Have science, will travel

Even though I’ve not been very good at updating easternblot, I’ve been diligently writing science travel entries for The Finch and Pea. I hope you’re reading those, because I just wrote an amazing one to go live tomorrow. (Spoiler alert: it’s set in Eungella National Park.)

Here’s a list of all the ones I wrote so far.

And this is them all on a map:

View Have Science Will Travel in a larger map

See, I have been writing. I’m also updating the work blog every day this week, and will link to that when it’s done as well.

My glaucoma medication

While sorting through some things this weekend, I found a little bag with five white pills in it. It’s glaucoma medicine, and it’s prescribed to me. I don’t have glaucoma, but I did visit the Himalayas in 2011.

Rapid ascent to high altitudes can cause altitude sickness, with nausea, headaches, and other symptoms that could make the whole trip unenjoyable. There is no logic or reason to who gets altitude sickness. Age, fitness, underlying conditions, travel experience – none of this matters. Altitude sickness appears to hit people at random, and the only way to know whether you’re susceptible is to go to high altitudes. The highest altitude I’d been was…Switzerland? Nevada? I’d been fine there, but those places have nothing on the Himalayas, which are about ten times higher, so I had no clue how I’d fare.

Because not many people travel from low altitudes to high altitudes, and not even all of these people get altitude sickness, there isn’t really a market for a specific over the counter drug to combat it. Luckily for travellers, an existing drug is quite good at preventing altitude sickness. That drug is Diamox, developed for glaucoma.

The active ingredient in Diamox is acetazolamide. It relieves pressure in the eyeballs (glaucoma) by inhibiting the enzyme carbonic anhydrase. This reduces the levels of bicarbonate, which in turn inhibits the productions of the liquid that builds up in the eye. Acetazolamide also increases the excretion of bicarbonate from the body via urine. Bicabonate is a base, and reducing its levels causes the blood to be more acidic. This is the mechanism that helps relieve altitude sickness: the acidic blood increases ventilation, and increases the amount of oxygen in the blood.

Travel clinics regularly give Diamox to travellers, but it’s not an officially approved drug for the purpose. So instead of a nice box, my Diamox are in a little plastic baggie – the universal packaging material for non-approved drugs of all kinds.

I was told I could take the pills before going up, but I could also start on the first day of ascent, if I was feeling nauseous, or just decide at that point not to take them if I thought I was going to be fine. I started my trip in Kathmandu, and going from England to Kathmandu was one of the biggest jumps in elevation we were doing on that trip. I was fine. A few days later, we flew to Lhasa, which is even higher. I was still fine. We gradually went higher each day, and I had my pills ready to take as soon as I felt sick, but I was fine the entire time.

I made it all the way up to Mount Everest Base Camp without having to take any of the pills, which is why I still have them. They haven’t reached their expiration date yet, but they will expire before I go to altitude again, and definitely before I’m old enough to get glaucoma. I’m keeping them as a trophy, as proof that I’m tough enough to go all the way to Mount Everest without getting altitude sickness.

At Mount Everest

Japan photos

I finally uploaded photos for the entire trip to Flickr. A few were already there, but now there are more and they all have descriptions. And don’t forget there’s also a video on YouTube:

Some of my favourite photos:

Hot coffee from a vending machine

Kissing llamas


Nikko branded water

Pepper charms



Japan video diary

Had to use my phone to record the narration, because my precious audio recorder is broken… I’m going to send it for repair as soon as I have time to go to the post office, but that might not be until Friday the 13th. Hm, hope that doesn’t mean the repair won’t work…


This is a bag of Milky candy. I bought it at the Korean/Japanese store around the corner.

Earlier this month, I bought a bag of Milky at a train station on my first day in Tokyo. I had never seen it before then, and only bought it because the packaging looked interesting. All the candy in Japan looked unfamiliar, so I really had nothing else to go by than the picture on the bag.

After that, I saw the Milky mascot everywhere. Billboards, buses, other products. It seemed to be a popular brand.

And today I saw it again, in Cambridge, just ten minutes from my house.

But I’ve been in the Korean/Japanese store in my neighbourhood before, and now I wonder if I maybe saw the bags of Milky the last time I waited in line at the counter. Maybe I didn’t pick the bag because it looked cool, but because I recognized it.

Advertising is interesting. And Milky is delicious.

Tokyo photos

Just some photos from last week. I’m still in Japan, but this week I’m working, so there are fewer photographic moments. Unless, I guess, you really want to see photos of the backs of people’s heads as they listen to a conference talk.










Five interesting places – and a defence of pop culture

I’ve joined AirBnB to offer up the guest room as sleeping space, and in my profile there I listed the five most interesting things I’ve seen while travelling in the past few years.

Here they are, with pictures, in no particular order:

The School of the Air in Alice Springs
The Australian outback is gigantic, and many children live on ranches far away from civilization. To provide education to children in the outback, the School of the Air was launched in the 1950’s. Back then it relied on radio transmission, but nowadays the kids can talk to their teacher via webcam.

School of the Air

Mount Everest (Tibet)
Rongbuk monastery is the highest in the world, at the foot of Mount Everest in Tibet. It’s several hours from the nearest small village, completely isolated. There’s a hotel next door with no running water. The little girl in the photo lives at the hotel, where her parents work. She wore her winter jacket indoors all day because it was so cold. It was August.

Rongbuk Monastery and Mount Everest

Little friend

The La Brea Tar Pits in L.A.
The LACMA museum is in one of the nicest parts of L.A. – quite close to Rodeo Drive, and a short bus trip from UCLA. But it’s built directly on top of a paleontological site, and the La Brea Tar Pits are directly next door. These pits are a source of all kinds of prehistoric animal bones, because animals and their predators would get stuck in the tar. A few years ago, LACMA expanded their underground parking garage, and found a mammoth. I saw the tusks before the news broke about half a year later.


PIt 91

Monkey Temple in Kathmandu
There are temples for various religions on every street corner of Kathmanadu, but Swayambunath is the most interesting. It’s on top of a steep hill, with gorgeous views of the whole city, and it’s home to a large colony of monkeys!


Earth Ships near Taos, New Mexico
Earth Ships are houses that are entirely off-grid, using solar power and recycling rain water. Even more interesting, they’re made of garbage! The main structure of the walls is made of tires and cans, packed with mud.



A defence of pop culture…
As I was assembling the list of interesting places, I realized something that’s also interesting: I knew of four of the five places through pop culture. Only the monkey temple was something I discovered while travelling. The others were all places I knew and either deliberately visited because of that, or was looking forward to seeing in person. I knew the School of the Air from watching the TV show “Skippy” as a child; I first learned about Mount Everest from a “Suske en Wiske” comic book and the monastery from Michael Palin’s travel stories; the Tar Pits are a setting in the film “My Girl”; and most people who know Earth Ships have seen the documentary “Garbage Warrior”. Only 1.5 of these are proper informative media – all the others are kids entertainment, not even explicitly meant to teach!

Instagrams from Chicago trip

Because I really liked some of these:


(Too bad this one’s so small, but I have the original photo, too.)

Epic Burger

Deep dish!




As I mentioned, I’m learning to code with Codeyear. With every completed lesson or assignment, you get a badge on your profile page, and wow, that is addictive…

I wanted to get more badges, and considered signing up for Foursquare, where you get a badge for checking in to physical locations. Now I’ve never wanted to join Foursquare, because I don’t really want people to know where I am all the time. I see people using it via Twitter, and get updated whenever they’re at the supermarket. Who cares?

Maria told me that marketers really love Foursquare, and I can understand it from a marketing perspective, but still didn’t see any benefits to me.

In Cambridge, Foursquare is especially pointless. There are effectively no more than 20 places where people regularly check in, and they’re almost all pubs. There is simply nothing here. Everyone already knows where everyone is at any given time, because it’s a tiny village. And all Foursquare adds to that is a few people who broadcast this online.

For example, right now I’m in my living room, and I can see that a girl called Katya is presently at the gym behind my house. I don’t know her, but she’s broadcasting to anyone within range that she’s there. Also, she is the only person checked in anywhere at all within half a kilometer of me. What’s the point?

But I can only see this because I did sign up for Foursquare this week. Why? City Badges.

City Badges are a relatively new feature of Foursquare that I can totally get behind. For a selection of cities around the world (mostly within the US), locals have recommended particular places, and if you go to five of those places, you get a badge for that city. It started in Chicago, and a few cities have since been added, including London and Tokyo. Plus, New York also has some local badges that you only get in New York. Now it just so happens that this year I’m going to Chicago, Tokyo, and New York – and I’m regularly in London. I want those badges!

A few days ago I tried out Foursquare in London. I pulled up the screen to show what was nearby, and there were locations and people everywhere! I couldn’t find Platform 9 3/4 (one of the sites that gets you the Foursquare “London Calling” badge). It gets moved around all the time with the construction at the station, but a recent comment on the Foursquare page for the site said that it was now between platform 8 and 9.

Now that is useful. It’s like a live guidebook, written collectively, and always up to date. I finally saw the benefit of Foursquare.

Don’t be afraid of me checking into supermarkets. I’m trying it out a bit now that it’s new, but I intend to only go for the badges. Next week I’ll be in Chicago, and I’m going to try to get either the Chicago Blues Badge or the Windy City Badge. The eligible check-ins are spread across the city, so it’s going to be hard. London will be much easier. I ticked off two locations when I was there on Wednesday night, and will easily get three more over the next few months. Tokyo includes many locations I know we’ll go anyway, like Shibuya crossing and the Ghibli Museum, so that should be easy, too.

The only hard part is figuring out how to check in abroad. I never use data roaming, but may have to try switching it on and off when I’m in Chicago. It can’t possibly cost more than what I had to spend on a twenty minute phone call to Canada last month.

Summer plans

A few trips planned for this Spring/Summer. Mostly for work, but tagging on a few days of vacation to a business trip to Japan.

[instagram url=’http://instagr.am/p/HJ4ez7DWbr/’ size=’medium’]

After flipping through the guide book I already want to do and see more than will fit in my few days off.