Dogs and Bog Doors – It’s Your Museum

New Media engineer and sloth-botherer @M_FKill told me about this short TEDx talk by Nina Simon, Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. It’s worth watching just to hear Nina theorise on why museum objects are like dogs, and how toilet doors facilitate visitor interaction:

Here’s the online version of Nina’s book, The Participatory Museum No, I haven’t started reading it yet – I’ve spent the day sitting on my arse in a cafe on Acton High Street, laughing at hipsters. But the intention is there.

Can You Feel Your Heart Beat?

Image: Flickr/Mélisande*

My latest Guardian article was about the phenomenon of interoception – that is, our ability to sense the visceral signals from our inner body, such as our heartbeat. Our degree of interoceptive awareness varies quite widely across the population. Women tend to have poorer interoceptive awareness than men, although the reasons for this are still unclear.

Interoception has been linked to our ability to recognise and regulate our emotions, and to the ability to perceive a situation from another person’s point of view. Now, new research shows that it also predicts our body mass index. That was the focus of my article. The full piece is here, if you’re interested:

The Science Writing Process, Demystified*

You’re browsing Science Direct on a Saturday evening, as you do. Now, here’s an intriguing abstract. Or, as us freelancers see it, a potential …

1. IDEA! Woohoo!
2. Then again, will anyone except me give a crap about this idea?
3. Can I be arsed to write anything this weekend, anyway?
4. Even if I can, am I going to a) pitch it to my editor, or b) put it on my own blog?
5. I could do with new shoes. Will try my editor.
6. Shit. Better write a pitch.
7. Reads outline of article
8. Reads first author’s research summary. Yeah, I get it now.
9. Pitch sent. Displacement ritual coffee-making may now commence.
10. Clicks autorefresh
11. Clicks autorefresh
12. Checks Twitter feed
13. Clicks autorefresh
14. Response! Accepted! Woohoo!
15. Shit. Better write the bloody thing.
16. Downloads full article PDF
17. Reads full PDF
18. Looks up from PDF. Gazes at radiator
19. Yeah, I don’t really understand this.
20. I never was that great at statistics.
21. I wonder if Dr X understands it?
22. Emails Dr X
23. Copies and pastes Dr X’s response into Word. That’s 80 words down of an 800-word piece
24. Displacement ritual coffee-making.
25. Reads PDF again
26. Oh, hang on. Yeah, I might be starting to get this.
27. Finds related papers
28. Reads the PDFs
29. Yeah, this is actually pretty bloody interesting stuff.
30. Drafts article. 700 words down.
31. Reads draft.
32. Yeah. Yeah, I think I get this well enough to talk to the corresponding author now.
33. Emails corresponding author. Briefly wonders whether freelancing means I can introduce myself as “ …  and I write for the Guardian.” Decides it does.
34. Moment of British self-doubt re: point 28.
35. Thinks – fuck it, I will. I’ve got the Style Guide, anyway. I mean, I don’t know where it IS right now, but possession’s got to count for something.
36. Response from corresponding author. Woohoo!
37. Corresponding author is amazing. Why wasn’t I that brilliant, that articulate, when I was a scientist?
38. Realizes corresponding author is 11 years younger that me.
39. Displacement ritual coffee-making with added self-loathing.

Image: Flickr/jpoesen

Image: Flickr/jpoesen

40. Reads more PDFs
41. Re-writes draft with new, essential information that readers NEED to know.
42. Word count: 1287. Shit.
43. I wonder if my editor will mind me going over?
44. Meh, I think he’s used to it.
45. No – I will try to be professional.
46. Cuts out the howevers and the indeeds. Uses lots of contractions.
47. Word count: 1056. Shit.
48. Cuts out Naguib Mahfouz quote. Momentary regret that readers will now never know what a well-rounded science blogger I really am.
49. Word count: 897. Close enough.
50. Decides to sleep on it. Will send during tomorrow’s lunch break.
51. Notices grammatical howler. Removes.
52. Submits.
53. Repeat steps 7 through 9, with a bit more of 34.
54. Editor notices second grammatical howler. Removes.
55. Published. Woohoo!
56. Tries to concentrate on Very Important New Exhibition. Fails.
57. Awaits reader comments. Vaguely remembers something about sticks and stones. Decides memory will not protect against the monster, galoopojng ERROR in my reasoning that some reader WILL notice. My career will be over. I will have been EXPOSED as a try-hard, also-ran.
58. Thinks: Lager: slanty glass. Ale: straight glass. Yep, still got my back-up skills.
59. Oh, wait … they’re not too bad so far. Huh.
60. Well, yeah, he’s got a point. To be fair.
61. Did I say that? I’m pretty sure I didn’t, mate.
62. Repeat steps 7 to 10. No new comments. I may be off the hook. Goes for walk along first floor galleries.
63. I don’t know why I do this to myself.
64. Vanity, probably. Or a desperate need for validation. Maybe I’m subconsciously hoping a TV producer will notice me.
65. Back at desk. Repeat steps 7 through 10. Two new comments.
66. Oh, thanks! Yeah, I thought it was a cool bit of research, too.
67. No, I don’t choose the images.
68. Really need to concentrate on Very Important New Exhibition. Switches off internet, and feels nerves begin to settle.
69. Give it a week. Maybe two. Then, head right back to Step 1.
70. It’s worth it. Honestly, and entirely seriously – it is.

*It wasn’t very mysterious to begin with, frankly

Caffeine Withdrawal Disorder

Thanks to @aphophany for the below images of the brand new DSM 5. I can now add caffeine withdrawal disorder to my personal collection of DSM-approved diagnoses.



(self-promoting note: here’s something I wrote for The Guardian last month, asking to what extent mental disorders are cultural rather than biomedical phenomena: I certainly don’t claim to know the answer to that, but I think it’s worth exploring in the light of the DSM’s alleged diagnostic inflation.)

Babbage’s Brain


To mark the first in an occasional* photographic series of Science Museum peculiarities, here’s a good one. It’s the actual brain of Mr Charles Babbage. Well, a hefty bit of it, anyway. According to our object database it’s the right sagittal section with cerebellum.  And it’s in “good condition”, Charles would be relieved to hear. The other half’s at the Hunterian Museum.

Where: Computing Gallery, 2nd Floor

*For occasional, read “when I a) remember, and b) can be arsed”. Also, my camera’s crap.

Yes, We Have Some Bananas

Visitors from t’North, and a week off work, meant that I actually saw some of Proper London over the last few days (and by Proper London I mean something more than my apartment’s fine view over Acton’s Homebase). Here’s some self-indulgent pictures. You can spot the ones I took by the lack of skill combined with  that unmistakable “shit phone camera” cast.


A banana plant at Kew Gardens’ Palm House. Never actually seen one in fruit before.

Temperate House

And here’s the Temperate House, with some MONSTER date palms.

Japanese pond

Still in the Temperate House, this koi carp pond is in the Japanese section. Points for spotting the photobombing dude.


And there’s seahorses at Kew! Who’d have thunk it?


More critters. Butterflies and moths having a picnic at the Natural History Museum’s Sensational Butterflies exhibit.


Chrysalises. Yes, I did have to Google the correct plural form.


Oh, look. Here’s another butterfly.

butterfly arse

Yup, that’s my arse. Luckily I chased the fecker away before it could follow me into here:

Albert Hall

The Royal Albert Hall, for Prom Praise. And if you look up, you can see these:

Acoustic mushrooms

… which are (apparently) called acoustic mushrooms.

Right. Back to the real world.