WordPress is changing. Is this the end to blogging?

A few days ago, I noticed that WordPress had simplified their pricing plans. Suddenly, and without warning, all the websites I managed became Legacy plans. I only discovered this as my renewal date was approaching and wanted to downgrade to a Premium plan for better value. This gave me almost all features available on the Business plan, without SEO integration and mediocre storage allowance down from 200 GB to 13 GB. Back in 2019, the Business plan met our company goal to offer online classes; it offered using plugins, custom CSS, accepting payments, removing WordPress branding and run APIs (JavaScript). But, we want our services to reflect our customer demand, and without demand for any of the premium features, the Business plan, at £20 per month, offered low value to me.  

Legacy plans at WordPress which are no longer available to new users.

Blogging has been at the centre of WordPress for decades, and having several content centric websites, WordPress is the first choice for myself and many other hobbyist bloggers. However, the proposed changes ruin the fundamental choice of using WordPress as my hosting site. New plans come in two tiers, 1) a free plan, which lacks all features including a custom domain and 2) a Pro paid plan at £15 per month, which is basically the same as the now legacy Business plan. If we take these two plans out of context and compare them, the value of features included in the paid plan is fair, if there were only these two choices. But in itself, it offers to me no reason why to choose WordPress, the value gap between Free and Pro is far too great to fit into the requirements of a blogging website and with competitive pricing to that of other hosts, I am more likely to go and search the market for the option that meets my minimum requirements at best value. Compared to other hosting websites, however, £15 is pushing it with cost, and very likely competing with Squarespace. And yet, it is not, because at £10 Squarespace starts offering SEO integration. So, let’s then assume that WordPress carries a premium cost of £5 to any other service at this standard, features that is not upselling like professional email (of which is only 3 months free) or any kind of marketing vouchers that Squarespace or Wix offers in paid plans. Instead, it may be that the WordPress engine is enough for its increased value to its competitors. It is an assertion that WordPress alone offers the better capabilities for managing written content.

And this is true having managed a site on Squarespace, it is very difficult to think of it as a medium to share written content. In my mind, Squarespace serves a different customer, one that wants to put a store front and sell items. Additionally, there’s Wix, which offers somewhat of a middle ground between WordPress and Squarespace, and yet the user interface is not made to create from blank ideas. It is also more fairly priced for starters covering somewhere what legacy WordPress plans used to offer. And that being said, WordPress then did not consider itself as having an advantage towards written content nor adding a price hike for that matter; in fact, pricing plans were lower than that offered by Wix. By no means am I a design wizard, but to begin creating webpages on WordPress was always easier than creating webpages on Wix or Squarespace. Both these websites feel like they sell content whereas WordPress always felt like it shared content. 

Current WordPress plans.

Compared to what WordPress is now calling “legacy” plans, the new plans offer very poor value in my opinion, if you have been a customer blogging on WordPress before the changes. Without an in between option, hobbyists like myself are finding it difficult to choose between staying on WordPress legacy plans until they end (we don’t know how long we can stay on legacy plans) or upgrading to the paid Pro plan. There is also switching to another host, but that may not be the best option to those who have spent years adding content to their WordPress sites. Now, I think most people’s choice will be heavily based on value and available finances, but even if individuals have money to spend on their hobby, the choice to make these changes without any form of communication has struck badly with several people. One particular point of interest is the reduction of storage allowance on the free plan (originally 3 GB), which became 500 MB then 1 GB after receiving backslash. On forums, WordPress promises to follow up the plans with community feedback, but they didn’t ask for feedback until users started complaining. This to me shows that they weren’t thinking about existing users when they made those changes. In fact, official language regarding the matter suggest the changes were made to make the WordPress product more accessible to people globally, which suggests again their attention has turned to customer acquisition rather than customer satisfaction. 

Ads still running offer plans that no longer exist. Has WordPress rushed into a decision?

Personally, without an official statement sent to my inbox before the changes were applied is a failure in policy. Secondly, while the Pro plan is good value on its own solely based on features (maybe except for the storage allowance), it is not for my business accounts; and in fact, for £5 less per month, I forfeit 75% of storage allowance. Speaking to a customer support member, they recommended I buy a Pro plan because I use plugins. But these plugins are the ones included with the Business plan! Talk about understanding the customer. For personal plans were I spend £2.50 or £5.50 per month, for the power to write content using a custom domain, there is very little value to me using a plan that starts at more than twice the amount of the latter per month. And a free option is way too limited for my use case, which essentially locks me out of any new plans and features that would help build a brand. WordPress has hinted a being able to purchase features a la carte, but I can only imagine an invoicing nightmare for this. Finally, it’s a matter of service. I have noticed Javascript that has stopped working on my company website and mobile site optimisation is simply terrible. For me, WordPress has struggled to fit into the modern day of content creation; perhaps its new plans reflect that and its drive towards more commerce websites.

The new plans have ruined the experience for me, and now I have to think about the future of Pressure Ink. Maybe it’s time again to move to a new home. What do you think? Are these new plans fair? 

Unlocking the secrets of chemotherapy

Introduction

I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2021, following complications with a renal transplant. In early transplantation patients (kidney, pancreas, heart, lungs, etc.) being on immunosuppression means maintaining organ function—also referred to as graft function. However, having an immune system that is suppressed means that common viruses or bacteria can lead to infections. One of these viruses is Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV), named after the scientists who were first to isolate and study it. EBV is very common in the population, with about 95% people having been exposed to it. Usually spread through contact with saliva, and affectionately named the “kissing virus”, it spreads amounts young people, thus leading to the majority of adults with EBV DNA left in cells. In healthy functioning immune systems, EBV remains controlled, but in patients with compromised immune responses, the virus can reactivate. I did not have EBV exposure as adolescent, probably one of the disadvantages of not liking human contact, which means that my immune system did not create antibodies for EBV management.

In most cases however, EBV reactivation causes mononucleosis, typically with tonsillitis or similar symptoms, fevers, night sweats and swollen lymph nodes, to name a few. EBV infects lymphocyte B-cells (a specific type of white blood cell) in the immune system. In few cases, EBV will cause changes to B-cell DNA, which alters the way how these cells are regulated and replicated. Typically, lymphocytes are produced in the bone marrow, which in some cancers is where the issue is. However, in my case, EBV-infected B-cells induce their rapid proliferation (multiply rapidly), with symptoms resembling those of primary EBV infection. The condition is appropriately named Post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorders, as it affects the lymph system (where the immune cells are) and is characterised by the uncontrolled and abnormal growth of immune cells (T- or B-cells).

What is chemotherapy?

So how do you target these abnormal cells? Chemotherapy or immunochemotherapy is a therapeutic treatment aimed to destroy cancer cells, otherwise cells that have been corrupted from the normal function. The term cancer receives several assumed definitions though the media and negative connotations, but as the soon as we accept that it refers to our own cells, which are undergoing or have undergone changes induced from lifestyle choices or medications, the quicker we will be to confront it with fewer worries or anxiety and stress. A cancer diagnosis is of course difficult to deal with, as there is the constant worry of life expectancy and change. But, since cancer is effectively a persons’ unique condition, it is difficult to generalise or think one solution in treatment affects everyone equally. Now, there are some great advances in personal medicines, but that’s a topic for another day.

In most cancers, it is best to treat with several anti-cancer drugs. These drugs have a certain function—to kill cancer cells. Another type are immunotherapy medicines, which are not directly cancer-killing, thus not chemotherapy. Instead, these assist healthy immune cells and guide them to specific cells using antibodies. Antibodies act as tags that are made to bind to target cells and guide the immune response. Think of it as cleaning process, the cytotoxic drugs first sweep indiscriminately, while the immunotherapy ensures that the system remains clean for a longer time. This is a matter of days for the chemo drugs, while some immunotherapy drugs can remain in the system for months, but again, this depends on the drug, the dose and the patient. And it’s really a a cocktail of beauty, with fundamental biology being used against the body, for a good cause.

Why do we feel the way we do after chemotherapy?

Well, it’s difficult to summarise this from the patient view, because again, everyone is different and thus will react differently. But it’s fascinating when we look at the biology. Let’s look at a common lymphoma therapy called R-CHOP. This is a immunochemotherapy, which uses five drugs to combat the blood cancer. Most of these chemo drugs target DNA replication while cells are dividing, either by binding to DNA-replication components, which is useful because high-grade lymphoma characteristically is fast-dividing. But, there are several other cells in the body that divide rapidly, for instance hair bud cells (why some patients lose some or all hair), skin cells (why protection from UV is important) and digestion system cells (including mouth, stomach and intestine). Some patients report that chemo drugs have a smell or a taste, but in fact that is the body being more receptive to different smells and tastes because the normal canvas of cells that line these organs has changed. And it’s very disruptive when it comes to patient mental health, as the entry ways to food, one of life’s comforts, becomes altered. But I believe by understanding the mechanisms of action of these drugs, we can take a proactive approach to managing their side effects. Bear in mind that I reflect on this based on my personal experience and training as a biochemist, so by no means are these effective treatments and while I recommend taking some of the measures to manage chemotherapy symptoms, I encourage all patients to keep communication with their oncology/haematologist consultants or general doctors and nurses.

Unlocking the secret

The following sections are tips and tricks that I have found to be helpful while receiving chemotherapy. These include my own observations and understanding of human metabolism to activities that can be done to alleviate the side-effects. Bear in mind that there will be individuals who may feel differently than others, so this list is not exhaustive, but intended to help guide your own observations when leading a healthy lifestyle.

Lifestyle

Feeling Tired

The first on the list is all about lifestyle and what to expect. Let’s tackle it right away: we will feel tired, exhausted, drained, fatigued, emotional, and desperate. All these are well identified with varying degree amongst individuals and perfectly normal to experience. Some people may feel these for the short-term, while others will experience these symptoms for longer times. It is best to use your own limitations and observations as guiding points when dealing with your condition, and while it may be good to look for help from others, remember that it’s your body to look after first. For feeling tired, it’s about moderation. Do things that you want when you feel capable of doing them. If you feel distressed, take time off and practice breathing exercises, listen to music, walk around, maybe get some fresh air. Cooler air has more oxygen available, so make use of those early mornings or cooler evenings. Though remember to keep warm!

Mouth Hygiene

Mouth hygiene also important here, as I think the main reason why we get so frustrated is because of the immediate effects that comes from chemotherapy. I experience sickness and nausea at each cycle, which slowly goes away in the days after. A good tip I received from a medical doctor was to rinse the mouth every hour with some water—doesn’t have to be with mouthwash or toothpaste. A quick rinse helps to discard loose foods and saliva. Washing the teeth every time after a meal is also very good as it helps against mouth soreness. This is because mouth bacteria may have the chance to replicate more when the body is undergoing changes due to thinning of the mouth lining and being immunosuppressed. The first cycle I didn’t have this bit of advice, and I resulted in having very dry mouth with painful soreness around the saliva glands (in the cheeks). However, it is best to wait at leat 30 minutes before brushing after meal, this is at least some time for the mouth bacteria to do their jobs. In addition, mouthwash is a great tool, but try to find some that are zero-alcohol. Toothpaste is also very important in choice; some people are sensitive to sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which is common in most toothpastes. When my mouth is sensitive, I find that this chemical adds to the soreness. I now choose toothpastes that don’t have this, albeit sometimes more expensive (I use Sensodyne Tooth Repair), it helps with overall mouth hygiene while not causing any pain. Keep the entryway for food in good order and you will see differences in the quality of eating. Also keep your toothbrush clean and aim to change it every 3 months.

Protection from the sun

Skin cells are very delicate during treatment, so make sure you wear sun protection when going outside. But make sure the skin remains hydrated, so a good moisturiser should also help you keep the sensitive skin healthy. Also, don’t forget about the hands, especially during the winter months. While this may be more likely to be talked about in relation to preventing skin complications, it is also about preventing cuts to the skin, which can cause pathogens to enter the bloodstream. Some soaps can make hands feel worse, so I always recommend sensitive skin alternatives, such as Dermol 500 Lotion (hand wash soap substitute) or Epaderm ointment which can be used to moisturise the skin. It’s also worth keeping an eye out for sensitive skin and consulting with your doctors.

Exercise and Movement

It’s important to keep active, whether this is slow walking or doing some work on the side. This is to help overall body function and keep all organs oxygenated. But don’t over do it, its important to measure how much you are capable of doing. Talk with your doctor about your intentions before working out an exercise plan.

Diet and Nutrition

It is vital to keep a healthy diet, but a few treats every cycle are okay. However, I would recommend any takeaway or fast-foods to be avoided until after your first blood screening during the cycle. This is because it will indicate how many white blood cells are in your system. Not enough white blood cells may cause digestion problems, especially since healthy gut bacteria may struggle to be controlled and increase in number, which then can lead to infections. This can in turn result in upset from eating foods from the outside, or those that may be more difficult to digest because of greater content of protein, fats and oils, and carbohydrates. Food hygiene is also somewhat of a concern when eating from the outside, but any restaurant should pass a health screening by the government (this is UK standards, and you should check with the standards in your country), so check the restaurant websites. Street food on this note should be avoided, even if you feel well enough. Again though, common sense plays a role here, and having cancer or receiving treatment shouldn’t stop you from doing what you like. But remember to give your body time to recover.

Antioxidants & Vitamin C

Antioxidants help against free radicals. Free radicals are atoms that have a unpaired electrons making them highly chemically reactive. Imagine these as free mains electricity wires that have running energy through them and are not connected to any device. Touching them would give you an electric shock! By ingesting antioxidants, it basically helps to neutralise these free radicals, which in turn cannot damage other molecules. Try blueberries, these have the greatest content of antioxidants.

Avoiding high acidity foods is good when the mouth is sensitive, but giving a few fruits ago might even help to stimulate saliva production and you don’t need to use artificial saliva sprays, which taste awful. Oranges, raspberries, blackberries, limes, apples, pineapples are all good choices, but make sure you can eat them as well. There’s also a wide variety of vegetables that can help such as broccoli or cauliflower. This is a long term solution though to keep a healthy body, and be patient with the results.

Too healthy for you? Try pastries with fruits, no problem. Remember that is about body, mind and self-satisfaction. These are the key concepts to accept when having chemotherapy.

Hydration

Keep well hydrated, this helps your cells be functional and keep your body healthy while taking all medicines during chemotherapy.

Sugar Intake

There is some confusion out there that sugar keeps cancer cells alive, but this is from the concept that cancer cells are very metabolically active, through the consumption of sugars in the body (glucose). This is because instead of sugars metabolised to go into cellular respiration (glycolysis) and production of metabolites, in some cases this process is bypassed and sugar is broken down to create lactate (one of the indicators of cancer function in aerobic and anaerobic environments; this is known as the Warburg Effect). I personally don’t believe that this is something to worry about directly, but sugar intake is important to control. This is because som cancer treatments increase blood sugar (this is sugar available in the bloodstream), which can lead to complications with diabetes. So important to note, but not something that should cause concern or immediate worry. Again, discuss with your medical team for advice and instruction.

Living with Cancer

It’s all about balance and knowing your limits. Avoiding public spaces during the first week, as this is the time we can expect that our immune systems are most affected (drop in white blood cells). But again, I don’t want to say much here because it depends on each individual, but regardless of strength in yourself, remember that the body is undergoing changes underneath; some of these can be felt while others may not. This goes with the previous point, and keep taking your medicines even if you don’t feel bad. These either help to calm down the effects of chemotherapy or protect the body against more severe side-effects, such as declining level of white blood cells, which can cause neutropenia (a condition when white blood cells fall below the normal range). Your doctor may prescribe granulocyte-colony stimulating factors (GCSF; I take Filgrastrim), which are injections to help the bone marrow produce more white blood cells. If red blood cells are the concern, from haemoglobin measurements, these injections are called erythropoiesis simulating agents (or ESAs). I haven’t had the latter yet, but the GCSF give me bone pain, especially the pelvic area, where the bone marrow is. Be careful when taking painkillers to alleviate the pain as these can mask the onset of fever. However, these injections can also cause body temperature to increase (based on my own observations and reading of possible side-effects because of the mechanism of action), so it is important to also expect the body to respond to these medicines, as inflammation is also a possible side-effect. A temperature is okay and not to be a worry when the body is under stress, but be mindful that constant increase in temperature (about 37.5 C) is something to report immediately to your health team. Basically, anything that doesn’t feel right should be reported; my intention here however is to outline that there are somethings that are happening that may cause sudden changes in your vital signs, but may not immediately be a cause for concern. It is therefore important to follow your symptoms and learn from them during each cycle.

Conclusion

Living with cancer is something new to me, that is despite all that I have gone through, which includes renal failure, a renal transplant, some smaller surgeries along the way, and first line treatment with immunotherapy. I have several more things to track along my cancer treatment, and have to rely on my own understanding of my body, the feedback I receive from my clinical team and what I learn from others. But at the end, it is about me, it is about us, and what we want to accomplish. It’s about feeling healthy each day, and trying our best to see things in a different view, trying to be happy and leading a life that others to also be part of. I recently lost a good friend to cancer, I met him at the hospital when I was very ill before my cancer diagnosis, and we had a talked about staying strong at each phase of the way. And what I learnt is that cancer is just another part of us. It’s as unique as our own body and mind; and the body may tell us that it is damaged or that is hurts, but the mind that keep us going strong. Cancer care is more mindcare than it is healthcare. And it’s also about respect and understanding of the body. Cancer is as much of life as anything that we do in our lives. It grows with us. It’s part of what forms us. And with treatment and a good outlook in ourselves to get better, it’s at least a chance to live with it. I would like to end this on a more positive note, but with the vast number of people living with cancer and their experience with it being so vast, I do not want to generalise a response to this. I would just say that nothing in essence changes about us, we might all just be a bit more appreciative of life.


Edited on March 13, 2021 7:30 PM BST: Formatting and section reordering.

I gave away my position as leading author in a Nature paper

It’s not secret that publishing is the force that drives most if not all academic research. But in the world of publishing academic work, the opinions of those who are at the backbones of these research articles are rarely discussed. So, why did I give away my position as first author in a manuscript? I will try to address this here, whilst briefly explaining the the behind the scenes to academic research.

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.