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Hello, my name is Sandy.

Cleaning indoor air with science

My doctor tells me I have a condition called atopy. Wiki makes the symptoms sound severe, but I think in terms of suffering, I probably don't get it as bad as the average afflicted. I'm sensitive to sudden changes in weather and too much of certain foods, but most of the time, I get reactions when the air isn't right.

Maybe there are lit cigarettes nearby, or someone walks ahead of me with musky perfume, or if there's been a bushfire or a stuffy room full of dust - it all goes the same way. Niggly sinuses, sometimes a headache, itchy eyes, difficulty breathing, and once in a while, a skin rash (yay, TMI!).

Anyway, all this fuels my curiosity about air and how to keep it clean. Wanna see some interesting things I found on the net?

These plants that clean indoor air

In the 80s, NASA did a study on plants that clean indoor air (lovely infographic). Strictly speaking, it wasn't the plants themselves that did the job, but microorganisms present on the leaves and in the potting soil - either way, you pop some of these plants in your home, and it should help reduce the volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the air.

Notable, hardy and easy-to-care-for varieties include certain species of palm, dracaena, philodendron and ficus. I wrote a piece on them here: 4 indoor plants that purify the air in your home. Of all those plants, we have just a young Benjamin fig in a pot. :)

More details in the paper on the NASA site.

a formaldehyde-cleaning ficus

This air filter that disintegrates pollutants

Molekule. This gadget is neat for two reasons.

One - it pulls in air, traps larger particles like dust and dander, and uses photoelectrochemical oxidation to break down airborne VOCs, mold and bacteria into constituent compounds. Clean air comes out and the greb stays in the internal filter.

Two - IoT integrations. You can monitor the Molekule from your smart phone, so you know when to replace the filter... OR you can set it all up so new filters are sent to you automatically when the old ones are about to get full.

Plus their site is neat too.

Molekule air filter Pic via inhabitat

A purifier that turns bad gases into solids

Dust is far easier to get rid of than bad smells and noxious fumes. So this GPAO contraption turns those stinky, toxic gases into dust by exposing them to ozone and fluorescent light. Inside the GPAO is also an electrostatically charged surface, which dust particles readily cling to, so they stay out of the air.

The process mimics nature's way of cleaning itself, only this machine does it faster in a contained space. It's already in use at industrial sites, and I'm so picturing a future where we can recycle/upcycle some of the nasty shit our civilisation produces.

Video via University of Copenhagen

This humidifier, filter and circulator in a pretty planter box

No mad science here, just everyday science combined in a nice way. The EcoQube Air is a pretty desktop greenhouse with mechanical and charcoal filters to trap dust, pollen and unwanted gases.

The full-spectrum LED bulbs mean you can grow lovely plants inside, which reoxygenate the air that gets pumped through the box. The lights also double as a light therapy system, which you can adjust according to your sleep/wake cycle.

The Kickstarter comments say they will ship to Australia, but it's currently looking like US$40-60. Maybe when their commercial stock is ready, some bright spark will do a bulk import? (someone, pls!)

EcoQube Air by Aqua Design Innovations

Pic via Kickstarter

One week is a journey home

According to New York Magazine's Science of Us, clearing your mind makes you more creative. I'm thinking this explains why sometimes going on holiday makes you dream up all these amazing things to do when you get home.

Being on holiday is bittersweet for me. On the one hand, I love the novelty of being away and seeing new things - but on the other, I feel like that time could be spent working towards my goals. I guess I'm not very good at living in the moment.

This blogging challenge feels like a 'trip' of sorts. I'm still pondering how different things look when you're in the thick of it; how perspective changes when you're in a different context. I mean, I understand my reasoning - I felt flat in my craft so it seemed like good practice. But immersed in this blasted month, I'm wondering what the hell. All this hobby time I've sacrificed for this blog-holiday could have been spent writing fiction or playing with circuits.

I wonder, is focus the key to a quieter mind? After being busy with just one primary project for three weeks, I now have all these new ideas for things to do when I get home from blogland.

I wonder if feeling stretched and scattered, uninspired and unmotivated, might come from having multiple current projects. Like the problem with multitasking but less in the immediate moment. Could it be time to try a one thing a month creative schedule again?

Seven posts to go. Well, 8 for me because I'm behind.

My favourite shameless, mindless movies

Having spent the last week beset by sickness, I've had more than the lion's share of tv and movies. And after a conversation yesterday about dumb, cheesy movies you can't help but love, I started thinking about the films in my personal hall of fame that people have given me sour faces for liking.

I have a lot of favourite movies, but it's getting late and I'm two posts behind on my #blogjune, so here - let me share a couple of my favourite utterly shameless ones:

Pacific Rim movie poster excerpt

Pacific Rim. There is some cheese here and I felt guilty liking it as much as I did after seeing it in the cinema. But hey, if this were a mecha anime, no one would bat an eyelid. I love it. I love movies that make me feel like I'm 14 again, free of cynicism and full of wonder.

The Expendables movie poster excerpt

The Expendables. All three of them, thank you. I understand why people cringe when I bring this up. The stories are not believable, the acting isn't what would make you go see them/stream them/download them; they're not pieces that make you think. At all. In fact, you want to shut your brain off entirely to avoid feeling pain. It looks like a bunch of old dudes just decided to have fun and make an action movie. That's good enough for me.

Battleship movie poster excerpt

Battleship. More cheesy tropey trope. This gets a whopping 34% on Tomatoes, with the consensus that it's too loud, predictable and formulaic. But whatever. There is a tongue-in-cheek quality to this film, though I haven't worked out yet whether it's intentional or just something I'm projecting because there's no way they can be serious. Either way, it doesn't matter. I liked and would watch it again. And again.

The Fast and the Furious cropped still

The Fast and the Furious. The cheese is undeniable, but if you just roll with it, you'll be rewarded with six more movies that build on the characters you come to love. These movies are dumb and unbrainy, but I still got mega feels when The Rock and Vin Diesel did the bro arm thing in Fast Five, and when Paul Walker drove off in Furious 7.

John Wick cropped still

John Wick. It's hard not to feel a twinge of "wat" about the premise. Keanu plays an ex-hitman who comes out of retirement after some jerks kill his dog, the last gift his girlfriend gave him before she died. If that happened to you, you'd flip out and go fight a ton of people too, right? Well, whatever you make of it, what happens next is #spoileralert 90 minutes of brilliantly choreographed cinematic violence.

In hindsight, I probably should have called this post "a list of action movies that are actually pretty rad". :)

A day in lists

What I did this morning before getting out of bed:

  1. Coughed, a lot
  2. Mentally prepared for needing braces (again) :(
  3. Sat up to clear my nose
  4. Rolled up in a blanket
  5. Slept next to a cat

Some things I have eaten:

  1. A pie
  2. Some salad
  3. A mandarin
  4. Radishes
  5. Flecks of tea leaves

Stuff that went poorly:

  1. Getting cut off by a car at a junction
  2. Getting served takeaway when we were dining in
  3. 5-minute coughing fit
  4. Car swinging out at us without looking (lots of bad driving in our part of town)
  5. Not being well enough to exercise

Stuff that went awesomely:

  1. Only one 5-minute coughing fit today!
  2. The pie shop had my favourite, steak & kidney!
  3. Lots of cat cuddles. <3
  4. Feeling better than yesterday.
  5. Finding a weekend court booking for sport!

Things I have wondered:

  1. Do people actually realise when they're driving badly, but don't care because of some pressing reason?
  2. Does having cold feet actually make you cough more? (Asian thing)
  3. Does eating mandarins and oranges actually make you cough more? (another Asian thing)
  4. Is the lady at the pie shop actually a grumpy person, or did we just catch her on a bad day?
  5. Will going for a run make my cold go away faster?

Gathering my party

My past year has been full of lucky coincidences. Bordering on uncanny.

Like, one day, I looked at my post-konmari wardrobe and decided it was time to buy more work tops, then literally the next day, someone gives me two brand new shirts from the office swag box. Another time, just as I loaded up a job board to look for new gigs, I received a message from someone who needed some writing done.

And then there was the time a $300 cheque arrived from the tax department, just as a couple of bills were due. That was rad.

The latest exciting coincidence is a far nerdier one. I had been... ahem... thinking of hunting down a D&D meetup group.

^^;

But turns out I didn't have to brave the wilderness of people I don't know, because some dudes at work were up for a game.

We played Pathfinder, a fantasy RPG by Paizo Publishing, based on the 3.5 ruleset of Dungeons & Dragons. After the customary half-hour of creating characters and mashing chips into our hungry mouths, we set out in search of the legendary Black Fang.

quest party in a dungeon

The first time I tried to play D&D, it was in a group I didn't know well, who I didn't have enough in common with. I was also very new to tabletop RPGs and RPG culture, and in a particularly anxious phase of my life, so it was an uphill climb on all fronts. Eventually, my enthusiasm waned and I left to go play Five Pint Fridays instead.

People make a party. There's no doubt about that.

There was a time where, in my naïveté, I believed if you could find people who liked the same stuff you did, you'd find instant friends in them. This was followed by years of meeting people I didn't gel with despite us having the same hobbies.

Turns out it takes more than hobbies to sustain a friendship. You need compatible temperaments and perspective, overlaps in sense of humour, an awareness of each other's needs and communication styles, and enough similar life experiences to be able to relate to each other. Finally, you need an enthusiasm for the friendship, or at least for the activity you're sharing.

party, dice and character sheet

XP has taught me that if you do the things that align with who you are, you wind up in situations that suit you, and meet people you can get along with - maybe even people with whom you have the right things in common. You do what you do, and the more you it is, the more you you'll get.

In recent months, I have been doing a lot of me, exploring work and passions with greater intent and direction. I'm "following my heart", I guess you could say. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho - one of my favourite, most influencing books - remarks on this, saying when you follow your heart, when you want something, "all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."

Yeah, it's romantic, and probably not scientific. But maybe the coincidences this past year aren't uncanny at all, but the result of a heart-following, intrinsically motivated year of paranoidly overpaying my tax bills and meeting people who just keep spare shirts lying around. People who I have enough in common with that we can have an awesome, entertaining and comfortable evening of role-playing.

wearing hats and playing roles

So this time, almost exactly ten years after my first D&D attempt - as soon as I realised everyone was just as keen as I was to wear a hat and pass around props - I felt very at ease.

And how's this for a coincidence: when we all sat down to customise our characters, one of our players proclaimed his name would be Santiago, after the protagonist in his favourite book, The Alchemist.

Four basic recipes

I love basics. And I have totally no problem with anyone calling me a "basic bitch". I've also been called "annoyingly particular", which I'm fine with too. But that's a story for another day.

Learning how to make basic food is empowering. Which is ironic cos if you were really powerful, you could afford to pay someone to make it for you. But I'm not going to argue with my feels here. The closer I get to the source of the food I eat, the more I feel I could enjoy some quality of life after the zombie apocalypse.

Today, I'm going to share four of my favourite recipes for making basic foods. I hope these websites stay online forever, but I plan to copy these to my kitchen notebook at some point, just in case.

Bread

no-knead sourdough bread

Debbie Drake's Easy No Knead Sourdough bread

I tried this for the first time last week, and it turned out beautiful. Way less work than the Herman sourdough bread. I left my dough to ferment for 36 hours (by accident), but Mum says she does it for 12. Play around with it, see how you go.

Pizza Dough

simple pizza dough

David Tanis' Pizza Dough

Very easy pizza dough. The recipe calls for all-purpose flour but we use Tippo '00' pasta flour to make the dough, and use the cheaper all-purpose for surface work and patting down the outside. I'm not experienced enough with food words to know how to describe the difference, so let's say it's just nicer. :)

Pasta

a buffet of pasta

This recipe we got from a class. Just two ingredients and a little elbow grease, and it makes wonderful pasta every time.

100g Tippo '00' flour
1 large egg
(just double/treble/etc. the ingredients as needed)

Mix and make a dough. Cling wrap and leave in fridge for half an hour. Then put it through the pasta machine, and boil to cook.

Tortilla

homemade tortillas

Taste of Home - Homemade Tortillas Recipe

The recipe says to cook on MED for a minute per side, but I looked on MED-LOW for a bit longer. If you've ever eaten a tortilla before, you can pretty much guess when these are done by the way they look and feel.

Happy eating, everyone!

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