Adrian's Writing Blog

news, articles and reviews

Diet changes, gut flora and bowel cancer

vegetarian

A few months ago, I wrote a blog article about the excellent Forks over Knives documentary. The documentary made a fascinating and convincing case for the connection between major illnesses and a diet high in animal proteins. As a follow-on from that entry, I thought I’d mention a new article in this week’s New Scientist magazine. It reports on some very interesting new research. To quote:

Switching to a diet based exclusively on animals or plants triggers rapid changes to the microbes that rule your gut. This knowledge could help fine-tune diets to improve health, as well as reduce the risk of illnesses like inflammatory bowel disease.

Read More...

Giro Cycles cafe in Esher

As readers may have already noticed from my earlier blogs, I am a keen cyclist and I’ve really enjoyed the arrival of a very good cycling cafe in Esher, Surrey, UK, called Giro Cycles. Read More...

The first Hobbit movie broke the Law of Fantasy

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The new Hobbit movie, the second in the trilogy called ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ is due out soon in London. I am a big Tolkien fan and I adored ‘The Lord of the Rings’, particularly the DVD version with its longer and more authentic cut. But I’m not looking forward to this second movie in the Hobbit trilogy. I did watch the first instalment in the trilogy last year, at the cinema, with popcorn, but something went badly wrong in that movie, something awful. They made an impossible fantasy movie. Read More...

Five places I've almost been killed while cycling

There’s been a lot of talk this week about cycling deaths in London. Our mayor, Boris Johnson, responded to the news by seeming to imply that the deaths were due to cyclists using the roads in a reckless or dangerous manner; in other words, it was probably their own fault they had been killed. This viewpoint is, unfortunately, shared by many other non-cycling Londoners. This mentality can be seen in the recent case of a man in Scotland who was only banned from driving for five years after he killed a cyclist, even though it was the second cyclist he’d killed.

In the hierarchy of respect in this country, I wonder sometimes if cyclists are viewed by society as somewhere around the level of a horse. Actually, even that might be optimistic, I’d be fascinated to read the reports of the public reaction to someone killing two horses and see how they compare. A year-or-so ago, I found out that even though Teddy Bears are more dangerous than cyclists, a Tory MP tried to enact a new law, specifically to punish dangerous cyclists.

To try and help change the view that cyclists’ deaths are mostly their own fault, I’ve put together my top five place in London where I was almost killed even though I was doing everything right. In every case, I was cycling responsibly, stopping at the lights, giving appropriate hand signals, staying in lane, carrying bright lights if it was dark, etc. I wasn’t being foolish, reckless, undertaking, getting in a lorry’s blind-spot, or performing sudden accelerations. I was Mr Responsible. Perhaps, if people read about one cyclist’s experiences, some of them might feel a little more sympathetic towards cyclists and the dangers they face.

Here’s my top five, in no particular order: Read More...

Bound: An outdoor game

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Many years ago, I was on holiday at the seaside and, being an eleven-year-old boy, I was desperate to play some sort of outdoor game. I only had a tennis ball, and so I needed a game that two people could play with only a ball, a flat surface and some marked lines on the ground (ideal for the hard sand of a beach). After some intense cogitation, I thought up the game Bound. I persuaded my family to play it and it worked very well, with lots of fun being had by all.

Rather than let the game disappear into the nebulous mists of time, I thought it would be good to post a full description of the game so that other people can play it and hopefully enjoy it too.

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Evil, Shiny, Trendy, New Eco-Bag

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This week, I’ve been looking for a new laptop bag. I do have two older laptop bags but one’s too small for the new laptop. The other one is a messenger bag with fabric so heavy-duty, it rubs the bejeezuz out of my corduroy jacket when I’m carrying it over-the-shoulder. To avoid my jacket sharing the same fate as a summer shirt that died at the hands of that bag, I though it was time to buy something new.

Being an environmentally minded bloke, as well as an advocate of workers’ rights, I wanted to try and buy something that might tick at least one of those boxes. After browsing the web, I found a bag made from 100% recycled PET plastic from bottles. ‘Hooray!’ I thought, ‘this looks good and is environmentally responsible. I can buy with a sound conscience!’

But after another minute’s thought, I changed my mind. I realised that, for me in England, a recycled-plastic laptop bag made in China is about as environmentally responsible as a solar panel on an oil rig. Read More...

Save the planet for entirely selfish reasons

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Climate Change reached a milestone this year. The atmosphere measuring station in Hawaii recorded a global CO2 value of 400 parts per million. The planet hasn’t had that much CO2 in its atmosphere for millions of years. Typhoon Haiyan has just stormed through the Philippines, the strongest storm ever recorded and recent measurements of the Pacific Ocean show that it has warmed 15 times faster in the last 60 years than at any time in the last ten thousand, which is a bit like sticking your aquarium on top of the radiator.

The fact that the developed world (who are doing nearly all the CO2 generation) are carrying on with their day with minimal attempt to reduce their fossil fuel use, in spite of all the evidence of climate catastrophe, is like passengers on a runaway train checking the lunch menu. People! This train is out of control and heading downhill! We’re all going to die and leave our grandchildren orphaned if we don’t do something! No, I don’t care that the steamed mullet is off this week! Neither do I think it’s spiffing that our increasing speed means you’ll get to the next stop quicker! We’re accelerating towards a hairpin bend and will soon be plunging down a mountainside in a ball of fire and twisted metal! No, I am not being negative! No, we cannot assume the railway company is going to fix the problem in the next quarter of a mile by remote bluetooth diagnostics! We have to do something ourselves! Read More...

Arc Magazine 2.1 is due 22nd Jan 2014

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After quite a long wait and a fair bit of speculation, a date for the next issue of Arc Science Fiction magazine has appeared on the Arc blog. The next issue, entitled ‘Exit Strategies’, should be released on the 22nd January 2014. According to the information I have to hand, my short story ‘The Lost Emotion’ should appear in its pages. If there’s any change to this, I’ll post an update here. Exciting! :-)

02 4G article is now live

sci-fi-news-logo
Just to let everyone know that the thousand word article I wrote for the O2 mobile phone company is now available to read here. It’s part of their eBook collection of articles exploring the benefits of 4G wireless technology for small to medium businesses (SMB’s) and is mentioned on their site here. My article begins by explaining the difficulties of predicting future use of technology (with examples) but then has a stab anyway, focussing in particular on the importance of latency in multimedia communication and its effect of the psychology of those taking part. There’s also some funny sci-fi ideas to make the technology pill easier to swallow. I did enjoy writing the piece; having a technically solid framework and clear remit can really get the creative juices flowing. Enjoy!

Meat-free diet can make your cells younger

new-scientist-cover
This is a follow-on article from my earlier blog post this month about the ‘Forks over Knives’ documentary, a film that I’d strongly recommend people seeing, as it puts forward a fascinating health case for following a diet low in animal proteins.

The New Scientist magazine last week reported on a study by the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California to see if diet and lifestyle could reduce or revert cell-ageing in 10 men in their early sixties with prostate cancer. They were ‘asked to follow a strict healthy-living regime rather than take a course of drugs. They ate a meat-free diet, did exercise and yoga daily and went to weekly group therapies. After five years, the telomeres on a type of white blood cell were 10% longer on average in these men. In contrast, 25 men with the same condition who kept to their usual lifestyles saw the telomeres on these cells shrink by an average of 3% over the same period.’ Read More...

Neil Gaiman on writing (again!)



Here’s a little gem of a YouTube video in which Neil Gaiman talks about writing. He sounds great and the music and footage accompany his words well (I think). He doesn’t mention a couple of his established nuggets of good advice: Firstly that if you want to write, find a room where you can either write or stare out the window. When staring out of the window is your only alternative, writing suddenly becomes much easier. Secondly, write something and finish it, as that makes you more of a professional writer than anything else. It’ll mean that when someone asks you to give them something to read, you’ll have something, rather than excuses. As Woody Allen once said, ‘ninety percent of success is showing up’.

Forks over Knives documentary

knives-over-forks
Forks over Knives’ is an American documentary that explores the effect of reducing the animal protein in a person’s diet and the health benefits that can give. On the face of it, you might think it would be a polemic pushing an ethical eating agenda but, in fact, it has a very different message. Although the contributors to the documentary do discuss animal welfare, the message they impart is about human health. The documentary explains that there is extensive scientific research that shows that a diet that contains more than 10% animal protein carries a large increased risk in cancer. I checked for supporting scientific evidence for such a bold claim and found that there is a lot of evidence supporting that view. Here’s a useful link at the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Read More...

Are we sheep?

sheep
The Lord is my Shepherd. When I was growing up, I heard this a lot. At the time, I thought it was a warm and loving idea; that the Creator of the Universe and Source of Endless Love was watching over me, guiding me, leading the way. Nowadays though, I think it’s an awful idea. We’re not sheep! We’re not dumb herd animals, incapable of living independently, thinking independently. Humanity is made up of intelligent, strong, courageous people who can take a stand and go their own way!… I think.

But is that true? Are we all actually better than sheep? Or are we really weak, herd-like animals that just think we have the qualities of free will, independent thought, compassion, the courage to take a stand, to treat everyone equally, to use power responsibly? To try and answer this, I though I’d gather together a group of famous psychology experiments that delve into such questions. These experiments give a picture of how we actually behave in certain situations, rather than how we’d like to think we behave. With their help, I’ll work through the list of human qualities mentioned above and give a score for each one. The score will be the percentage of people who actually succeeded in showing these positive qualities in controlled situations; It’ll be like a sort of human qualities assessment test. I’ll then tot up the results and see humanity’s score. Off we go... Read More...

Plants influence quantum behaviour

photosynthesis
Photosynthesis is an amazing process, not only how it works but that it works at all. Considering how diffuse sunlight is, and the spread of its light across a broad spectrum, it’s incredible that plants can harvest sunlight’s power to turn carbon dioxide and water into sugars. A few months ago, a very interesting article appeared on the BBC website, reporting on some new research into how plants are able to carry out their amazing process of photosynthesis. To quote from the article:

The idea that plants make use of quantum physics to harvest light more efficiently has received a boost. Plants gather packets of light called photons, shuttling them deep into their cells where their energy is converted with extraordinary efficiency. A report in Science journal adds weight to the idea that an effect called a "coherence" helps determine the most efficient path for the photons. Experts have called the work "a nice proof" of some contentious ideas.

Read More...

Heading Towards Omega book review

Heading-towards-omega
Following on from my review of the book ‘Consciousness Beyond Life’, I thought it would be useful to write about another excellent, thought-provoking book on the Near Death Experience phenomenon; ‘Heading Towards Omega’ by Kenneth Ring.

‘Heading Towards Omega’ focusses on people’s reports of their Near Death Experiences, including episodes they experienced decades before, the circumstances of their NDE and the effect those NDE’s had on their lives and their view of life and reality. The experiences of those subjects closely match those reported in ‘Consciousness Beyond Life’. Both describe separating from the body, viewing their body from outside, observing people in the room, awareness of a tunnel, a light at the end of that tunnel, a realm of light, the presence of loved ones, encounters with higher individuals filled with love, the reviewing of their life so far, their decision to return to their body, their return and connection with the physical world - along with its pain and intensity and physical limitations - and, finally, their the return to a waking, aware state. Read More...

July news

Wow! July has stormed by. It’s been very hot here in London and I’ve had to retreat from my normal writing/drawing spot in the conservatory to the kitchen where it’s cooler.

I’m still working on the graphic novel. I’ll pop yesterday’s picture at the end of this post so you can see how I’m getting on.

On the science-fiction front, I was commissioned this month by the hope and glory PR company, on behalf of O2 mobile, to write a 1,000 word piece on the subject of the new 4G wireless technology. It’ll be part of half-a-dozen pieces on that topic, mostly written by experts in the field, that’ll be illustrated and turned into an ebook. If it does all come together, I’ll post a link to it in a later blog.

That’s all I can think of for now. For all those Northern Hemisphere people out there, have a great Summer holidays! :-)

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Consciousness Beyond Life book review

consciousness-beyond-life
I’ve recently finished reading ‘Consciousness Beyond Life’ by the Dutch cardiologist Dr Pim Van Lommel. The book studies and discusses the phenomenon of Near Death Experiences, when a person is effectively dead for a short period of time, later recovers and then recounts a dramatic experience that occurred while they were clinically dead.

Unlike other books on the subject, such as Kenneth Ring’s excellent ‘Heading Towards Omega’, the book describes Dr Van Lommel decision to set up a study to rule out the possibility that these episodes were fantasised or were caused by the subjects’ brains hallucinating when low on oxygen or affected by drugs. Read More...

The woman who woke up just in time

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This article comes from the Independent newspaper. It describes the instance where a woman, who was thought to be dead, woke up as the medical staff were wheeling her in the operating theatre to have her organs removed as a transplant donor. To quote from the article, ‘her eyes opened in response to the bright lights in the operating theatre, causing doctors to immediately call off the procedure.’

Not surprisingly, everyone involved was quite shocked. The hospital involved, St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Centre in Syracuse, was a professionally run hospital that had highly trained staff and modern technology, and yet they had completed failed to spot that their patient wasn’t actually dead.

Read More...

The man who believed he was dead

cotards-syndrome

Today’s article comes from New Scientist. In it, a man named Graham attempted suicide but his bid failed. Afterwards, he told everyone around him that he regarded himself as dead. He no longer gained any joy from life, from normally pleasurable activities, and saw no point in continuing to exist. The mental problem that Graham was suffering from is known as Cotard’s Syndrome.

What is fascinating about this particular patient was that the researchers took the step of analysing Graham’s brain using the latest scanning techniques. They found that portions of his brain that should have been active, since he was clearly alive, showed virtually no activity at all. He had the brain activity of someone who was unconscious or in a coma, and yet he was walking around conscious and living like anyone else. Only his depression and his view of the world was different.

Read More...

Illustration for 'The Lost Emotion'

John Prindle has kindly sent me a copy of the illustration he recently made for my science fiction short story ‘The Lost Emotion’. This won’t be the illustration that appears in the Arc magazine issue but it’s a fine piece of work and I’m happy to show it here. John is primarily a writer and is currently contributing to the juke pop serials website with his story The Art of Disposal. Read More...

Advice from Bill (Calvin & Hobbs) Watterson

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I heartily recommend this article from Brainpickings.org in which Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin & Hobbs, talks about his experiences and gives advice on what it means to pursue a creative life. Along with Ray Bradbury’s thoughts, I think they do a brilliant job of bringing across the life of someone wishing to be a full-time creative person.

I’ve popped a cartoon from the article here as a taster. Hopefully, they won’t mind. Enjoy! Read More...

Kit will save us!

Back in the 1960’s, when skirts were short and architecture was Lego-like, Freeman Dyson, a physicist and engineer, came up with the idea of a Dyson Sphere. The idea was straightforward; a sun gives out lots of energy but planets only get a fraction of it. What if you built a sphere entirely around the sun and made the inside surface of that sphere like a planet? That way, you’d have an enormous area of land to use which would all be getting sunshine. You could house a squidgillion number of people that way. Sorted! The idea was intriguing, memorable and cropped up in a slightly altered way in Larry Niven’s very successful science fiction novel ‘Ringworld’.

The idea also cropped up more recently in a
New Scientist magazine article. The article’s author reported attempts underway by scientists to find Dyson Spheres out there in the Milky Way. The logic of the article was as follows: By the laws of probability, there should be many advanced civilisations out there in our galaxy. If there are, some of them should have built Dyson Spheres (or similar enormous engineering constructions) in order to house their expanding populations and help their expansion through the Galaxy. There should therefore be Dyson Spheres out there, encasing stars; it’s just a case of spotting their heat signature, shape, E/M emissions etc. Read More...

April news

Greetings All,

The cold weather has finally eased off (Hooray!). Now that the studio is hospitable again and no longer decorated with icicles, I’ve been working on the
graphic novel again. I haven’t posted the new work but I will post a new version of Chapter One when it’s done. I’ve also made some changes to the beginning of Simon’s Brain, my first science fiction novel. There’s more to do on that but it’s a lower priority than the graphic novel so I’ve no idea when it’ll happen. I’ve also updated Schrödinger’s Shed, an illustrated exploration of the fundamental questions of reality by a nine-year-old girl and her dad, in his shed. It isn’t finished yet but I’m pleased with where it’s going.

There’s also some more activity at
Arc Science Fiction magazine. I’ve written a book review for them and an edited version is up on their site now. I will have some more Arc related news to announce soon. I’ll post the info as a blog entry once Arc have released their next issue.

Um, what else? I’ve written 10,000 words of what looks to be a new sci-fi novella called ‘The Tri’. In it, a group of astronauts return from Titan to find that the Earth has become a tough, harsh environment and humankind has adapted to survive in it in strange (and satirically humorous) ways.

That’s all I can think of. Enjoy the rest of April!

Update: I’ve been Mr Quiet on this, so that it doesn’t look like I’m stealing Arc magazine’s thunder, but they’ve now mentioned it, so I can. At the end of my book review on the Arc blog site, they say:

“Look out for Adrian Ellis’s competition-winning short story The Lost Emotion in the next issue of Arc, coming soon.”


So there you go, you have been warned!

Low MAO and bad behaviour

A while back, a friend of mine told me that her ten-year-old son was having behavioural problems at school. He’d become increasingly irritable, moody, tearful and sensitive, culminating in a fight with a class-mate. It was a worrying development, particularly since he was usually a friendly, relaxed, cheerful kid.

At their house, while thinking on the problem, I noticed that my friend was giving her son more ice-cream than before. I pointed it out to her and she said that since her son’s infant food allergies were gone, he was enjoying the ability to eat dairy. I asked what he’d been eating on the day he’d had the fight. She said they’d had garlic sausage for lunch.

I wondered if these foodstuffs could be connected to a child’s bad behaviour, particularly a child that might have a history of food intolerance. After a bit of investigation, I came up with a possible problem and put this article together for her:


GOOD AND BAD AMINES


We humans are good at eating and digesting a wide range of food. We’re
omnivores, from omni meaning ‘all’ and vorare meaning ‘devour’, as in ‘voracious’. Our bodies though need to be careful what they let into our bloodstreams. If certain food molecules get into our bloodstreams, they can cause problems all over our bodies and, in particular, in our brains.

Read More...

The Freezing Gaze People

anomaly-logo
In the New Scientist magazine this week, there’s an interesting article about black holes. Black holes are a fascinating object in the cosmos, being the collapsed remains of giant stars that have gone supernova. Because the stars were so huge, when their material collapses inwards due to gravity, the centre becomes so dense that it can no longer stay as matter and becomes a singularity, a strange theoretical entity. Gravity is so intense in a black hole that if light falls into it, it can’t get out, which is why they’re black.

The problem scientists are finding with black holes is that the physics (and maths) of a black hole doesn’t fit with the physics (and maths) of the universe. These problems are really extensions of a still bigger problem, which is that physicists have developed two important theories to explain reality; Relativity, which explains the largest scales brilliantly and Quantum Physics, which explains the smallest scales brilliantly. The only problem is that the two theories aren’t compatible. Black holes, being a place in the universe where the largest becomes deeply involved in the tiniest, not surprisingly are a source of much consternation; they’re like huge cosmic signposts saying ‘YOU’RE MISSING SOMETHING IMPORTANT!’.
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A Planck length of time

anomaly-logo
Science fiction writing is fun. You get to combine scientific and technical knowledge (interstellar travel, subatomic physics, TCP/IP networking, ant behaviour, you name it) with a large dollop of imagination and bingo!, you’ve got a story. Well, nearly. You also need to be perfectly happy sitting in a room, on your own, for umpteen hours, with little to show for it… “What have you been doing?” “Writing.” “Can I see it?” “No.” “Is it good?” “Dunno.” “Will it be published?” “Don’t know.” “Right… how long have you been doing this?” “For about two-thousand hours.”

max-planck
With that in mind, I enjoyed this quote from the Nobel prize winning physicist, Max Planck:

“New scientific ideas never spring from a communal body, however organized, but rather from the head of an individually inspired researcher who struggles with his problems in lonely thought and unites all his thought on one single point which is his whole world for the moment.”

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Science warp at the BBC

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Science is brilliant. I love the fact that a scientist doesn’t give empty opinions, but bases them on factual evidence that he or she always supplies along with his or her opinion. Also, that if someone else gives an opinion that the scientist knows to be false, the scientist will explain why it’s false and offer up the evidence to support their view. When this is combined with a desire to educate and inform, such as often occurs on the BBC, the results can be hugely praiseworthy.

Five_second
Something though seems to have gone horribly wrong with the BBC’s balanced reporting of scientific information this week. Their most popular video article concerns ‘the five second rule’ for food dropped on the floor. In it, Sophie Van Brugen, with the help of Dr Ronald Cutler, sets out to discover if the following rule is true, that ‘if you pick up food dropped on the floor within five seconds of it falling, you’ll be safe’. It’s a popular idea, as illustrated above from the wikipedia - ‘five second rule’ entry. Read More...

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

December has been and gone and it’s now 2013. The world hasn’t ended (phew!) although, when you think about it, with the extensive and thorough scientific information that shows us that our climate is heading inexorably towards planetary Armageddon, the world as we know it has just ended; it’s just that the process will take a couple of centuries, rather than 24 hours. Civilization is officially kaput, there’s just a bit of reshuffling to be done in the next 200 years to get it all in place. Read More...