Synesthesia and procrastination

Sometimes I put things off for too long.
In December 2008, right after I defended my thesis, my friend Liesbeth e-mailed me to ask if I wanted to write about synesthesia on my blog. She had just been reading a book about it, called The Frog Who Croaked Blue , and was very excited about the topic, because she had had synesthesia herself since she was a kid. The numbers 1 through 5 were coloured, she told me, and some letters as well. “It’s useful for remembering passwords”, she added.
When I didn’t write the post right away, she asked about it again two weeks later. I really thought I would have time to read the book and write the post sometime soon. But I got distracted with other things. The holidays were coming up, I started a six-month contract job in January, I started looking for freelance and full-time work, travelled all summer, and a year later I still hadn’t written the post when I prepared to move to England.
I always had the topic in the back of my mind, but I just didn’t really know what to write about it. I’m not a synesthete myself, and didn’t know much about the neurology behind it either.
Meanwhile, Liesbeth wrote about it on her own blog in January of this year. It’s an arts/craft themed blog, showcasing all the projects she had been working on in her spare time, or old art school projects. One time she found a colouring book for adults in her favourite magazine, and seeing an image with mostly text, she decided to colour in the letters to match the colours they always looked like to her. At the time, she was also writing a thesis about synesthesia for her art academy teaching degree. In the same blog post, she wrote that until she read “The Frog Who Croaked Blue” a year earlier – the same book she recommended to me – she always thought that everyone saw letters as colours, and dates in space. When she gave a presentation at her art school, two other students came up to her after class and said that they, too, thought that everyone had that, and didn’t realize it was a unique thing until her presentation.
In the English summary of her synesthesia blog post, Liesbeth explained: “Each character corresponds with his own colour. Some characters are very clear, like the ‘m’ (red), ‘n’ (orange), ‘s’ (blue) and ‘u’ (pink), others not. But I have a strong feeling of colours then, for example the ‘g’ and ‘k’ are a combination of black and green. “
The picture is a cute poem about tigers and tea (I don’t know the source) which unfortunately doesn’t contain all the letters of the alphabet, so I don’t know what the rest of the letters would look like to her.
And I can’t ask, because Liesbeth passed away very unexpectedly earlier this week.
In between shock and disbelief, I started feeling upset about all the abandoned conversations. I last saw her in person in December 2007. We met at art camp in 1996, and stayed in touch through letters, e-mail, and recently Facebook. The last thing we talked about was Farmville, of all things. I felt guilty for never writing the blog post I promised her!
This is not the post she had in mind. I think she was hoping I would write about the science of synesthesia, but I never got around to read, let alone review, the book she recommended, and I don’t have anything interesting and scientific to add to it. I know she would have liked me sharing the picture that she coloured in, and I had planned to show it as soon as I saw it. I just wish I hadn’t put it off for so long, so that she could have still seen it herself.

Geeky Christmas presents

I had to wait with this post until everyone received and opened their gifts, but I’ve been meaning to write about it as soon as I bought them. I gave two people incredibly geeky science gifts for Christmas this year. Last year. You know what I mean.
1. A brain cell!

“Now I have two!” my sister commented when she found out that I had given her a brain cell for Christmas. The one she already had, and the plush one she just unwrapped. (She’s blonde 😉 Despite that, she just got her masters in Human Movement Science in Amsterdam and now needs a job or PhD studentship. She’s good with the science behind physical therapy, and has experience coordinating trials, herding test subjects, analyzing trial data, and critically interpreting data. No wet lab work, though, just people/computers. Any leads in Europe? )
I had actually been meaning to get her a Darwin keychain or puppet, because we had been laughing about the cuddly Darwin toys earlier this year. They’re so weird. Who wants to have a doll with a beard? But they didn’t have Darwin dolls (or the mini version) in the science gift shop, and then I saw the brain cell, which was much better…
2. A cookbook with science in it!

My friend is a fan of all things healthy and natural, and their whole family (where I spent Christmas) is very aware of which foods are good for what, etc. Of course, me being a weird scientist, I often want to know how things work. Sometimes I ask out of curiosity, and sometimes because I’m skeptical. So when I found a cookbook that explains the science behind cancer, and why some foods help to prevent it, I knew I had to give her this as a gift. The first third of the book is pretty much a biology textbook, and the rest contains recipes based on ingredients you can learn the chemistry of elsewhere in the book.

Woo, chemical structure in a cookbook!
I was most excited about the page with the Western Blot on it:
“This is the kind of stuff I did in the lab! Except with pigmentation things, not with food.”
“I know! I saw pictures like this at your thesis defence!”
So the cookbook can also explain what those weird black blobs on grey background actually mean =)

A blot in a cookbook! It’s a western blot, looking at the expression of a marker of inflammation. The healthiest berries suppress the levels of the marker the most. The cranberries we had at Christmas dinner were very anti-inflammatory. And in case you can’t read it, the last lane is marked “resveratrol”, so the wine did pretty well, too…
(YES, I know, there’s no loading control and the amounts of berries needed to achieve the effect are unclear. It’s for the general public – I don’t think they know what a loading control is, and in this case I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. It’s not a groundbreaking publication; this blot is just to show people how you can compare how effective berries are at being anti-inflammatory. How do we know what we know, etc.)

Slice and Dice

Two medical art related things:
I’m in Gerstein Library at the moment, and one of Gunter Von Hagen’s Bodyworlds pieces is on display in the lobby , to advertise that there are many more of them at the Ontario Science Centre. I saw his last exhibit there when Shelley came to visit a few years ago and don’t really feel the need to brave the crowds again, but seeing a sliced up man for free at the library where I was working anyway is pretty cool.

Slicy in the library lobby. He’s officially called “6 Meter Man” but I’ve named him “Slicy” instead. (Photo from UofT )
I still need to watch the episode, but I’m already excited about it. My friend Brett is an illustrator/cartoonist, and he has been selling some stock images lately that have popped up here and there. Most recently, a cartoon he did of a sick guy was used to make a box for a fictional board game shown on my favourite current comedy show, How I Met Your Mother. Yay! In terms of medical art it’s a bit of a stretch, I know, but look how fun this looks:

Diseases! I so want to play this game!