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text 2018-03-04 12:07
Reading progress update: I've read 32%.
Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley's Frankenstein - Kathryn Harkup

So far, I'm not loving Making the Monster - it's interesting as a history of Mary Shelley's book, but as for the science part ... I'm 1/3 in and have only now come to some science related sections. Even so, these are more general history of science sections. 

 

As much as I have enjoyed the paragraphs on Paracelsus and Davy, the information imparted seems a little too superficial for me to love the book. 

 

Not what I expected, as I didn't seem to have this problem with A is for Arsenic.

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text 2018-03-01 23:49
Reading progress update: I've read 49 out of 354 pages.
I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life - Ed Yong

I must admit I did not know what to expect of this month's Flat Book, and there was a small part of me that doubted that I would enjoy reading about microbes. 

 

However, I am really enjoying what I have read so far, and I look forward to reading more. 

 

Now, which card of the KYD game will I assign to reading this book...? ;D

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text 2018-02-26 00:42
The Sunday Post ... But with a Twist

Well, it is Sunday, and this is a post, but as some of you may have noticed, I have been out and about enjoying this year's Granite Noir Festival this weekend. The Granite Noir Festival is a short local event that celebrates crime writing - with lots of readings, author meets, workshops, tours, theatre, exhibitions, etc. For such a relatively small interest group in this rather remote part of the world, there was a lot to see and do.

 

I have already written about the author event last night, with Hugh Fraser and Robert Daws, and I had planned to join the conversation with Val McDermid on Friday night also, but may have fallen asleep on the sofa after work... Um, yeah. Never mind.

 

Anyway, the main event for me this weekend took place tonight in the rather snazzy restaurant of our local theatre - A Poisoned Cocktail Party hosted by none other than Dr Katheryn Harkup, author of A is for Arsenic (which you've probably heard me gush on about in the past)  and Making the Monster (which I am currently enjoying). 

 

So, here is the twist ... Instead of our usual Sunday Soup feature, I will share some of the cocktails with you.

The idea was that with each "round", Dr. Harkup would tell about some of the ingredients and what made them poisonous and present stories - mostly of a dark but humorous nature - about the use of the poison. Btw, these were not all the same ones as described in A is for Arsenic, which made for an added bonus of interesting trivia.

 

First off, we had this one:

 

 

This was a concoction of gin, Cointreau, and absinthe (or rather essence of absinthe), with a shot of juice (can't remember which one but there was a slight hint of grapefruit). 

The cocktail itself was not a winner for me - it was remarkably bland. 

 

However, the story of how absinthe was used and how the thujone, the compound in the ingredient wormwood, can be toxic and lead to hallucinations and convulsions. There is, apparently, very little of the stuff in absinthe, and most of the problems with absinthe may have been caused by the high percentage of alcohol in the drink - but it was interesting to hear that Victorians also added copper compounds and other things to the drink to get the green colour. And those added impurities may actually be a cause of concern of their own.

 

We also heard about Brazil nuts, which may, apart from selenium, also contain uranium, depending on where they have grown. Delightful.

 

In Round # 2, we were given this yummy looking duo:

 

 

That is, tapenade with poppy seed crackers (to soak up some of the %), and a blood orange and amaretto cocktail - which was delicious.

 

Let me just say, there was nothing to worry about with the olive dish. 

 

The drink, of course, provided the anchor for a discussion of cyanide, which was one of the poisons described in A is for Arsenic that I found particularly fascinating. It is fast and effective, and horrible. And yet, cyanide compounds are in so many things other than bitter almonds, cherry stones, apricot stones, and apple pips - but it is the reaction with stomach acid that causes the problems. (Btw, apparently one would have to ingest about 200 apple seeds before the getting into trouble.)

 

The poppy seed crackers led to one of the most elaborate discussions of the evening - which was all about opium and its derivatives morphine and heroin. It still shocks me that heroin was prescribed as a "non-addictive" painkiller and given over the counter to anyone, including teething babies.

 

Lastly, we had this one:

 

 

I have no idea what was in that other than some coffee-based liquor like Kahlua or Tia Maria. I don't drink a lot and was already struggling with the previous two cocktails at this point. (I could, of course, have opted for the non-alcoholic versions on offer, but ... nah... )

 

The cocktail was ok. I was far more interested in Dr. Harkup's discussion about caffeine. It is also a neurotoxin, but it is so prevalent in our diet that most humans have build up some sort of tolerance to it. However, there has apparently been an experiment where  spiders were given different drugs and the scientists observed the effect on the spiders' web spinning skills. Apparently caffeine messed them up tremendously. 

 

Read more about this here or here

 

What have I learned from this evening? Buy your cyanide fresh and take your coffee seriously!

 

In all seriousness, tho, this was a brilliant event and I can only recommend that, if you have the chance, you go and see Dr. Harkup talks or read one of her books. 

But then, you already know that I'm a fan.

 

Happy Sunday!

 

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text 2018-02-24 15:52
Reading progress update: I've read 6%.
Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley's Frankenstein - Kathryn Harkup

In 1787, Caroline Herschel became the first woman in Britain to receive a professional salary for scientific work, awarded to her by King George III in recognition of her reputation as an astronomer and ‘comet hunter’.

Despite a few notable exceptions, though, it was generally not considered appropriate for women to be active investigators in a laboratory setting. However, their contributions behind the scenes were known and the presence of women at public lectures was noted and encouraged.

Mary Shelley was alive at a time of new opportunities for women in terms of education. Despite being born into a scandalous family set-up on a very restricted income, Mary had an enviable, though unconventional, childhood when it came to education and intellectual stimulation. Her childhood was filled with books and spent in the company of writers, artists, scientists and philosophers. It was no surprise, and was perhaps even expected, that Mary would become a writer. What no one could have predicted was that she would produce a creature like Frankenstein’s monster.

Chapter 1 has been more of general history of science and thoughts prevalent in Shelley's time, which I thought was a good introduction to the book. 

 

As with A is for Arsenic, I really like Harkup's style of writing. And of course, there are footnotes and references to look up for further reading.

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text 2018-02-21 20:44
Very Little Reading...

is getting done this week and weekend around here, because this is one of those weeks where I am not destined to be at home much.

 

But there are very good reasons for it: A very short-notice work trip took me to London yesterday. Yay! And even better, the work commitments ended just after lunch, with my colleague asking if I had plans for the extra time before we had to catch our flight home. 

 

Me? Plans? Of course, I have plans! Apparently, he didn't but he was happy to tag along to see Charlie and the Whale...

 

 

I had not been back to the Natural History Museum for a couple of years, and this was the first time since they changed out the dinosaur for the blue whale in Hintze Hall. It is huge. What a great idea to feature it in the main hall. It really let you get a sense of scale and perspective to see it stretching almost all along the main entrance.

 

We didn't have a lot of time, certainly not enough to look at anything in detail or wonder off in many of the specialist areas, but I did make a point of us saying Hi to Pickwick's great-great-great-grandma/pa.

 

 

I love this place.

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