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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Thursday, March 26, 2015


Name to a Face?

Just Finished Reading: French Women Don’t Get Fat – The Secret of Eating for Pleasure by Mireille Guiliano (FP: 2005)

It’s OK to be surprised at this book showing up in my reviews. Everyone who saw me reading it at work expressed surprise and not a little astonishment. But I do so much like messing with people’s heads and challenging their expectations. Sure the people I work with expect to see me with my face buried in a book, they often see me reading things (and expressing interest and pleasure) that either leave them cold or simply perplexed but I must admit this one raised even more eyebrows than normal.

This was a mixture of personal story starting with the tale of coming back from a foreign exchange visit to the USA rather chubbier than she went out and how she coped with such a life and wardrobe changing experience. Learning lessons from family friends and someone she referred to as ‘Dr Miracle’ she slowly outlines why French women in particular don’t get fat whilst still enjoying food and wine and all of the other ‘no no’s’ consistently associated with the West’s obesity epidemic. Most of her advice is very straight forward and very down to Earth starting with the blatantly obvious – if more calories go into your body than go out you will gain weight. That is essentially all you need to know. The ‘trick’ is to control those calories going both in and out of your body whilst still having fun with your food. Quite rightly the author says that if you force your body into what is essentially a starvation diet it will rebel and you’ll lose weight only to gain it back and then some! What you should do is give the body (and the pallet) a little of what it wants, drink LOTS of water, walk everywhere (or cycle) and always climb the stairs. Never eat on the move or in front of the TV, always eat quality food (and your body won’t crave quantity to compensate for poor quality) and never feel guilty over the occasional indulgence. Above all else find what works for you but expect it to change throughout your life with age, season, and life’s great events. Know your body and recognise what it’s telling you. Make food a part of your life – and an important part – without being obsessed by it. The author maintains that you can eat out, be a foodie and still stay slim.

OK, I skipped the recipes. I’m not generally a person who cooks which would horrify the author who is a great advocate for real food preferably prepared by your own hands. Processed food – no way! I also learnt to ignore her rather patronising and superior tone throughout the book – French women know the secret and I am going to let you into a small part of it! Sure she was amusing in places and often gave what I thought was reasonable advice but I doubt if I could have managed much more than the 272 pages of this slim volume. Definitely a different read for me and one that I am now going to pass on to my female work colleagues – at their request I hasten to add!  

Monday, March 23, 2015


Possible fatty acid detected on Mars

By Paul Rincon for BBC News

20 March 2015

A fatty acid might be among organic molecules discovered on Mars by Nasa's Curiosity rover.

However, it's not possible at this stage to determine whether the compound has a biological or non-biological origin. And contamination could still be responsible for the finding. The results come from Curiosity's SAM instrument, and were presented at the 46th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) in Texas. Nasa scientist Daniel Glavin described the results from the first "wet chemistry" experiment carried out by Curiosity.

A long-chain carboxylic acid, or fatty acid, was a good fit for one of the data peaks detected in a mudstone called Cumberland, he told an audience at the meeting. A form of alcohol molecule may also be among the compounds analysed. The preliminary result will excite scientists because fatty acids are key components of the cell membranes found in all life forms, including microbial organisms. Dr Glavin told an audience that the result was "provocative", and said the link to biology was the "million-dollar question". But he explained that a non-biological origin was equally plausible at this stage of the research. One scientist commenting on the presentation suggested that contamination could not be ruled out as a cause of the signal.

The SAM team have been working to address the leak of a pre-existing chemical called MTBSTFA within the instrument. The fact this is also an organic molecule has complicated the search for indigenous carbon-containing compounds in Martian rocks. However, team members say they have turned the leak into an advantage, using their understanding of how MTBSTFA reacts with other compounds to identify Martian organics.

Curiosity landed on the Red Planet in August 2012, on a mission to explore Gale Crater, which billions of years ago would have held a lake. The instrument team has previously reported evidence of chlorobenzene in the same rock, from the Martian area known as Yellowknife Bay.

[…and that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we need people on Mars. No matter how good the robots are they just can’t do enough of the science stuff when it’s needed. If we had a team of scientists up there working away at the problem we’d have probably found life on Mars by now. So, it will cost the same as a small sized war – but what would you rather have? Proof of the existence of life elsewhere in the Solar System or more proof of the lack of intelligence on this one?]