A FORGOTTEN LIFE, REMEMBERED

There have been a few articles that have caught my eye recently about people who have either vanished intentionally, or who have disappeared some other way.  The first is this one, about a gentleman called Henry Summers, who lived on Easter Road in Leith.  Mr Summers was found dead in his flat, after three years in which nobody noticed or cared that he was no longer around in the neighbourhood.  It’s sad, and it happens sometimes – fortunately not too often, but for those lonely people who go undiscovered, it is a miserable death.  A former friend worked for a housing association, and they told me that sometimes, when they are asked to carry out an eviction, they turn up and discover that the rent’s not been paid for years because the tenant has died in the flat.  Not a pleasant discovery.

But Mr Summers’s story has a few twists, mainly in that people thought he was someone else, or two people, or that someone else was him.  It didn’t help that another Mr Summers, of a similar age, lived on the same road.  It turns out that that wasn’t too unlikely, as Summers was a common surname in the area.  Still kinda weird if you’re the other Mr Summers and everyone thinks you’re dead, though.

I had a similar problem in my 4th year at university.  I received a letter from the Student Loans Company informing me that my loan had been stopped due to me leaving my course.  Being an OCD sufferer, my brain went into overdrive.  What if I couldn’t buy food or pay rent?  What if I get evicted?  Have I been kicked off my course?  What did I do?  It turns out that someone else with the exact same name, date of birth, and in the same local education authority as me had dropped out of their studies at a college in Leicestershire.  I spoke with the SLC over the phone and convinced them that the had the wrong person.  Our names were next to each other on the list, and I can see how the mistake was made.

Something like this happened to a woman living in New York City, when somebody else kept stacking up driving offenses on her license!  Due to the way the system works (or doesn’t), the best thing she could do was pay the fines and hope she didn’t get any more (she did).  They did eventually meet, and the other Lisa Davis finally found out why her speeding tickets had mysteriously vanished off of her record so many times…

I find it more shocking that things like this happen so rarely, if you consider how many people share common names, and that coincidences around birthdates, hometowns, careers, etc. appear to occur quite frequently.  Maybe the system does work!

Mistaken identities aside, there are those who go missing and are never found.  Some intentionally, but not always.  The Missing Persons Bureau has people on their records going back over 50 years, and at present there are approximately 1,000 people on their database who remain unidentified.  As well as these, 250,000 people go missing every year.  Most are found, but many are not.

Here in Manchester, we had a recent local mystery, which could have been the plot of an Agatha Christie novel.  An elderly man arrived in Saddleworth, asked for directions to the top of the mountain, and was eventually discovered at the summit, dead from strychnine poisoning.  Just from those few facts, this looks seriously weird, and like there must be more to his story.  For months he went unnamed, until someone identified him as David Lytton, a British man who had lived in Lahore for many years.  Little else is known about him, and his death near to the Dovestone Reservoir remains a mystery.

In the town where I grew up, a young man was washed ashore, and found by passers-by, drenched in sea water and unable to speak.  While we were used to odd things happening there (it’s just one of those places, trust me), this was pretty epic, even by our standards.  He was taken to hospital, and given a pencil and paper.  He drew an elaborate sketch of a grand piano.  It was rumoured that when taken to a piano, he than played beautiful and complex pieces, but reports differ.  The local press dubbed him the “Piano Man”.  Eventually, he spoke, and was identified as Andreas Grassl, a 20-year-old German citizen who had gone missing four months earlier.  Today, little is known about how he ended up on Sheerness beach, although it is believed that he had planned to take his own life.

All of these tales are stories of intrigue, and sometimes tragedy.  While each of us considers our own life to be of high importance (whether we admit it or not), there is a chance that we may find ourselves in circumstances where there is no-one to look for us, or we cannot be found, or we cannot help ourselves.  If I went missing tomorrow, who would look for me?  And how likely is it that I would be discovered?  I have few living relatives, although I hope that at least some of my friends might enquire after my whereabouts.  What if I move abroad, or grow old alone?  That’s a more common scenario for today’s citizens than it has been at any other time for many centuries – who is going to keep track of the elderly millennials?  And what memories will we have to pass on to future generations?  I hope that I live an exciting enough life to get at least a full-page obituary, just not any time soon.

HALLOWE’EN IN JANUARY?

How exciting, I’ve embarked on a new project!  Taking my inspiration in part from Bojack Horseman, and in part from my desire for it to be Hallowe’en every single day.  And so behold! My new CafePress store, Hallowe’en in January:

Hallowe'en in January

 

 

 

There’ll be tons of creepy designs to choose from, and not just for Hallowe’en!  Expect spooky everyday gifts, and seasonal items with a macabre touch.

NEUROBOLLOCKS AND FALSE POSITIVES

Remember way back when I posted about how there’s no such thing as a “male brain” or a “female brain”?  Well, today I was sent an article that:

a) Illustrates one of the ways in which brain scans can mislead if not viewed in context, and with full information of the stated assumptions;

b) Is flippin’ hilarious.

It’s this one: What a dead fish can teach you about neuroscience and statistics, sent to me via my friend Claire Witch File.

That’s right, they put a dead salmon in an MRI scanner! But all in the name of science. This has got to be the most creative way of proving a point about statistics that I have ever seen (and this is coming from the person who did their ‘A’ Level stats project on Smarties in order to prove that you can both demonstrate intellectual rigour, and fill your face with chocolate at the same time. I got an A on that coursework, and the world’s biggest sugar crash. Joke’s on you, Mr. P!).

As silly as it sounds, it demonstrated the care that must be taken in such experiments to set the appropriate significance level, and to be sure you’re interpreting the results correctly.

Three things I learnt as a result of reading this:

      1. I knew that these scans show blood flow to regions of the brain, but I didn’t know that what you’re seeing on the scan is the blood flow resulting from what happened up to 6 seconds ago.
      2. The images from an fMRI scan show a statistic – which must be viewed in context and measured against specific criteria with robust controls.  Basically, it shows which brain regions are likely to have activity – but it tells us nothing about that activity – yet.  There’s a lot about the brain and the mind that we don’t know, but we’re amassing new knowledge quickly.  We may one day be able to discern that sort of information with brain scans; we already know quite broad information on what’s going on in there – we need to refine it.
      3. Studies that sound really outrageous will get you a lot of media exposure.  They even won an Ig Nobel for their work!

CLUBBING IN YOUR 30s – SANKEY’S SOAP

During my undergrad days, Sankey’s was touted as The Place To Go on a night out.  If you were serious about House Music (yes, yes I definitely am), this was your sanctuary.

Unfortunately, during my initial time at university, I was a bit of a Shrinking Violet (hard to believe, I know), and I didn’t really end up with the type of flatmates I actually got on with (or even liked, tbh). It was a self-perpetuating cycle: not going out because I didn’t have many good friends; not having many good friends because I didn’t go out. I finally decided to do something about my miserable predicament in my mid-twenties (more on this in another post), and started exploring the awesome city I’d lived in for Ten Damn Years.

I found some friends (in the office – who says it’s all work and no play?) who did want to go on a proper night out, and so we embarked on an adventure.

Now in my uni days, it wasn’t the case that I never went out, it was more that I went to the safe, pedestrian venues that all the other preppy clones were going to.  There was plenty of bad behaviour and fun to seek out, but it was in a controlled environment, never straying too far from the interests and venues of the predetermined middle-class student experience.  I craved more, but didn’t have the boldness to go out and get it.

In my thirties, the opportunity for adventure aligned with my spirit for novelty, and I joined the heaving, sweating masses at Da Club.  Most of the patrons are younger than me, but there is a substantial minority of thirty-somethings trying to capture that last flush of youth prior to middle-aged spread.

But there is one Universal Truth:

In the club environment, there are exactly two topics of conversation.  Due to the fleeting nature of our interactions, and the audibility of nothing except some dirty beats, brevity is essential.  These talking points are:

  1. “Have you got any drugs?”
  2. “Do you fancy a f%&k?”

And that is it.  No great philosophical debates to be found here – save these for the pub or the after-party.  But it actually suits me as a clubber in my thirties – in my more naïve and non-confrontational guise, I had a severe aversion to the word “no”.  In some respects, it gave me some incredible experiences, in others it led me to some icky and dangerous places.  But now, at this time of my life, I just want to go and dance, and coexist in indifference with my fellow humans.  No, I don’t have any drugs, and no, I’m not going back to yours.  I’m just here to dance.

THE MAM TOR PROBLEM

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

foxglove
foxglove

buttercups
buttercups

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:

IMG_2558
root staircase

IMG_2559
wood, trees, etc

IMG_2560
almost there

IMG_2562
flowers

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

IMG_2568
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

landslide
landslide

IMG_2574
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

IMG_2583
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.

TOILET ETIQUETTE

Sometimes the topic of bathroom segregation comes up in my office – we work on a variety of buildings with varying needs and accessibility and diversity policies. I have heard resistance to change expressed, not always in complimentary or logical terms, but I really like the way that more progressive firms and institutions (universities are especially good at this) are making changes that allow inclusivity and convenience for as many people as possible.

Current students of the University of Manchester were invited to provide their opinions on the new engineering campus development, and one of the topics for discussion is what the toilet arrangements should be like. I’m hugely in favour of the set-up in the Students Union, which has one large toilet with cubicles only, that people of any gender can use. There are also larger accessible toilets at ground floor level. If people wish to use gender-specific bathrooms, ‘male’ and ‘female’ toilets are available on the upper levels of the building, just off of a central core.

We also covered cultural considerations, like how overseas students may react to a Western loo. It might seem like an odd thing to think, and you might cry ‘discrimination’ at face value – but the fact is that there are a lot of international students in Manchester (this is good!), and there is huge variation in toilet type and etiquette across the world. Two of the more common ones I’ve heard about are that in some cultures it’s more usual to squat over the toilet (by standing on the seat) rather than sitting down, and that some places have less robust plumbing systems so used toilet paper would go in a bin rather than down the loo (ick). In most places that I’ve worked, this problem is gotten round by displaying polite notices on how to use the facilities. It’s clear that they’re not aimed at any person or group in particular, and it’s far better than the alternative, which I encountered in one office that I worked in.

There were literally (several) emails sent around the office asking people to not pee all over the floor in the toilets. In addition to that, people had to be advised how to correctly use a sink and dishwasher. It’s like as soon as people step outside of their own homes, they forget how a kitchen and bathroom are supposed to operate. Not sure how much better it would have worked out if the issues had been pre-empted, but it is pretty astonishing that it even got that far in the first place. It was even to the point that the ladies loo was protected by an access code, not for reasons of safety and privacy, but because the Wanton Widdler decided to have a go in the ladies as well! The office was about 95% male, so there was a good chance that it was a bloke, but I really don’t think that dirty behaviour is actually gender specific. That’s one stereotype that I’ve heard trotted out time and time again, and it needs to stop. The lock did seem to stop the culprit, though.

MIGRAINE

What’s it like to have a migraine?  The only way to know the answer to this question is to ask every single migraine sufferer what their experience is, and then you’ll know for sure.  That’s a good few million to start with.  There are a number of common symptoms but everyone will describe something a bit different, and we can’t yet read people’s minds.  So you’ll have to take our word for it.  Here’s what mine are like:

I only get them once every two or three months, and they’re usually triggered by stress. My life is stressful most of the time, though, and I can’t pinpoint anything in particular that brought on my last one. They usually last about 48 hours, and start with a feeling that something isn’t quite right. The problem with this is that I can’t tell during this phase if I’m just perceiving the world strangely, or if it’s the beginnings of a migraine. Half the time I look back on it and think “oh yeah, I noticed something a bit odd the day before my crippling headache“.

green-spiral-fractalWell, that kinda happened this time. Monday evening, the gentleman in our office who whistles and taps on the table while working (I know, annoying, right?) seemed a bit louder and got inside my head a little more than usual. And the world developed a sort of iridescent quality (yes, I know this sounds weird). But, having a long history of neurological problems, I was unperturbed and carried on as usual. Tuesday morning arrived, and I felt just fine. For about 30 minutes. I was at my desk just staring at this email for about an hour, completely unable to think straight. It was like a fog had descended on my brain. Everything felt both unclear and very, very real all at the same time. And then the lights started. I see an orange and yellow flashing zig-zag in a spiral formation, which starts near the centre of my vision and moves outwards and becomes wider as the aura progresses. It looks like a beautiful fractal like the one in the picture on the right, but it is Extremely Distracting. I’m blind in one eye, so when I get this curvy zig-zag obscuring the rest of my sight, it’s like having tunnel vision. Not only is my visual field reduced, but if I concentrate on fine detail, it seems to “vibrate”, and it hurts my head to focus.

By this point I’m unable to function, and so I went home sick.  I wasn’t in too much pain at this point, and sometimes it doesn’t develop beyond this point. But this one did.  I don’t get any pain until the aura is well underway, so it at least acts as a useful warning.  The pain is usually on the right side of my head, concentrated around my eye socket.  It feels like my eye is under so much pressure that it could burst out of my face (nice). I managed to make it on to a train to get home (I did consider a taxi, but I was still functional enough to use public transport – just). The thing about my migraines that really worries me is the confusion associated with them.  That “really real, but not quite there” feeling causes me to question my own mind.  I get distracted and forgetful, and over-compensate because I’m scared my condition will cause me to make a mistake.  [Link: Catriona’s on-air migraine gives TV bosses a headache]

At home, the pain was increasing, but only slightly, and I decided to take a lie down. I wasn’t tired in the slightest, and I thought that 5 minutes rest might do me some good.  Five hours later, I woke up.  The pain had dissipated (typically, I have to just go to bed to get the pain to stop; nothing but unconsciousness seems to relieve it), but I felt quite dazed.  I was at home, and safe, so it didn’t matter so much, but it wasn’t pleasant.  I felt well enough to go to the gym in the evening; no idea if it did me any good but it felt right.  I went to bed tired, even though I’d slept for half the day.

Some other weird stuff happens. This time, I completely lost my appetite. I didn’t feel sick; the idea of eating just didn’t appeal to me at all. And when the pain starts, yawning seems to relieve it , but only for a few seconds.  So I yawn a lot. A lot.

The next morning (Wednesday) I woke up feeling refreshed, and unusually sparkling.  It felt great. But things were occasionally a bit fuzzy, like my brain was still a little bit ‘bruised’ from the previous day’s events. And by the evening, that was that.  Over until the next one. Horrible, horrible, horrible.

DUBLIN

My work offers me plenty of scope for international travel, and that is just what I’ve been up to this week. I’m working on a project in Ireland, and I’m loving every second of it. The work is challenging and varied, and did I mention that I get sent to Dublin every couple of weeks or so? Even though I’m working, I love the excitement of going to a different place. So many people say “oh, it’s just work”, but those people have no souls.

So here is a little about my time as an engineer working abroad for the day:

Because Ireland is so nearby, and you can book a flight for less than the cost of a railway ticket to London (this is more to do with the fact that rail fares in the UK are exorbitant, rather than flights being cheap), a day trip to attend a meeting is feasible.  However, because you’ve had to make a concerted effort to get to the damn meeting and make sure you’re thoroughly prepared before leaving the country, there is a certain pressure on you to make it worthwhile.

My adventure began at 5am, with me thinking “oh, this will give me plenty of time to make my 8am flight”. I got ready quickly, had all my stuff packed, passport to hand, had checked in online already. Nothing could possibly go wrong. I got in the taxi, thinking I had loads of time, and in fairness to me, I did. Upon arrival at Manchester Piccadilly station, I noted that my preferred train had departed 1 minute earlier. Not to worry, the next one is in…. forty minutes. Crap.Ok, ok, I’ll see if there’s an indirect route I can take. Yes! I went to Wilmslow and got a local stopping service back. Slightly less panic. The train gets me to the airport at 0704, so that’s easily doable. Let’s just hope that security is quiet.

Nope. Upon arrival at T1, the queue was huge and chaotic.  Why, why, WHY??? I was stood internally panicking in the queue, getting more and more frustrated at every single minor transgression imaginable.  Screaming children, people clueless about what you can / cannot take on a plane, people not knowing where they’re going.  All of them a trigger.  It’s a miracle I managed to hold it all together. It got to the point where there was a real possibility that I could miss my flight, so I ended up being one of those annoying people who gets rushed to the front of the queue and treated like royalty because of poor planning.  But if the airlines didn’t do this, the system wouldn’t be able to operate efficiently and smoothly.  Sometimes people get it wrong, but the system is set up in such a way that it can only work if people are in the right places at the right times. Sometimes you have to obey rules you don’t like and put up with annoyance and discomfort.

So after getting priority treatment at security (sorry guys), I literally had to run to the gate.  I just made it.  The adrenaline rush I was feeling at this point was totally unsuitable for someone who needs to sit still on a plane for the next 45 minutes, but at least I was actually On The Plane.

I love flying, everything about it is fun (as long as there’s no undue panic involved).  I like getting ready to go, listening to the familiar safety procedures, taking off, watching Manchester disappear and seeing the clouds below me. Each trip is an adventure, even if I’ve already done it a hundred times before. Upon arrival at Dublin Airport, I was annoyingly early for my appointment.  There were no convenient flights to get me there just before the meeting, so I had to take the one that got me there three hours early.  Oh, well.  Time for a bit of sightseeing.

I got myself a coffee in the airport bar (it’s called The Oak, and it’s very stylish and reasonably priced – this is a thing I noticed about Dublin: how cheap it is.  Even when they are trying to rip you off as a tourist, the prices don’t even come close to day-to-day UK prices), and planned my excursion.  The airport is quite far from the city, so either a taxi or a bus is needed for this bit.  I got a taxi last time, but I don’t have a spare €35 to fritter away on a chaffeur, so I opted for the bus instead.  Having never done this before, I went to the tourist information centre upstairs in the airport, who were incredibly useful.  I had an inkling that I needed to get the 700 bus or similar (this is a special bus for clueless tourists like me), but they offered me a cheaper and more convenient solution in the form of one of the commuter buses that the ordinary folk use.  Wow, really immersing myself in the culture here.

Buses work differently in Dublin to how they do in Manchester.  In fact the whole transport system works completely differently.  It works Very Well, but only if you know how to use it. Dublin is one of those annoying cities in which you either need exact change on the bus, or you have to buy in advance.  I was pretty clueless about this, but there were plenty of helpful people at the bus station (perhaps a little too helpful, or maybe too chivalrous, perhaps). They have a ticket where you pay a fixed price and it’s valid for 90 minutes (they have barcode readers on the bus to track you!).  This is enough to get you from the airport into town, and I’d be interested to see how much bus you could get into 90 minutes.  Well, you want to make the most of your investment.

On the way in we drove past a shop trading in Key Cutting and Virgin Mary statues.  Which is an interesting business model.

Philip P. Lynott 1949 - 1986
Philip P. Lynott 1949 – 1986

I wanted to see a bit of the city, but I had one item to specifically tick off my list: Get a photo of the Phil Lynott statue.  As you can see from the photo (right), I was successful in this part of my mission. I then took a leisurely stroll to my meeting, in a glorious converted Georgian townhouse.The meeting went very well. I’ve been at some meetings in which I wasn’t sure why they’d invited me, but this wasn’t one of them. I had a lot to talk about, and so did other people.  Pretty much everything discussed was relevant to me, and I made the most of the day.  My opinion was respected, and the team was really mixed.  It seemed a bit more “with the times” than some other meetings I’d previously attended, and I hope this is reflective of other engineering meetings elsewhere. I felt after the meeting that I’d done my best, and that we’d achieved what we’d set out to.

But that’s not what you want to hear about.  Back to lovely Dublin! My flight home was quite a late one (again, no other convenient flight so I had to get one at a peculiar hour), and I decided to use the time to buy a present for my lovely (and if he doesn’t like it, I do, so I’ve done myself a favour either way).  I’d been advised by my Irish colleagues that there are some cheesy tourist shops around (they called these the Fiddle-dee-dee Shops), but I actually found a really cool alternative homewares store, reminiscent of Manchester’s Northern Quarter.  As previously mentioned, even though it was very tourist-geared, it was surprisingly cheap.  I wonder how cheap it is to live as an ordinary Dublin resident?

And then, time to go back to the airport.  I left a good amount of time to do this, because I had been burnt earlier that day on the flight out.  But, I just wasn’t prepared for the complete catastrophe that is the Dublin rush hour.  During the day, Dublin is actually a very quiet city.  Like Canterbury, but with less people, and more city. During the evening rush hour, the population appears to increase thirty-fold, and nothing moves.  I got really nervous on the bus back (the local bus; proudly using my recntly obtained insider information) that I might miss my second flight.  But I didn’t have to worry too much because although the first half of the journey was undertaken at slower than walking pace, the driver belted it down the R132 to the airport once we were out of the worst bit, and I actually made it there at a sensible time.

Taking off in the dark, I could see the lights of Dublin arranged in perfect rows, marking out the suburbs and arterial routes.  It was splendid, and something totally artificial.  We don’t need spirituality or miracles to find beauty in the world.  We can create it ourselves.

COMMENT SPAM 1

Just carrying out some website admin and filtering comments, and as usual I have zero genuine comments and a ton of random spam. I notice a lot of patterns in the trash comments that I get – I seem to attract people / bots promoting the same brands over and again.

But here we at least have a little bit of originality.  Or irony.  Please, random spammer dude, tell me how I can solve my uncontrollable spam problems.  Oh, wait…

Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam 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Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam 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Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam Spam 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PROBABILITY & PERCEPTION (WITH ADDED SHARKS)

staffy teeGiven how much I detest dogs, you may be surprised that I’m writing another post about them.  Dogs.  And sharks.  Because that’s the next logical step, yes?

Anyway, the inspiration for this post comes from something I saw posted on Facebook – this t-shirt (right):

And this got me thinking – which would be more dangerous (assuming that the shark could somehow survive being taken for a walk on a lead)?

How many deaths per year can be attributed to dogs?  And to Staffordshire Bull Terriers in particular?  What about the number of shark-induced deaths?

Well this is a tricky one to answer, not because the stats aren’t available – they are – but because we need to define the problem properly.

If we only consider the UK, there aren’t a lot of shark attacks.  According to The Shark Trust, there have only been two unprovoked shark attacks in British waters since 1847.  So dogs would appear to be more likely to cause you injury in that case.  And the figures back it up: During the last five years, 17 people in the UK have been killed as a result of being attacked by dogs, and there were 6302 hospital admissions in 2012 – 2013 from dog attacks.

But what about worldwide?  There are certainly a lot more sharks in other countries, but there are also different laws and cultural norms governing the keeping of dogs.  Add to this the fact that in other parts of the world, diseases like rabies are prevalent, and the question becomes more complicated. This page from worldmapper gives data on the number of deaths from rabies worldwide.  Most human deaths from rabies can be attributed to dog bites, but the page doesn’t give an actual figure for this – maybe it is difficult to attribute all deaths from rabies to a particular cause,or maybe the data is not well-kept: According to the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, in many countries where rabies is more common it tends to be under-reported but that 99% of human deaths from rabies can be attributed to exposure to rabid dogs.

Well, that’s an awful lot of rabies deaths from dogs. The WHO reports that globally around 55,000 people die every year from rabies, and 99% of that is 54,450.

What about attacks from dogs per year, globally? The WHO state that they just don’t know the precise number of people attacked by dogs every year, but it is estimated to be in the tens of millions. Statistics on deaths caused by dog attack are just as hard to find, but it is estimated that in the US up to about 20 deaths per year can be attributed to dog bites, with similar figures for other developed countries. In the US, approximately 4.7 million people will be bitten by a dog annually, and only 0.0002% of those people will die from it.

So let’s take the wildly imprecise figure of ‘tens of millions’, call it 50 million, and multiply it by 0.0002% – this gives us 100 deaths from dog bites worldwide, but as previously mentioned, this figure might as well have been plucked out of thin air. It might be more, it might be less. But it isn’t many. It seems that in countries where rabies is rare or non-existent, you are very unlikely to die as a result of canine activity. In a country where rabies is a problem, you have a better reason to be more wary of dogs.

So let’s look at the total number of shark deaths worldwide. In 2013 there were 72 recorded unprovoked shark attacks on humans. 55000 is sure looking a lot bigger than 72.

But let’s get a bit of perspective. Being attacked by either a shark or a dog is a terrifying thought, but it is pretty unlikely to happen to you. In the UK you do have a virtually zero chance of being killed by a shark, but also only a 0.01% chance of being bitten by a dog in any given year. Dog attacks make for great newspaper stories, but we never hear about the many thousands of cases where a dog was perfectly well-behaved and injured no-one.

Worldwide the story is a little more complicated; your chance of dog-induced death depends on where you live, whether rabies is a problem there, and what your country’s healthcare system is like. However, there are plenty of things that are far more likely to kill you, such as cows and bees, an every year the newspapers run a story quoting statistics from RoSPA, with at least a smattering of human-interest-comedy-anecdotes to make it more readable (and hence, less boring). Did you know for example, that in 2002, 11,500 people in the UK were admitted to hospital with injuries sustained while trampolining

And don’t forget, that most accidents occur in the home. Statistically, you’re safer going for a swim in shark-infested waters (I’m really not advocating this).

Maybe one of the more interesting aspects to this is why we find certain animals and certain breeds of animal so scary in the first place, and why we would happy carry out relatively risky day-to-day activities without a second thought. Compared to the chances of other disasters befalling us, what is the risk really like? The reason why we are frightened of, say, dogs or sharks, is (apart from over-zealous media reporting), that these incidents happen frequently enough to be aware of some level of risk. Using the example of being struck by lightning, you have a 0.0003% chance of this happening to you. But multiply the global population of 7.186 billion by 0.0003% and you get just under 24000 people. Which is a substantial and visible number. Like Terry Pratchett said, “million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten“.