Science, Society

Stress and Depression

English: Manipulation of a stress ball, laptop...

English: Manipulation of a stress ball, laptop in background. Taken and released into the public domain by User:Kallemax. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our lives today are often more stressful than ever; longer working hours, less leisure time, pressure to achieve targets, less tolerance of mistakes and fear of losing your job, or difficulty in finding a job in the first place all contribute.  Some people claim stress is “all in the mind” some people claim to never get stressed yet probably do (me included).  It is already agreed that stress can cause fatigue, affect your personal life and has numerous psychological effects including depression.

New research from Yale University now supports this hypothesis showing that it causes changes in the brain at a genetic level.  In tests on rats subjected to chronic stress it was found that the gene that controls production of neuritin was less active and the rats showed symptoms of what would be called depression in humans.  Stimulation of neuritin production triggered an improvement greater than the use of conventional anti-depressants.  This also protected the rats from changes in the brain structure too such as shrinking of the hippocampus.

As well as further demonstrating that stress is a major problem this research also provides hope for new and more effective anti-depressants.

[via Gizmodo UK]

Science, Society, Tech

Cataloguing The World

English: A Google Street View Camera Car (2008...

English: A Google Street View Camera Car (2008 Subaru Impreza Five Door) showcased on Google campus in Mountain View, CA, USA. taken by myself [User:Kowloonese] using a Canon digital camera. The picture was taken on Google Campus in Mountain View, CA, USA. Release for Public Domain. Kowloonese (talk) 04:53, 18 November 2010 (UTC) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The world is big, lots of land, rivers, seas.  Our history is vast too.  The internet contains ever growing volumes of information about both.  And videos of kittens.

Search engines help with finding things on the internet of course, and even the history part as more historical documents are digitized and more history is recorded digitally, whether it be art, music, myth and legend or epic tales.

Google though continues to go beyond its core business, using search ad revenues to actually benefit people – providing free services such as YouTube (which it bought in 2006), Google Translate, Google Docs, Google Maps and so on – which are also available from Microsoft and other providers too – as well as the Android operating system which in its Ice Cream Sandwich version (4.0) is maturing into a very nice OS.  Then there’s the suite of desktop apps including Sketchup, Google Earth,  Picasa and more.  The company even looked skyward, producing Sky Map which is now an open source product.

One wonderfully useful thing Google gave us, via their fleets of cars with Johnny Five wannabees strapped to the roofs, is Street View.  It’s so useful to be able to actually see what the place you’re going to looks like, to see your route, turn by turn at street level because using our visual memory is far better that trying to remember an abstract set of directions on a top-down map alone. They even added traffic information to their Maps product recently.

Even this though was not the end as they’ve Street Viewed railway journeys, cycle routes, footpaths and walking trails and now they’re going to be photographing towpaths along rivers and canals in the UK too.  There will no doubt be privacy complaints again and parts of riversides across the country will become strangely hazy when viewed online but it will also give us more strange and funny discoveries in the images as we’ve had from the roadgoing cameras.

Another new Google project revealed this week sees the search behemoth collecting and documenting languages from around the world that are on the verge of extinction via videos, audio recordings and other documentation. The result will be presented via an interactive website.

Some people however won’t like their other announcement – a service that allows companies to track their employees’ movements via their work phones.  Well, two out of three’s not bad.

Tech, Transport

Bike and Hammer in Imperfect Harmony


Screw_Low (Photo credit: Curious_Gregor)

The recently released new Apple Macbook caused a minor stir recently when iFixit took one apart and found that it was so tightly integrated that nothing could be easily repaired by an enthusiastic techie, the memory was soldered to the board, the SSD storage was custom and even the battery was glued in so if any of these failed it would be an expensive repair and in addition upgrading was out of the question.  All of this was in the name of making the laptop thinner and shinier.

The same is true of cars where less and less can be fixed or tinkered with on the nations driveways and garages start to look more like F1 pitlanes.  More and more of our world relies on modular electronics in smaller and smaller packages, sealed (often due to the complexity of their components) and the only option on failure is to replace the whole thing, repairing no longer involves a soldering iron and screwdriver but a laptop and a plug and play black box.

So it gave me some satisfaction to actually be able to get my hands dirty and fix something for a change tonight.  My bike’s rear deraileur has been playing up recently, refusing to change into higher gears.  This may have been its attempt to improve my health (pedalling faster burns more fat, apparently) or it may have been trying to make me look silly or kill me, whatever it was I needed to get it sorted – engineering’s in the family and this bit of engineering was not gonna get the better of me.

The cable was slack but not broken, but when I pushed the mechanism into the higher gears the chain became slack.  A short period of pushing the arms up and down to identify the cause of the slackness revealed an adjustment screw pointing into thin air and adjusting nothing.  A brief period of what we used to call “passive maintenance” with a hammer to realign the bracket and a new machine screw later all was tensioned again and I’m again calling the shots as to which gear I want to use.

I have a toolbox and I’m not afraid to use it.

Society, Tech

A Worldwide Audience

If you’d told me sixteen years ago that the photo above that I was about to take of the river through the park in Retford would have been viewed in 2012 by 55 complete strangers from various countries across the world via the internet I’d have thought you were barking.

If you’d then said that views of my photo collection would be nearly totalling 1,000 I’d have probably have just laughed.  Hysterically. Who would want to look at my pictures?

Our connected society allows creativity to be expressed as never before, new music, new books, many gems that might never have seen the light of day are unveiled and even if the audience turns out to be small for someone creating the work for the love of it, as a hobby, then just knowing that someone has appreciated it is an achievement and gives you a warm feeling inside.  I still get a buzz from seeing a spike in my Flickr views or likes on this blog.

In computing’s premillennial days the only people freely sharing things were programmers, now people upload over 72 hours of video to YouTube alone every minute.  And despite some commenters declaration that Flickr is dead in the water because it’s not a social network of the scale of Facebook it still receives thousands of uploads (2,950 in the last minute) – many of which are professionals and many are posted on camera manufacturers or magazine groups where like minded photographers can appreciate and compare each others work.

In this big yet small world there always seems to be an audience for whatever you want to say and whatever you want to show to people – whether it informs, entertains, makes them laugh, cry, scream, think or just go eurgh.

Funny, Society

A Week of Dodgy Phone Calls

My Real Facepalm

My Real Facepalm (Photo credit: joelogon)

I regularly take phone calls that have me rolling my eyes, sighing, facepalming or just LOLling.  These are just a few of these stories.

Caller:  “Can I speak to Paul please?”
Me:  “He’s not in at the moment.”
Caller:  “Do you know when he’ll be in?”
Me:  “I’m sorry, I don’t know at the moment.”
Caller:  “Well, if I call back this afternoon will he be in?”
Facepalm.  Erm, I don’t know…

Caller, having been given a quote:  “Oh, no, you’ve got that wrong.”
Me:  “No, I haven’t, it’s worked out on the computer.”
Caller:  “Well, you’ve definately got that wrong, you need to go away and work it out again.”
Who are you, a schoolteacher?

I rang a customer to let him know that the surveyor was running late, it was about half an hour after the booked time already when I was asked to call him.  “He’ll be about fifteen minutes” I told the customer.  “What, fifteen minutes from now?” he asked.  No, from next tuesday, I thought.


Where To Start, How To Keep Going

73: "Send up a prayer for me..."

(Photo credit: practicalowl)

I enjoy writing this blog but still find it hard to motivate myself to do it, the problem being that I get home from work, some days I go shopping for bits I’ve inevitably forgotten to get with the weekly shop, other days I have a hot bath, other days I get home a bit late.  By the time I’ve made and eaten dinner I find I’m just too tired or just can’t get into the right frame of mind to write anything.

Often by the time I’ve caught up on other sites I read I think that there wouldn’t be time to write anything.  This is an excuse.

I have a read-it-later list in Firefox that would shame War and Peace.  The sheer volume of information available to me seems too great and the feeling soon becomes “where do I start?”

It seems I’m not alone in this, Lifehacker recently asked its readers How Do You Stay Productive After Work and many of the commenters said much the same as me.  (Update: they followed this up with more good advice here including doing some work as soon as you get home, to keep up the momentum).  It can be frustrating when you have side projects that excite you but you just can’t find the energy to do them.  Personally I’ve found that making sure I get enough rest so my work day doesn’t completely flatten me and pretty much shaming myself into not neglecting my projects works for me.

As for where to start – well there’s a lyric in Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver by Elbow that says “just pick a point and go”.  That’ll do for me.

Society, Tech

Tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet

I’m not on Twitter so I don’t really know what people say apart from the odd comment reported here and there but I do know, thanks to Gizmodo UK and Cnet, that worldwide people are sending over 400 million tweets per day, 4,500 per hour.  Though apparently you can now tailor trends based on who you follow too.

Still, that’s a lot of twittering.


A Gift from Yorkshire

Wensleydale with cranberries cheese made in th...

Wensleydale with cranberries cheese made in the town of Hawes in Yorkshire, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Talking of cheese as I was the other day this mini food review comes courtesy of my folks’ latest travels with their motorhome which took them into Yorkshire and shows that Britain’s food producers are still thinking of new ideas.

While in Hawes they visited the Wensleydale Creamery and tried their many varieties of excellent cheeses and brought me back a sample of Wensleydale cheese with strawberry.  It’s a smooth cheese that crumbles in your mouth and has a delicate fruity flavour.  Its not shown on their website but they also produce other varieties such as Wensleydale and Cranberry which is a favourite of mine already that I enjoy just by itself – being sweet and creamy – and also in a slightly decadent version of my perfect burger.

Cracking! as Wallace would say.

Jubilee Britain, Outdoors, Society

British Traditions Roll On

The MC holding the cheese.

The MC holding the cheese. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even in the 21st Century some English traditions are still clinging on thanks to the dedication of individuals.  One of them, the annual cheese rolling at Cooper’s Hill was run, rolled and somersaulted yesterday.

The tradition was officially ended in 2010 but has been continued by enthusiasts even though last year’s contest was controversially cancelled over plans to charge for taking part.

The four races down the 200m hill were run in conditions described as damp and the Jubilee Cheese was won by Craig Fairley of Brockworth.

See fuller coverage and photos over at Metro.