleton, where it started to get sunny again. We walked past many caverns (no time to visit, boooooo!) but we did end up in a comfortable pub, giving us time to dry out and recover from the first part of our trek (yes, we were still only halfway through, but the rest of the walk was on the flat back to the railway station at Hope). A pint tastes so much better when you’ve walked seven miles to get it.




Well, sort of. A month with no coffee at all would be ridiculous! I’m talking about Coffee Shop Coffee, of which I consume an awful lot. In the month of May 2015, I spent an alarming £40.70 in Starbucks, Costa, Nero et al. And so for the whole of July, I am only going to consume cheapo instant filth. Hell, I drink enough of it as it is, so I’m largely immune to its effects.

And if I can hack it, each month I’m going to shove £40.70 into savings straight after payday. Then my posh coffee fund is depleted before I’ve even caught a whiff of freshly-ground beans… well, maybe this would only work if my coffee addiction was so severe as to drive me to destitution. But it’s a positive step, right?

I’m also going to keep a graph of my coffee-drinking exploits (we once did this to a colleague, with hilarious results), because, as I said in another post, I freakin’ love graphs. And I can calculate potential savings. Honestly, this feels like an achievement before I’ve even started.

See you in a month for part 2!