Bang, bang, the mighty fall

I never got it, why is that household cleaning stuff called Cillit Bang, when does a bang ever come into degreasing your BBQ unless you’re smoking and forget to close the gas off? And, what’s a Cillit, anyway.

But, here’s a thing. They also make a product for getting rid of black mould, you know the kind that forms around condensation-ridden window frames and such. The mould Aspergillus niger, produces carcinogenic aflatoxins and is the reason it’s hard to buy brazil nuts in their shells these days and why you should buy decent bird food for you garden feeders. Anyway, a black spray bottle of the stuff arrived with our latest supermarket delivery (more efficient in terms of fuel use for all of us to have home delivery than each drive to the supermarket, by the way). And, I used said spray yesterday on our bedroom window frames; you may recall me mentioning it as a procrastination exercise. It stinks like swimming pool showers as the hypochlorite reacts with organic compounds on your skin to form volatile chlorophenols and other substances.


Anyway, therein lies the rub…this Cillit Bang spray bottle was quite expensive (4 quid a litre, I think it works out at) but all it seems to contain is a sodium hypochlorite solution, 2.6g per 100g, non-ioinc surfactants (basically soap) and some wholly pointless “perfume” (see shower scene above). Contrast that with the bottle of household bleach under the sink, 50p a litre and contains 4.5g of hypochlorite per 100g of solution and that soapy stuff but no eau de parfum.

Bottom line, the Cillit Bang stuff isn’t even as strong as the cheap household bleach we use to disinfect the toilet and make cheap tyedye shirts. You’re paying for the spraygun and the brand, I reckon. The conclusion is obvious for next time we need to de-mould the window frames, isn’t it? But, I would recommend wearing goggles and gloves and old clothes you don’t mind getting full of holes when you’re scrubbing mould off with bleach and an old toothbrush, I’ve got an ancient tyedye teeshirt somewhere you can borrow that…

Could yoga cure your asthma?

The headline is obviously a QTWTAIN, a question to which the answer is no, but there may be some benefits to yoga practice in terms of improving lung function in asthmatics, according to evidence from a new Cochrane review, possibly. The organisation’s Head of Communications and External Affairs, Julie Wood, who usually prefers to stay behind the scenes, recently stepped out from behind the curtain to write about this latest review and her own experience with asthma.


Curiously, Wood’s journey with asthma seems to mirror my own experience. Started running again in early twenties, couldn’t breathe by the end of it, diagnosed with exercise-induced bronchospasm and prescribed inhalers, symptoms emerged with other triggers, prescribed more inhalers. Don’t really want to be taking inhalers, looked for another option.

Fundamentally, however, yoga is not a panacea, it might be a useful form of exercise/stretching/relaxation for various reasons, but it’s not going to fix what ails you when it comes to bronchoconstriction and pulmonary mucus accumulation, whether that’s exercise, cold, pollen, dust, stress induced, or whatever.

In her blog post for Cochrane, Wood says:

“According to the evidence published today in the Cochrane Review, the strength of the evidence isn’t at a point where we can definitively say whether it does help people with their asthma, but the initial signs are promising.”

The NHS Choices publication “Behind the Headlines” which takes great care to critique in detail the medical headlines assesses the Cochrane systematic review of yoga-asthma research and says it was well conducted and seemed to find that “yoga may improve quality of life”, but points out that “this could be the case if you take part in many types of physical activity, not just yoga. There was no comparison with other forms of exercise.”

The NHS conclusion from its analysis of the Cochrane review is that it:

“does not produce conclusive evidence that yoga would be beneficial to people with asthma, and any negative effects were not investigated.”

For me, I’ll keep taking my meds as and when and following the medical advice from the “asthma nurse” I see once a year. I’ve tried yoga myseld and indeed still practice a little (Mrs Sciencebase is a yoga teacher, after all), but I cannot say that it does anything for my asthma, but neither does singing or anything else except the Salbutamol…

My cloud is your cloud

For all our concerns about Facebook, privacy, oversharing, its psychological effects, the tripling of its ad revenues in Q1 of 2016, we all still use it activity (well 1 in 7 of the world does, at least). One of the features a lot of people are irritated by is the “memories” feature that reminds you what you posted on a given day in the past. Usually, it’s a photo you snapped or a now irrelevant update, but today, there was a picture of sea thrift I’d shot 4 years ago and an update about a blog post I wrote six years ago on peer-to-peer file storage, not file sharing, storage…


Now, journalists are often criticised for not following up on news stories, so when this popped up on Facebook I thought I’d take a look to see if there were anything fresh. And, of course, there is. I knew there was P2P cloud backup has been around for a while, there was probably something on offer at the time of my original blog, but certainly more now. It gives you a distributed way to host your files that is putatively more bandwidth efficient than simply storing everything in one place on DropBox or the (as of 1st May) defunct (b*st*rds, I had 365 gigabytes of accumulated free storage on that site).

So, here are a few P2P cloud storage/backup services that appeared in a very quick search. I haven’t checked them out personally yet but do take a look and let me know if you think they’re worthy:

Pablo Valerio reckons P2P cloud storage has several advantages for individual users (although doesn’t seem to recommend it for corporations):

“Data is stored and replicated in multiple locations and different countries, but divided into smaller pieces. This ensures data integrity while making it difficult for hackers to obtain a copy of the entire file,” he says. “The ability to download data from several sources simultaneously increases network speed,” Valerio adds, a point to which I alluded above. He also points out that, “International users get better performance by accessing data from locations in different regions.” The key benefit, however, is consistency and presumably privacy: “It is more reliable because no single location stores the entire file, and no single company is responsible for it. Even if the provider (or tracker) stops working it will still be possible to retrieve the information.”

Sing what needs to be sung

“Sing what needs to be sung, nothing more, nothing less” — 雷竞技官网


“Nowadays, what isn’t worth saying is sung” — Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, The Barber of Seville

“Anything worth thinking about is worth singing about” — Bob Dylan, Singer-songwriter of Minnesota

“The key to longevity is to learn every aspect of music that you can” — Prince, Another singer-songwriter of Minnesota

“How strange when an illusion dies. It’s as though you’ve lost a child” — Judy Garland Actor-singer of Minnesota


The audio format that needs no login, password or app and for which your ears will thank you forever

Yesterday there was yet another hacking scare. Rumours went around that users of the popular music streaming site, Spotify, were seeing tracks they weren’t expecting, their playlists were skewed and other problems arose. Security bloggers suggested we all change our passwords immediately as a precaution (it’s a good idea to refresh passwords from time to time, anyway). Spotify is denying a breach although a data dump that looks suspiciously like Spotify usernames, passwords and personal details turned up online, according to Mashable.

Anyway, I alerted my Facebook and Twitter crowd as soon as I heard, again, it’s sensible to refresh passwords and this was a better safe than sorry situation at the time whether or not it eventually turns out that Spotify had a data breach.


One wag on my Facebook page, however, gave me a laugh this morning, pointing out that she has asbolutely no intention of changing any passwords because her whole music collection is on vinyl. Hah! She can keep her crackles and pops though and I do wonder how she manages to take his music with him when he travels…or…maybe…just maybe…she doesn’t need to and is quite content to absorb the acoustic atmosphere of the places she visits without blocking it all out with noise-cancelling earbuds and the latest Bowie tribute/Beyonce soft drink/Miles Davis soundtrack…or whatever.


It would be a very Zen moment, wouldn’t it, if we all went back to unblocking our ears, as we did for the 99.999% of human history before the invention of the Sony Walkman.

Hand it to Adrian Berry RIP

Rather sad to hear of the death of Adrian Berry aged 78. Adrian, aka the 4th Viscount Camrose, was a member of the Berry family that owned The Daily Telegraph for 60 years. He was the paper’s infectiously enthusiastic science correspondent from 1977 to 1997. If I remember rightly, I met him first in Southampton at the BA meeting the year I was the BA-DT’s Young Science Writer of the Year and again at the AAAS meeting in Boston the following February (attending both events was all part of the prize and a great kickstarter for a freelance science writing career to be sure).


My new wife came with me to Boston on that trip, we having been married late in the previous year and so travelling with an out-of-date, but unexpired, passport and our wedding certificate, it was touch and go whether they’d let us in. We stayed at the Sheraton with a supersized double room overlooking the Scientology building. We suffered the minus 18 Celsius outside and gloriously sunny winter weather and trotted between lectures, breaks, ice sculpture displays, architecture and eateries, chaperoning the junior young science writer Catherine along the while.

My wife and I ate at a pasta place one night where they wouldn’t let you leave without a doggy bag, which I gave to a homeless guy who spoke to us as we left. But, it was another evening meal that had a more lasting effect on my science writing. Adrian took us all to what we thought was an incredibly upmarket lobster restaurant, and it probably was, thankfully he got the tab. It was great fun, what a raconteur full of science and with a lesson to teach.

We got on to the subject of chemistry, as you do, and he suggested, if I recall correctly, that it was always going to be difficult to get chemistry stories into the papers (tell me about it, although I had a few successes with the Telegraph (HT Roger Highfield) and was a regular in The Guardian science section throughout the 1990s HT Tim Radford). The problem as he saw it was partly the esoteric jargon and partly because its image at the time (has that changed?). Anyway, I was on the hot topic of chirality and how it had arisen in nature in only one form, amino acids, DNA, proteins blah, blah, balh. Adrian stopped me mid-sentence, “What’s chirality?” he asked. “Oh,” I said, “handedness”. “Righto, you could just use that word instead, then.”

Hah! He was right, although in the piece I did for the Telegraph at the time, I did include the jargon term, but only as an aside, “handedness” it was, all the ay. Got to hand it to him, he improved my writing with a single question. So long and thanks for all the lobster.

Good Mourning

People die. Some of them are famous. Some of them die young, too young we often say, suggesting that they had so much more to give so much more life to live. Old people die, often they’ve had a good innings, we suggest, and we cite their achievements and characteristics. In fact, about 152000 people die every day from old age, from disease, murdered, caught up in natural and non-natural disasters, war, terrorism, famine, drought, pestilence, accidents of innumerable kinds. Little will make us feel better about death.

People are cruel. Some of them are famous. Some of them are cruel about people who die young, good riddance, they often say. Some of them are cruel about old people who die, good riddance, they suggest again, and lambast those who cite the achievements of the deceased. None of their cruelty makes us feel better about death.


If you lose someone, family, friend, favourite and admired popstar/actor/scientist/artist, unknown soldier, anonymous victim of war and terrorism, whoever, it hurts. It hurts. People mourn those deaths, it’s cathartic, although it doesn’t bring anyone back. We mourn together and celebrate lives it makes us feel a little bit better and thankful that those left behind are still here.

Whether or not you think we should or shouldn’t be mourning Bowie, Prince, Lemmy, Cilla, Terry, Victoria, Terry (that one), Keith, Merle, Alan, Cliff (not that one), David (that one), George, Glenn, Billy, Papa, Harper, Gary, Phife, Maurice, Natalie, Paul, Ronnie, Zaha, Leslie etc etc, leave us to it. This is a grave matter. Pictured, the graveyard at St Peter and St Paul’s in Aldeburgh, final resting place of Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears, Imogen Holst, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Joan Cross and many others.

Trolls RIP.

Levees, dikes and embankments

In Separated by a Common Language, Lynne Murphy, aka Lynne Guist, discusses the commonality and occasional lack thereof between British English and American English (which, funnily enough, was the topic of my very first publicly published piece in a company newsletter back in early 1989).
In Lynne’s latest post she discusses the differences between a levee, a dike and an embankment, and whether or not Amercuns or Brits are prudish about using the term dike (Neither faction is as far as I know).
Personally, I can’t say I’ve ever referred to the dikes here in The Cambridgeshire Fens (and there are lots of dikes around here, most of them Dutch), as embankments and definitely not levees. Other than those of us living in the Fens, I don’t think many Brits think about dikes in that way at all…
Here’s an important point though, some Brits of a certain age may know the word levee, from the Led Zeppelin version of the 1929 Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie blues number When the Levee Breaks although when I was a kid listening to Four Symbols, I assumed they were singing about some kind of pier (not a wharf, not a jetty, and definitely not an embankment) rather than a raised strip of Earth to protect a place from the river flooding or the tide turning.
And, therein is the etymology of levee (common in New Orleans, of course) It’s simply from the French terre levée, meaning elevated earth, raised ground, in other words. So, when talking of levees one is really just saying raised or elevated without actually qualifying what it is that is being raised. Embankment on the other hand comes from “to enclose with a bank”, as in river bank, nothing more nothing less. Dike derives not too circuititously from old English for ditch, dic. Middle Dutch dijc meaning mound, dam, pool, or dam and German Deich meaning embankment.

There is a little confusion that persists (as you can see in that etymology) as to whether referring to the dikes that help keep The Fens dry means the ditches full of water or the embankments that form the sides of the ditches and elevate the earth. Maybe we should all stick with the full French phrase to avoid confusion.

Now, don’t get me started on lodes and droves…

More musical icons for the smartphone generation

UPDATE: “looking for treble”, “all about the bass”, “it’s a sign”, “big mouth” now all available as various types of print, as greetings cards, throw pillows (scatter cushions), phone covers, duvet covers, and shower curtains from the sciencebase FineArt site. Others to follow. Please put in a request for your favourite.sciencebase-musical-icons

The original two sets I did can be found on my Imaging Storm site. I reckon these would be perfect for beermats, mugs, fridge magnets, teeshirts, cushion covers and much more as gifts and giveaways for the muso in your life. Let me know if you’d like high-res versions to print, I can also edit them to include your logo and link