There is a technical word for everything in medicine. A great example is halitosis. In the late 19th century, Dr. Joseph Lawrence and Jordan Wheat Lambert developed a new surgical antiseptic. Finding that the target market was too small, they distilled the new product and advertised it as a floor cleaner and also a cure for gonorrhoea. But sales were still not great and they came up with a brilliant marketing scheme. Their company Listerine began advertising the dangers of “chronic halitosis” as a serious health problem in the 1920s. People were unfamiliar with this condition and instantly associated it with some form of major illness. They were desperate to prevent themselves from getting it, or to treat it if they already had it. Lucky for them, Listerine came to the rescue with their product that treated chronic halitosis.
Of course, halitosis is simply the medical term for bad breath. Although bad breath is not an actual disease, Listerine was extremely successful in convincing the population that it was a problem and was able to market their product this way. Listerine’s campaign was so successful that bad breath is still considered extremely offensive and socially unacceptable, making mouthwash almost a “necessity”. To quote advertising scholar James B. Twitchell, “Listerine did not make mouthwash as much as it made halitosis”. They had successfully invented a problem that their product could solve - creating not only supply for the product, but also the demand. This strategy has since been employed by countless advertising schemes to help sell products.
Some random photos from the past few months of life!
From top to bottom, left to right:
Took this at a art festival I stumbled upon at Aotea Square in the city. Turned out there was a jazz performance with sunbeds laid out on the grass, so I laid back on one and relaxed to the soothing jazz for about half an hour~
Had some crazy weather here lately. Here’s the upside - DOUBLE RAINBOW WITH A MOON IN THE MIDDLE WHAT. Taken outside of med school.
A photo from a lovely 21st of my friend Jane! It was a really fun night with heaps of delicious noms and moving speeches :)
My friend left a mark in the lecture theatre during our campus learning week (8:30->4:30 full-on lectures)…on behalf of another friend. Don’t think Ken appreciated the graffiti by Ryan haha.
Successfully made brownies!! With Oreos :D Well that’s the second batch, the first batch was slightly overcooked and ended up as chocolate biscotti/cookies. Still delicious but not technically brownies. But these were so delicious and moist! Win.
Magic has been a great source of entertainment for the masses for thousands of years. Across the globe, under many guises, magicians have amazed audiences with seemingly impossible “miracles” using misdirection and clever trickery. The oldest recorded trick - that is to say one performed purely for entertainment and not under the guise of religion or supernatural power - dates back to ancient Egypt.
According to the Westcar Papyrus, a magician by the name of Dedi was famous for his miraculous feats. The Papyrus tells the story of how Dedi was called to put a show on for King Khufu. He proceeded to decapitate a goose, then reattach the head, bringing the bird back to life. He repeats the magic with a duck, then with a bull, wrenching its head off then bringing it back to life by reattaching the head. For his amazing performance, he is rewarded by being allowed to live in the palace. This trick is still practised by magicians to this day, thus making it the longest performed trick in history.
The best or worst part (depending on your preference) about a dark and stormy night are the majestic flashes of lightning and booming thunder. Most people confuse the two terms, typically using “thunder” to describe both, but technically thunder is the sound produced by lightning, which is the flash of light. Lightning occurs when dense clouds become electrically charged due to the collision of water molecules. As charge builds up, the cloud becomes negatively charged. The negative charge becomes so intense that it begins to push electrons towards the surface of the Earth, creating a positive charge. Electricity always flows from a negative charge to a positive charge through a medium. The intensity of charges causes the air to become ionized (plasma), making it suddenly conductive and allowing the electricity to flow from the cloud to the ground. This is seen as a flash of intense light. As the electricity travels through this channel of air, it superheats the air and causes a massive expansion of air, much like an explosion. This creates an intense shockwave burst, producing a sound that we call thunder.
Lightning is a deadly force of nature. It clocks a peak voltage of somewhere between 30 million to billions of volts - far exceeding the electricity that can be generated by humans. When a lightning bolt strikes a human, it has a mortality rate of between 10~30%. The two effects of lightning on the human body is electrical shock and heat. As lightning flashes over the skin to reach the ground, it leaves a striking pattern known as Lichtenberg figures (see below), showing the path of the electrical breakdown. The intense electrical burst can cause loss of consciousness, arrhythmia or sudden cardiac arrest. The heat generated by the electricity can cause severe burns both externally and internally. It can literally fry internal organs causing permanent damage to the heart, lungs and brain. Neurological symptoms such as amnesia, confusion, sleep disturbance and chronic pain have also been reported. Strangely, there are also reported cases of lightning curing ailments such as blindness, deafness and baldness.
Because lightning is light and thunder is sound, one can calculatehow far away lightning struck using the time between the lightning flash and the sound of thunder. Sound travels at 340m/s, so by multiplying the number of seconds between the lightning and thunder by 340, you can deduce the distance in metres. For example, if you see a lightning strike and then hear thunder after 7 seconds, the lightning must have struck 340m x 7s = 2380m = 2.38km away.
What would the world be like if the dinosaurs had not gone extinct? In 1982, palaeontologist Dale Russell proposed a thought experiment regarding the possible evolutionary path of a species called Troodons. The Troodons were small, bird-like dinosaurs from the later periods of the reign of dinosaurs. They grew up to 2.4m in length and about 50kg in weight, standing on two slender hind legs. The most interesting feature of Troodons was their very large brain - six times larger than any other dinosaurs relative to their body weight. This would have most likely allowed the Troodons to be quite intelligent relative to other species, allowing it to utilise crude tools such as rolling a boulder off a cliff.
Russell believed that had the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event did not happen 65 million years ago (when a giant meteor struck Earth), the Troodons could have evolved in a path similar to humans, expanding their brain size and using intelligence as a tool of survival. Although its brain size was substantially lower than that of a human, he believes that through evolution, by the present its brain would be the size of a modern human’s. He also believed that evolution would have shaped the Troodons into a “dinosauroid” form, much closer to the shape of a human being. The Dinosauroid (nicknamed lizard people) would have had two fingers and a thumb, large eyes, no hair, internal genitalia (like reptiles), no breasts and a navel (the placenta is instrumental in giving birth to large-brained offspring). Their language would probably have sounded like a bird song.
Given the history of Homo sapiens and our competition and ultimate demise of similar sapient species, it is unclear whether we would have won the survival war against the Dinosauroids, or whether we would have even had the chance to evolve to our stage, as mammals rapidly filled the niche after dinosaurs were wiped out. There is much criticism of Russell’s thought experiment of the Dinosauroid being “too anthropomorphic” (too human-looking), but as suggested in the book K-PAX by Prot, perhaps the humanoid form is the most efficient natural design for an intelligent life form. Realistic or not, it is a fascinating projection of a world that could have been.
They say that when you face your mortality, your entire life flashes before your eyes like a sped-up autobiographical film. This tends to happen in situation where a person feels they are in danger of imminent death, such as moments before a car crash. Reports say that the event typically lasts anywhere between less than a second to few seconds, and what they perceive as major life events flash before their eyes, usually in chronological order. However, reports are very subjective and variable.
This phenomenon sounds very clichéd, but it has been widely reported throughout time and space. Over 8 million people in the United States of America stated that they experienced this “life review” in a near-death experience, with countless records in historical texts, reaching far back as at least 1795 in a letter by Rear-Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort. It is fascinating to see that there is even a set name or phrase for this phenomenon deeply ingrained in various languages, such as English, German, French, Dutch, Russian, Persian, Arabian and Korean, suggesting that the phenomenon is widespread and common.
There is no strong evidence for why this phenomenon occurs, but there is one theory that is persuading. The brain is always subconsciously referring to past experiences and knowledge to apply to the present to help solve a problem. It has been suggested that when you are at the brink of death, the brain frantically searches through everything in an attempt to save you from demise. This is a rather messy process as the brain does not routinely encounter such near-death experiences and does not have much information to refer to immediately. In this process, it brings up every memory that you thought you had forgotten, which you see as a montage flashing before your eyes. For example, a man who was attacked by a great white shark reported that out of nowhere, he recalled his son watching a documentary on sharks and remembered that putting your hands down a shark’s gills will incapacitate it. Thanks to this, he survived.
The brain does indeed have an amazing ability to alter your speed of thought and delay time perception when you are in danger, or the so-called “fight-or-flight” mode. There is much anecdotal evidence of firefighters instinctively knowing that a building will collapse very soon, or emergency physicians making complex clinical decisions in the blink of an eye by drawing from a well of past experiences.
Yesterday, two friends and I got buckets of hot wings, a case of beer and spent the whole night drinking, eating fried chicken, and just chatting. All to the backdrop of heavy downpour. Ah the simple pleasures of life.
“…And so it came to pass that the Countess, who once bathed in the rejuvenating blood of a hundred virgins, was buried alive…And her castle in which so many cruel deeds took place fell rapidly into ruin… A solitary tower is all that remains…”
I still have flashbacks of you reading that passage in the most epic voice possible.
Shakespeare stated that “all is well that ends well”, but the opening of a story can be just as important. For example, “once upon a time” instantly transports a child (or adult) to a magical, faraway land full of wonders and adventure. So how would one open a story of drama, mystery or even horror?
One of the most infamous examples of such an opening is the line: “it was a dark and stormy night”. This opening sentence was first used by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his 1830 novel Paul Clifford. The full opening is:
“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”
The phrase is effective in establishing a setting and painting a word picture.
However, this opening is considered overly florid and descriptive, overachieving its goal of establishing the setting. This kind of sentence is known as a purple prose and is mocked in the world of literature. This opening has become the poster child of purple prose, such as the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which celebrates the worst examples of “dark and stormy night” stories.
Probably the most popular mention of “it was a dark and stormy night” is in the comic strip, Peanuts. Snoopy, the canine protagonist, is often seen starting a novel on his typewriter with the line “it was a dark and stormy night”. Perhaps it is no surprise as to why his novels were never published.
(To see all the delightful Peanuts strips referring to Snoopy’s failed attempts at writing his novel, check out this link)
Have you ever bought a bag of mixed nuts and noticed that Brazil nuts tend to be on the top of the pile? If you put nuts of various sizes in a bag and shake it, you will see that the larger nuts (such as Brazil nuts) will rise to the top slowly. This is strange as common sense dictates that heavier objects sink to the bottom. The strangest thing? No one knows exactly why this happens.
However, there are some persuasive theories. It has been suggested that the so-called Brazil nut effect is due to a phenomenon called granular convection. Convection is usually used to describe the movement of gases and liquids, where heated particles are more active and lighter, thus rising to the top. As the particles rise, they cool down and fall back to the bottom, creating a current. It seems to be that the same can be applied to solid particles, such as nuts. When the jar or bag of nuts is shaken, a vibrational force is applied. Nuts in the middle are pushed upwards by the vibration, with smaller particles filling the gap below. Once the nuts reach the top surface, the vibration pushes the nuts towards the side, where they are then pushed back to the bottom. However, larger nuts like Brazil nuts are too big to fit in this downward current so they stay on the top.
The Brazil nut effect is not exclusive to Brazil nuts. A similar phenomenon can be seen with any large particles surrounded by smaller particles, like pebbles in sand or coffee beans in ground coffee. The theory of granular convection has still not been fully understood, with various factors such as nut density and air pressure seeming to play a role.
They say that prostitution is the world’s oldest profession. The job sure lives up to its reputation - the first recorded incidence of paying money for sex is in 2400BC, where prostitution is recorded among a list of professions in ancient Sumer. Of course, there is no proof of it being literally the “oldest” profession, because the money (or any currency) to pay for sex must have come from somewhere else. Evidence of prostitution can be found in almost every other ancient civilisations, including the ancient Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Jews, Aztecs, Korean, Chinese and Japanese. It is also heavily referenced in the Bible, suggesting that it was a widely spread profession.
As unnatural as the act of paying for sex may seem, prostitution has been recorded in animals as well. In 1998, a marine biologist named Fiona Hunter was studying the mating behaviour of Adélie penguins. She observed that the penguins would couple up and begin building a nest for their future offspring. The females would go out alone to look for pebbles at the beach. But then, she noticed that some female penguins would not head to the beach to collect the pebbles. Instead, they approached another male penguin (usually one that was single) and engage in courtship rituals to lure them into having sex. The female would then grab some pebbles and run off, while the male just let her go. Hunter concluded that this behaviour was indeed a material exchange for sexual pleasures.
Similar behaviour of offering food or grooming for sex has been observed in different primate species such as chimpanzees and crab-eating macaques. The most interesting study on this topic was that of training capuchin monkeys to use a currency. As soon as they learned that the silver discs could be used to purchase food, monkeys were seen “gifting” these silver discs to each other in exchange for sex. This kind of behaviour does not seem too unnatural if you consider that sex is a biological need (or at least a strong want), and sexual pleasure is, psychologically speaking, one of the strongest rewards.
Prostitution is generally deemed immoral and looked down upon, especially given the exploitation of women for their bodies and cheapening the act of making love. However, it should also be noted that throughout history, there are several cases of women using it as an opportunity to achieve something great. For example, Rahab was a harlot from Jericho in 1400BC. Back then, intelligent, independent women could not have much freedom as a married woman was treated as a slave to her husband. As a harlot, Rahab could live her own life and make her own decisions. When the city of Jericho was laid under siege by King Joshua, he sent in two spies to scout the area. Rahab hid these two men from the guards of the king of Jericho and showed them the secret passages of the city, ultimately allowing for Joshua to conquer the city with easy.
There is also the case of Theodora of Constantinople, who rose from being a harlot to an empress by seducing the Emperor Justinian, who made her a valued co-ruler of the empire. She then proceeded to use her power to crack down on the exploitation of women and protecting women’s rights.