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Saturday
May062017

EU open day


EU Open Day at the Commission. Hayden met Captain Europe, but was somewhat dubious.

Every country had a booth. Hayden's favourite was the Netherlands.

Disgracefully, the UK didn't bother to turn up for Open Day.

Fortunately, the official UK negotiator realised the collosal mistake the UK was making, and formally made a plea to re-join the EU.

The Minister for Belgium nominated the UK to rejoin the EU

Seconded by Poland

And the UK is back in the EU! Crisis averted everyone!

Friday
May052017

The Residenz’ wine-cellars

The Prince-Bishops of Würzburg were seriously rich. They lived in a castle above the city, and when castles became unfashionable they had a 300 room palace built in the city. Despite heavy bombing in WWII, much of the palace survived and the rest was painstakingly rebuilt in the original style, so today you can still see how decadently rich the Bishops lived. Gold leaf and marble cover the rooms, with the ceilings elaborately painted frescos.  It screamed the type of opulence that you can only get by giving billions of dollars to someone with the aesthetic taste of a five year old. An American colleague commented that it was such a different world from today. I gently ribbed back, “yeah, it is hard to imagine today a ruler who wants gold leaf covering their toilet and needs their entry to be announced by a fanfare of ‘hail to the chief’”.

The most interesting part of the Residenz is the wine cellars beneath, the largest in Germany and the oldest in the world, founded in 1128. At the end of our conference we got to walk through the stone catacombs; heavy stone encasing the enormous oak barrels, dark shadows punctuated only by candle light. An enormous cheese plater and the tasting of seven Franconian wines rounded out a very satisfying trip.

Clearly this castle doesn't cut it anymore, so time to build a palace:

The wine cellars. No tapping on the barrels, or else: 

Thursday
May042017

The Else-Kröner foundation

I am in Würzburg for a Translational Immunology conference. The conference is hosted by the Else Kröner foundation, which is quite an inspiring story. Else started out with a pretty bad roll of the dice – her father died before she was born, and her mother, struggling as a cleaner for a pharmacy, died while she was still young. The story could easily have ended in poverty, but fortunately Else was adopted by the pharmacist. Even this stroke of luck soon ended, with her adopted father dying during WWII, and a young Else inheriting a bombed out pharmacy. It must have been an amazing story of courage, talent and dedication for Else to rebuild her pharmacy and turn it into a multi-million dollar company, Fresenius, specialising in nutritional supplements. In her will, Else put enough money aside to look after her children until they graduated from university, and turned the rest into a foundation for medical research. The foundation is still the majority shareholder of Fresenius, and sponsors early-career clinical researchers, such as the excellent Translational Immunology program they run in Würzburg. 

Monday
Apr242017

Chile

Sunday
Apr232017

Travelling as a vegetarian

So, inspired by my recent trip to Chile, I thought I would make a map of where it is easy/hard to be a vegetarian. It ranges from:

Amazing: India, Italy and Thailand, oh my!

Good: you don't need to check the menu, every place will have a couple of decent vegetarian options

Okay: you might need to search a bit, but you are not going to go hungry and there are occasional gems

Poor: waiters will look at you funny, but the cook will try to make you an omlet or something

Bad: yeah, expect to have a few meals based around fries and beer. Waiters are just going to say "no".

Food desert: desperately looking for a Subway or pizza place, you'll end up appreciating airline food at the end

Note: a lot of these places can flip dramatically if you eat fish, most notably Spain, Indonesia and Japan

Wednesday
Apr192017

Wisconsin man shot by pet octopus

Madison, Wisconsin: Dwaine Edwards, 38, was hospitalised Thursday night after being shot by his pet octopus. Mr Edwards was rushed to St Mary's Hospital, where he was treated and is expected to make a full recovery.

Pet octopuses are known to be able to climb out of aquarium and perform complex tasks, such as opening jars of food. "Octopussy", the pet of Mr Edwards, is thought to have climbed out and triggered the loaded Glock 17 left next to the aquarium. Mr Edwards, watching TV in the same room, was hit by the stray bullet, resulting in a gunshot wound to the upper thigh. 

When asked whether the incident will change his policy on keeping loaded guns lying around the house, Mr Edwards replied, "No way man, I'm Second Amendment all the way". He continued, "I'm even thinking of getting Octopussy his own set. Can you imagine, some gangbanger breaks into my place, and he gets a bullet through the head from me and eight shots to the chest from Octopussy - how awesome would that be!"

When asked for comment, the NRA President, Mr Wayne LaPierre, replied, "our thoughts and prayers go out to Mr Edwards. While this minor accident is regrettable, we must not forget that the only thing that can stop a bad octopus with a gun is a good octopus with a gun". 

Saturday
Mar182017

Bengaluru, India

Possibly the worst thing to be written on a Supreme Court building anywhere

The Bull Temple

Bangalore Palace, built as an imitation to Windsor Castle

Holi, the festival of colour. We all got inked that day...

Friday
Mar172017

Cartoon wisdom

When I was young, cartoons taught us... pretty much nothing. Mostly that senseless violence is funny, I guess. Perhaps that being shot in the face with a gun is ultimately harmless.

For Hayden, the cartoons he watches are genuinely wise. Peppa Pig includes the best male rolemodel on TV, and a family that uses good humour to live together. My Little Pony teaches about friendship and growing up. Avatar the Last Airbender teaches about diversity and how pain can make good people do bad things. Okay, Adventure Time doesn't make much sense, but this wisdom from Hayden is straight from Daniel Tiger:

Saturday
Jan282017

A year in costume

 

Monday
Jan162017

39 star

Sandra and Sally manoeuvred into the office. Sally went first, wheeling the enormous infant stroller. She was haggard with sleep deprivation, temper frayed by the last two weeks of sleepless nights, and when the stroller unexpectedly veered into the door she snapped.

“This stupid thing! Cost us two thousand, and the wheels don’t even – ”

Sandra cut her off with a sharp “Quiet! You’ll wake Vinnie”.

Sandra carried baby Vincent in a sling. He was prone to wake up early when sleeping on Sally, the smell of milk tempting him awake. Not that I smell any better, thought Sandra with disgust, faintly nauseous at the smell of sour milk wafting up from the baby. Still, she smiled with love when she looked down, so adorable. At least, when he wasn’t screaming.

It was ten minutes before the Professor entered. Thinning hair streaked with white and leathery skin indicated his age, yet he seemed positively buoyant as he entered. “I have great news for you, your son is going to be a Star37!”

Sally and Sandra looked up in shock. “Like… a Brain?”, Sally said.

“Yes, like a Brain”, the Professor laughed softly, using his fingers to put air-quotes around the last word. “Your son carries the DRB1*3:37 allele, plus autoimmune susceptibility alleles at PTPN22, CD25 and half a dozen others. It would be even better if he was female, but this is just a beautiful genome to induce autoimmunity!”

“So, he has a lot of genes for intelligence?” Sally asked.

“No my dear”, drawled the Professor, patronizingly. “Being a Star37 goes far beyond the range of normal human intelligence. Every human brain has a small set of neurons, called Ent1 positive neurons, that work to suppress our intellect. You must understand that during our evolution, intelligence was an asset, but sometimes we needed to run on instinct. When a sabre-toothed tiger jumps out at you, you don’t want a detailed analysis of the risk profile, you want your body to take over on instinct. The Ent1 positive neurons are responsible for suppressing intellect at these times, letting our animal brains take over. The problem is, they also cause a baseline suppression of our intelligence – so if we can remove them the potential intellect increase is amazing. We now suspect that scientists like Einstein and Newton were lacking these neurons – and your son could be the next Einstein!”

 “So does this mean the donor was a Brain?” Sandra asked.

“Probably not, the father –”

“Donor”, said Sally under her breath.

“must have carried the *37 allele, since it is not in your genome. But *37 just means you have the right TCR repertoire to initiate an autoimmune reaction against Ent1. By itself there is only a 2-3% chance of destroying the Ent1 positive neurons, we really need defects in immune tolerance genes to have a good chance of initiating a strong enough immune response. And those genes, my dear, are from you. Tell me, does anyone in your family have autoimmunity?”

He directed the question at Sandra, but Sally cut in. “I’m the biological mother. My brother has Multiple Sclerosis, is that autoimmunity?”

“Multiple Sclerosis! Delightful, how perfect!”

“That’s horrible! You haven’t seen how Paul has suffered, how can you laugh at that! Is Vinnie going to catch Multiple Sclerosis too?”

“No no, I’m sorry my dear, yes it is a tragedy for your brother, but don’t you see, this means the world for your son! He is really just an ideal candidate for immune conversion therapy.”

“This won’t cause any damage to Vinnie, will it?”, Sally worried.

 “We don’t exactly have sabre-tooth tigers running around, and would you rather your son be decent at sports and music, or a genius?  There are some minor downsides, like a decreased libido, but nothing I wouldn’t give up in a heartbeat! Look, let me give you some pamphlets. You have plenty of time to get use to the idea. We don’t start the autoimmune reaction until puberty anyway, too much risk of neuronal plasticity replacing the lost function.”

---

40 years later, Vincent was in a reflective mood. He had led a fairly normal childhood. Most children with the DRB1*3:37 allele were sent to intense training prior to immune conversion therapy, paid for by venture capitalists in return for a 1% cut of future earnings. His mothers had decided that if he was going to be a Brain anyway, better for them to focus on teaching him compassion and empathy, so he had gone to a local school and had spent weekends volunteering for a dozen different charities. Their final lesson in ethics had been to give him the choice, at 12 years old, of whether to undergo treatment or not. I wonder what my life would have been like if I had decided the other way? It was a musing he had had a hundred times before, but today at least the answer was clear. I’m happy, so I must have made the right choice.