Hello, my name is Sandy.

Signals and noise

It is decided. After much pondering and wondering, I'm starting a newsletter. Friends and family have been super supportive, and my cats have wandered across the keyboard several times in solidarity.

You can get more details and subscribe here. :)

Other than that, my week has been eventful:

  • My dentist confirmed I definitely need braces. First consultation is next month.
  • Our moving plans are officially official. Konmari 2.0 has begun.
  • Work on my novel no longer feels like I'm clutching at straws. I've learned that creating good characters is harder than making new friends.
  • I'm totally OK with Star Trek Beyond being pretty much a Fast & Furious remix of Star Trek TOS. Once again, Pine nails the Shatner body language when he and Spock banter. And they pulled off the Sulu stuff in a dignified and classy way. Well done, movie-makers.
  • Finally, I'm still reeling from Stranger Things.

What have you been up to lately? Tell me on facebook or twitter.

Cleaning indoor air with science

My doctor tells me I have a condition called atopy. Wiki makes the symptoms sound severe, but I think in terms of suffering, I probably don't get it as bad as the average afflicted. I'm sensitive to sudden changes in weather and too much of certain foods, but most of the time, I get reactions when the air isn't right.

Maybe there are lit cigarettes nearby, or someone walks ahead of me with musky perfume, or if there's been a bushfire or a stuffy room full of dust - it all goes the same way. Niggly sinuses, sometimes a headache, itchy eyes, difficulty breathing, and once in a while, a skin rash (yay, TMI!).

Anyway, all this fuels my curiosity about air and how to keep it clean. Wanna see some interesting things I found on the net?

These plants that clean indoor air

In the 80s, NASA did a study on plants that clean indoor air (lovely infographic). Strictly speaking, it wasn't the plants themselves that did the job, but microorganisms present on the leaves and in the potting soil - either way, you pop some of these plants in your home, and it should help reduce the volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the air.

Notable, hardy and easy-to-care-for varieties include certain species of palm, dracaena, philodendron and ficus. I wrote a piece on them here: 4 indoor plants that purify the air in your home. Of all those plants, we have just a young Benjamin fig in a pot. :)

More details in the paper on the NASA site.

a formaldehyde-cleaning ficus

This air filter that disintegrates pollutants

Molekule. This gadget is neat for two reasons.

One - it pulls in air, traps larger particles like dust and dander, and uses photoelectrochemical oxidation to break down airborne VOCs, mold and bacteria into constituent compounds. Clean air comes out and the greb stays in the internal filter.

Two - IoT integrations. You can monitor the Molekule from your smart phone, so you know when to replace the filter... OR you can set it all up so new filters are sent to you automatically when the old ones are about to get full.

Plus their site is neat too.

Molekule air filter Pic via inhabitat

A purifier that turns bad gases into solids

Dust is far easier to get rid of than bad smells and noxious fumes. So this GPAO contraption turns those stinky, toxic gases into dust by exposing them to ozone and fluorescent light. Inside the GPAO is also an electrostatically charged surface, which dust particles readily cling to, so they stay out of the air.

The process mimics nature's way of cleaning itself, only this machine does it faster in a contained space. It's already in use at industrial sites, and I'm so picturing a future where we can recycle/upcycle some of the nasty shit our civilisation produces.

Video via University of Copenhagen

This humidifier, filter and circulator in a pretty planter box

No mad science here, just everyday science combined in a nice way. The EcoQube Air is a pretty desktop greenhouse with mechanical and charcoal filters to trap dust, pollen and unwanted gases.

The full-spectrum LED bulbs mean you can grow lovely plants inside, which reoxygenate the air that gets pumped through the box. The lights also double as a light therapy system, which you can adjust according to your sleep/wake cycle.

The Kickstarter comments say they will ship to Australia, but it's currently looking like US$40-60. Maybe when their commercial stock is ready, some bright spark will do a bulk import? (someone, pls!)

EcoQube Air by Aqua Design Innovations

Pic via Kickstarter

Cold and flu and sinus infection - oh my!

It's a honey lemon tea day. I'm sick. And a day behind (again) in posting. So let me share my ire. Behold this salacious exposé on trying to figure out whether I have a cold, flu, or a sinus infection.


Colds are caused by a rhinovirus infecting the upper respiratory tract (throat, sinuses, nose). According to WebMD, cold symptoms typically include sore throat, light coughing, headache, stuffy and snotty nose, sneezing, fatigue, and sore sinuses.

You catch a cold from the spittle and goz of infected people. This can happen if they sneeze or cough on you, share drinks with you, kiss you, lick you invasively on the face, or get their nose and mouth fluids on surfaces you then touch before touching your own nose or mouth. The virus sets up shop in the lining of your nose or throat, and if your immune system isn't familiar with how to fight off the invaders, you become the new patient zero among your family and friends.

So for heaven's sake, wash your hands, sneeze and cough into your elbow, and don't expose your infectious self to immunocompromised people.

Antibiotics fight bacteria, not viruses, so there's no point taking them for colds. If you're generally healthy, your body will recover in about 10 days. Don't be surprised if you're still reeling three weeks later, but if it goes for longer, or you feel worse, go see a doctor.

a variant of the human rhinovirus

This is what one type of cold virus looks like - a football! Think about that next time you wallop one at goals. Source: Robin S on Wikimedia Commons.

Flus (influenza)

The flu is caused by the influenza virus. Flu symptoms tend to be more severe than cold symptoms and don't always feature a gluggy nose; they're more along the lines of body aches, extreme fatigue, pain around the eyes, headache, a dry cough, sore throat and fever. It's kind of an all-over badness.

Flu sets in faster than a cold, happening in a matter of hours rather than days, and a healthy person can usually fight it off on their own. For everyone else, however, getting sick can be dangerous. 'Everyone else' being babies and young children, older folks, pregnant women, people already fighting respiratory diseases, and people with weakened immune systems. And 'dangerous' meaning they could go to hospital or die. Yeah, it's a thing. The complications sound gross.

According to the Department of Health, "flu contributes to an average of 13,500 hospitalisations and more than 3,000 deaths among Australians aged over 50 years." So, try not to flu all over old people and already-sick people, OK?

You can help prevent flu by getting a flu shot - no the flu shot doesn't give you the flu that's a myth THE END. But if you've already got it, don't bother with antibiotics - just look after yourself and if you still feel bad after a week, go see a doctor.

H1N1 swine flu virus

Here's what a strain of flu looks like. It's H1N1, swine flu. Source: Cybercobra on Wikimedia Commons.

Sinus infections (sinusitis)

Sinus infections are an inflammation of the sinus tissue caused by bacteria, not a virus, though your cold can become a sinus infection. When you're all goopy up in there, it gives bacteria a warm, wet place to party. This means your hayfever and dust allergies can turn into sinus infections too.

You know what's dumb, though? You can get sinusitis from cold, dry air too. Sounds like you actually need some nose wetness to trap the germs, presumably for flushing out so they don't settle in and make you sick.

WebMD says if your cold goes for longer than 10 days, it's likely to have become a sinus infection. Your symptoms will be super sore and blocked sinuses, a forehead and face-y headache, post-nasal drip (yum!), and thick and stinky phlegm.

Frustratingly enough, despite sinusitis being caused by bacteria, antibiotics don't seem to help much here either. It sounds like looking after yourself is the first treatment to try - warmth, humidity, rest, fluids, you know the drill. I'm seeing mixed reports on decongestants - most people tell me to use them, but one doctor said to avoid them because they dry out the nasal passage. Since taking that doctor's advice, my sinus troubles clear up much faster, so maybe there's something to it.

So, what's up my nose?

Yesterday, I woke up with a rough, raw feeling in my sinuses and throat. The winter air has been cold and dry, and though it's not been a problem til now, I've been feeling rubbish since.

I don't feel like I've been beaten up, so it's probably not the flu. I'm guessing it's a cold or a sinus infection, but one without too runny a nose.

I'm not super snotty, but I am tired and grumpy, and feeling inclined to just watch TV all day, but I know I'll regret spending a day in indolence, so I'm slow cooking a beef stew and doing a bit of writing this afternoon before binging on Netflix.

beef sriracha stout stew, slow cooked

How are you? How do you feel? If you're sick too, whinge at me on Facebook or Twitter. Let's feel sorry for ourselves together.

A sleepy day for cats

a cat, sleeping

It is a sleepy day for cats. And also for not-cats. Rain has been bucketing down for hours... I should enjoy this free garden water while it lasts, since I will have to do it all myself come summer.

Dora decided it was nap time and kicked me out of my chair. So here I am, sitting on the floor, writing to you.

my tea and book on a high-pile rug

My 20 book pledge is going slowly, but I have passed the halfway mark - hooray! The fan art, however, is less successful. Some books just haven't inspired me to draw. Altered Carbon, for example, was a great read, but once it was over, I was ready to move on. Pretty much every other book since then has inspired me to do something other than drawing.

Does this mean I don't get to call myself an artist after all, because my default medium isn't art? On that note, the distinction between job titles and identity will only get more confusing, as things are in flux here again. I will write about it another day, though, because now I want to tell you about Mona's visit to the dentist.

another sleeping cat

Yeah, you heard me. We took the cat to the dentist.

We picked up this little darling at the Cat Haven four years ago, after losing a cat of a similar breed to a car accident. Thinking she would be just as lovely as he was, we adopted her and expected she would slot right into her new life off the streets. We were so wrong.

She is a noisy, crochety old battle-axe who sounds angry when she's happy, and really pissed when she's somewhat annoyed. She loves a pat, but freaks when you go to pat her; don't even try giving her a butt scratch with your foot. That's just her way. I think she was accustomed to a more violent or accident-prone lifestyle.

So over the years, we thought nothing of her crankiness, and slowly got her accustomed to the affections of this household. She's always had the worst breath, but the Haven nicknamed her "Stinkerbell", so we thought that was also just her way.

Recently, we saw an ad for pet dental appointments, and decided to take her in, just to check. The vet confirmed her teeth and gums were in good condition, but WHAT... there were huge things around them. They looked like lumpy extra teeth!!

"This is a cat who doesn't chew enough," said the vet. Mona had huge build-ups of dental scale, likely from too much wet food for the amount of dry food she eats. So, we got her new dental biscuits and a revised feeding plan... but not before a rather traumatic affair.

She got used to being restrained, got used to having her mouth held open, but you could tell de-scaling was the absolute worst. The only time you hear her make that sound is when a computer chair runs over her tail.

However, once it was over, she seemed uncharacteristically chill. In a better mood than we've ever seen her. Her teeth must have been giving her some real trouble if she's not holding a grudge against us for the rest of the week.

So, there it is. If your cat is a moody cow with breath that could fell a tree, get her teeth checked.

Bloom in weather

pink Camellia japonica

We have what I think is a Camellia japonica in our garden. It has been budding for a few weeks, and chose the most miserable grey patch of days to flower.

Of course, when I say miserable, I mean totally awesome. Thick, woolly winds. White noise rain to sleep to. Humidity and cloud cover keeping warmth close to the ground. It's still wintery and cold, but this being Perth, it's still quite nice.

That said, I have felt a bit shithouse this past fortnight. I blame it on getting too caught up in work-work and home-work, and not getting outside enough for sun and fresh air. Friends have recommended getting a blood test done for vitamin D levels, but I've had enough blood tests for a while.

Assuming vitamin D might actually be the problem, I'm going to get out more with my arms uncovered and be conscientious with food, and see if the low moods go away. Cancer Council Australia recommends 2-3 hours of winter sunlight, spread over the week - I can manage that.

The plan for workdays now is to spend at least 15 minutes in view of the sky, sometime in the middle of the day. Even indoors by a sunny (or cloudy) window is fine.

I tried to get some sun in the garden this afternoon, but we've been overcast and stormy all day. Nevertheless, I planted some cos lettuce seedlings in the no-dig bed, squatting out in the drizzle while cold, cold rain spattered on my bare arms. Surely I soaked up a bit of good UV through the clouds. Didn't want to jinx my brave winter seedlings with a photo, but if they survive the week, I will show you them.

The other day, we did get a couple hours of bright, bright sunlight, so I stood in the yard for 8 minutes and took a picture of this watercolour. That was okay. :)

watercolour painting with

Mm, I can hear the wind howling outside. Time for some tea.

Breathing out, then in again

whole chicken in the slow cooker

I am ready to take a breather. Last night, I sensed the creeping fingers of depression and fatigue. They tend to come after an eventful period. Even though it's good eventful, the mind and body need to rest.

Today begins a personal embargo, which involves not making any plans. Last time was a fortnight, but I'm taking a month now.

Though life is full of things I want to do, there are lots of little things I don't make time for. This is the time for those things to happen when the mood strikes. The intention is to do less, though somehow this ad-hoc approach means I end up doing more. But that's fine, so long as it feels like less, like relaxing.

This evening, I'm slow cooking a chicken. I've wanted to for a while, and the urge finally overwhelmed. Tomorrow, we'll have roast chicken, veggie & stock soup, and a stub of cheese. I must say, it's tempting to have a soft, bready dinner roll too.

On that note, foot's off the pedal with eating Primal now that we're better with our food, but I still prefer our "less bread, cake and cookie" diet. Coeliac testing week was an interesting experience. My tummy doesn't like it when I have too much... something. Gluten maybe, or sweets. Maybe certain carbs or starches? Sushi is pushing my buttons, but I can go to town on other types of rice.

Anyway, I'm not coeliac, and science says NCGS is nowt to worry about, but keeping the easy, fast, convenient wheat foods away has forced me to eat more veggies, fruits and fats. And eating more fats has made me conscious of picking healthier fats. Only time will tell if this is all just a crock of shit. :)

The house smells amazing right now, with that chicken bubbling away. I have to be up in a bit to take it off the boil, so good night, everyone.