I do enjoy a nice bit of spam.  No, not the chopped-pork-and-ham-cardiac-arrest-in-a-can-type (although it is rather good).  The type I get in the comments to this blog.  About half of one percent of the commenters on this site are genuine, and the rest are just headed straight for the trash.  It’s annoying, but just a part of having a blog that is open to comments.

Sometimes when I’m filtering through them, I find something interesting.  Here’s a recent one:

“Yes! Finally someone writes about celioenterotomies.”

Well, they seem pretty excited about it, so let’s find out what that word actually means (see, I’m learning something!).  According to The Free Dictionary, it’s an incision though the abdominal wall into the intestine.  Glad we cleared that one up.  And glad someone is finally writing about it.  Finally!

(not me, though)


At the moment, I am having really bad problems with my sleep. I go to bed tired, but my brain is having absolutely none of that. I lie awake with thoughts, sometimes of worry, sometimes of excitement, and sometimes of inspiration. And they will not shut up! And the cruel irony is that I seem to need more sleep than most people, and yet I still have to struggle out of bed early in the morning (yeah, it’s a struggle). My body clock seems staggered by about 3 hours from the norm (or from what I would like), but in reality I can’t even remember what normal is. I’ve not had a proper sleep routine for over a decade and I spend most of my waking hours fighting the urge to nod off for, oh, just a quick nap.

Which is another thing that doesn’t exist in my world: a quick nap.  Once I finally do get to sleep, it’s for the long haul.  It’s all or nothing with my sleep.

The thing with sleep problems is that they have to be tackled at the source.  Mine stem from a thyroid disorder and mental illness, for which I do receive treatment.  But both are lifelong and difficult conditions, and I’m sort-of-just-about-managing them, but they can be too much sometimes.  And my sleep is one of those things that is more broken than others.

So when things have really slipped, I try to reset the clock by popping a sleeping pill.  But this isn’t a sustainable solution, for a few reasons:

  1.  It gets you off to sleep this time, but it doesn’t solve the long-term sleep issues.
  2.  They can be addictive, so it’s not a good idea to rely on them.
  3.  Doctors know that they are addictive, and so will only prescribe a very small number at a time.  So it’s impossible to rely on them.

So for me, it’s really a last resort, to restore normality for a short while.  But maybe there’s no such thing.

More on sleep in SLEEP – PART 3


A skeptics group that I’m a member of has recently been the victim of a sneaky digital coup, and a summary of the events can be found in the link below at Violetta Crisis:

Violetta Crisis: They didn’t build this – The “new” Manchester Skeptics group

I have some thoughts on the motivations of the wrong-doers (and there is absolutely no doubt that claiming another group’s identity and hard work as your own, and then changing the ethos of that group to fit your own aims, is wrong), and on the reactions of those affected, but that is definitely something that I won’t be blogging about until long after all this has blown over.

And it will, because:

1. is only one of the tools used by the group to engage with members. This individual hasn’t destroyed the group, just gained access to some of the group’s contacts, and is (rather annoyingly) passing off past successful events as their own.

2. Since we started talking about what had happened (privately, publicly and online), interest in our group picked up and the “other” group started haemorrhaging members, who flowed straight back to our new and improved Meetup group. Mwahahahahahahaaaaaa.

3. This is a tech issue. It’s highlighted a flaw in the way manages the ownership of groups, and it should also serve as a warning to group organisers that if you don’t keep an eye on your subscription status, you could face a similar problem.


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

  • 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.