El Pueblo

El poema

Este poema fue escrito para reconocer la vida en los pueblos, inspirado por los cuentos de mi familia y lo que yo mismo vi creciendo en Guatemala. Aunque reflecte las costumbres de las indígenas de Guatemala, “la cultura del pueblo” existe en todo el mundo y es hasta es olvidado por las ciudades y los gobiernos. Aún de tener 20 años de no ver mi pueblo, me recuerdo, no de pastos o de las calles pero de la gente. De las niñas y sus madres, de caras y los pasos, con las lindas telas que ellas mismo hacen. O sus gentil manos bien usadas y delicadas, de pieles de las arenas, pero en consistencia de las mismas tierras, áridas como avena, donde cosechan ellas la cena.

Y el motivo de vivir, aprender, de enseñar y reconocer, y también de morir, es lo que hace el pueblo crecer y seguir—adelante con los deseos, o las penas y lastimas. Y no hay que olvidar la juventud, pero no de cuerpo o de años, pero de apreciación a la educación, de la nueva viva y de la que termina. Y son nuestras niñas tan ejemplos como sus madres y abuelas, que no hacen el pueblo desaparecer, y cuando al fin descansan las viejas, cada niña se convierte en mujer.


Las Viejas del Pueblo

Las viejas del pueblo,
Marchando a firme paso
con brazos bien fregados y corazones destrozados
levantan lastimas de ayer.
Y sus cuerpos viejos y usados
Buscan vida con cuidado,
No hacen el espirito caer.

Las viejas del pueblo,
Con sus piernas enterradas
y espaldas encorvadas
Arrancan pasto con placer.
Y marchan tierras sin zapatos
con sus ropas en pedazos,
Se enfocan en los astros para ver.

Las viejas del pueblo,
Marchando en cementerios,
cuidando compañeros y saludan al morir.
Ayudan al Sepulturero, con bigote y un gran sombrero
No deja a los muertos salir.

Y en la noche linda y negra
Preparan pociones por hacer,
Revuelven el molde, sopa clara pero sangre fría,
Que se será lista para el amanecer.

Las viejas del pueblo,
Tejen lindas telas con sus manos de arena,
Atrapadas todas ellas
Escuchan hacia fuera.
Y con pellejo bien anejo
cuidan sueños desde lejos—
y los hacen dormir.

Y las niñas de los pueblos,
Crecen luego
con los brazos aguados pero corazones bien formados,
Tienen el respaldo del pensar.
Y sin ropa en sus cuerpos,
Pero cubiertos de ejemplos
de la viva de los muertos,
Dejan a sus madres descansar.

Poor Stew with One Shoe

Stew with one shoe drew a shrew with a shoe in a stew.

But Stew knew that there were two shrews each with two shoes in the new stew.

“What am I to do,” asked Stew, “indeed, what am I to do with you”.

Stew drew Drew to the stew he drew.

Drew looked at the stew Stew drew and said, “why there are two shrews with two shoes?”.

“That’s my drawing,” screamed Sue.

“Boohoo,” boo’d Stew, “where’s your proof? Those now are my two shrews with two shoes that I drew in a stew with one shoe”.

“I’ll sue you Stew,” yelled Sue from the blue, “I’ll shoo you too Drew if you knew.”

So Sue sued Stew who showed up to court with one shoe.

Poor Stew with one shoe sits in a jail for the two shrews in a stew with two shoes that he drew, for you Drew.

**Don’t steal another’s intellectual property.

I Said No To Drugs

CHAPTER 7 – WHO’S LEFT?

Can be purchased on Amazon.

‘I Said No To Drugs’ is a story about my experiences through my teenage years and breaking down the elements that contributed to my habits, desires, and vices. I take a philosophical approach to understanding how we make decisions and what drives our learning and development through early stages of adulthood. I dig deeper into my motivations for saying ‘no’ to drugs, as well as question the moral implications of my choices throughout life and address how my environment helped to break, re-make and re-shape the lessons I learnt from early childhood.

So why is this chapter only available through kindle?

The purpose of this chapter is ask three questions. 1) who are left in my life as influencing factors, 2) who follows into the stories that I tell and will invest in exploring the moral implications to decision making and 3) who are the people who are still vulnerable to the influence of drugs? In attempt to answer these questions, I realised that it was important to make the last copy of the book accessible to others beyond this site. Publishing it on Kindle also improves the reading experience, not only of this single chapter, but of the entire memoir. It is there to give you as a reader more options to lead your own train of thought and for these ideas to be easily transmitted across several people.

The edition on Kindle is very different to the one that was published open access. That is because the open access copy is a place to dump ideas and help to showcase the work that is being done, while sharing with the audience that may one day read it. I also believe that a draft copy does not need a price, so it is there for the general reader to enjoy. The final chapter however is important because I discuss the moral implications to my decisions, rather than judgement of what happened during my teenage years. And the reason why it is less accessible than being open access, is because I don’t want it to be easily accessible. It should discovered and read by personal interest, rather than simply because it is online.

However, I am not one to seek profit from my writing, as much as I need to put a price for the digital goods. This is to cover hosting on the Amazon marketplace, such as a ‘delivery’ price (yes, even for digital copies), as well as a commission that Amazon takes for selling each copy. There are other factors such as the cost of ISBNs and the time it takes to typeset the document, edit it, format it and illustrate the cover art. And yes, everything is done in-house by myself. I have put over 12 years of investment into the writing and re-writing of this book, and if I were to show to you its first draft, which was still in use earlier this year, then you would be surprised at the evolution of the writing and storytelling format.

I realised that when I first wrote this book, I was being largely objective in my writing and trying to teach to others why to say ‘no’ to drugs. Originally I planned to have references and external links to other resources, much like I did for Life De(fined): Living in the Shadow of a Silent Killer, but I was only 20 at the time. I had yet not even matured myself to be able to self-explore my emotions. In fact, the entire memoir was written from my perspective now, though considering what my views were like throughout my teenager years (16- to 18-years old) and then later through adulthood (19- to 23-years old).

Therefore, if you were one of the original readers of this book draft, then I am offering to you a free copy of the e-book. If you are interested, please email me at inkstudio@seanasol.org.

Paper Boats

This story is in memory of the life of a person who may well be forgotten by those who call themselves family. As one of the last remaining members of the family and believers that most of their life was thrown away by the disbelief and constant physical and emotional abuse they suffered, it is my right to share their story so that it remains documented. Each sentence is carefully written to identify the events and people who brought so much pain to them.


Perhaps a single sheet, a one-dimensional layer of life and existence is more likely to tear when wet through the tears we cry or the blood we shed, than a thousand layers that each act as protection to the next. And the folds of it as folds of skin together meet and create our fleshy meat, that in the end protects our thoughts from dissolving in the sea. And of course, when life’s paper boats are set free, our existence depends on how well we have packed ourselves to be. Paper boats thrown out by paper boys to wonder on the open ways and carried by the breeze. 

Paper boats do not need to know where to go and may at times be lost. Most like we can find ourselves lost when others have paid no attention at all. We form connections driven by affection or simply by closeness to those that we trust or are simply close with those when it comes to thought. Not many others that we might feel comfortable around, they lead their lives with no concern of others about. And we may hold in this state, as if it were our life’s fate, no concern from others who may not love but, no, let’s not go there. 

Help can come to fill the rest, what emotion of life and body cannot tell, we pray for those whose stories we depend on, as beacons to grab hold of, and lean on. We follow from that which was taught, but give it meaning as we know that it may do us better down the road. And we stuff these pages into the creases of our paper boats, to help them float on the waters they are drifting on. Pages whose support is also guidance and give us hope and a place to rest, to feel safe and be protected by Poseidon’s trident.

And when life strikes past the heartbeats last thump, we grab to nothing else but that victory post that we were always fond of. And we hold it close to our hearts, and ask for life to give another chance. Others not see how much was lost, if they never cherished it. Now there sits, an empty seat and a lonely radio who gently listens to others speak. The sound has gone and silence fills the room, but there we lay in the corner where we belong. And we look past our things and onto the empty space, and where a body once laid, now there’s nothing there. The warmth is lost and the comfort gone, who to turn to now since no one else had ever known. For what others saw, was the person who was there and not within, the connection lost is what others will never see. Maybe some who depend as much, may see beyond the life that’s lost, and maybe once, only once, they’ll see me there, out of touch. 

And without the help of the old man’s hand, there is no end to the plank I stand, my only comfort has gone away, I may never see a better day. But not all may forget, but the chance is fairly dim, like paper boats that sail away they might keep sailing beyond we see. There are few who we must accept to be part of the life we lead, but their existence on the day is never set, but I wait and I bet, with guarantee. But we wish that they do not forget, as laid in speak each day we met, for I leave them suns and moons to help them find their way back soon. But there are those who with me they stay, and ask of me to be with them, which I accept without delay, and help with life begin its day. Like the life I gave from my own blood, that passes by without accord, traps me in a room where I lost myself thinking of those I knew and gave into trust. Far beyond the other end, I barely hear or see them, but a little glimpse that I may see and a promise made to me, gives me the comfort that I am much in need. 

There are few places where life is sound and light, and a stranger’s grasp is stronger than the life we have. There is movement and mistrust, and yet see more of real life as those we don’t know thrust between the crowds, and lift the dust as they quickly move about. For we see all kinds of life gathered here to chat or walk, or be near the folk and freedom as it appears. They all seek their needs, be it one thing or another, no one judges and they don’t care, as long as they can get their wares. And this extends for miles on end, and it’s a place I go to free myself, for I make friends and often sell to them. But I do not trade in cloth or stone or smell, it’s for me a chance for stories to tell. Here they listen and I speak my mind, and share stories as I see them, they may not care, but do not mind, as they too come out to find. And what we find it not the connection, it’s not the friendlessness nor affection, it’s about being here, in the chaos it creates without end, and the noises which affects the senses, make me feel alive again. Many are strangers to this, very few care to ask, they believe I hurt myself, but if I offer to explain, they don’t let that pass. How could they think something else, for a lifetime I have come here, from where else do they think I get my gear. They must know of all I make for many times I stayed awake, although just assume they like what they consume. 

Please don’t let me be inside, I must go out and live today, I’ll come back I am quite sure of that, but I feel trapped within these walls that obscure my thoughts and turn me blue. Without their say, I turn to leave, the outside life calls onto me, but today, no please, I want to stay. The life I trusted and saw as part of me, is calling one final word, to leave and be free of those who were of no help to me. I grasp and I fight in purple rage but my weakened body only faulters, why have they come for me and under whose orders? I beg, please, it’s not my fault you see, why must you place me with the horrors of which I speak. 

Taken in the night without much fight and by their actions unadorned, this is those that had always urged that they were right all along. They forced me to be without the only one left, that even through dismissal was better than certain death. And those that stand and lie without power to change the fact, must live in shame for their inability to act. And those who led the violent path, proclaim themselves heroes who saved my life, but all I want is for everyone to understand. It didn’t matter how much I cried and pleaded to the air, very few showed how much their cared, and labelled and discarded as my heart slowly parted from those in thought I shared. 

It’s cold and dark and my fate is hard to see, though I hope that my mind stays stronger than my body. I feel broken and consumed, and ashamed to be, that I hope those ones I care about never see, or it may shock them and confuse them, and not believe in me. In fields of lavender, I find some little comfort, as the violet light shines upon and magnifies what we cannot see, shows a history of abuse and hunger, and of scars, broken bones and missing teeth. For the culprits may remain free from their wrongdoings, but our memory will never fail to see, those who robbed life from the palms of others as they pretended to set them free. 

There are few letters that may describe the truth and vocalise much need, to let the victims know of how they suffer away from the walls that imprisoned me. Beyond this time I am no longer one, but a memory that others need, I am conscious of my life, and now I am sailing free. For long before I was held here, I felt when they all left, I laid forgotten like a sheet of paper that no one ever read. But their story doesn’t end there, they must have called out to leave, though only few can tell, if they ever felt being free. Along as I passed outside and was unlocked from the cage they gave, and I breathed in the fresh air and filled my lungs with comfort I need before I go to sleep.

And there the life had passed away, to join many others, like a market full of souls that dissipate from their struggles and daily horrors. And so they went without much thought, and laid to rest, as the leaders of their haste stood beside the grave. And they mourn and speak their troubles, without their right to hide the truth and lack of care, they never gave, but only took away the life that was never theirs. Yet some remain that fill their pain from far away and make paper boats to sail away, as examples of life’s remains, when there are those who show how much they care. And the paper boats delicate and small, say nothing more, and they only show life’s fading glow.

But the story ends with a glimpse of happiness, by the union of them two, close apart as they were in life, they reunite in the same room of afterlife.    

Edited on May 24, 2021
Fixed spelling and grammatical errors.

Questioning the Origins of the Universe

What if the Big Bang did not create the universe that we know today but instead destroyed it and we are remnants of the extinction of life that was spewed and fixed into 3-dimensional space. What if greater galaxies existed within the gather of energy that had been stored and collected until it had to be released. What existed may be a reflection of today’s existence, reshuffled and reorganised and therefore we cannot simply look at the Big Bang as the creation of a universe but as the destruction of another. Like a dying star whose existence we can only acknowledge from what we see, might long be dead when we notice. Our presence may equally be uncertain as there is no other known perspective other the what we see as elemental beings within the space in question. Like Schrödinger’s cat, we are fixed in space of uncertainty, unaware of the final outcome which we will never known, because it is not us who are the observer.

Like a camera that is set to take a long exposure that captures light and reveals in a fixed moment, a memory, of that which we cannot normally see, we may remain the extinctions of light that once existed. The expansion of the universe did not create life to exist, but rather set an copy of what had existed before, creating the perception that we are witnessing creation, when in fact we may be seeing fate and destiny pre-written. But in magnitude of infinite directions of how matter could have distributed, we may be too simple to understand the implications of the infinite number of timelines and tributaries of known events that have been prewritten to occur. We of course cannot see them or notice them as pre-determined, as we are too far seeing through the extinction of existence, as if living into the future following the determined paths created by memories we yet do not have.

And yet we feel free to have free will and choices that will reflect unknown outcomes. But if we think beyond the limits of time, that is focusing on events as they pass, but down to the tiniest re-arrangement of neutrons within atoms, as the smallest change known to occur, we may start to see the magnitude of chance and probability of what arrangement may come next. And each single re-arrangement event of the smallest known or unknown unit of matter or anti-matter, in that case, creates a set of infinite events from which subsequent events create infinite number of events, and so on. What we may not know is that all events have been predetermined as all combinations of how they might exist may actually exist at any single point. It may be that most probably our timelines would appear linear, although having at each event a divergent timeline from which a new series of infinite events originate. Under such conditions we may be not be able to travel through time, but that is not to say that no one would ever see the extinction of life passed, so long the observer has the correct perspective to see. What about life and death, and how can we be tricked by changes of those who exist and die? Well, it may up to every single atom or collection of atoms to have different values of extinction, which ascertain the amount of energy that is absorbed and reflected. This coefficient assigned to each atom or collection atoms may define how long they exist within the extinction of life that once existed.

It’s as if fast forwarding through the past then rewinding to see the future. We can only see things from our perspective of where we are in the timeline with observations not made of what exists, but what doesn’t exist anymore. We may now see the universe expand but later may see it shrink, not because it’s shrinking but rather the fading of it, as we observe from our biased perspective by where we are in the extinction timeline. But the universe expanding is an interesting phenomenon in this theory. It would need to expand as energy released needs to be used somewhere, if it is proposed that it’s not used to create the universe we know. What this implies is that without an external perspective, we cannot know whether we are dead or alive, then the universe itself must be both formed and destroyed. As thralls to our own existence or in an existence we cannot measure because our own perspective is that from within an experiment, we would simply be seeing what we’re meant to see. Every item, event of concept as a reflection of our own understanding having limited knowledge of it and missing critical information, and all information we create and learn only comes from the very existence that we question. This may explain why we form different hypotheses of a myriad of concepts, interactions or patterns that we may see or not see exist, parts of the universe that have yet to be explained, unsolved questions about space, time and mathematics. Why is it that can see different things exist and yet cannot explain them? The simple answer to that is because everything is and is not real.

Past, Present and Future

I make closing statements about how the past will influence the future, but it’s the present that we have to look out for. It’s about what is happening right this very moment that will shape our future. I see that drugs may not have such a drastic effect on people’s life, as I look to my friend. Perhaps drugs are their solution to do better or to overcome the burdens that overpower them. Maybe the reason they want to introduce others to drugs is because they want someone to be in the same mental state as them. They call me a hypocrite for drinking alcohol, and being in denial that alcohol results in fewer problems than taking drugs. We both take time to learn about our decisions and come to understand each other a little bit better.


Awoken

For the first time I saw the effects of drugs on people I knew. I have experienced the effects of drinking too much alcohol on a night out, but I never saw how it affected others and how others would have seen me. I describe what I saw in detail, noting on how my flatmates changed in appearance from what they typically looked like. I describe how they lurched forward, as if their bodies were covered in slime that kept sticking to the floor with each step. I think about the extent of the damage inside their bodies, because their physical appearance looked ragged and consumed, that no amount of make-up could hide their pale faces and shrivelled skin. 


A Night Out in Town

I never went to house parties until I attended university in London, UK. Before this, parties were at the side of the Rhein in Germany, in a forest just outside city limits or going into the city for drinks. I occasionally went to friends’ houses, or even held my own drinking parties, but these were for a limited number of people. Parties in London were much larger, filled a three story house. I explain how I never really enjoyed going to house parties or clubbing, and could only feel part of it if I was myself very intoxicated, otherwise I wouldn’t understand the ‘drunk-talk’. I come to the conclusion that with such a high prevalence of drug use and its presence in the media and popular culture, it would almost be impossible to never come across it. 

It’s Cool, Bro.

I Said No to Drugs
Chapter 3

Life is about taking decisions. It’s the processing of reasoning about what we seek from ourselves and from others. I make the point in this chapter that drugs confuses our ability to make decisions, by essentially clouding our judgement. Those who say that drugs are cool, might still suffer with them and make decisions that even for seasoned drug users place their lives in danger. What I never understood is why it is that those who take drugs gain pleasure from tempting a non-drug user to try them for the first time. To imagine that behaviour, but to happen to a friend, how could I be responsible for that? While others try to convince me to try drugs for the first time, I continue to convince myself against it. 

You’ve Done It?

I Said No to Drugs
Chapter 2

I focus my story on the use of weed, a common drug I encountered throughout my teenager years. It soon became clear that once I knew to detect the signs of drug usage, I began to see it more widespread. The things I hadn’t seen in the past were becoming an everyday reality. It became clear to me how many had tried drugs, and I hardly had anyone left to talk to about it. I describe how wanting acceptance from others may lead to making the choice to try drugs and become dependent on them. 

Objects

Continuing through exploring my mental state, I try to identify the burdens that are affecting my life. I acknowledge that personal problems might not be understood by others, as some try to convince us that we should simply lead happier lives. I challenge what we perceive the ‘normal’ person to be, while I seek to become something that society defines as normal. I explain how traveling around the world has made me come in contact with other cultures and individuals, but whether there is a difference between the places I visit, I am less sure. I have a hard time answering the question of where am I from, and I wonder about our purpose on Earth.

Nurture and Nature

I Said No to Drugs
Chapter 1

In Chapter 1, I tell the story of a first interaction with a drug user. Then, I explore our natural need to learn from life, experience new things through the environment and reflect on the teachings of our upbringing. I describe the struggle between morality and greed, past and future and why I have made it a personal goal to say ‘no’ to drugs. I find the things that worries me most about drug usage, the power others have on someone who has never tried drugs. I learn that this is something that is very common, and I lay out my plan on how to fight against temptation, as I watch others succumb to it. 

Shadows

Shadows is the starting chapter of my story. It is the reflection of going to Boots on a Sunday afternoon to buy lip balm and how it quickly turned into studying the faces of strangers that were working and shopping there. I describe how my nature works against me when meeting new people and how I instead choose to create stories about strangers by creating their characters, instead of getting to know them. I come to realise that this is not solely something I experience with strangers but also with members of my family. I then breakdown social structure and family ties, learning to identify lies and misconceptions. 

Research amidst a pandemic.

Like most non-essential work places, academic research in the UK was paused during the first stages of lockdown back in March 2020. In the months following, building management, health and safety officers and senior lab members would meet and try to bring the research spaces to COVID-secure standards. From one-way systems to temperature checks at the entrances and occupancy limits per room, it seemed to be major setbacks for research.

Movie Remakes

Have you guys heard of new movie remakes?  They seem to be hiring academics to make movies a bit more educational.  Here’s just a few that struck me:

1.  The Terminator Sequence
2.  The Extracellular Matrix
3.  Twin Of Eyeless Story 3
4.  The Lysine Ring
5.  Lost In Transcription
6.  Propellant Friction
7.  She Wore A Yellow Ribbonworm
8.  The Anticodon
9.  The Glucose Oxyhydrase Father
10.  Lord Of The Phenyl Rings
11.  Back To The Fusion
12.  Acceleration
13.  V For Velocity
14.  13 Genes
15.  Injection
16.  Lethal Injection
17.   Raging Bulbus
18.  Operation Codon
19.  Atom Of The Opera
20.  Strain Man
21.  American Pi 3.1415…
22.  Malcolm XY
23.  Dude Where’s My Car12 Protein?
24.  Petri Baby
25.  Petri Woman
26.  American History XXY
27.  Indiana Bonds The Last Crude Sample
28.  The Overhang Sequence 
29.  Harold and Kumar Go To The White Blood Cells
30.  Mole Rat
31.  Knocked Out
32.  The Transposable Element  
33. The N-Terminal
34.  The Flask
35.  The Transporter Protein
36.  Warm Antibodies
37.  Phantom Of The Operon
38.  The Last Strand

Original published on Wednesday, 23 October 2013. Rehosted to Pressure Ink.

A Note For The Future

Yesterday I was on MARCH 6th 2050 and traveled back in time just to write this note to you.

Hey ok, you, I’m talking to you.   Alright now, dont question me why I didn’t come see you face to face, because you know the whole collapse of the universe thing is still a possibility, or maybe Putin will destroy the whole universe at some point, who knows you know, well I know.  Don’t worry about that.   Dammit I should also tell you to change your dumb side-notes and side tracking, because you know this conversation has turned out pointless.  

Soap Hoarders

A few days into the global outbreak and it seemed like most people didn’t get the memo. Supermarket supplies were still ample and we were all shopping as we normally would. There was no panic buying in stores, anywhere that we could see or that was being reported on the news. A few days later, the realisation that the virus could spread and be labelled as a pandemic saw shoppers rushing to buy anything they could, or you would think so.

Staying at Home

Quality time in Quarantine

It feels that this lockdown will last weeks, if not months. And staying at home for many of us will be difficult to deal with in these challenging times. But some of us might be living under different conditions, which for them staying at home isn’t so bad. After all, it’s about balance of one’s life and activities, which can still be accomplished despite the social distancing measures.

Quality Time in Quarantine

New entries every day here.

This can’t be so bad, can it?

It is almost difficult to accept how one’s life can change overnight, more so when it’s the lives of a quarter of the entire world population. Many of us will either be entering into a period of self-isolation, or quarantine or have already been through the first couple of weeks. It is important however, that we slow the spread of the virus, ideally by placing restrictions on the way we essentially function as a population. But this mustn’t come as a surprise. Viruses will take advantage of tightly packed cities from which the disease can travel from host-to-host (effectively more like coast-to-coast).

The Legacy of Apollo 11

Past, Present & Future

On July 20th, 1969, 50 years ago, a team of astronauts led by Commander Neil Armstrong made history by landing on the surface of the Moon. This was merely 55 years after the first commercial flight flew between St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida. The Apollo 11 mission was the culmination of the Space Race, and lasting just over eight days, it represents the challenges and opportunities of spaceflight. The question now is, what will come in the next 50 years? 

Pressure Ink 2020 Update

New Website Design Update

We overhauled the Pressure Ink 2019 design and have chosen our new visual language to present our content. With also a better Policy page implemented, you can use our original artwork for your own media creations, as long as the original author is credited.

Let’s talk about climate change.

How should we approach and discuss climate change? Engage with illustrations or with data? At the Experimental Vlog we discuss climate change with two personalities: Steven McEntyre (an artist) and Prof Nicklebreth (a scientist). While they have opposite thoughts on how to present scientific data, they both can appreciate that climate change is real and that we must do something about it. Being our first episode, we hope that these personalities join us later for more exciting discussions. Like all our Spawn Theory videos, this was completely unscripted and unplanned, anything that would suggest otherwise is just a coincidence.

Climate Change

Killer Ducks

And 5 other health risks.

Most of our human body is covered in microbes—sorry germophobes. In fact, several of these microbes are good for us, and play very important roles in our organism. You might frequently hear that we have good gut bacteria that keep our intestines healthy, but did you know that Staphylococcus aureus are part of our body’s microbiota? This little guy is however most commonly associated with MRSA, which corresponds to specific strains of S. aureus that are resistant to antibiotics. This is something that we can expect in a world with five million trillion trillion bacteria (even Microsoft Word cannot handle this number and suggests to delete the repeated word).  

Think about it: the air that we breathe, the surfaces that we touch or the water that we drink, all have these microscopic travellers. On a normal day, this is something that we might don’t think about. If someone coughs in their hand and then reaches out to greet you, then you might be more receptive to how germs travel from host to host. But what about those everyday things that we do that might be harnessing the health risks of everyday microbes?

Leadership & Science

Breaking down the personality of the scientist.

How does the personality of the scientist affect their leadership in research? Here I reflect on how important teamwork in research is (in both academia and industry), but also outline why bad leadership deters so many young researchers from continuing in research, particularly within academia. Academic research is somewhat predictable, it employs academics based on their career progression and it acknowledges that an academic can continue to build their careers and bring new opportunities to their institutions. Industry now has become either the place for recent graduates or those fed up with academic research. I once found myself in a room of fed up post-docs now employed by the same employer. In a way, I felt that my own linear experience through the academic lifestyle and specific interests where no place for this role in industry.  

We all want to change the world.

…but we also want a career.

As the new year rolls in and celebrations pass, we begin to wonder what lies ahead. For some of us this unexplored year brings excitement as well as insecurities that we might not be willing to admit. For most of us, however, we are in sync to the yearly rhythm of life, and neither look forward to the new year nor welcome it with fear. We welcome it as we would welcome any other day; with a gratefulness of being alive. The value of the individual is so often disregarded in our ever so growing population. To tackle the problems of the world we form collaborations and networks including a little something of each individual personality, bringing forth diversity in both intellectual and emotional intelligence, and create a much stronger force to solve complex problems. But we mustn’t challenge the importance and power of the individual. After all, what motivates us, as individuals, to pursue these projects can be a combination of selfishness and aspiration to make a difference to a world that needs much of it.

Is a tablet a computer?

What’s a computer? Perhaps you have come across this question. It originates from an Apple ad showing a young girl working on an iPad with a Smart Keyboard and at the end she is prompted with the question: “whatcha doing on your computer?”.  She replies, “what’s a computer?”. I personally don’t like the ad, since it exaggerates the places where you can take and work on an iPad, but it is Apple’s way of stirring up discussion and debate. It is a statement that could be perceived as ignorant, because it is very unlikely that an adolescent does not know what a computer is in this day and age. Or perhaps it’s just a question; a direct and open-ended question asking to the philosophical level. I would accept the latter, hadn’t it been the way the girl said it, being that she ignored the question she was being asked.  

A PhD in isolation.

A PhD is by definition a degree that represents up to four years of original research. Within that time, you will be expected to specialise on something very specific, but which has a significant implication in a broader topic. You may feel like a PhD project is like throwing a pebble into the ocean, meaning that its contributions will not largely affect the broader context. A PhD requires a high level of maturity and professionalism, and its outcome will not only depend on your ability to collect results, but on the ability to be productive even in challenging situations. A PhD requires frequent planning and re-planning, as well as commitment. But this commitment comes at a cost. As you progress through your specialism, your knowledge will become very specific and while you may know basic concepts, you may become isolated from knowledge and skills that are obtained by other means. 

Where have all my good friends gone?

Starting a PhD is a leap from your undergraduate or taught postgraduate. Like going to a new school, you will be faced with meeting and getting to know strangers, which may eventually be more than acquaintances or may just remain as colleagues. Then there’s the feeling that you’re sticking to more education, while everyone else you know wants to head out to the real world and search for a real job. Your good friends have graduated and most have left the university campus. Or maybe it was you that left, and embarked on your adventure, leaving behind everyone that you knew. It is not surprising that some prospective PhD students are scared of being isolated and left all alone during their degrees. In fact, I don’t think you have experienced a true PhD without feeling isolated and alone from time to time.

Why PhD?

I went into the PhD thinking it was going to an easy experience. Thinking back on it, I wouldn’t necessary say it was hard either. I think the hardest part of it was accepting that there is a learning curve and an aspect of personal development. I started a PhD directly after finishing my undergraduate degree, and having completed a successful final year project, I felt I was ready to continue academic research. I wouldn’t say that I was scared about starting a new degree. To me, it felt like the next logical step in my education. I briefly considered doing a Master’s degree, but the mere issue that it would have involved going to lectures and taking exams, deterred me from it.

The truth about academic jobs.

The last question of my PhD interview five years ago was: what do you want to do after your PhD? At the time, I wanted to go into industry with a plan to return to academia and perform my own experiments. Four years later, I am not sure I still think that way. Employability and the value of the PhD has always been in the background during the degree. On the first day of the programme, the Graduate Director told everyone that about 10% of PhD graduates get a post-doc and something like 2% of those get professorships. At first, I thought it was about the competition based on the mere number of applicants and positions to be filled, but in reality, competition has very little do with it. There is competition within science, of course, and that plays a significant part to an academic’s development (see here), but to say that only 10% of PhD graduates get a post-doc because they managed to out-compete other contenders, is too simplistic. 

Breaking down your viva.

There is nothing original by writing about the PhD experience and how to prepare for the viva. If you have submitted your thesis and are waiting for the viva, you might spend a full day reading other people’s experience on blogs and forums. In fact, this article could very well be another generic guide on how to prepare for the viva, that you may or may not read. Reading through other people’s experience and advice may give you that tiny confidence boost that you need. You might already know everything about what to expect on the day. And yet, you are still reading this. I guess one of the first things that we learn on a PhD is to gather as much information from several sources before coming to our own conclusions.

5 reasons to be excited for your PhD viva

The PhD is not a linear experience, and getting to know your subject and be comfortable with your results takes time. Some days you might feel really excited about the results and think you understand, then be faced with a complex question that you can’t answer. And then the entire project seems to collapse and those exciting new results don’t seem so great anymore. 

130 Degrees of Freedom

We all must travel at some point in our lives.  Whether that is short distance to and from school or work, or long distance like going on holiday.  In fact, migration has been an important part of human evolution and enabled the spreading of genes—the principle of genetics.   But travel, in which ever context, takes careful planning and assessment.  While travel may pose some risks, the results are rewarding.  Much like species that risk everything at a chance to mate, opening our travel networks, ensures the well-being and survival of our species.  

3 min Thesis

Explaining our PhD research is as essential as conducting the research in the first place. And it’s already difficult to explain the research to other scientists in the field, but to present it to a non-science audience, in 3 minutes, now that’s the actual challenge!  

It’s training us to make fast and quick impact points.  But, training us for what exactly?  It’s like pitching a business idea to a panel who will interview hundreds in a day. The real question is how to be unique and credible  in 3 minutes.  What’s the real message that we are trying to say about science?

Improving crop production

What’s C4 photosynthesis?

Energy conversion in eukaryotes is strictly regulated.  In C4 plants, solar energy is converted to chemical energy, driving the carbon fixation engine of C4 photosynthesis—a complex network of finely tuned biochemical reactions, tightly regulated transport networks and underlying regulatory mechanisms [1].  It evolved from the classical C3 pathway, which solely uses ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (Rubisco) as the primary carboxylase for CO2 fixation [2].  During C4 photosynthesis (Fig. 1), CO2 is initially fixed by phosphoenolpyruvate carboxylase (PEPC) in mesophyll cells producing a four-carbon compound that is subsequently transported and decarboxylated in bundle sheath cells, concentrating CO2 around Rubisco, thus maintaining a favourable concentration of CO2 for suppressing rates of photorespiration [3]

Spoken Art

The Challenge Episode 1 “Blinded Science”

Often times, we don’t get a chance to explain ourselves.  Ironically, when we do get ample time to explain ourselves, we don’t exactly know when to stop.  I know, I often run into those moments when my partner in conversation is grinning at me, with a look of confusion on their face.  Or when explaining an idea to a colleague, that I should have rehearsed beforehand, but thought I could explain it well.  When asked by a job interviewer “why do you want to work here”, those unprepared  would have a hard time finding an answer to such a broad question.  Even if prepared, getting all the thoughts together, so to sound natural, can be as difficult.  

But what if you weren’t allowed to speak naturally?  Anyone who has presented their research or interests to somebody with no prior knowledge about it, has surely wondered how much detail should be said or just talked until the other person started to think about anything else but what is being explained.   Surely, as scientists, as good presenters, we know that not everyone will have the same training or background for a particular subject.  Therefore, to get our word across, we must adapt to our audience.  

Here, we take this concept and make it even tougher–skip the intermediates and head to the extremes.  An extreme that our early ancestors may have called normal, thousands of years ago–back when hunting patterns or observations were recorded on cave walls.   We always like sharing an experience, they make great stories, great conversations.  But most importantly, experiences serve as small sticky notes for learning about the challenges that life may bring.  We have some of the most unique ways of communicating with each other, with varying degrees of complexity.  We live in a world where we can communicate via wired and wireless connections.  I don’t remember when the message in a bottle trend died out, but we have come a long way, that it’s almost as if we don’t appreciate the skills that were essential in the past.   The patience of writing a letter by hand or on an error-prone typewriter, to waiting days, some times months for a reply, when now it takes seconds to communicate with a friend half-way across the world.  Sure, we have other worries like the unforgiving ‘Seen’ at the bottom of the message.  We can simply correlate our ability to communicate better because we have more advanced resources of communication today, than we had in the past.   And we hope that these resources will develop as time passes. 

So the question is:  are the skills of our ancestors still within us or have we relied too much on our ability to express ourselves through writing or speech?   Or are these skills no longer needed?

Watch what happens when we ask an invited Guest speaker to present hiswork without the use of technology.  Things get interesting when we tell him that he is not allowed to say anything related to his project.  

Our first challenge tests the ability to present scientific research without the use of technology or relying on speech to communicate research information.  The video itself is unscripted and we try our best in guessing what our Guest speaker does in the lab.  The video was filmed in a noisy hotel lobby, which made communication and general comfort difficult, however our scientist performed extremely well, considering he had no time to prepare for this challenge.  This goes to show that although we may be die-hard fans of technology and chatter, we can still communicate, and others can get the picture, in a manner of speaking.  

The Wasp’s Dismay.

Do you ever the feeling that you’re being watched?  Judged?  Isn’t that what we scientists do most of the time?  We selfishly study areas that intrigue us, searching for new problems and explanations so that we feel that we reach understanding.   We take a living thing, like a plant or a cute rodent, and destroy it; break cells open so that we can study what’s inside.   We play with reason and rationale to justify our methods, and for what?  To write a paper that may or may not be published?   To build libraries of information which are never reviewed? 

Shaping the Future

There is a special relationship between art and technology that has impacted the way that we live, think and envision what the future may bring. Pioneer science fiction writers such as Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and Isaac Asimov, to name a few, introduced ideas that were well beyond their time, fuelled by their experience, passion for science and ability to artistically link fact to fiction. Although science fiction writers often paint scenarios that go beyond the reachable scope of science in a given era, their works are written like dreams of scientific capabilities and adventures. Film adaptations bring these novels to life and artistic interpretation takes the fiction into a new dimension.

The prize-tag of science.

As students, we are constantly being tested.  We can be assessed by the way we approach a task, complete a task or report the information we have gained from a study.  Our hard work is rewarded by high marks, but sometimes it’s also about the reward of completing the assignment.   Institutions, universities and companies need a measurement that indicates how competent a candidate research student, academic researcher or potential employee is for a given position.   As a scientist, we are also being assessed, but in a different way.  While we are given more freedom in our research and how we get to answer a research question, we are expected to be able to present our data to an audience and make the effort to ensure that the research will move on forward, be funded and go beyond what was originally planned.   At the core of it, it’s ticking boxes of small accomplishments during the duration of a long term project and providing sufficient evidence of progress being made.  We aren’t necessarily being graded, but instead pushed forward by supervisors, the university or our own uninhibited desire to do more research.   

Watch Dogs: behind the game

In today’s day and age technology is all around us.  We depend on it for our work, communication, transportation and health among other things.  From the first computer that filled up a single room, technology has stretched through our lives such that we would have several pieces of tech around the house, on our desks, nightstands, kitchens and even bathrooms.  For most of us, the use of technology is key in our work, we use it create documents, presentations, keep in contact with colleagues and store information.  The transport of information has increased as the number of personal computers and the use of them increased.  We know about the risks of viruses that jump around from infected computers to healthy computers and protect our devices by using anti-malware software.  We protect our technology with passwords when we can and that is practically it.  

Pursuing a career in science.

Communicating science amongst researchers and university students is something that we are aiming to improve.  But there is another age group that we must not forget.  Anyone who has taken biology during early school years can remember how different it was from any other class, that is if you allow me to not call physical education or lunch, a class.  Sometimes even referred to as the fun class, or is it just me?   Well anyway, the reason why I recall it being more fun than another subject was because of the opportunities to do hands-on experimental work.  Not every school has a Large Hadron-Collider to aid in the teaching of physics and young children and volatile chemicals don’t mix well—literally.  But never mind these extreme cases; biology had the fairest range of experiments that were safe, fun and interesting.  

The future of science communication.

Every story needs a beginning, but I am not sure where my story begins. I guess we can trace it back to my early days when I was diagnosed with a case of attention deficit disorder, after showing interest in several toys during a psychological assessment. A toy was given to me every five minutes and apparently it would have been normal to finish playing with one toy before moving on to the next.  I have always argued that if the doctor handed me a toy to look at, I would look at it, regardless if I already had one to play with.  I felt that they rushed their diagnosis and defined me into a category.