Adrenaline

I’ve been doing medicine for a minute. In less lucid moments I even call myself a medical professional (usually I call myself a shit/fan separation specialist, tasked with preventing the former from hitting the latter).

It is thus, that I ask of you: if you ever feel dumb or ignorant again, if there’s a moment where you doubt your brain’s capacity to deal, remember this:

It took me until last night, in a semi-wake stupor (have not slept for a few days, finals and migraine and all), to realize why adrenaline is called adrenaline.

Now, most modern medical literature refers to it as epinephrine, and that makes it even worse.

Image of adrenal gland sitting on top of the kidney.

This is the adrenal gland. Which is also its old name, modern text books call it by its proper name: suprarenal gland. And that makes it another step worse.

Turns out, we call adrenaline “adrenaline” because it is produced near (ad) the renal system (from latin “renes,” kidneys, above in dark red). Epinephrine? From Latin epi- “upon” and “nephros” from Greek nephrós, “kidney.”

Yeah, I would have been able to tell you that adrenaline is mostly produced in the adrenal medulla of the suprarenal gland. I’d probably try to sound smart and tell you, that 2-6% of adrenaline in the body is produced in the medulla oblongata of the brain.

But, damn, how can you use a word for 20+ years and never realize where it comes from? See, you’re not so dumb!

They are selling the Casa Magica, and I am sad…

During my first Camino, I had a majorly shitty day coming from Puente La Reina. It was only day four, so my body was still adjusting to the walking and coming down from the Pyrenees had done a number on my foot. In addition, some pilgrims had decided to party deep into the night and sleep wasn’t a friend until very late, leading to me getting up late.

My head was hurting, my feet too, and the weather was warm but muggy.

In Villatuerta I made the conscious decision to find the next available albergue, drop my stuff, and go to sleep. That albergue was the Casa Magica.

There were hammocks, a pop-up pool, a meditation room, and everyone was calm, relaxed, and friendly. Rather than hitting the hay, I found myself in the yard, discussing Midsommar with some Swedes, food with a few Frenchmen, and having a beer with a Grandmother from Spain.

At some point, the bell rang and dinner was served. Four courses, all vegetarian, with a massive paella as the main course.

I left much, much, happier than I’d arrived.

I stopped twice more. Every time, Casa Magica made me happy. The owner was friendly, the food was amazing, the people stopping there were the kind that did not just power through a guidebook’s stage recommendations, and besides, it was the stop before the wine fountain, which added some extra bonuses since Casa Magica sleepers arrived out of cycle and didn’t have to wait as long.

The Casa is for sale. Another victim of the pandemic, I presume, or the owners simply got tired. Who knows? But the fact remains, that with the Casa another beautiful icon of the Camino disappears…

UVLEN: Just a scam or callous indifference to human life?

It’s 2021. I promised to stay positive on this blog for the year, and there is something positive to report: not very many people seem to fall for this scam which, let’s be clear here, is a scam at best and callous indifference to human life for profit at worst.

I am talking about a thing called “UVLEN.” What it is, is simple: a sub-$1 production cost filter gadget and a strobe light app (sold for $30) for iOS and Android which, so the website promises, “emits UV light” and “kills germs.”

Quote from the website:

Taken from UVLEN’s Website

What it claims to be:

The UVLEN “filter.”

By simply sliding a “filter” over a phone’s flashlight, the UVLEN claims to emit Ultraviolet light which, if applied for 10 seconds, kills “bacteria and germs.”

This is, at least in theory, not unheard of: UV light does kill bacteria and viruses as well as other spores.

Botulism, for example, is caused by a bacteria called Clostridium botulinum, which produces a toxin leading to severe health complications, up to death. Since c. botulinum is found in soil almost everywhere in the world and since it thrives in anaerobic environments so common in modern food packaging, UV light is often used to kill those bacteria.

However: the UV light used is actual ultraviolet light (< 220 nm) and not just violet/blue looking light in a specific spectrum (400-500 nm).

In nature, light exists on a spectrum of wavelengths. Simplified: the shorter the wavelength, the more problematic to life light becomes. UV light is slightly shorter than visible light, if the wavelengths get even shorter they’re more easily able to penetrate solid objects and pass through them.

There are three kinds of UV light: UVA, which penetrates deep into the skin and causes aging. UVB, which is the part of the spectrum that causes sunburn and skin cancer, and UVC, which affects genetic material in a way that does not directly destroy the cell or virus but “reprograms” it to be damaged and non-functional.

Sunlight has all three, but UVC is being filtered out by the ozone layer. Which is why keeping it intact is so important. UVC is really bad stuff, exposition to it can severely hurt you.

Blue light is around the 500 nm spectrum, while UV light is between 400 and 10 nanometers. At the 122–200 nm side of the UV spectrum, the so-called Far UVC, germicidal properties have been proven in actual research. The UVC spectrum ranges from 100 to 280, it includes the “Far-UVC” part and is used in clinical and medical applications.

However, there’s a basic thing you should know about those waves: they don’t generally get shorter by themselves. While there are very involved means to shorten a wave, make it take less space between peaks, given a chance wave want to stay waves and, sometimes, extend their length, but never contract them.

What it is in reality:

UVLEN claims to emit UV light by sliding a simple gel filter over your camera’s flashlight. Again, in theory this would work: filters can filter out some wavelengths and let others pass. For example, a “red filter” lets waves of 620 to 750 nm pass, but blocks others, leading to red light.

That’s possible, because white light is comprised of all wavelengths between 380 to 750 nm, and all you have to do is cut off waves around 380 and below, and light becomes red. Same with green. Filter everything except for the space around 550 nm and you get green light.

Again, this is possible, because green (550nm) waves are being emitted.

We see a trend here: for something to be filtered (made exclusive), it has to exist in the first place.

A camera flashlight emits light between 400 and 710 nm. I won’t go into the science of phosphor emitters, but Apple’s own specs (as well as Samsung’s and Google’s, that’s the ones I could find) state, that the embedded LED is based on white emission through yellow phosphor filtering (from a rather “blue” source).

So, the gel we move in front of the lens does one thing: it filters out all wavelengths except those in the blue spectrum, between 400 and 495 nm. That’s quite a ways from the 100–280 nm UV wave lengths known to act germicidal.

In short: a filter can not yield a spectrum that is not in the source it filters. And there is no UV light emitted by a flash light.

Which is good! Otherwise, lighting someone up with a flashlight would be attempted murder.

Filters do not create wavelengths, they only reduce the number of them present on exit!

What this means:

We’re in the middle of a pandemic. People are (rightfully) concerned about dragging viral loads around on their hands and masks. While the discussion about fomite transmission has become a political, not scientific, one, disinfection of hands and surfaces as well as multiuse masks is a main component of overall transmission avoidance.

What if a simple wave of a phone over the surface could alleviate transmission concerns?

UVLEN actually takes this scam a step further, linking to studies discussing the 222nm range of UV light, UVC. Ballsy!

Taken from UVLEN’s Website.

This is two truths and a lie: of course visible light is generally safe to be applied to the skin for 10 seconds. Far-UVC is not! And, probably, this can be tested and certified. The lie is simple: there is no “necessary amount of far-UVC” emitted by a phone camera flashlight.

UVLEN filtered light has no germicidal properties. Anyone relying on a cell phone camera for these puts themselves and others at risk.

And this is the rub:

The makers of UVLEN likely know this. It’s easy and costs less than what the company probably paid to have their website made to test for present UV light. A good spectrometer costs between $400 and $4000 on Amazon, peanuts compared to many other tests.

So UVLEN intentionally and capitalizing on people’s fears and wants to remain safe while keeping others safe causes dangerous situations to happen in which users of their product presume themselves safer thanks to the use of the device.

This is, given the properties of the virus UVLEN very clearly aims at, depraved behavior. If it is “just a scam” or callous indifference to human life is up to you, the reader.

Summary

The UVLEN filter can not work, because there is no UV light to be filtered for emitted from cell phone camera flashlights. Because the light emitted is just simple spectrum blue light, the promises and claims on their website are bogus.

At the best, this is just a scam to make UVLEN a lot of money from the pandemic, at its worst it is a way to capitalize on peoples’ fears and conscientious aims to increase safety for themselves and others that puts innocents are a very real and present risk of disease and death.

I am turning off comments, since some UVLEN people are spamming them with links to the product (I have intentionally not linked it from here). I am currently featuring higher on Google’s ranking than them, taking interested buyers to me, rather than them, which makes them unhappy. If you like to comment, send me an email.

Trimethylxanthine

I run on coffee. It’s been that way since the 90s, when I realised, nine days before deadline, that the only hard drive with my Thesis had just taught me a valuable lesson about backups.

My main trimethylxanthine delivery devices are a drip maker and a Nespresso Pod machine. The drip maker is much cheaper, but doesn’t really function for just one cup, leading to my drinking cold or microwaved coffee as the day moves on.

Pods are expensive. Funnily enough, it turns out that they aren’t that bad for the environment, but that does little to assuage my guilt over having just spent 3.95€ for 50g of coffee in compostable capsules.

Which brings us to Cyprus Post who, probably because of the Winter Break, are much better organised this week, meaning I was just able to pick up my (ordered in October) Evergreen Capsules. Those things, also known as “the only time Facebook ads worked on Mikka,” combine pod amounts of coffee with cheaper forms of bean purchase.

At 18€ for the capsule, I’ll have to drink about 120 cups to make up for the expense, so in late February, should they not die until then, I’ll have my money’s worth from them.

We’ll probably do a blind test between the Evergreen and the Intenso Bio Compostable capsules in a few weeks, when everyone’s back from the winter holidays.

Pushups

It’s customary to break one’s NYE resolutions around January 19. Seriously, there’s research on this. I am determined to stick to one of them at the very least: my +1 pushup challenge.

For the uninitiated, the +1 challenge started in Iceland in 2013, when a number of medical students, home for Christmas from their semester in Copenhagen, decided to challenge each other to a little contest: for the next year, they’d do one additional pushup every day. For every month, there was one break allowed, so one break in January, twelve in December. On Dec 31, they’d do 400 together instead of the 375 pushups they’d have to do.

A clever company (not linking them) started selling calendars with the number of pushups printed into each day and a handy checkbox to mark off the day. The latter actually makes sense: accomplishments acknowledged are much better for the brain than those simply performed. A small task like a reward or simply a checkmark can help tremendously to reinforce the habit.

But since I am a bit of a nerd, I wanted something more: make my phone do the calculation work for me. Luckily there’s Shortcuts for iOS (comes standard) and even an imbecile like me can do this.

Seriously, this is about the simplest thing to use Shortcuts for, still it shows something important: most people don’t use Shortcuts, despite there being a vast ecosystem of amazing shortcuts and it making your phone so much more productive. Maybe that’s another resolution for 2021: get more in touch with the inner nerd.

If you still want mine, it’s here (needs to be opened on a phone or iPad).

Next up, I added it to Siri, made it tell me how much I had to do that day, and I was all set.


Part two of this is more involved: I want to track, how this ever-increasing amount of pushups influences my blood glucose levels, sleep, muscle soreness, muscle mass, and weight/body composition. For this, I am using three things: a Freestyle Libre to monitor my blood glucose, a Withings connected scale and blood pressure monitor (to get HRV), and my Apple Watch (also for sleep, HRV, etc.).

This will be a topic for a March post, when some data is available.

Facebook > Blogs (or: how Automattic murdered Blogs)

I have a theory why Facebook (and Twitter to some extent) beat out blogs, and it’s Automattic’s fault.

I am working on my “year in review” blog post, which uses a lot of life-logging and quantified self stuff. In the process of doing so, I found myself wondering where all those blog posts had gone…

Blogs used to be reverse chronological. Everywhere. You’d pop onto someone’s weblog start page and there they were: their posts, latest on top, ready for reading. No clicks required[1], just read.

Today’s blogs are anything but. Masonry sorted by an arbitrary “popular” ideal, massive “Hero” banners leading down a rabbit hole of SEO optimised pages, no chance at just going there and reading. Funnily enough, if you’d ask people which blogs they still visit (rather than following them on Facebook and clicking through), Daring Fireball, Marco Arment’s blog, or Bekah, are mentioned pretty often. All three still employ the old reverse chronological approach.

It’s not just good for the reader, though. Google’s indexes do still respect this style of publishing, marking things as recent if they’re below the fold but on the home page in full text. This is good for SEO, even though SEO “experts” are trying to steer you away from it.

So, why is this Automattic’s fault?

WordPress comes with a default theme. The last “real” reverse chronological theme out of the box was Twenty Sixteen, though Twenty Thirteen murdered that concept for a year. With that, the “stream of consciousness” reverse chronological blog days were over. WordPress is a trendsetter and its designs often get adopted (and improved upon) by theme authors. A quick glance at WordPress’ most popular themes shows this:

Twenty Sixteen, albeit in there, is the 12th most popular theme but the only real reverse chronological one of the bunch. Twenty Twenty-One is … something else, Hello is a blank theme for Elementor which could, fathomably, be used to make reverse chronological blogs, but this isn’t what Elementor users use the plugin for, but the rest is “Hero first” design. This adds scrolling and/or clicking to see recent posts.

In fact, it’s almost impossible to find a modern, well designed, reverse chronological, theme out of the box.

The solution: get in laterally. Find a place that reverse chronologically shows your friends’ thoughts, ideas, loves, and hates. One that is just in time, a little ephemeral, a little eternal, just like conversations we have.

The place providing this solution: Facebook. Here we still have those reverse chronological listings. But posting on your blog and then linking it on Facebook adds this extra click, so why not just post on Facebook?

Being on Facebook and relying on it as a link provider does have its disadvantages. Facebook doesn’t like to see you go, so unless you’re one of the few approved and Facebook-friendly “blogs” (like Buzzfeed and other crap), your content won’t show up in the feed as much. Facebook decides who gets to see what, not your readers. That’s bad.

And that’s how I met your blogs died.

We love reverse chronology. We love interlinking. And we love things that are written from experience. People who do things and write about them, not people who write to write. We love reading about someone’s day (there is a reason all those family and ego-vlogs are well watched, we identify with the writer or videographer, the subjects in front of the lens or behind the keyboard, and we “adopt” them into our circles.

Blogs gave up this advantage and draw in favour of style over substance, masonry and magazine styles instead of deep connections. Travel bloggers rely on glossy photoshops of HDR enhanced landscapes and posed fake influencer looks in white bathrobes at a deep blue pool, holding a drink. There aren’t very many honest travel blogs anymore.

Blogs tried to compete, gave up their biggest draw, and lost. The strength of citizen writing, personal publishing, stream-of-consciousness was gambled away to compete with something on its own turf. And we lost.


[1] Unless the author chose to have excerpts turned on, but a 2005 internal and unofficial study we did at Technorati showed, that excerpt-on-frontpage blogs seemed to have lower engagement rates)

Ready for another Year(d)

I wish I could claim that this was planned, but an unfortunate trimming accident (pro tip: always check if the #3 distance comb is on the trimmer) leaves me beardless.

Now, lots has been said about my beard, a feature I require because not only does it give me Samson-like powers, it also makes me look less like a douche. Or, to quote one of the residents at work: “You think this leg rotting off a patient is ugly? You haven’t seen Mikka without a beard, yet.”

The good news is: it’ll grow back. And it’s 2020, so we’re all wearing masks in public, anyway. Yay for a potentially lethal viral disease!

Bad news: I indeed am only marginally less shit looking than a rotting leg.

So now my beard has his own category on this blog, reporting frequently on his growth and the return of my powers. And, no, there’s no pointe to this story, just me whining about being too dumb to check the distance setting on my trimmer and having to suffer through the indignities of a shaven cheek once more. I am too old for this bullshit.

Kary Mullis (December 28, 1944 – August 7, 2019)

A surfer dude if there’s ever been one, he was known to leave meetings or come late to work to “catch that ten foot face.”

He identified so much with surfing, he insisted on being shown topless, carrying a surf board, on his autobiography. The publisher talked him into, at least, wearing something over his chest.

He claimed we’d been visited by aliens frequently, believed in UFOs and astrology, and partook in more than his fair share of the Devil’s Lettuce.
And then, one day, he tried to disprove that AIDS was caused by HIV. A scientifically rather problematic theory, but Kary didn’t mind, he went to research ways to prove the presence or absence of specific virii.

And just like that, he invented PCR, the polymerase-chain reaction, a way to use primers to break apart and copy DNA chains.

Today, PCR is the thing you need anywhere in molecular biology. He was awarded a Nobel Prize for it, but spent his acceptance speech complaining about his girlfriend leaving him. Another first for Science.

He was a commensurate swear word machine. Even during his speeches he used all seven of the banned words more than once, not to mention his daily encounters. He was unreliable, experimented with drugs, and once had “an encounter with a psychedelic extraterrestrial raccoon” which, apparently, he consummated a form of marriage with.

That was between his second and third marriage, the unofficial fifth to his official four.

He died, aged 74, a few months before his invention would be in everyone’s thoughts and made the front pages of newspapers. It was from pneumonia after refusing to see a doctor in favor of going back surfing for a week.

Going Postal, Cyprus Style

This is the greatest nightmare (aside from having to go to a public hospital) Cyprus can offer: “package not delivered.”

You arrive at 7:45am because the line already forms for the opening. At 8, of course, nothing opens. SARS-CoV-2 will probably get a medal from Cyprus Post for having made their world and life so much better: the doors are now closed and can only be opened by staff from the inside.

As you wait, past nine and into nine-thirty, you get to watch the staff inside drink Frappé and joke with each other. A few go out back to smoke, some others are on their cell phones.

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Korbinian Brodman (17 November 1868 – 22 August 1918)

For a man who would later neatly classify the areas of the brain, Korbinian Brodman wasn’t one to neatly order his life. He studied Medicine in Munich, Würzburg, Berlin, and Freiburg, left for a while, the returned to pick up his diploma in 1895. Not content, he went back to school and restudied parts of the curriculum in Lausanne before accepting a job back in his first year university’s Hospital, Munich.

Two years later, he went to Leipzig to finish his PhD. That is, if you are counting with me, seven cities in ten years.

He worked for a while in Jena after that, came back to Munich and moved to Frankfurt shortly thereafter. Here he met Alois Alzheimer (yes, that Alzheimer), and the two became fast friends. Alzheimer convinced Brodman to leave Psychiatry, which he considered too mundane, and become a neurologist.

He moved to Berlin a year later, where he finally settled for a while. Looking for something to work and research on, he again listened to his friend Alzheimer and began mapping the brain’s areas. His book “Vergleichende Lokalisationslehre der Großhirnrinde” (Comparative Localization in the Cerebral Cortex) was published in 1909, a day before his 41st birthday. This was the first, and to this day authoritative, map of the cortex which would later be termed “Brodman Map” containing “Brodman Areas.” In doing so, he upset another long term friend, the neurologist Oscar Vogt who, despite being two years younger than Brodman, was his mentor and director in Berlin. Vogt had, the year before, classified the brain into 200 areas, too many to Brodman’s liking.

The same year he couldn’t sit still anymore and moved to Tübingen where he became a full professor in 1913. He left this job in 1916 to move to Halle, where he took a position as lead attending in a psychiatric hospital, a post he left a year and a half later to move back to Munich again.

Six months later he died, suddenly, from a septic infection after ignoring pneumonia. He was 49 years old.

Few physicians have managed to work in so many capacities and places while simultaneously contributing greatly to their field. Brodman’s 52 areas (yeah, Area 52 Joke coming in), combined into 11 histological ones, were defined “blind”. That is he demarked them based on anatomical features and histological structures. His theory, later proven correct, was, that differing structures performed differing functions in the brain.

He only got one thing a little wrong: Area 44 and 45 are in fact one area: Broca’s Area, the language center.

Brodman never married and was rumored to have had multiple male and female relationships, moving every time after one of them went sour. He was an avid reader, known to devour books in breaks between his work and being very Str8 Edge otherwise, not drinking or smoking (almost a must for physicians of that time to do both) and eating little to no animal products. He shared his atheism with Vogt but disliked his far left socialist leanings, probably another reason for their split after Brodman’s publication of his 52 areas.

Today, he still tortures medical students and allows neurologists to clearly communicate localizations in the brain.