So she feels under the weather, and just wants to get under a duvet and “watch a nice, lighthearted comedy or TV series”.


Half an hour later I go into the room to check on her. “So, what are you watching?” “Ripper Jack”






I often wonder how much effect things really have on us, and how much is determined by our brain. The placebo effect is a very well known phenomenon: it is clear that taking sugar pills (even if the person knows they are just sugar pills) does help alleviating pain, or even curing certain conditions.

That in mind I would like to share a little amusing story from my Florida days, when I was working in the hell that was called the Chemistry Department of that tiny little university north of Miami.

I was responsible for the running of the coffee club in our little lab of horrors, and that meant I took the money from the collection box, and transmuted it into coffee in the supermarket, to make sure the laboratory kept running smoothly.

If you ever have been around academics, you know that we are practically coffee-based life forms. If you listened to the postdocs and fellow PhD students in the lab you had an impression that nobody was able to function without a good dose of daily caffeine, moreover even the slightest decrease in the daily dose would cause immediate withdrawal symptoms, the inability to function as a human being, migraines, shakes, and in general, transform a relatively functional adult into something that resembles a zombie more than anything.

Well, I got to test this hypothesis over two weeks.

Now, I know, ethics committees are pretty strict on human experiments, but please keep in mind that it was not premeditated, and the people in questions were horrible human beings, anyhow. (Seriously. The place was the definition of how not to run a lab.)

Anyhow, one day the money stopped coming into the box. And despite my repeated warnings, nobody felt it was important to replenish it. Since I bought the last batch of coffee on my own money, I thought I’d just substitute the next batch to the decaf that was on sale -hence cheaper than the regular coffee, since it was I who paid for it anyhow.


For two weeks everyone had coffee with absolutely no caffeine in it.


Nobody noticed.


And this is why I am happy to have decaf at any time; it makes absolutely no difference. You get the same hit out of it, even if you know it’s decaf – and this is the miracle of placebo.


…so we had this workshop about changing policies in a changing world, and at the end we had to come up with a superhero who embodies this idea of bold change.


And then it hit me. Superheroes are not the agents of change. That’s the supervillains’ job. Superheroes are keeping up the status quo. They are by definition against change.

I think I found something really profound.

I noticed something quite a long time ago: people in the UK think themselves outside of the European continent. The term “leaving Europe” keeps propping up, used by the most “remain” proponents, even though the British Isles are still going to be part of the same continental shelf. There won’t be changing their population or culture suddenly. They still be part of Europe. They are just leaving a political/economic entity.

It think it says a lot about how British people think of themselves and of the rest of Europe. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; they do provide a sort of reality check to the rest of the continent. It’s one of the greatest issues of Brexit: with them this dissenting voice will disappear. Tiny, poor and irrelevant countries (Hungary I’m looking at you) can’t make up for this, no matter how much Orban is shouting. There is a great risk of the EU becoming an echo chamber for Germany, and this is a truly bad thing.

I’ve been experiencing sciatica for some time now; it is not exactly a joyride. (And yes, I know, people go through worse, which makes me feel ever crappier for complaining now and then).
I’m slowly limping home while feeling the mixture of some pain and sleep deprivation in equal measure, while Metallica is blaring from my earphones (so that I don’t fall asleep standing up on the Tube).

This little kid on the street looks up at me, sees my face, and I have no idea what he saw, but his eyes grew big, and said in a very thin, very scared voice: “Good evening, sir”, then passed me real quick.


We went to the zoo with the family: my cousins, their children, and my mother. At the ape house we are confronted by this cutie.

Wild guessworks starts: what is it? And the consensus settles on – the chimpanzee… (None of my family members are biologists, but this is still shocking.) I kept insisting that these guys are orangutans, but my family works like a democracy –  majority rules. So I’ve been pestered with the question over and over again: are you SURE it’s not a chimp?

At the end I just said: “sure, you’re right. It’s an Irish chimp”, and left.