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The Hypnotist's Love Story - Liane Moriarty
This is about Ellen, a hypnotherapist, and the beginning of her relationship with Patrick; and Patrick's ex-girlfriend, Saskia, who is stalking him. It's different from others of Moriarty's which I enjoyed, because it doesn't have so much in the way of plot twists and revelations. It's a (light-ish) psychological thriller, but in a different sense: that it's a portrayal of and insight into someone who's mentally disturbed. But I prefer the plot-based kind of psychological thriller.
Ellen and Saskia take turns narrating, and it's quite sympathetic to Saskia, while still being realistic about how damaging her actions are to Patrick (but not apparently to Ellen, who just finds the whole thing intriguing and fascinating).
The portrayal of hypnotherapy is interesting, informative and positive. Because it allows some kind of access to the parts of your brain normally beneath conscious control, I wonder if it might help with my mystery tiredness. Ellen has a client suffering from unexplained leg pain, and she hypnotises her to visualise a dial she can use to "turn down" the pain, and it works to some extent.
(Cue obvious joke about how "you are feeling sleepy..." is the opposite of what I need to hear.)

The Humans - Matt Haig
This is about an alien who comes to earth in human form and has trouble adjusting to our odd and irrational ways. It's quite entertaining and heartwarming, but perhaps a bit lacking in substance.
I don't know whether or not the parallel between the alien and an autistic person is deliberate, but it definitely comes across to me. He has trouble reading social cues and body language, and finds a lot of customs frustratingly illogical. Bits of it read like The Curious Incident.
It also reminds me a bit, somewhat conceitedly, of my 2006 NaNoWriMo novel, 101 Things to Do Before You're Two. The premise of that was that all babies are super-geniuses and keep this hidden from adults. The first-person narrators of that and The Humans have a similar attitude of innocent intellectual superiority and use of casual maths references.

Keep Your Friends Close - Paula Daly
This was much more the kind of twisty plot-based psychological thriller I enjoy. It's about a woman whose long-time best friend turns out to be evil and tries to steal her life.
It gets quite dark, in that by fighting against Eve, Natty becomes - not as bad as Eve is, because Eve is pretty bad, but she makes some choices you might not have expected her to at the beginning. It's what TV Tropes calls BlackAndGreyMorality.

Dilly's Sacrifice - Rosie Goodwin
A shameless impulse buy in the old-lady-chick-lit genre. I bought it because I thought it would be similar to Downton Abbey, which I enjoy. It was, to the extent that I kept picturing the cook in it as Mrs Patmore, and so on (to the limited extent that I picture things). But it's quite a bit bleaker (I guess it's more realistic; I have seen Downton criticised for being too unrealistically upbeat). Pretty much everyone seems to get killed, or separated from loved ones, or raped, or pressured into unwanted marriages; and there are storylines which look tantalisingly as though they will work out happily and then don't. There is a sequel, so I don't know if things improve in that or just keep getting worse.

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Cybernetic and robotic are pretty much synonyms, but they come from root words that are almost opposites: "helmsman; governor" and "slave" respectively.

The "slave" meaning comes via early sci-fi conceptions of robots, as artificial people who would perform the function of slaves, without necessarily much thought about how they were implemented; whereas the "helmsman; governor" meaning is more associated with development of robotic technology (think "control systems", or algorithmic decision-making). I think "helmsman" is the original meaning, but I also put "governor" because it's the same root we get gubernatorial from.

Conversely, passionate and passive are almost opposites (especially in the context of job candidates - the passive one just sits there, the passionate one is self-motivated and proactive), but they come from the same root: one meaning to undergo, to suffer, to experience.

The semantic connection to passive is fairly obvious - you just sit there and let stuff happen to you. In the case of passionate, it's to do with feeling your emotions deeply, experiencing things intensely; and hence caring about things enough to take action.


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I recently read this article (content warning: graphic description of extreme itching) about a woman who had shingles, which destroyed most of the nerves in part of her scalp. Years afterwards she suffered severe itching in that area. Doctors thought that shouldn't be possible given she only had about 3% of the nerves remaining. They tried destroying those remaining nerves, and that brought her relief for a while, and then the itching came back even worse.

The hypothesis is that this woman's sensation of itching was caused by the brain trying to make sense of very limited or nonexistent sensory data. It's like hallucinations when you're in sensory deprivation, and it's also like the pain amputees feel in their "phantom limbs". It's not imaginary, in the sense that's usually meant; it's at a deeper neurological level than that.

There's a really interesting bit in the article about how much of perception actually comes from the memory rather than the external senses. With visual processing, doctors can actually see that only 20% of the nerves going to the visual processing cortex come from the retina, and the other 80% from parts of the brain dealing with memory. They give the example of seeing a dog on the far side of a fence: you only see a few disconnected bits of dog, but your brain effortlessly and unconsciously parses it as a whole dog, based on your previous experiences.

So if the brain is accustomed to perceiving things based on incomplete external sensory data, supplemented with learned data and algorithms, it's not surprising that if the external data is bogus or even more incomplete than usual, the brain will still come up with something plausible and not even realise it's wrong. A swiping phone keyboard is programmed with a dictionary and some heuristics about word frequency and collocation, and is designed to produce correct output given sloppy error-filled input; but if you give it random input, it has enough internal data that it will still output something, and it might even look halfway plausible.

Then the article talks about a fascinating therapy for sufferers of phantom limb pain: stand perpendicular to a mirror, so you can see your remaining limb reflected, with the amputated one hidden behind the mirror, and then try to do some symmetrical two-limbed movement like conducting an orchestra. Obviously the patient's conscious mind is under no illusion that the two arms they see are real; but it's not the conscious mind we're trying to trick here. The subconscious (not in some woo-woo Freudian sense, but as in the perceptual processing parts not directly accessible to consciousness) has been assuming, based on limited or nonexistent data from the arm nerves, that the arm is twisted into a painful position or is on fire or whatever. Now it is receiving visual data suggesting the arm is fine and is conducting an orchestra, so it is forced to reevaluate taking that into account.

This is all absolutely fascinating to me intellectually; but I'm also wondering if it's more directly relevant to me and my mystery fatigue, which could be "phantom" in the same way. Tiredness is less intuitive to understand than visual perception. I don't understand how the brain perceives tiredness (normal tiredness, from lack of sleep or over-exertion). If I did, I wonder if it would be possible to design an illusion analogous to the mirror one, to trick my brain into re-parsing the input? (I actually felt more energetic for several days after reading the article, like I sometimes do when I have a new theory about it, but that seems to be wearing off. I need something that bypasses my conscious understanding and goes straight to the neurological level, like the mirror trick.

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Bethany and Zoe are both really into the kids' TV show Numberjacks. The numbers 0 to 9 are superheroes, who live in a secret den inside a sofa, and go out to solve problems in the world, which are more or less maths-related.

For example, in one episode, they have to defeat the bad guys by finding five different ways of making 10. So the Numberjacks get into pairs, 4 and 6 and so on, but they have trouble with the fifth pair because there's only one Numberjack 5. She tries making a copy of herself in a mirror, but it's the wrong way round; so she uses a second mirror to make the "opposite of opposite". So this teaches not only number bonds to 10, but also reflectional symmetry and inverse operations.

Bethany really likes to play a game where she's Numberjack 3, and one of us is the Puzzler, one of the bad guys who likes to trap Numberjacks in a bubble (she still likes plots where characters gets trapped in things) and make them solve maths problems to get out. The problems we've been able to set that she can solve are getting more advanced :)

Zoe has got to know and name all the characters, just like she does with Peppa Pig or Ben and Holly; but the characters being numbers means that, at the age of not quite 2, she can name the digits, count, and occasionally blurt out things like "4 and 6 make 10!"

There are also some very well-designed spinoff phone apps. There's one at Bethany's level which teaches addition, and one at Zoe's level which teaches counting. There's a group of objects, and you touch each one in turn, and when you touch one you haven't touched yet, it speaks the next number, and the object animates. This is really helpful for learning the skill of counting each object once and not missing any or counting any twice. Then when you've got them all, they do a more interesting animation.

There were also Numberjack character toys and a board game, but they seem to be discontinued, so Bethany and I are sewing our own felt Numberjacks.

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A while back I tried cooking with Smash (instant mashed potato) at home, and I actually liked it better than normal mashed potato. Alex, independently and unknowingly, asked me what I'd done differently with the mash because it was so nice. So now I use it all the time, because it's both quicker and nicer.

Yesterday I was cooking for the student supper at church. I made cottage pie, using Smash, because I like it, and because it beats peeling and mashing potatoes for 80 people. E and N, a couple a few years younger than me, came past and saw the Smash, and looked utterly disgusted and horrified, like they might do if they'd seen me chopping up rats to put in the pie. It wasn't a brief look of disgust quickly followed by an expression of polite neutrality; it was an expression of disgust which continued and deepened as though they were waiting in vain for me to shout "Kidding!" and hold up the real potatoes.


Yuk, but no worse than normal mashed potato
An inferior but acceptable substitute
Never (knowingly) eaten it
Never even heard of it


woodpijn is a slob
E and N are snobs


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cat pillow

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In terms of size, is Bethany catching me up faster or slower than Zoe is catching Bethany up?

On one hand, Bethany's chasing a stationary target and Zoe's chasing a moving one, but on the other hand, Zoe's smaller and so presumably growing faster.

Does it matter how many dimensions we're talking about? Height, girth, or weight (which is presumably proportional to volume, but maybe not, as babies have relatively larger heads)?

Alex points out that while size is continuous, clothing sizes are discrete, so it's not possible for both catchings-up to happen at the same time, unless Zoe were to have a growth spurt and skip over a size.

One day I'll have two teenagers, we'll probably all be able to wear each other's clothes (whether they'd want to is a different matter), and sorting clean laundry will be very difficult and require encyclopedic knowledge of who owns what. At the moment, basically none of us can share clothes (although sometimes in an emergency Bethany will wear my jumper and be swamped by it), and sorting laundry is fairly easy, because you can tell at a glance whether something is Zoe-size, Bethany-size or Mummy-size (or indeed Daddy-size, but there's much less overlap of colours and styles there). So I was thinking about the transition between these two states, and what order it'll happen in.

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Hi, I've been sent the wrong item, I ordered the Aztec design, and that's what the packing slip says, but I've received the Fairisle one.

Thank you for your mail. Can please confirm the colour of the item?

It's white with red and dark blue patterns.

That is the aztec pattern. I had 3 designs. Aztec Heart Striped. Aztec Is the item you have received.

The tag says "Colour: Fairisle" and it doesn't look very Aztec.

I don't go by the tag. I Purchase these from a major supplier that also makes these for certain high street stores. We call this Aztec design. ... The 3 designs are as listed and having sold this item for over 16 months I've never had an issue with this. It has been my top selling item. I have men's sweatshirts with the same type of deign and we call that Aztec print.

This is more like what I was expecting: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=aztec+print&source=lnms&tbm=isch (Google image search for "Aztec print"). Bold, warm colours in geometric designs.

These are similar to what I got: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=fairisle+print&source=lnms&tbm=isch (Google image search for "Fairisle print"). It's like a Christmas jumper. Cold colours in knitting-pattern shapes.

That's fine but in my line of work we call it Aztec.


I'm torn between sarcastic replies now. Either something about how I can just picture those Aztecs sitting around in their chunky knitted Fair Isle jumpers with reindeer patterns on. Or just "That's fine but in my line of work we call bobcats chairs."


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I went to see a specialist at Addenbrooke's. I'm not 100% sure what he's a specialist in. I think it's officially Infectious Diseases, but in practice, Undiagnosed Mystery Illnesses. He was very nice and seemed to be very intelligent and competent and taking me seriously.

He said there aren't many conditions which could cause my symptoms this chronically, without having got a lot worse by now, but there are a few, so he ordered blood tests for those. He also found I have a heart murmur. I'm really surprised no one's ever picked that up before now. Most heart murmurs are harmless, but in conjunction with symptoms like fatigue it could be significant. So he ordered an ECG and chest X-ray to look into that and see if it's relevant or not. He also ordered a brain scan.

I was impressed that I was able to go downstairs and have most of these tests on the same day, rather than having to go away and wait for a new appointment. I had the ECG (long wait) and the chest X-ray and blood tests (both very short waits). Luckily the childcare arrangements I had didn't need me to come back straight after the consultant appointment. I do have to wait for an appointment for the brain scan.

The X-ray was sent electronically straight to the consultant. With the ECG, they didn't have the IT system needed to do that, so I had to physically deliver the printout back to his clinic, which meant I got to peek at it. I don't have the knowledge to interpret it, though, beyond that it wasn't wildly arrhythmic or flatlined.

It felt like a productive day, which might make actual progress; but also quite tiring.

I've also signed up for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. It's supposed to be helpful with chronic fatigue. and also the evidence-based nature of the therapy appeals to me. I've had the initial assessment appointment so far and felt I "clicked" with the therapist. I don't have an official diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and both the Addenbrooke's consultant and the CBT therapist agree my condition isn't typical of it (no clear onset or triggering illness, no joint pain), but clearly it has a lot in common and the same kind of strategies might help.


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I don't like mine that much. There's the practical annoyance that people often misspell it, but I'm also not keen on it aesthetically. It's kind of harsh and scratchy, and reminds me of words like "retch" and "rash" and "ratchet". Someone once deliberately misspelled it "reach hell".

I'm kind of invested in it and identified with it now, though, so I wouldn't want to change it. As a child I was always coming up with different names I wanted to be called, sometimes changing week to week. The longest-running favourite I can remember was Teresa, which doesn't especially appeal to me now (although, a priori, ignoring 30-odd years of history, I think I'd still choose it over Rachael).

I don't know what I would choose now if I were changing my name: most of the thinking about names I've done over the last few years has been in the context of naming my children. "Bethany" and "Zoe" are both names that are on the way out popularity-wise; they were more popular in my generation than in this one. I certainly wasn't consciously thinking "this is what I wish I'd been named" when naming the girls, but maybe there was an element of that subconsciously?

How about you, do you like your name?


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