Monthly Archives: August 2015

Cake To Your Face, Today

On Tuesday I realised that I’d forgotten to arrange a cake for my Mum, whose birthday was coming up on the Friday. Going to the nearest shop which sells decent cake would be SO strenuous – a whole 20 minute journey is just too far. Due to my laziness over previous years, I have in the past googled places that deliver it (preferably free of charge). But it can’t be just any cake: it must be ultra light sponge (almost like air) and covered in whipped, unsweetened cream and topped with fresh fruit. Basically “Chinese Western cake”. Unsurprisingly I had no luck.

UNTIL! Amazingly on this Tuesday, I stumbled upon the cake site of my dreams: Cakes Today. They make cakes to order, which can be delivered free of charge to most London postcodes if your order is over £15. They can even be delivered the same day until 10pm, in case you have a cake emergency or mad craving. They are made with fresh cream and fruit as well as the more usual fondant icing type (most other cake places only do fondant or buttercream for delivery). With a choice of free piped message and a plethora of changes you can make for £4.99 each, including gluten free and low sugar, there’s no way you wouldn’t get the baked treat you want.

Cakes Today - Fruity Celebration Cake
The Fruity Celebration cake I got my Mum. It didn’t say Happy Anniversary, obviously.

The cake was delivered within the 5 hour time slot in nice condition. It was light and fluffy and not too sweet – just right for my picky Mum. Huzzah!!

From all the above you might think I’m affiliated with Cakes Today. I’m really not. I just like cake, to my face, the way I like it. Ok, the way others like it. With no extra delivery charge. I will return for more! Luckily my Dad’s birthday is just over a week away. It’s cake time again…

Virtual Reality Sight Saver – Vivid Vision

Courtesy of Vivid VisionVirtual reality in gaming is coming soon: the Oculus Rift headset will finally be available to the general public next year. As it became clear that it really was a viable product and not just a pie in the sky, companies and individuals could imagine the potential of seeing in stereo with this sort of device.

One such individual is James Blaha, the co-founder and CEO of Vivid Vision. He suffered from both amblyopia – commonly known as lazy eye – and strabismus, where the eye turns inwards. He considered possible treatments, such as transmitting separate images to each eye using two projectors to strengthen the weaker one. When Oculus Rift became available, he realised that it was the technology he needed.

James Blaha. Courtesy of Vivid Vision
James Blaha, co-founder and CEO of Vivid Vision

Experimenting on his own vision, he and co-founder Manish Gupta developed a game called ‘Diplopia’ which uses the Oculus Rift system to project different images to each eye. Since a hugely successful Indiegogo campaign in 2013, they have included motion detection using Leap Motion to make it more interactive. Using his software, Blaha gained 80% stereo vision and now has almost 20/20 vision when wearing his glasses. A small Slovakian trial also saw improvement in 9 out of 15 participants.

Vivid Vision’s optometrist advisor, Tuan Tran, explains the basics behind how the treatment works:

Vivid works by using a virtual reality device that goes on your head, which is similar to a pair of glasses. We are able to control what the left and right eye sees. [If] the left eye has a turn, we would be able to cast the image so it displays at your deviation. As you get better, the deviation will decrease until your eyes are essentially straight … So once we have all this calibrated, you will then play a game. Let’s pretend it’s tennis. Both eyes will see the arena and the net. The good eye will see the tennis racquet while the lazy eye will see the ball. This encourages the brain to use both eyes together, otherwise you will not see the ball!

This software may see an end to embarrassing eye patch therapy, where the stronger eye is covered or fogged over with a special lense to force the weaker one to adapt. Playing games using gestures will also be much more fun than traditional vision therapy, where compliance is an issue. The most important breakthrough though is the possibility to treat older patients with lazy eye – over the age of eight, the chance of successful treatment drops. Blaha reports that improvements have been seen in Vivid Vision users in their 50’s and 60’s. Even better, once vision has improved the software may not need to be used at all. “In my experience you don’t need to keep using the software to keep it up,” Blaha informed a participant of their Reddit Ask Me Anything session in June. “It is kind of like an atrophied muscle, once it is strong enough for daily use that should be enough.”

There are plans to expand Vivid Vision services to the UK, and several eye clinics have expressed interest in the system. The Vivid Vision software will be available when Oculus Rift is – currently slated as the first quarter of 2016.

Iodine Supplements in Pregnancy

Taking iodine supplements whilst pregnant may be a cost effective from a long term health perspective, researchers from the University of Birmingham have found.

Iodine crystals

Previous studies have shown that even a mild lack of iodine can affect the intellectual development of children, measured by intelligence quotient (IQ) scores. Neurological disorders can also occur if the mother is severely deficient.

The research team analysed the data from many different studies looking at IQ scores and income. It took into account the costs that result from iodine deficiency, such as education and healthcare, and compared these with the required investment for iodine supplements. The conclusion was that providing supplements would lead to an increase of 1.22 IQ points per child and £3,297 of lifetime earnings, and a saving to society of £4,476 per pregnant woman.

Iodine in Pregnancy

Iodine in pregnancy - pregnant belly_with pills

The recommended daily amount of iodine for adults is 150mcg. During pregnancy, it is 250mcg (the same for breastfeeding women). Because it is important for mental development of the unborn baby, it’s a good idea to start taking supplements or ensuring there is enough iodine in the diet before becoming pregnant.

Foods rich in iodine include seafood (white fish, oily fish, shellfish) and dairy (milk, yoghurt). Seaweed is especially rich in it, but because of the high content may contain too much. It is recommended that pregnant women not eat more seaweed more than once a week.

Pregnant women who are concerned about their iodine levels should consult their doctor before taking supplements, as the amount in them may vary and can lead to over consumption. Those thyroid problems should make sure that they speak to their doctor before making any changes to their iodine intake.

This fact sheet from the Association of British Dietitians contains more information about iodine in pregnancy.

The Science Behind Vampires: Bloody Diets

Shiki. Daume, BS Fuji.

I recently finished the gripping and disturbing anime series ‘Shiki’, which features vampire-like beings. I’d recommend it to those who like their entertainment bloody and thought provoking (and full of really bizarre hairdos).

One thought it provoked in me was whether it is feasible to live off blood alone. A few months ago I was reading the Q&A section on the BBC Science Focus site, where people can ask weird and wonderful things for some science boffin to answer, and this particular question was asked. The basic answer is that it isn’t possible, since we wouldn’t be able to extract water from it – because it has the same water and salt content as our own blood, there is no osmotic gradient to cause the water to move into the bloodstream – and it’s also too salty for us. Dehydration and kidney failure would quickly dispatch any wannabe vampire. The rich iron content could also prove toxic, although the author of the article states that 26 litres of blood would have to be imbibed per day to bring about iron poisoning. So obligatory hematophagy, or just eating blood, is not a possibility for humans.

What would it take to be able to live off blood then, and what adaptations would vampires need if they were a real life species? The best way to consider this is to look at existing examples.

Continue reading The Science Behind Vampires: Bloody Diets

Duck and Waffle

I was taken out for a much belated, but really appreciated, birthday brunch today. It was at Duck and Waffle in Heron Tower, where the brunch seems to outstrip the popularity of any other mealtimes judging by the number of people queuing to get into the glass lifts and be shot up to the 40th floor every weekend. Maybe because it’s the only time it’s acceptable to have a plate of dessert as a main meal. I’m also a fan of linner, although it doesn’t seem to have taken off in the same way.

The view from the restaurant is brilliant, even if you’re not facing any famous landmarks or it’s pissing down (as if was for us). I’ve been before but hadn’t tried the signature duck and waffle dish, so went for that this time. A fried duck egg and confit duck leg on a waffle, with a mustard maple syrup to pour, doesn’t sound like something you’d expect to go down that well. We’re not as used to the sweet and savoury mash up as they are in the US, where pancakes with bacon and waffles topped with fried chicken are really popular. The crispy, salty duck leg and rich egg yolk went perfectly with the slightly sweet waffle though, and the syrup was the perfect sauce. Think honeyed chicken wings for example. The dish also brings to mind the current trend for brioche burger rolls, where sweet bread is a great match for umami-rich meat. Not to mention that eating sugar and fat activate the mesolimbic, or reward, pathway in the brain, making this type of food as addictive as any drug.

The signature duck and waffle.

Not satisfied with this I finished off with the dark chocolate brownie sundae. Why?? I always order dessert and regret it afterwards, but it still doesn’t stop me. It was rich and delicious, but of course I was defeated and had to leave a piece of mouth-gumming brownie behind. The oh so creamy ice cream was probably the highlight though.

Big thanks to my friend for an amazing brunch. It’ll be paid back for your birthday! Next time I’ll try the ox cheek doughnut…

Lobster London

Grilled lobster at Lobster London

Last night me and a fellow lobster lover visited Lobster London, the pop-up restaurant on the 29th floor of the Millbank Tower. It was my first time in the tower, and the first thing to strike me was the view which is fantastic.

The food was decent – both the chicken and mushroom sliders had a good, smoky taste, although the chicken was a little on the dry side. Skin-on fries were nicely crispy and fluffy; it was just a shame there were so few of them (as a reference, the contents of the above photo were for both of us). Salad was overly oniony and rockety, and just quite bitter really. As for the main attraction, the lobster tail was a touch overdone but otherwise hit the spot with the balance of sweetness and chargrilled flavour.

Service was efficient and friendly, which made me feel sorry for our waitress when she was continually let down by the bar and kitchen. Throughout the evening we placed orders for a virgin mojito, milkshake and “chocolate extravaganza” dessert, none of which were subsequently available. This lack of preparation (and prior communication) was quite disappointing, frankly.

Overall it was a nice enough dinner in a great setting, but I’ve had a better lobster dining experience elsewhere.

The Drinkable Book: Saving Lives, Page by Page

I’ve only just discovered an incredible, lifesaving invention: the Drinkable Book. It was invented by Dr. Theresa Dankovich, who came up with the idea for her PhD research project at McGill University in Montreal.

It sounds deceptively simple – a piece of paper infused with silver nanoparticles, which costs pennies to produce. The silver particles in the “coffee filter”-like paper have been found to reduce the bacterial content of contaminated water by 99.9%, making it comparable to our tap water. A user simply has to tear half a page out of the book, place it into the filter box (which is also the case for the book) and pour the water through. The filtered water comes through the paper and ends up in the bottom of the box, ready to drink.

This isn’t all. As a major reason for deaths from dirty drinking water was found to stem from a lack of knowledge about what causes the problem, the paper has doubled as an educational tool. Edible inks have been used to print the whys and hows of water sanitation, explaining in simple terms how to keep water clean.

The product is still being tested and refined, with input from the communities that will end up using it. An attempt was made to crowdfund the project last year, and although it raised over $11,000 it fell short of the $20,000 target. A new crowdfunding campaign started two days ago with a goal of $30,000. If you would like to support the project, you can do so by visiting their Indiegogo page.

Grow Your Own: How Artificial Organs Will Change the Face of Medicine

Back in June I entered the University of the West of England and BBC Focus Magazine’s science writing competition, which had the theme “the Science that will transform our future”. I didn’t win anything of course, but thought I’d share the article. You can read the winners’ entries here.

Grow Your Own: How Artificial Organs Will Change the Face of Medicine

A human ear growing out of the back of a mouse. In 1997 this astonishing image led to speculation that one day organs for human transplantation might be obtained this way. Since then the field of body part and organ creation has seen real progress, and the new direction it has taken appears to bring us much closer to a future where organ donors and animal testing are obsolete.

Continue reading Grow Your Own: How Artificial Organs Will Change the Face of Medicine