HAVE YOU SEEN THIS?

I made some cool stuff, and I’ve decided to plug it!  Hey, it’s my blog, and I’ll post what I like on it!  It’s opthalmologically-themed – I thought the Snellen eye test chart looked pretty darn cool, so why not stick it on a t-shirt?  But I added my own twist to it; it gets progressively more blurry as you look down the chart – a bit like how it is for me when I visit the optician.  My shop has eye test themed t-shirts, mugs, stationery, bed linen, and more.  And any of these items would make a great gift for an ophthalmologist or optometry student.  Or maybe you just like the design, or like me, you cannot function without your specs and think it’s kinda funny.  Click on any of the images below to visit my shop and buy awesome Snellen chart gifts!

Science Lady's Cafepress Shop Science Lady's Cafepress Shop Science Lady's Cafepress Shop
But there’s more! I have another shop at Redbubble, on a rather different theme. 2016 has been shite, hasn’t it? (I will be blogging about this, too!) And so it’s the right time for a shop celebrating all that’s wrong with the UK (I don’t know how I am going to find the time to catalogue it all, seriously). I present to you, my shop Broken Britain. And here’s one of my (related) offerings. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!  If you keep doing that, you'll go blind!

HOLD THAT THOUGHT

One of the numerous problems I experience with my mental health is an extreme form of what is known as the “butterfly mind“, that is, I am easily distracted and my mind flits from one thing to another, never settling on one thing long enough to ever complete anything, always seeking novelty and getting bored long before a job is done.

But in addition to that, one of my mental compulsions (as part of my OCD) is to make sure I process a thought and investigate it to its conclusion, and make sure that I “check” on the thought periodically to make sure I don’t lose the memory of it – because if I do, I will lose something of great importance. It’s sounds completely irrational, and it is. And it’s easy to see from looking at one specific example of my madness, that this is an abnormal way of thinking. But the psychological mechanisms behind this obvious error are more insidious in an everyday context.

I sit down to start a task with great enthusiasm, and then I recall other important things that I also need to do. These tasks might only be small 5-minute jobs, but my mind simultaneously sees them all as equally important, and I find it impossible to prioritise, as pushing one item further back in the queue might lead me to forget exactly how to perform the task. It is a form of paralysis found somewhere on the spectrum between single-mindedness and efficient multi-tasking. I’m completely stuck in a sense of simultaneous inertia and anticipation.

The best chance I have at beating my brain at its own game is to make to-do lists – it helps me in two ways:

1. Even though find it difficult, if I can break my chores down into tasks that are small enough to do in one go. It’s still difficult, but more manageable.

2. I can outsource some of my brain power by adding items to a list as and when they occur. It frees up mental space that I would have used remembering endless lists full of items of paramount importance.

It doesn’t solve all my problems, and it doesn’t turn me into the organised and focused student that I used to be, but it makes my life liveable and more productive than it would be otherwise.

THIS IS NOT AN ANTIDEPRESSANT

Before I thought rationally about my mental health, I bought into the idea that antidepressant medication was bad for you – that it would somehow permanently change my brain and personality, that it was an unwanted intrusion into my person. I eventually went to see my GP when things got too bad for me to bear anymore, and I realised that the medication I was given did alter my mind – to allow me to be the person I was before I got ill. There is a ton of dodgy advice out there pushing the “natural” option, 99% of which is from people with no medical qualifications. There’s a conspirational-level anti-psychiatry movement, whose followers seem fixated on the idea of “mind control”. With so much nonsense being spewed under the guise of advice, it’s no wonder that there are misconceptions about mental health and treatments. And this gem appeared on my Facebook feed earlier this week (I suppose this is the downside of having unlimited information at one’s fingertips); which is just bloody dangerous and irresponsible:

FFS

Fortunately, someone fixed it for them:

 For Real.

And there are plenty of variations on this theme out there. And you know what Google is for, so go discover them yourself! But although this debunking seems like light-hearted fun, the attitudes behind the original post can have very damaging consequences. Pseudoscience kills. We could also do better with science reporting, too. This BBC News article has a valid point to make, but saves the good stuff until after the sensationalistic claims (the “extreme” side-effects described are well-documented and are listed in information leaflets accompanying the medicine.  They are manageable, and should be monitored by a doctor, who may prescribe something that suits the patient better.  I’ve used medications that really didn’t suit me, and so I worked with my doctor to find ones that did.  There’s no one-size-fits-all, and zero-nuance articles just make life more difficult for doctors and patients). Science communication is important, and we have a responsibility to do it properly – else there is little for the unwary to distinguish between actual science and fantasy-holistic-woo-woo.

LIFEHACK 3: EATING THE ELEPHANT – TO-DO LIST TOOL

In a previous post, I wrote about what it means to (not) eat an elephant, or boil the ocean.  And now I have a practical solution to my problems – which I’d love to share with you!

It’s not just the app in question I’m talking about, it’s the way that I use it.  I recently found this blog post at Better Humans, on an alternative way to make to-do lists.

Their idea is to keep a to-do list with only a few small tasks on it, and to tick things off and add new things as the day progresses. It’s all about Living In The Now. Their article says you can complete more than 100 tasks in a day, and I do think that’s pretty optimistic, but I have only been using the method for one day.

And here’s what I do differently: I am adding future tasks to my to-do lists, and recurring tasks (such as every three days write a new post, etc), but I’m breaking them down into short, discrete activities. I also only concentrate on getting things done and then moving on to another small task. If a task requires more attention, I break it down further. And then I have the satisfaction of crossing more things off the list!

I’m using a web-based program called Remember The Milk, which also has an app for iOS and Android, so I can take my lists wherever I go.  Oh yeah, did I say list(s)? Remember The Milk is far more sophisticated than merely a tick-list: you can have many lists with different titles, and it’s possible to add notes to individual tasks.  It has a ton of other productivity tools, mostly with the premium version, for those who crave more than the mere satisfaction of checking items off the list.

And that’s one of my deviations from the rules.  I have so much to do that it’s easier to break it down into categories, with one list for each. As long as I fight the small battles, I’m on to a winner!

DIARY OF A SIMPLE MIND

Because I’ve been going back over old posts, to check that they’re formatted correctly (oh yes, there is some spring cleaning going on!), I’ve also re-read a lot of things that I posted over the first two years. It’s interesting looking back, but it was part of a mammoth task that won’t go away (changing my WordPress theme caused me a world of pain – there’d have to be something really special to make me do that again). I noticed that the further back the posts went, the more simplistic they were, and they were more likely to be reblogs of other content.

A part of this is that my writing style has just developed anyway since then (if I’d gone backwards, I’d worry), but when I was mentally healthier I used to be able to trot out opinion pieces like magazines were going out of fashion (turns out they were, hurrah for the Internet!). With the fog brought down by depression, I could actually feel the cognitive decline. It was scary – a part of my OCD is hypochondria, and I believed I had a neurodegenerative illness. But the inability to concentrate, and poor memory, are symptoms of depression, which is a far more likely cause in someone of my age.

And while earlier pieces might not have been that original, or very well constructed; they’re a part of my recovery, and so I will leave them as they are. Maybe I’ll look back on this post two years from now and think this is a load of crap. And here’s hoping – if I can be an even better thinker in future then I’ll be a happier & better person.

INTERNALISED MISOGYNY BY PROXY

As a child, I was brought up as a boy.  I’d be encouraged to do “boy stuff”, and I naturally gravitated towards stereotypically male interests, behaviours and clothing.  And my parents encouraged it.  Throughout my school and university career, I had always felt a stronger affinity with males than females, and I never really got along with girls.  It’s hard to describe in terms that don’t come across as essentialist or reductive, but growing up I felt that I was “more like” the boys than the girls.  I felt awkward in female company, and hated it when teachers and other parents would try to funnel me into “girly” activities.  Even now, I still feel this way, which sure is an education in the complexity of gender (Clue: it’s not a binary!).

But because it’s easier to explain in terms of what society deems “male” things, and “female” things, it can come across as sounding quite misogynistic.  I once was talking with a feminist friend about interactions with women (this started off as a discussion about women who are sexist towards other women), and they got quite angry about my assertion that I preferred male company.  Of course, you can be interested in whatever the hell you like.  You can work on a building site, and go home to watch Sex and the City and strut around in high heels – whatever gender you are.  Men and women can still be men and women whether they like things traditionally associated with their gender or not.  Many butch women are adamant that they are women, many “girly” girls may feel masculine on the inside.

But I do wonder about the way I see the world and the way I was socialised.  As I said above, I was raised like a boy, and it suited me just fine.  My brother got a bit of a rough deal, as he was actually very effeminate – but my parents were having none of it, as they didn’t want him to grow up to be a “sissy”.  So I was brought up in quite a macho environment, but my dad has a real bugbear about people who break gender rules.  Only men should do “men’s jobs”, and women should stay at home with the kids.  Which does make me wonder quite how he sees me.  Obviously he is pleased that I got a good education, and a decent job… but I’m an engineer.  In conversation, it regularly comes up that “men should be men” and “women should be women”, while I’m sat there with my metaphorical site hat on.  It’s almost as if “women are crap, but you’re different”, or “how can I be racist when I have a black friend?”.  And I feel uneasy because although I don’t like that attitude, I have benefitted from it.  And I have such a strong sense of self that if things were to change for me, I’d feel like I had lost something precious.

It’s great that the world is changing to be more inclusive and diverse.  That’s the way to do it, to raise standards of the disadvantaged while those at the top of the food chain stay still.  If only we could all buy into it without having our fragile identities threatened, eh?

YOU’RE WELCOME, DELIVEROO.

I was on my way home from work this week, and I saw a new advert on the billboard near my flat.  But there was something not quite right…

WTF is this shit?!

Can you see the deliberate mistake?  It’s ok, I fixed it for them:

That's better!

Ah, normal service is resumed.  Seriously, when I order a takeaway, I want to be consuming a heart attack in a foil container.  Detoxing is bullshit in itself, but using it to flog (and forever tarnish) decadent greasy food is worse!

ACCIDENTAL MARKETING WIN

I check my CafePress shops for sales regularly, and one came up in my feed that I realised was absolute genius, and I hadn’t intended for it to be at all!  Someone had purchased one of my Periodic Table themed babygros with the element Plutonium design….. The chemical symbol for Plutonium is “Pu”.

Pu

I’m so pleased that my customers are at least as geeky as me!

LIFEHACK 2: WEB-FRIENDLY FONTS

I’ve recently been updating this and other sites of mine.  As well as re-learning a bit of HTML, I re-familiarised myself with the fonts that are suitable for use in most browsers.  There’s a lot of commonality between the sets, and although I only use Windows, I’ve included examples for all operating systems below (how generous of me).

I find it pretty annoying that there’s a limited number of fonts that are likely to work on my sites, but if a font is specified that’s incompatible with the browser or OS, it will default to a web-suitable one – it won’t just not display the content. I’ve seen it revert to Times New Roman mostly, and I only really use Windows OS.

There are some fonts that are generally recognised to be compatible with everything, but there’s always the possibility that you’ll find an exception. No matter how ubiquitous a typeface, if your operating system (or the particular version of the OS that you’re using) doesn’t support it, it won’t show up!

Things are sure improving – with each new software release, more features are added, and we approach something like harmonisation. Sometimes, you’ll also find a cool font that just so happens to work – but you need to consider what it will look like if it reverts to the standard for some browsers & devices.

I love looking at lists of text – it’s amazing how much beauty there is in rows and rows of typed words.  Below is a sample of fonts that are a relatively safe bet, along with a little supplementary information.

Font Name What does it look like? Windows? Mac? Linux?
Andale Mono  andale mono Hell Yeah! Hell Yeah! Hell Yeah!
Arial  arial Hell Yeah! Hell Yeah! Hell Yeah!
Arial Black  arial black Hell Yeah! Hell Yeah! Hell Yeah!
Avant Garde  avant garde Usually* Usually* Usually*
Book Antiqua  book antiqua Usually* Perhaps** Perhaps**
Bookman Old Style  bookman old style Usually* Perhaps** Perhaps**
Calibri  calibri Usually* Perhaps** Perhaps**
Calisto MT  calisto mt Usually* Perhaps** Perhaps**
Cambria  cambria Usually* Perhaps** Perhaps**
Candara  candara Usually* Perhaps** Perhaps**
Century Gothic  century gothic Usually* Perhaps** Perhaps**
Charcoal  charcoal Nope. Hell Yeah! Nope.
Chicago  chicago Nope. Hell Yeah! Nope.
Comic Sans MS
WARNING: NEVER USE THIS FONT, not even ironically or on a children’s party invitation ***
 comic sans ms Hell Yeah! Hell Yeah! Hell Yeah!
Consolas  consolas Usually* Perhaps** Perhaps**
Constantia  constantia Usually* Perhaps** Perhaps**
Corbel  corbel Usually* Perhaps** Perhaps**
Courier New  courier new Hell Yeah! Hell Yeah! Hell Yeah!
Garamond  garamond Usually* Perhaps** Perhaps**
Geneva  geneva Nope. Hell Yeah! Nope.
Georgia  georgia Hell Yeah! Hell Yeah! Hell Yeah!
Impact  impact Usually* Perhaps** Perhaps**
Lucida Console  lucida-console Usually* Perhaps** Perhaps**
Luxi Mono  luxi-mono Nope. Nope. Hell Yeah!
Luxi Serif  luxi-serif Nope. Nope. Hell Yeah!
Microsoft Sans Serif  microsoft-sans-serif Usually* Perhaps** Perhaps**
Monaco  monaco Nope. Hell Yeah! Nope.
Monotype Corsiva  monotype-corsiva Usually* Perhaps** Perhaps**
New Century Schoolbook  new-century-schoolbook Nope. Nope. Hell Yeah!
New York  new-york Nope. Hell Yeah! Nope.
News Gothic MT  news-gothic-mt Usually* Perhaps** Perhaps**
Palatino Linetype  palatino-linetype Usually* Perhaps** Perhaps**
Tahoma  tahoma Usually* Perhaps** Perhaps**
Times New Roman  times-new-roman Hell Yeah! Hell Yeah! Hell Yeah!
Trebuchet MS  trebuchet-ms Hell Yeah! Hell Yeah! Hell Yeah!
Utopia  utopia Nope. Nope. Hell Yeah!
Verdana  verdana Hell Yeah! Hell Yeah! Hell Yeah!

Footnotes:
* Most of the time, you should be ok. But you just know you’ll find the one time that it isn’t.
** Give it a go, but there are no guarantees!
*** Seriously, use of Comic Sans seems immature to even the average pre-schooler. Respect your audience’s intelligence and avoid this font At All Costs!