Thursday, August 27, 2009

Placebo destinations

For me the most surprising thing in this article about the placebo effect is the bit about how medicines work differently in different countries.

By the late '90s, for example, the classic antianxiety drug diazepam (also known as Valium) was still beating placebo in France and Belgium. But when the drug was tested in the US, it was likely to fail. Conversely, Prozac performed better in America than it did in western Europe and South Africa.

Isn't that interesting? If you want your Valium to really work, go to France!

Well, all right, I know that's not what it means, but it would add a whole new dimension to health care if it did work that way.

"Oh, you have an ulcer," the doctor says. "I'll write a prescription for these white pills, to be taken four times a day for two weeks, in Spain."

Can you imagine how much more interesting illness could be?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Birds under bridges

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Now and again a survey report is published in the newspaper that makes my head spin, particularly when I read it late at night and I'm trying to read fast. There was an excellent one a couple of days ago. It would probably make perfect sense if I read it slowly, but on my first, fast reading, it was gobbledegook. By the third paragraph my head was revolving slowly:

"While 61 percent of the elementary school teachers said they believed students understood more than 80 percent of the content covered in textbooks, only 18.6 percent of students said they picked up that much. The percentage of teachers who believed their students understood around 60 to 70 percent of what they were taught was close to that of students, at 36.3 percent and 34.6 percent respectively. Meanwhile, only 2.7 percent of teachers were under the impression that students had an understanding of approximately 40 to 50 percent of their textbooks, but 41.4 percent of students responded that that was how much they'd comprehended."

And the revolutions became a lot faster as I read the paragraph after that:

"Such gaps in the understanding of student comprehension were evident at the junior and senior high school level as well. While 64.8 percent of junior high school teachers trusted that students grasped about 60 to 70 percent of textbook content, only 34.5 percent of students said they'd understood that much, and while 16.1 percent of teachers said they believed students had around 40 to 50 percent comprehension of their textbooks, 36.5 percent of students said they did."

By the time I got to the end I was feeling quite dizzy.

Incidentally, on that same page there is a link to another story, which I'm sure is a tragedy, but it's a great headline. I probably shouldn't have laughed:

"Student drowns while testing concrete canoe."

That must have been one of the students who only understood 40 percent of his textbooks.

Friday, August 14, 2009


Yesterday I visited a friend who recently adopted a very small kitten she found outside her apartment. He was only about two weeks old when she found him, and she had to feed him special kitten formula with a syringe. He has now graduated to soft food, and is doing very well. I think he is about a month old, now.

I tried to take pictures of him, but he was very hard to photograph. He was still a little wobbly on his feet but seemed to get around rather quickly all the same, often sideways, as if he hasn't quite got control of his legs yet. This makes him look slightly drunk, which is endearing in a very small kitten.

I thought he'd be easy to photograph, but he wasn't. I'd focus on his face and discover that I'd taken a picture like this:

I managed to get one reasonable photo from directly above him...

... but couldn't get down to his level to take a decent shot, because when I did, he galloped towards me, all sideways and wobbly. Or else he was behind something.

In most of the pictures I took he was either blurred or washing his bottom.

Oh, well. Perhaps I should just stick to photographing birds.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Fortunately, nobody happened to be passing at the time

I was outside just now trying to see the Perseids meteor shower. The cloud cover meant that I could only see a few patches of sky where stars were visible, and light pollution took care of the rest. It probably didn't help that I had no idea where I should be looking, so was looking where the clear patches of sky were. It seems that those were not the right places. I did not see any meteors.

In fact, the most interesting thing to happen was that while standing in the middle of the road staring up at the sky (probably with my mouth open), my sarong fell off.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The scream

Last night the hungry crocodiles under my bed started to sidle out. They thought I was asleep, and wanted to eat me. They were particularly interested in my legs. I KNEW we should have had taller beds. Why did we have to be in a swamp anyway? Everybody had said we'd be safe, but the bed was too low.

Making myself small in the middle of the bed was not working. One crocodile, not even a very big one, had started to climb up. It lunged at my leg. I managed to scramble out of the way, and bashed it on the nose. It fell back, but started to come towards me again, enraged, and then I remembered something someone told me once – that if you screamed right in a crocodile's face it would run away.

It was a huge effort, but I took a deep breath and screamed right in that crocodile's face.

The crocodile reared back, looking appalled. It worked! But my scream also alarmed The Man, who woke up and grabbed my hand, which woke me up.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

Although the crocodiles were beginning to fade into absurdity, I could still see that horrified, toothy grin, and I didn't want to move, because YOU NEVER KNOW.

And for some reason the whole thing was really, really hard to explain.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Interesting question

Near the end of the semester, in the teachers' room at lunchtime, one of the guys asked everybody a question.

"Imagine you are running a race," he said. "You pass the person who is in second place. What position are you in now?"

One of the people who got it wrong reacted by getting astonishingly angry.

"Say the question again?" she said, and when he repeated it, she said, "YOU WORDED IT DIFFERENTLY LAST TIME. YOU'RE TRYING TO CONFUSE ME!"

Then she gave the same wrong answer she'd given the first time. The guy who'd asked the question caught my eye, and we both laughed. She got madder, and kept insisting she was right. Somehow, this question really hit a nerve with her. I had never seen her so worked up.

Other people were asking,

"So what's the answer, then?"

He pointed at me.

"You were the only person to get it right away," he said, and I tried not to look smug. At the same time, I was relieved. I had been trying to figure out why everyone had a different answer from mine. I'd been thinking I'd made some sort of embarrassing mistake, but couldn't figure out what it was.

At home I tried the question on The Man. He answered it wrongly, and when I laughed, he made me say the question again. Then he got mad.


What an interesting little question!