Bring Up Biophilia—What makes us particularly attracted to nature

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Staying locked up inside our homes during this dreaded pandemic has made us realized that we definitely need to spend more time in our outside world. Not only to socialize but to get in touch with our natural environment. But unfortunately, even when we are deciding to play in the dirt or choosing to have our ears filled with bird songs, we are mostly unaware of what it does to us. Yet, we are just beginning to understand that nature can do way more for us than the other way around. As soon as we allow ourselves the satisfaction to immerse in any natural environment, we can observe physical and psychological benefits. It only begs us to wonder why outdoor activities are not persistently on our minds. And although we have been aware of our profound relationship with nature for a while now, there were still no words to describe it. More specifically, the term biophilia was, until recently, to some degree foreign to us. Just in case you still don’t know what biophilia might mean, it is a word used to describe our innate instinct to connect with nature.

Nobody ignores the positive effects present in our bodies when we spend time in nature. That’s why many people opt for outdoor destinations for their planned vacations. And one might believe that the relief we feel after those vacays can be the result of the time taken off work and it could in part be true. However, we should not underestimate the impact of natural input on the body and mind. Even short exposure to any of these inputs can produce a wide range of positive influences. Actually, a mere 30-min exposure can be sufficient to produce sensations like lowered anxiety, improved focus, increased productivity, heightened creativity, greater happiness, and more. Personally speaking, the addition of biophilic elements in my writing routine has definitely been a tremendous help. Especially the addition of nature soundtracks for my audio input has proven itself the most significant improvement. It certainly was the best tool to keep my focus on the task at hand, improved my creativity and reduced the anxiety that I was facing.

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Most people believe that our personal health is essentially synonymous with physical health. And even if this is not thoroughly wrong, it is a gross overestimation. Health researchers are busting their backs trying to popularize the notion that we need to do drastically more to preserve our health. Gone are the times when exercising and eating well were the fundamental guidelines. We most promptly need to consider our mental health as well. That begins with making sure to take advantage of all the tools at our disposal. Most of you might already be fervent adherents of meditation, and that is absolutely great. Meditation is very challenging, and if you can find success in the practice, I am most definitely impressed. However, caring for our mental well-being doesn’t have to be a demanding activity. The simple act of deciding to add a plant to your desk office can already help. Also, they, fortunately, don’t even need to be alive. The implementation of artificial elements reminding us of nature also produces some significant impact. Albeit, the results are more modest than when genuine natural components are involved. 

Interestingly, adding biophilic elements to your meditation might be a great way to enrich your experience. We don’t even need to go overboard with it. Adding a simple nature soundtrack as our background music might be entirely sufficient. The music may allow us to relax and relieve the underlying anxiety that is keeping our minds hostage. To some extent, we may even include more senses into our practice. We could involve our sight by imagining a forest, a beach, a mountain, or any other landscape for that matter. This approach is already so rampant in visualization exercises to promote relaxation and mental stability. Touch might also be a very remarkable way to stimulate our senses. Holding a sea shell or touching grass is a great way to connect with nature. The smell can also be a powerful ally. Adding some nature-inspired essential oil can be a very affordable and easily accessible way to remind ourselves of our natural world. At last, we could also include some tasting elements, such as fruits, veggies, nuts or any raw food. 

To this day, nobody has come to any solid conclusion to explain why biophilia has such a critical impact on our lives. Nevertheless, the strongest argument relies on evolutionary pressures. We feel more relaxed just by hearing a waterfall because access to water is essential. Through generations, we have integrated the sound of water as comforting and restoring music. The sight of trees can remind us of the possible access to food sources, either from hunting, fishing or gathering. Touching grass or a plant’s leaf might remind us of our proximity to nature. And I think that smelling and tasting natural elements doesn’t need any comment about their positive impact on our mood. What drove evolution was our need to survive, and being in proximity to nature provided us with the safest way to succeed. And even though, technically, an arid desert is still natural, it doesn’t seem to provide as much relief to us. We have probably learnt through our ancestors that nothing can abundantly grow there.  We have learnt through generations and generations not to feel at ease in those environments because staying there could result in death. 

Another possible explanation for the reason we seem so particularly drawn towards living elements might reside in how these things are anything but static. We don’t quite like how things change so abruptly; it is anxiogenic. And yet, we still strive for change, a slow sluggish change, to be exact. And that is doubtlessly provided by most living biophilic components. A plant will always look like the same plant, more or less, but its leaves will change. Some will die and fall, and then some new may appear. Some new branches may emerge. The plant might also grow taller if its pot is big enough and has enough water and nutrients. All this to say that living things provide us with a slow but steady change that kindly reminds us of time and guides us into making the best of it. 

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Domestic animals are also fantastic biophilic elements, which might partly explain why zootherapy is so effective. Having pets does not only engage one sense, our sight, but all of them. We most certainly can see them zooming around, we can smell their breath, we can pat their fur, we may haphazardly taste their saliva, and we most definitely can hear them barking, meowing, chirping and more. And strangely enough, the benefits from being around animals are very similar to the ones observed from us being in nature. Amongst many benefits, we can notice lowered blood pressure, lightened breathing, increased mood and release of oxytocin which can promote calm and encourage attachment. Nevertheless, assuming that all the perceived positive effects relied on their biophilic aspect would be unfair. Being in the company of animals has also shown great help to maintain physical health by promoting physical activities and motivating their owners to get going. 

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Considering the importance of biophilia, we can now understand the need to incorporate some elements into our daily lives. And some changes don’t need to be extreme. As for me, I have decided to change the background for my desktop for a natural landscape which supplemented the nature soundtracks very nicely. I would like to include more biophilic elements in the future for my home, such as plants and maybe a pet someday, but they can be expensive. Right now, I prefer spending some valuable and wholesome quality time in the great outdoors. I honestly love the occasional hike, or sudden walks, or even spending time on our porch. The more important part is the do it consciously and mindfully. Whenever I’m outdoor, I seek anything that might remind me of nature. I particularly like hearing the birdsongs, seeing the occasional spiders, smell the decaying leaves on the ground or the freshly mowed lawn and holding rocks in my hands. 

Whatever you might choose to include, I approve of your change. These changes might not mean much to most people, but they mean a great deal to me, and I hope for you too. So, if you decide to make this move, please let me know about your journey. I would absolutely be delighted to hear about it. 

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer them as soon as humanly possible.

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Bring Up Artificial Intelligence—What can it do for us, or more precisely what it can’t

From the moment the first computer was commercialized, people started asking themselves what computers could do for us. It was notably evident how powerful those machines were at helping us find information, provided an accessible platform for arcade gaming and facilitated typewriting. Then one day, during Summer 1956, scientists gathered for a workshop held on the Dartmouth College campus. The main intention of the workshop was to advance the computers’ capability. During this event, some even predicted that computers would be able to reason humanlike within the span of one generation only. It turns out that this could not have been more wrong. Now, after two whole generations, we are still waiting for such a technology to surface. 

The slow rate of development is not only due to the computing power often not being strong enough to support the most complex algorithms, but it is also because of the recurrent fading in popularity. Every time expectations are proven too hard to overcome, this field of research notices a substantial drop in fundings. These financial pitfalls have caused the progress to slow down and have deterred newcomers to get their hands in the game. In this decade, however, we can notice that we are back to a peak of interest. The arrival of deep learning and machine learning has reignited the flame that once existed of producing a machine that would legitimately be humanlike. Yet, I don’t believe this is at all reasonable to expect such things. My training in neuroscience has shown me on many occasions how complex the human mind and behaviours are.

So, before hoping for an Ex-Machina to be produced or a Jarvis (Iron Man) to be made, we must understand what the bases of artificial intelligence are. Let’s start by defining artificial intelligence (AI). Well, the first part is by far the easiest to explain. We could effortlessly replace artificial with the synonymous word ‘man-made’; the second part, however, is much more complex. For a better and more complete representation of intelligence, I suggest you read my post from last week (Bring Up Intelligence). In sum, I define intelligence as being multimodal with as much as ten possible intelligence. Anyhow, what most people mean when they talk about intelligence in AI is either one, or a combination, of the four approaches. 

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The first is acting humanly, where one AI reacts similarly given the same situation and environment. The second is thinking humanly, where the AI would produce the same sort of thinking we humans do, with all its flaws and biases. The third is acting rationally, where the AI behaves following rules and seeks to find solutions, even though the results could be proved useless given certain conditions. The fourth, and last, is thinking rationally, where the AI forms preset notions and guidelines on how to respond given different circumstances. Regardless of which combination you choose, the result won’t be anything like the AI pictured in most Sci-Fi movies. The news channels do not make it easier either. News anchors may tell us that the best chess players were all beaten by AI. Some others may report that the longest winning-streak player of Jeopardy! was defeated by AI. Yet nobody knows if they genuinely qualify as AI. Some scientists are indeed entirely dismissing them as AI on the basis that they do not think and thus cannot understand the games. They only react based on their learnt knowledge and the strategies they developed. 

So, it becomes hard to say when AI will realistically be intelligent. Moreover, if you consider the multimodal view of intelligence, then it becomes almost unfeasible. Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence suggests that there are officially up to nine types of intelligence. Trying to recreate them artificially has met many successes but a lot more failures. For example, reproducing logical-mathematical intelligence has been highly successful. But every attempt at recreating creative intelligence has shown very miserable results. If we bring them all up in consideration of their reproducibility potential, we have: logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, visual-spatial, interpersonal, linguistic, intrapersonal, creative, musical and spiritual. Let’s note that most, if not all, of those successes, failed to introduce more than one intelligence type. So, trying to bring them all up in one machine to create a proper AI has still a long way to go. 

One way to avoid dealing with all these different intelligence types would be to omit them entirely and instead opt for a criteria-based description of true intelligence. However, coming up with all the various criteria can form a notion that can sometimes feel incomplete. So trying to encompass all the elements forming intelligence is a serious exercise. The most recent attempt at determining these criteria brought up elements like reasoning, understanding, determining or detecting lies, finding relationships between items, considering meanings, and separating facts from beliefs. And all these components make sense. Getting to analyze a situation and coming up with explanations requires both reasoning and understanding, but these skills alone don’t make you particularly smart. Being able to pick your knowledge carefully is also critical. But let’s be honest, some information may need some special treatment as it may also hold very different meanings giving varying context. As a final touch, being able to assemble all of our knowledge together is definitely an advantage. 

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However, even with this new definition, we can’t realistically produce something that will include all of these components. Right now, all attempts at building AI have been separated into two groups: strong AI and weak AI. Strong AIs are unspecialized and thus can theoretically do many things, but they produce very weak results. For better outcomes, weak AIs are actually the way to go, even though they are highly specialized and thus, really know how to do one thing only. One downside to consider for weak AI is that they will never be independent. They will always need an external actor to compensate for their lack. 

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AI development made lots of progress in the last few decades, regardless of the difficulty we have faced defining what does or doesn’t classify as AI. The quest began with a handful of expert systems that were basically merely following set operators. These expert systems are computer programs following rules based on different algorithms. For instance, the grammar check found in Microsoft Word is an expert system where most grammatical rules are integrated into the programs through a series of algorithms. Yet, expert systems established those rules based on common sentence structures that are usually kept very short. Thus, when the expert system meets, for example, nested sentences, it has a hard time suggesting a proper correction. One way around this issue has involved the help of machine learning, where the algorithms go through an iteration process to learn based on a very large data set. Even though this may sound like a dreamy alternative, machine learning can introduce a lot of flaws into the program. We have to be careful to vet our data set adequately beforehand. 

Coming up with new AI has definitely revolutionized how we do things. Now, most bank security measures include AIs for their fraud detection. This implementation has allowed the banks to identify more frauding attempts and has accelerated their detection rate. Hospitals and clinics use AIs to help them with resource scheduling. For instance, when they need to plan work schedules, budgets or material resource allocation. Engineers will use it to perform complex analyses in signal processing and control theory. Manufacturers prefer using AI for automation, whereas retailers will favour the use of AI to perform customer services. Other fields will employ AI to optimize safety systems or machine efficiency, but whatever is the reason behind their use, we can all agree on one thing; the presence of AI will become ever more widespread.

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer them as soon as humanly possible.

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Bring Up Tattoo—How it can be possible to mark our skin permanently

There is something rightly empowering with modifying our own appearance. It could be a way to have our body match our assumed identity or to make ourselves more attractive. It could be a form of communication, or it could be used as a mask to hide your true identity. Whatever the reasons are for our physiological modifications, most of us will succumb to its appeal at one point or another. However, not all changes are permanent; some may even be very much short-lived. From all of the possible alterations we can do to our bodies – makeups, hair dyes, cosmetic surgeries, and tattoos are the most common. 

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Whereas makeup typically doesn’t last for more than 24 hours, hair dyes have a more long-lasting effect. However, those effects never outlast the permanence of cosmetic surgeries and tattoos, which last practically forever. So, we may conclude that some physical changes are better than others, but that may entirely depend on what you are looking to accomplish. The more ephemeral a modification is, the more you need to maintain it. For instance, makeup needs to be reapplied every day for the change to persist; for tattoos, once completed, you can pretty much forget about them entirely. Yet, if you’re about to get your body permanently altered, you may want to care more about the final result. Spending fewer bucks on cheap cosmetic surgeries and tattoos might be a sure way to regret your sudden leap of faith. I would say that for tattoos and cosmetic surgeries, it is for sure true that quality comes at a cost. 

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Once you decide to get your tattoo done and the final result isn’t to your satisfaction, you may have to live with the consequences for a very long period. Yet, until you save enough money to cover the expenses for the cover-up. You should probably also consider that the total cost for both, the initial tattoo and the cover-up, may even exceed the price tag associated with the better quality tattoo. So, rushing into an everlasting transformation is not recommended. The tattoos should be well-thought, well-designed, sufficiently funded, and made by an expert tattoo artist. Additionally, one thing to consider is that a good and experienced tattoo artist may be better able to advise you on the best positioning of your art. Depending on our pain tolerance and the size of the art piece, your artist may choose to displace the tattoo to a less sensitive spot or reduce the size of the tattoo. They will also account for the stretching of the skin that occurs due to ageing. Some parts may be more affected than others, and it may be worth considering avoiding those spots for more detail-oriented tattoos, like portraits. 

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Expert tattoo artists may also be better at informing you about your tattoo after-care and its healing process. They also may be more knowledgeable in a wider range of needle techniques and, as such, should be better at producing different styles, such as watercolour and impressionism. Since they have been exposed to more work, they can often help you capture your vision in greater detail. That being said, you may have to look further than your neighbourhood to find the perfect artist for you. They all master their own style that differs from one individual to the next. So, the most important factors here are your budget and your artist. The way you define and choose both will greatly impact the art that you’ll be wearing for the rest of your days. 

Choosing what to include in your tattoo is no easy task. It took me about three years to think about how I would like my first tattoo to be. I absolutely don’t regret having waited for that long. The final product captured the entirety of my vision. However, there is one thing I would have done differently, choosing my tattoo artist. Sadly, the one I chose at the moment was a novice with barely any work under his belt. The design was quite simple, and as such, I didn’t think I would need someone with much more experience to ink me. Unfortunately, I was proven quite wrong. The drawing had a yin yang symbol, and it turns out that small circles are pretty challenging to draw correctly, according to this experience. The small circle located in the white part is not a circle but an imperfect oval. An attempt to correct this issue only made the circle look more like a small cloud than anything else.  

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Even though the tattoo didn’t exactly turn out the way I was expecting, I do not regret it. The symbolism I wanted is integrated despite its unperfect look, and it is still pretty satisfying. Yet, while I was having my first tattoo done, I was wondering how they were made and how the ink got to stay in the skin. What also surprised me, later on, was the rate at which the ink was bleaching. There are already a few things we know. For instance, we know that ink is injected into the skin via needles. Something we may probably ignore, however, is how deeply the needles need to penetrate to create a lasting tattoo. If the ink is inserted into the more superficial skin layer, the epidermis, the ink will be shed away along with the dead skin. Thus, to create a permanent tattoo, artists need to inject the ink in the dermis, located under the epidermis. 

Interestingly, ink is not composed of pigments having all the same size. Some will actually be microscopic. Hence, they can be absorbed by phagocytes which are in charge of cleaning foreign particles. In this instance, the ink is a foreign particle as it is not present in your body before its injection. Only the ink fragments that are big enough will stay undigested as the phagocytes cannot swallow them. From this statement, we can now understand why tattoos appear to become much lighter after their first couple of days. Yet, you must be warned that exposure to sun rays may help break down the ink into smaller fragments and facilitate their elimination. Thus, exposing your tattoos directly under the sunlight will, over time, cause them to fade. A solution may be to apply sunscreen regularly, especially if you’re about to go outdoors for extended periods with your inks uncovered. Despite that, there exist some people who struggle remembering to put on sunscreen. I, for sure, am one of them. Nonetheless, I have recently decided to apply more willpower in my quest to use sunscreen more often. I know that skin protection is not only essential to preserve your body art, it is also necessary to protect your skin from developing cancers. 

In all cases, your inks are no longer as permanent as they once were thought to be. Ink removal techniques are becoming much less invasive and much more affordable. The most effective technique for tattoo removal is surgery which is the most invasive method. It involves cutting out the tattoo entirely and stitching the skin back together. Another technique – that is gaining ground – is laser tattoo removal treatments which replicate the same processes as the sunlight. The laser breaks down the ink fragments into smaller ones and then lets the phagocytes do the rest. This technique requires many sessions to erase most of the tattoo, but often the thickest line remains visible, at least in relief ‒because of the scarring. 

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Thus, regardless of the increased accessibility surrounding removal techniques, we shouldn’t be careless when choosing our next body art. It doesn’t matter if you decide to ink yourself for an aesthetical reason or symbolic reason; we should all be attentive to the whole process it involves. It is critical to know that the cost related to tattoo removal is a lot more expensive than the cost of the original tattoo. In the end, it is better to pay more for something you’ll keep enjoying than doing something impulsively and correcting it later. 

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer them as soon as humanly possible.

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Bring Up Grad School—What Is the Reality Behind Higher Education

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Being a curious individual, I always want to learn. I frankly can’t imagine a time when I’ll have to stop seeking clues about the inner workings of the world. The best way I found to satisfy my deep desire to learn was going to school. Luckily for me, going to school was mandatory for anyone under the age of 18. Yet, as soon as I entered high school, the only thing I could focus on was the impending end of time in school. There was only one solution. … I had to attend university. But first, I needed to get a Cegep degree. For those unfamiliar with the term Cegep, it is an academic institution that offers both general training and technical training. Both kinds of training lead to the obtention of a degree after 2 or 3 years, respectively. The general training aims to be pre-university training, whereas the technical training should lead you directly to the job market. 

Honestly, I particularly disliked Cegep. From my perspective, the teachers were unpassionate about their courses, and they were also exhaustingly hard to reach in between classes. I must mention that some teachers defied those expectations and were excellent teachers. However, I found that those were the minority. My observations were, however, not shared amongst most of my acquaintances that went to Cegep. Possibly, this difference could be credited to my degree being different, or it could be that they got their degree from another Cegep altogether. Alternatively, It could also have resulted from my mental state at the moment. Indeed, my head was not in the game then. I was living a distressing time at home and was incredibly worried about my perceived worth. Unconsciously, I didn’t mind failing my courses. It would just have been another proof of my worthlessness. 

Somehow after four years of on and off school, I decided to apply to university despite my lack of a Cegep degree. Why did I wait so long to apply to university if this whole thing was unnecessary? Well, I sincerely didn’t know that it was even possible. Everyone in the academic system has led me to believe in this one-size-fits-all path, either by ignorance or for simplicity’s sake. They teach you that the one path for university is first high school, then Cegep and finally, University. We, thus, remain oblivious that it is actually possible to skip Cegep altogether. It turns out that you only need to be 18 years old and possess a high school degree to be admissible for most university applications. They call these applicants mature students. There are also programs offered, like the one at Université de Montréal (Accès aux Études Universitaires), that grants you access to most if not all their undergraduate programs and also they offer you the opportunity to apply to other schools.

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That was a path that was better suited for my needs. I did the program at Université de Montréal, and then I applied to Bishop’s University. You may realize that one is a French-taught university and the second, an English-taught university. Given that French is my native language going to Bishop’s University has proven itself pretty challenging. Although, I must admit that I loved stepping up to the challenge and prove myself capable. After completing my bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience, I had come to realize that university studies suited me. I didn’t fail any classes; I even performed very well in most. My life made sense again, and I was satisfied, both from the work I’d accomplished and the learning I’d made. At that moment, I really wanted to teach, specifically at the university level. I needed to obtain a doctorate degree. So, I went to pursue a Master of Science at Université de Sherbrooke. I chose to do a research-based degree, and at first, I must admit that I absolutely loved it. 

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My research project was, at first, brand new to me, and I needed to learn a bunch before getting to design my own experiments. I adored that part, the learning part. Unfortunately, this is not a good resume of my whole experience in the lab. The lab atmosphere was terrible. From the start, my labmates attempted to convince each other that I did not deserve my place in this lab. Then, when my supervisor was made aware of their attitude, he addressed it. However, them trying to ridicule me was not their only ammunition at hand. They were also enjoying making the lab assistant’s life miserable. However, I liked the lab assistant very much. Contrary to the others in the lab, she was sweet, and she was always ready and willing to give me a hand. Little did I know that just tagging along with this marvellous person would get me shunned from the labmates. 

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Eventually, all I have ever done in the lab was being scrutinized and then mocked. My attitude in the lab started being somewhat unstable, and I began to develop a tendency towards overreaction. After two years of being part of this lab, this last change in my behaviour was the last straw to motivate my supervisors to ban me from the lab at the request of the majority of my labmates. Fortunately, I was able to complete my degree after all, despite my unfinished project. Instead of writing my thesis at the lab, I was able to write it remotely. I was happy to be away from the drama that accompanied my presence in the lab, but I was distraught by the unfamiliarity of writing a Master’s thesis. I had no assistance from my supervisor, nor did I get much help from the department. I had to figure it out all on my own. Sometimes the immensity of the task was proving itself too scary, and I often preferred avoiding completing it altogether. With the kind help and motivation from my fiancé, I finally accepted that doing my best, although it would eventually need redefining, was all I could do. And as such, so I did; after three reviews, the review board approved my thesis for submission, and I obtained my diploma. 

I heard that my recent experience was not a typical one. However, it is not an isolated case. My multiple discussions with other Master’s students and Doctorate students revealed something interesting. I began realizing that the quality of our experience directly correlates to how the supervisor manages the lab. If he keeps repeating that he is overwhelmingly busy and thus he expects his students to be ultra self-sufficient, it’s a potential red flag. It could mean that he is not available to guide the students, nor can he be there to address any possible cases of abuse. If the supervisor willingly claims that the lab has some recurring conflicts and that he had problems with students in the past, it’s a red flag. It could mean that he can’t adequately manage his lab and his students and that he may tolerate misbehaviours. At last, if the supervisor only talks about himself and his lab, red flag. Possibly, the supervisor doesn’t care about your personal preferences nor your mental state. It is a poor attribute for your supervisor to have given that these elements may potentially damage the quality of your work. Also, if the supervisor is indifferent to you, he is probably with everyone else as well. In sum, make sure to vet your potential supervisor carefully. It may be tempting to accept any supervisor that supports your candidacy first, but it may not be to your own benefit. Take your time and ask yourself if that supervisor is a good fit for you. 

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Two years after completing my Master’s degree, I have finally grasped that my negative experience in that lab was not entirely because of me. A lot had to do with being in the wrong lab, at the wrong time, and with the wrong people. Some day, I may find my way back to studying or working in a lab, but not now, nor anytime soon. Right now, I am fully satisfied writing from the comfort of my home, or in this case, a charming pub in North Hatley, QC, CA. Although my future is uncertain, I now understand that I am in charge of my destiny and happiness. Maybe this future will bring me to complete another undergraduate degree, or perhaps it won’t. The one thing I am sure of is that wherever life carries me, I will make damn sure that I’m happy, no more compromises. 

College or university degrees should not be sought with the only motivation to enter the job market but to further knowledge and understanding. University studies are challenging, and deliberate decisions to gain wisdom about a particular field are needed to succeed. Unfortunately, too many people enter university programs with the only hope and desire to get a specific job. Way too often, those people don’t get the desired position, either because they only crammed the knowledge without properly absorbing anything, or they may find out that they don’t want that job in the end. As for me, I decided to forge my own path. Science communication is one of the most integral parts of my life. I often do it without even realizing it. So, even though my training typically leads to an academic career, I decided to break away from the mould and become a self-employed entrepreneur. 

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer them as soon as humanly possible.

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Bring Up Cryptography—How to Hide your Messages

It is pretty safe to say that we nowadays live in an era where gaining access to information is frighteningly easy. Sharing details of our life on unsecured channels can be a sure way to have our identity stolen, or potentially worse. And even on a secure channel, sharing personal information is a risky business as some people well-educated in cryptography can potentially hack into your account and decrypt all of this sensitive information. Of course, not all security protocols were created the same way, some might be much harder to decrypt, and some might be utterly simple. Thus knowing about the different cryptosystems out there is imperative. 

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I first learnt about cryptosystems in one of my undergrad courses, cleverly called (you guessed it) cryptography. The course was designed to ease us into the main concepts by first establishing the context. We must understand that a cryptosystem involves at least two agents (a sender and a receiver). The sender is, by convention, named Alice and the receiver, Bob. The system could also be infiltrated by a third agent, an eavesdropper, adeptly called Eve. So imagine you are suspecting your husband of cheating, you decide to grab his phone and attempt retrieving the messages sent between Alice (his mistress) and Bob (your husband). However, the phone is locked, and all you need is the key. You, portraying Eve in this situation, will attempt to retrieve the key to access the messages. Depending on the strength of the password, maybe you could break in, or perhaps you could not. That only depends on his carefulness and your wits. 

Yet, Alice did not always send the encrypted message to Bob to hide information. In Egypt, about 1900 BCE, encryption was possibly intended as a game, like a puzzle or an enigma to solve. Only a sprinkling of people was actually able to read or write, which made the need to mask the written content futile. These few educated people were part of what we called the elite. Since they were so few, these people produced these word puzzles to decode for entertainment only. However, now that most of us know how to read and write, one must know how to hide critical information. Encryptions require a cryptosystem, where its most important part is the key. Therefore, for a cryptosystem to be successful, finding the key must be hard. The more difficult it is to retrieve the key, the better kept is the information. That is why information technology experts recommend using different passwords for each one of our accounts.

One of the easiest ways to encode text is to convert our traditional alphabet into a numerical one, for example, A=0 and Z=25. Thus, now you could say hello using this string of numbers 7 4 11 11 14. Now, a more secure way to hide this hello, which remains easy, would be to add a unique number to every single numerical letter. In this case, if we add 5, the string would become 12 9 16 16 19. This numerical series would then translate to ‘MJQQT,’ which evidently makes no sense. We would immediately know that the message results from encryption. In this case, decrypting the message may then be tempting. Luckily for us, there would be ways for us to find out the key. We would only need to exploit the existing flaws within the system. If we pay close attention to the series, we could notice the repeating letters. Then, without too much issue, we may be able to infer the initial message. With all this information, we could easily find out the key and decrypt all future messages. All you would need to do is look for words in the dictionary with repeating letters at the third and fourth positions. The chances are that you would find hello, and thus you could also find that the key is five, rendering this key useless for future discussion between Alice and Bob.

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cottonbro|Pexels.com

To fix this flaw, we could decide to use a set of different numbers as our key. For instance, if the key is composed of 5 entries, then every string of five letters in the text could be encrypted using the key. Additionally, if our initial message remains HELLO (7 4 11 11 14) and our key is LWAJF (11 22 0 9 5), then the final encrypted text would be SALUT (18 0 11 20 19). We did it. There is no longer any repeating number, the flaw is now corrected, and we made the codes that much harder to crack. This type of cryptosystem has been used by the Germans – between the First World War and the Second World War – for most of their international communications. For the best part of this period, the only hints into the codes emerged from the work of the brilliant and very competent codebreakers at Bletchley Park in England. 

Luckily, by the beginning of the Second World War, a genius mathematician succeeded in developing a code-breaking machine able to decrypt the Enigma Code provided by the Enigma machine. The Enigma machine was a manufactured cypher machine, an awfully mighty encrypting machine. Its successes were related to the automatization of the encryption, which involved using three or four independent rotors. Each rotor could alter the initial letters by adding the corresponding number associated with the key. More importantly, this key was changed daily, rendering the output messages that much harder to decrypt. That was until the day that Alan Turing, the genius behind the Bombe machine, came into the picture. This new instrument was strong enough to decode any of the Enigma Codes. His work in cryptanalysis was crucial, and it helped gain grounds against the Nazis. Eventually, the collapse of the communication bridge between the Nazis everywhere helped turn the tide, leading the Englishmen and their allies to victory.

By all means, the advances in cryptography didn’t stop after the Second World War. Even though encrypting messages for communication was rendered somewhat obsolete, the progress in computer science has made the need for storing data and protecting sensitive information fundamental. So, the key got evermore complex, and instead of being different permutations, the keys became invertible matrices. And despite all these breakthroughs in encryption, a similar effort in decryption impelled the mathematicians to produce more advanced cryptosystems. To replace the invertible matrices, the encryption finally involved huge prime numbers as its key; the bigger, the better. The number 53 won’t suffice anymore, I’m afraid. 

Even so, this was a pretty appealing solution when first adopted. Now, it has become ever more complex to find new prime numbers to use. The need to consistently come up with new prime numbers arose from computers becoming more and more powerful. Tools needed to discover increasingly huge prime numbers were then also more accessible. Soon, we were required to push the limit and reach for yet undiscovered prime numbers. 

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Jonathan Borba|Pexels.com

This quest for more secure encryption is not over, and only time will tell which new approach will take over. Still, encryption for storing data has made incredible leaps in the last few years. Recent advances made our most popular 8 GB flash drives pale in comparison to our new 2 TB flash drives. Still, 2 TB of data storage doesn’t provide enough storage power when dealing with enormous amounts of information. Some scientists may have found a way to resolve this issue by finding a new medium to hold the encrypted data. It turns out that synthetic molecules could be the key for storing megatons of data in very tiny spaces. This approach proves particularly promising as the system used would involve a hexadecimal code (16) instead of the binary system (2) used in all current storing devices.

Other scientists have even tried to code messages in bacterial DNA and were even successful in retrieving the initial information. From all these innovations, we can observe that our need for storing data is constantly increasing. Evidently, we live in a world where information is becoming overly abundant. Anything can get encrypted; what we write, how we speak, how we behave and potentially how we look. The grandeur of this scheme can only raise the question of how we deal with all this sensitive information put out there. One could suggest shunning the use of all electronic devices entirely. Alternatively, some others might opt to encourage, maybe even force, companies to be more transparent about their information acquisition and storage. Anyhow, we all must be careful about the potential risk associated with our online presence. At the very least, we must remember to stay alert against any possible phishing attempts, we should regularly change our passwords, and we must never share these passwords with anyone, no matter what. 

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer them as soon as humanly possible.

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Bring Up Working Out—How It Can Benefit Our Entire Body

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Well, it will probably come to you as no surprise, but we always need to keep moving. Let me be clear; I am not suggesting here to become fidgety, but to avoid remaining stationary for extended periods. The benefits of an active lifestyle have been promoted for many years now. I actually cannot remember a time when the benefits were unmentioned by the media. Nowadays, instead of the mention of being active, we hear another word, workouts. However, even if the principle stays the same, people can seem a little confused when we ask them to differentiate both. The first, staying active, essentially refers to remaining engaged with movement as much as possible; the second, workouts, often mean the accomplishments of strenuous activity, exercise, or work.  Where one somewhat suggests a life commitment, the other one mostly hints at something more intense and sporadic.  Now, one question still remains: from which one can we genuinely reap the most benefits?

There are no easy ways to answer this question. The most beneficial might, in truth, be a mix of both. I am decidedly already putting all of my eggs in that basket. I would say that I started adopting this approach very gradually. I must say that, at first, adhering to any physical activity was difficult. Then, suddenly, scheduling a walk during my day became much easier, and working out began to grow on me. Unfortunately, considerable change is sometimes our worst enemy when trying to establish a new habit. In my case, moving from Montreal to Sherbrooke (both in Québec, Ca) was enough to put a wrench in my newly set lifestyle. Even though the Eastern Townships is positively heavenly for its scenery and many trails, finding time to walk seemed once again challenging. Working out in our now reduced-size apartment was becoming somewhat challenging. Now a month and a half later, I am nearly finding myself having to start again from scratch, but I keep wondering if this whole thing is worth pursuing if I keep on ‘failing.’ And my verdict remains yes. The pursuit should never stop if we want to be healthy. 

It is probably more difficult to find a spot for both types of activities in your schedule, but it is worth considering. Whereas working out can be very profitable for your overall health, maintaining physical activity, aka staying active, might be the only way to retain the procured perks. If we listen carefully, that is indeed what our body is trying to communicate. Our body not only desires to work hard, but it also needs consistency. Our body will adjust with the life we give it. If we stay static -like remaining inside, on our computer all day, and eating junk food- it is only natural that our metabolism begins slowing down and that we start storing our unburnt fat and glucose. If, by contrast, we change our lifestyle to reflect a more active baseline, our body will naturally increase its metabolism to meet our increased demand for energy. However, this change won’t occur overnight. Changes require a whole logistical switch in the body, and our system doesn’t like to switch things around. As we often say, our body is pretty stubborn. If the body can survive on the current arrangement, then it won’t change. 

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In other words, if we plan for a more healthy way of life, then sticking to a 30-day physical challenge won’t do the trick. Yes! You will most definitely lose weight, but your metabolism will most certainly remain the way it always was. For the whole month, you might notice some decent changes to your health. Unfortunately, none of them may persist if you don’t pursue a similar level of activity. So, my advice is to work hard; still, you must remember to keep it light enough to retain the desire to do it over and over again.

Apart from weight loss being an apparent and very well-supported argument to encourage working out, there are many other advantages. So much so that some pharmaceutical companies are currently looking into ways to develop a pill that could recreate the effect of working out while staying largely inactive. This strategy is regarded as potentially misleading since the outcomes of workouts are complicated and multifaceted.  Working out indeed triggers a broad cascade of effects that affect more than one physiological system, all of which can interact with one another. Thus, believing that one medication could activate all pathways and produce all the same effects at once is probably fickle. Another approach would be to create a drug that could promote exercise. One difficulty that most people face when commencing a new workout plan is a lingering struggle. This persistent effort, which is very laborious, is often enough to discourage people from pursuing any activity. Now, imagine that a pill could resolve this obstacle. As a new workout beginner, you would already have a decent amount of stamina that could alleviate some of the struggles we typically feel. Then, you certainly could see yourself persisting with the new plan sketched up for you, no? And that is absolutely what a team of scientists is trying to accomplish.

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Finding ways to create a more active population is not a goal to merely keep in mind. It is imperative. Working out has been shown to challenge nearly all organs in our body; subsequently, stimulating growth and repair. The challenge faced by our body during a workout session is changing more in our bodies than we may easily list. It is not often clear if all benefits stem directly from working out or if one of them might be responsible for the many. It would be pretty reasonable to suppose that losing weight might be the change that leads to the reduced risk of developing many illnesses. However, some studies showed that the impact of workouts on our overall health stems from more than weight loss. The benefits seemed to come from the activity itself first.

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We can observe some benefits earlier than others. As often mentioned now, weight loss is one of the most apparent changes we can notice and results from an energy/calorie deficit. As a general rule of thumb, the more energy we spend and the less food we consume, the greater this deficit becomes. Whenever our bodies detect that we are spending more energy than can be produced by our food consumption, the more our bodies will rely on the content of our fat cells to supply the additional fuel needed to meet our increased demand. 

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A reduced body fat percentage means a decreased risk for our body to deposit fat -visceral fat- around our heart and other vital organs. This effect immediately represents a lower risk of heart diseases, an improved functioning of the pancreas, and preservation of our mental acuity as we age. However, weight loss alone cannot explain the entire picture. Workouts also have their own arsenal responsible for cardioprotection, pancreas protection and neuroprotection. By increasing our blood pressure, we create acute stress on the body that has proven itself beneficial for protecting the organs it supplies. Also, strenuous activities provide our body with acute mechanical stress that can strengthen our muscles and our bones and reduce the risk of falls later on in our lives. 

Working out also improves your mood by releasing some good ol’ endorphins. It also helps regulate stress hormones levels, which ensures that you keep a healthy mental state. Along with relaxing your mind, exhausting our bodies before going to bed is also a foolproof way to gather a good night’s sleep. The list of benefits here is not exhaustive. Some studies are even suggesting that constant physical activities, along with working out, significantly reduce your risk of developing some cancers, including colon, breast, uterine and lung cancer. And if you’re looking to maintain a healthy sex life throughout your life, you may regard your demanding physical activities as your holy grail. For men, regular physical activity would come with a lowered risk of developing erectile dysfunction, and for women, it might be a sexual mood booster. 

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Many other advantageous changes are happening in our bodies when we decide to adopt a more active lifestyle, along with workouts, probably more than what I have just mentioned. And if you are looking into a way to cheat death for longer, you might consider implementing these few changes to your life habits.  Personally, I know that I want to prolong my life for as long as possible while remaining healthy.  For this reason, I will keep on trying to push away my laziness and motivate myself to always do more. If you think that workouts are too far of a stretch for you, then you might be pleased to realize that working out does not necessarily involve weightlifting. It could be sprinting, playing a sport, rock climbing or any other moderately challenging activities. Just remember to find one that aligns with your own interest, and you will be setting yourselves up for success. 

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer as soon as humanly possible.

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Bring Up Biophilia—What makes us particularly attracted to nature

No one can dismiss the amazing feeling we get after spending some time in nature. We instantly feel relaxed and reinvigorated. Some might attribute this effect to time spent far away from work, and even though they could be correct, it is not the whole picture. Biophilia is a relatively new concept that brought the…

Bring Up Blood—How our oxygen gets carried throughout our body

Good evening my dearest followers, Please, take a moment to enjoy this excerpt for my newest post (Bring Up Blood). We could most certainly not live without blood. It is absolutely essential for the survival of our most distant limbs and organs. Even though almost all of our respiration is thanks to our respiratory organs,…

Bring Up Puberty—When a Transition to Adulthood Becomes Unavoidable

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For the sake of being completely honest with you, I don’t remember much of my puberty. Nonetheless, there is one particular element that will be forever in my mind, my first period. Being a girl, you know menstruation is taboo. We all know it exists, even boys, but for heaven’s sake, we should never mention it, ever. Well, sorry everyone, I cannot help but mention it. Yet, even though I don’t entirely remember the full extent of my puberty, I can recognize that I have gone through all of its associated symptoms, except for acne. My situation is really not that different from the experience shared by so many other girls. I started having breasts, developing hair in places where I had none before, growing taller and even more. This story is from my point of view, a girl’s point of view. As for the boys, despite not sharing entirely the same experiences, there are still some evident similarities. 

My first period happened about 18 years ago, and if my memory is anything reliable, that day started like any other day. It was a beautiful, sunny and warm summer day. It was during the weekend, and as such, my family and I had to do chores. Mowing the lawn seemed especially fun, but my parents would never agree to let me use the lawnmower. They told me that the machine was too dangerous for a young girl (it was probably a wise decision). However, after months of begging, they finally gave in. On that beautiful sunny day, my dad finally showed me how to use the lawnmower. My mom looked particularly pleased as she didn’t especially like completing this task. 

I proceeded to mow the entire front yard, and I had lots of fun. Only once I began to mow the backyard did I realize that I was feeling a bit different. I was feeling all grown up, adultlike. A moment later, as I was finishing up mowing under the only apple tree in my yard, I started feeling something wet in my panties. I immediately dropped what I was doing and went to the bathroom to have a look. If earlier, I just had the feeling of becoming an adult, then looking at the wet brownish-red spot at the bottom of my underwear was the confirmation. My body was violently agreeing with me.

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I didn’t particularly feel like sharing the news with anyone, not even my own family, including my mother or sisters. I was planning on padding my underwear with toilet paper. Then, my mom came and knocked on the bathroom door. She was wondering what was happening to me since I had stopped mowing. I was so close to being done with the task entirely. Also, the fact that I didn’t put away the lawnmower was decidedly out of character for me. From inside the bathroom, I proceeded to tell her what was happening to me. I knew perfectly what that blood was. I have had sex education classes in school before, and I knew that this was my first period. I don’t remember my mom saying much. She frankly made me feel okay about this whole situation. I cleaned up my underwear while my mom brought me another pair. I padded the clean underwear with toilet paper (my mom did not have any period supplies) and pursued on with my task. A couple of days later, my mom presented me with a humongous pack of menstrual pads. I didn’t know exactly how I was supposed to use them. 

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Too shy to ask, I tried figuring it out on my own. The basic concept was quite simple. You first remove the protective sheet. Then you stick the pad at the bottom of your panties. What I had the most trouble with was finding how high or low I had to place it. Any slight misplacement would mean a massive overspill, which would have to be cleaned. After a week or so, I had become adept. For years, I kept using pads that were working fine with me. Yet, one day going on a camping trip with my oldest sister, I got my period, and it was utterly unanticipated. My menstrual cycle was still pretty irregular at that point. I had no pads on me. I asked my sister to hook me up, but the only thing she had was tampons. I had to use them, but I did not know how to, and I was way too shy to ask for help yet again. I knew that I had to insert the tampon into my vagina, but I wasn’t sure how far. I was afraid, afraid it was going to stay stuck if I inserted it too deeply. Also, when I first started inserting the applicator in, I started feeling pain. I was only more worried about going too far. It turns out that, in the end, I didn’t insert it far enough. The tampon, after a few hours, started leaking down onto my underwear. Many tampons later, I figured out how they worked (the instructions on the box helped). Until recently, tampons were my preferred tool to use. 

Even though most people consider puberty to really start once you’ve had your first period, menstruation is just the tip of the iceberg. A lot of other physiological changes are going on way before your first period. For instance, girls start to develop breasts which at first are called breast buds. Typically this development occurs around two years before the first menstruation. Although I am not sure about the exact moment when this all started, I can accept this timeline. My first menstruation occurred in the summer, just before I entered high school. However, I clearly remember having breast buds in elementary school. 

Alena Shekhovtcova|Pexels.com

One day in elementary school, I decided to wear a new silky shirt that I positively adored. I remember my young self feeling truly stunning in that shirt. Regardless, while waiting for the bus to bring me back home when school was over, some boys cornered me. Earlier, the boys had seen my buds peaking through my shirt as I didn’t have a training bra yet. They felt as if it was their duty to point it out to me. They probably hoped to embarrass me, which it did. Once I got back home, I told my mom about this encounter. She told me that I was too young to need a bra and to ignore those boys. I remember at this point feeling weird and ugly. I wanted to hide, which is what I mostly ended up doing in the end. I started wearing a camisole under my shirt and a sweater on top. 

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I had learned to hide any changes that I was going through. My newly acquired armpit hair was no different. From this moment on, I had stopped wearing tank tops in school. My mom, with her best intention at heart, forbade me to shave before my 14th birthday. Even though this restriction was in effect for all of my sisters, I still felt like an outsider. All my friends had training bras, razors and parents that would throw them parties for their first periods. I could not wait long enough for me to be fully grown up. I believed that only then would I be able to buy myself anything I needed. And growing up happened, not necessarily in terms of maturity, but in terms of length. By the end of puberty, I was 165 cm (5’4’’) tall, which is right on the woman’s median average height. Also, my hips and thighs got wider, which I interpreted as a sign that I was finally becoming a woman. 

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At last, there was finally one change that occurred but didn’t need concealing. It was plenty invisible in itself. That change was the size of my uterus. It was becoming larger to make room for future offspring. Fortunately, the increase in the size of my reproductive organs is not unique to me. Most girls and boys will also experience similar alterations. Yet, for boys, it will be more apparent since their reproductive organs are essentially external. Their penises and testicles will grow bigger. From the moment their reproductive system matures, they get susceptible to having wet dreams. During wet dreams, boys will ejaculate in their bed, which can cause, in some cases, embarrassment. In the beginning, boys will also develop some breast buds, but they will disappear entirely by the end of puberty. They will gain muscle mass and also get taller. They, like the girls, will have an increase in body hair quantity. So, for both sexes, most changes are the same. However, for males, there is one main difference, the deepening of their voice. 

You can observe the change starting with voice cracking as if it couldn’t pick a tone. It is, in truth, pretty much what is happening. Once a boy reaches puberty, we can observe an enlargement of his larynx and his vocal folds getting thicker and longer. Meanwhile, before the change gets completed, the boys must learn to use a new instrument every day. This challenge can account for the weirdness of the sound they produce, and I can now fully understand how stressful this might be. However, this will never get as stressful as getting a massive burst of acne. I was fortunate enough as a teen to have avoided acne altogether, but I knew some friends who were not as lucky. They would go to extended lengths to hide the pimples away. Anyway, we can all agree that puberty is an awkward period, and as adults, we should all aim to be a bit more supportive and present for all teens around us. 

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer as soon as humanly possible.

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Bring Up Tattoo—How it can be possible to mark our skin permanently

Not all appearance alterations are created equal; some may be more short-lived and others more permanent. If you think of tattoos, they mostly belong to the second category. So thinking carefully about certain aspects of the tattoo becomes imperative. Things like the symbolism or the artistry behind your new piece shouldn’t be random. Choosing a…

Bring Up Grad School—What Is the Reality Behind Higher Education

For people who want to pursue studies after completing high school, university studies may look very attractive. So, undergraduate studies may lead to graduate studies. However, undergraduate studies are not the same as graduate studies. The latter is not only more complicated, but it is also very different. First of all, contrary to your undergrad,…

Bring Up Flowers—How do these beautiful blossoms emerge

It is now mid-April; we are well into Spring at this point. Looking outside, I am completely astonished by the beautiful and ostentatious colours displayed by the flowers peeking through the ground. Also, I cannot overlook the smell; it is truly incredible. Nature has finally come back to life. Even though I will have to wait until well over mid-May for the first sign of leaves in the tree, I can momentarily rejoice in the early present that Mother Nature is giving us.

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Flowers, peeking through the soil, seem to exist as both fragile and tenacious entities. Although we could not see them for most of Fall and the entire Winter, parts of them have survived. The surviving part will, yet, vary depending on the kind of plant they are. Annuals will die every year but will leave behind their fertilized seeds to replant and grow sprouts. As for perennials, when freezing hits, some of their parts will begin a decaying process, yet their root network will survive even through the harshest of times. As soon as the warmth—typically brought by Spring—makes its first appearance, the roots will awaken and contribute to the renewal of all lost parts.

Thinking about flowers, often enough, evokes the image of gardens in our mind. They are so glorious that it is not surprising at all to have people willing to spend good money just for their mere sight. Two options lay in front of us to gain access to such treats. We could opt to build a personal garden, our very own little piece of paradise, or we could easily book a visit to our local botanical garden. If you decide to proceed in creating your very own tiny patch, you’ll certainly have to spend a lot of elbow grease to structure it. Yet, there are no set rules which define the perfect constitution of a garden. Still, with some advice, we can certainly create a fair-looking one.

If there is one thing you must keep in mind when dealing with flowers is the advantages offered by each of the two kinds presented before, perennials and annuals. To avoid headaches, use both: it will cut down planting time while maximizing blossoming time. Perennials will not need replanting every year. However, you will have to exert patience before seeing the fruit of all your labour. Perennials are reputed to take up to three years to reach their full potential. You will also have to remember after a few years to divide the plant. Failure to split the plants often enough could cause their flowers to acquire a dull colouring, parts could stop flowering entirely (especially at their centre), and they could also outgrow their designated spot. Spring is typically the preferred time to do the maintenance, but if you could not complete it within that period, you can still proceed to divide them safely at any other time. They are, decidedly, gifts that keep on giving.

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As for annual flowers, they are quite interesting too. They, indeed, sadly require more effort to implement in our gardens, but they have honestly no parallel in terms of either blooming period or colourfulness. If you decide to make your garden entirely out of annual flowers, it would surely be a sight for sore eyes. However, that decision would imply that the work would need to be totally redone from scratch every year. The work that it involves would be, for me at least, an insufferable burden. The solution resides in supplementation. Have beautiful perennials that keep on coming back and, every Spring, invest in some extra annuals. This alternative will not only save your hand from being overtaxed, but it will also cause your eyes to be thoroughly delighted.

Vural Yavas|Pexels.com

While building our next garden, we will also need to consider different combinations of colours, sizes, and shapes. Clearly, placing the small plants far behind should be avoided. They then risk being hidden by other larger plants. We need to put the smaller plants at the forefront, where we can see them. It is also worth noting that accessibility is also important. We want all of your annuals to have an easily accessible spot where we can replant them every year. As for the colours, we can explore different colour schemes. It really does not matter how many colours we want to include: let us only make sure that the combination makes sense (do they actually work well together?) The shapes of the petals and the flowers could also benefit from our attention. Aside from tulip gardens, having the same flowers repeated can be pretty dull. That’s why varying them can be a good idea. They, additionally, don’t blossom simultaneously, which would provide you with a colourful garden for much longer.

Despite the apparent appeal of having a pleasant and attractive garden, varying the sort of plants to be used is also a good idea to encourage and support diverse pollinators. The great majority of pollinators are flying insects such as bees, wasps, beetles, butterflies, moths and flies. The bees, which are famously renowned for their currently alarming decline, require our assistance. Their main sustenance is the honey produced from their collected pollen. The flowers are providing the bees with this pollen. Usually, pollen serves to produce male gametes (male sperms). Increasing pollen supplies for the bee is a good start in a way to help them.

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We can find the pollen on the anther at the filaments’ tip. Both, the stamen and the filaments, form what we call the stamen. The filaments are thin cylindrical structures popping out of the centre of the flower. Aside from the filaments, flowers have many other parts. They have a stem that serves as a support for both their leaves and the flower itself. They also possess numerous leaves that will provide energy for the plant through photosynthesis. The pistil, found at the very centre of the flower, will collect pollen for the prospective fertilization of the ovules residing inside it. Lastly, the petals will provide protection for the reproductive organs. They will also serve to repel or even attract particular pollinators.

Borislav Krustev|Pexels.com

When gazing upon a garden that has been carefully conceived to all of its subtlest detail, it is of no wonder that one must be marvelled. Yet, it is equally, or even more, fascinating to observe a random patch of flower composite in the forest or on the side of the road. Nature has a marvellous taste in design when it comes to arranging her decor. Every summer, during my regular hikes, I become incredibly aware of the inner beauty of the nature surrounding us.

My favourite kinds are flowers with small petals and vivid colours. Still, I cannot ignore the appeal of all the others. The first flower that caught my breath was the lilac. This perennial was a flower that was introduced to me by a long-time admirer, my mother. She loves them so much that she bought two lilacs to plant around our courtyard. When they became big enough, we could enjoy both the colours and the odours they were presenting. A second flower that I particularly love is the violet. I remember finding one of them piercing through the asphalt (bitumen) on the side of the road, and I could not stop pondering about their strength. Lastly, I included bleeding hearts on my list. These are the most recent flowers I encountered and instantly charmed me. From my mother-in-law’s garden, I caught myself gazing at those flowers and thinking about how they reminded me of both protection and love.

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I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer as soon as humanly possible.

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Bring Up Cryptography—How to Hide your Messages

To ensure our privacy, we must be careful about what we share and how we share it. Most often, your personal information, like your passwords, we’ll be hiding from everyone. But that only happens if we transmit the data through a secured channel. Unfortunately, you can be as careful as possible, some people can still…

Bring Up Fireworks—How Do We Make Colours Explode

Summer festivals are not only fun for all the foods they’re providing and the activities they’re offering, but also because of their well-anticipated fireworks. Those orchestrated explosions are so grandiose that most can’t help but feel moved by the spectacle. Some may even start wondering what makes those magical displays, and I am for sure…

Bring Up Working Out—How It Can Benefit Our Entire Body

Staying active is hard, and we may very well feel tempted to give it up entirely. However, there are some good reasons why health professionals advocate adopting a more active lifestyle. Beyond the most apparent argument, weight loss, there are other advantages to moving out of your couch and grabbing those neglected sneakers for a…

Bring Up Seasons – What can we tell about these four

Life is always accompanied by changes, making change probably its most loyal companion. We are so often exposed to them -and always have been- that we developed ways to categorize the changes that keep reoccurring. These are the changes we call cyclic. As in the cycle of water where water keeps on changing forms, from vapour to solid and everything in between. Each of these changes has been attributed specific names, which are, in order, evaporation (or transpiration), condensation, precipitation and surface runoff. From surface runoff, evaporation can once again proceed which closes the loop. This cycle is believed to be able to persist forever or, at least, for as long as water remains. Now let’s drift away from the cycle of water, so we can enjoy a broader vision of the changes that surround us. For one, a change that I am especially keen on welcoming every year is warm weather. When I mention warm weather, what probably pops in your head right now is the summer season and this is exactly what I was referring to. However, the temperature is not the only thing that keeps changing through seasons. Let’s plow through each season by pointing out each of the major changes that they carry along with them.

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First of all, let’s agree to present seasons by order of encounter starting from January to December (our calendar year). January and February in North America are accompanied by undeniable cold, especially if you live in Québec. This drastic temperature change unequivocally marks the arrival of winter. In Québec, the average temperature resides around -10℃, but there are huge day-to-day variations. One day can be marked by a dreadful -24℃ and the next a comfortable 2℃, you never really know. Apart from the noticeable and persistent presence of cold, our winter is marked by a significant accumulation of snow, which you know by now is a form of precipitation (read Bring Up Snow). The snow is accumulating because the soil has frozen, thanks to the ever tenacious cold. Nevertheless, the total amount of precipitation is still lower than any other time of the year. winter is particularly dry, which explains why our skin becomes so dried-up and flaky. If we add the wind factor to the equation, winter becomes even worse. The speed of wind can reach an average of 13km/h which is the fastest we can record during the year. As if winter season was not dreary enough with its cold, dryness, and windiness, it also has to encompass all the shorter days of the years, decreasing naturally available light. Moreover, we can observe an increase in cloudy days which can block most of that light. It is of no wonder that winter is being framed as the darkest month of the year, both literally and figuratively speaking.

Fortunately for us, winter does not last forever. With March comes spring carrying all of its renewing properties. From the moment Spring deploys its wings, the temperature rises to a satisfying average of 1℃/day. The resulting warmth is sufficient to unthaw the soil and melt the leftover snow abandoned by winter. The increased water supply and the warmth becomes essential factors that permit the growth of new vegetation and the awakening of trees. Not only are plants pleased by these changes but animals too. Animals hibernating are now coming out of their dormant stage and are joining in the feast that nature is bringing them. Days are becoming longer and less cloudy, contributing to more natural light being able to reach us. The wind also seems to calm down creating a more tempered climate. I sincerely love spring. Spring is not only the time when I can finally celebrate yet another birthday, but also the coming back of leaves in the trees. I must say that the event ignites in me a feeling of total admiration and joy,  am I the only one feeling this? As soon as May knocks at our doors, I begin to be actively alert for the first sight of green appearing on branches. Yet, there is something else happening slightly before the first greenery that makes me really pleased to welcome spring: the opening of Sugar Shacks. I know this probably makes me sound very Canadian, but I am, and why deny my true nature? If you happen to come by Québec in spring, make sure to taste our sweet sweet nectar of the gods, namely our maple syrup. You can also enjoy it under its toffee form which is a real treat served on fresh snow.

Though I really like spring and all that it offers, I also really enjoy summer. As you may now know from previous articles, I’m fairly intolerant of cold and summer is anything but cold. Beginning in June, the heat increases at a speedy but steady rate, plateauing at around 26℃ by July 26th. Still, summer has other attributes that are at least as impressive as its remarkable change in temperature. For instance, let us give an honourable mention to the longest day of the year, which happens every year, varying between 20-21 June. This date marks the Summer Solstice, harbingering the summer season. This year the longest day will be on June 20th. From the province of Québec, you will be able to witness the sunrise at 5:06 am and the sunset at 8:47 pm. In the Summer, the daylight period is longer, the days are more humid, the sky is less cloudy and the winds are seldom present. Yet, the rainfalls can be phenomenal, averaging a total of 92mm of rain per month. It becomes pretty obvious why so many people want to spend much of their time outside. This behaviour is perfectly adequate, but we still have to remember to protect our skin against excessive sunlight exposure.

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Most of us can agree that summer never lasts long enough. As soon as the daylight period begins to shrink, From the arrival of October, the leaves in the trees start changing colours. This is a beautiful event that gives rise to a wonderful scenery. Yet, there is one thing we often omit to consider when ogling that dazzling chemistry of colour. The change of leaf colour is the manifestation of trees entering slowly but surely their dormant phase. Soon enough leaves will fall on the ground and the trees will be bare and will start looking somewhat dead. They won’t be dead though, as you will observe when spring shows up again. As we move through the fall months (September, October and November), the temperature will start dropping and the days will become ever shorter. The winds are picking up again and the clouds are becoming more present. Still, if you dress up accordingly, you can enjoy tremendously satisfying walks in the woods. On our doorstep appears December once again dragging back winter, and the cycle goes on.

This is all really interesting, but what if this whole idea of 4 seasons regulated by solstices and equinox wasn’t the most appropriate adopted system. This is a question that some scientists try to answer by studying common metabolisms happening in the human body through the year. A study that took place in California, U.S. obtained results suggesting that there may only be two seasons, not four as previously considered (well at least in their region). These revelations are intriguing indeed, but what do you think? Do you think that where you live there are more than four seasons, or less, or exactly four? What’s your stance? As for me, I consider that our approach is perfectly adequate for the province of Québec and any further studies surveying this issue would be interesting, but still far from relevant in regard to our way of life. 

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer as soon as humanly possible.

Bring Up Hair – What you have to know about your mane

I have them, and probably you do too. Anyhow, always knowing what to do with them day in, day out, can be a hassle. They certainly seem to have a mind of their own. We spend so much time with them, and yet we still can’t figure out most of their secrets. And yes! You probably guessed it by the title, I’m talking about hair. I don’t even know what’s up with my own hair. I can even go as far as saying that it grew a totally different personality over the last few years. Without going through any artificial treatment that may affect its structure, it went from being ultra-straight to being wavy. I find this particularly weird. What do you think? The change was very subtle and as previously stated happened gradually over the last few years. I didn’t give much thought to it. It’s only when my family asked me what I’ve done with my hair that I was forced to notice that it really did change. No apparent clue as to why, and no! I don’t braid it; it simply happens on its own.

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This got me interested in the science behind hair. What makes them? Is it alive? Why the different colours? Why does it constantly fall, and is it normal? I had more questions, but you get my point. Lucky me, I didn’t have to dig very deep to find the answers. Hair is such a popular theme on the internet, which is probably driven by the continuous pursuit for a silky mane. Still a symbol of beauty, many people will go the extra mile to make it as fantastic as possible, spending a good portion of their budget on hair products or visits to hair stylists. Now before moving on to the nitty-gritty bits, I just want to mention that all hair is different and thus they hold their very specific secret. There is not going to be any holy grail recipe here. To decipher the mystery of your own hair might take a lifetime, but if you are willing to try and experiment with different approaches you are almost certain to figure out your very own way to discipline those unruly locks.

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Hair is made up of many parts, but I won’t introduce them all to keep it short. So, all hair, and it doesn’t matter the structure, are made up of the same fundamental element, namely keratin. It may sound familiar, maybe you’ve heard that nails are also made up of keratin, maybe you’ve never heard of such things before and that’s also fine. Keratin is a strong and fibrous protein, which makes up the shaft of the hair, the visible part, the one that always annoyingly gets in your mouth or your eyes. What can precisely account for its strength, or resistance, are the bonds between the fibres. The bonds are the same as links. In this case, the links involve two sulphur, which brings us the term disulphide bonds. The way keratin proteins link together is one, even if lesser, component responsible for hair structure. The protein has the tendency to gather in the curve of curly hair thus enhancing the curls. Yet, what really makes for the hair structure is our hair follicle and its tunnel.

The follicle is commonly referred to as the root of our hair, but they are in reality two things entirely. The follicle is found deeper in your hair scalp than the root. The root is part of the shaft. The shape and size of the follicle are the main factor deciding on the final structure of the hair. Straight hair has a circular follicle whereas curlier hair is flatter. As for the size of your follicle, it determines if you have a thick or thin mane. The larger the follicle the thicker your collective hair appears. The follicle is also what nourishes your roots and once your hair makes it out of your scalp, it dies. Hence, we can say that the visible part of the shaft is dead or more accurately made of dead cells. So, it really doesn’t matter what you do with it, even if you try to nourish the Hella of it, it will never come back to life. 

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This brings me back to my hair. It was straight but now is wavy, which means that the shape of my follicles has changed from a round shape to a slightly more elliptic shape. I found few possible triggers for such events. One possibility that was brought up was chemotherapy. I had to dismiss this possibility for me considering I never had such treatment. The other possibility is broader, hormonal changes. A large variety of hormones might be linked to hair changes. When I consider the timing that I first could notice the changes, I doubt that puberty had anything to do with it. As for other big hormonal changes, like pregnancy or menopause, I have not gone through these yet. Hormonal changes could also be linked to some illnesses, but I prefer not letting myself think down that road. As far as I know, I am healthy. It’s probably still worth mentioning that change next time I get to see my family physician. Other than now being on the wavier side, my hair is what I would call thin. It certainly is not as thin as you might see in the worst examples, but it is still not that gorgeously full mane you can see on the supermodels in hair ads.

As for another descriptive for my hair, I would say it is dry and brittle. I barely produce any oil, this grants me the ability to go days before having to wash them. Along with dry hair are very frequent flyaways, dry scalp and dandruff. The latter is the most unpleasant part. Those tiny white dead skin flakes are enough to ruin a perfect look. This problem is newer than all the other changes, I must say. Usually, I only have dandruff during winter, but in the last year, it has been the most loyal and unwanted companion. It really doesn’t matter what I do. I tried using dandruff treatment shampoo and other home-made concoction, but nothing worked. As a last attempt, I tried to get rid of the dandruff by means of scalps exfoliation and it did absolutely nothing. So, I am now at a decisive point where I chose to surrender and accept them as part of me.

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I may have already given up on the dandruff’s situation, but I didn’t give up yet on the flyaway’s situation. I learnt that hydration truly helped manage those bad boys. We may not be able to feed them once they’re dead, but we are still able to keep them well hydrated. This is due to the nature of keratin, which, as well as the disulphide bonds, has hydrogen bonds. That bond is definitely weaker, but as the saying goes: “We’re stronger together” and those bonds make no exception to this rule. They are much more prevalent than the previously mentioned bonds which make for it one of the principal sources of hair strength. It is for this exact reason that hair is weaker when wet. Since there is hydrogen in water, the hydrogen competes with the already-formed hydrogen bonds and almost instantly breaks them upon slight injury. That is the reason why you really shouldn’t brush your hair when it’s wet. 

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Another last thing you must definitely consider doing for your hair is check at what you eat. As another saying goes: “You are what you eat” and this couldn’t be truer for your hair. Eating too much junk food can prevent them from accessing sufficient and required levels of certain nutrients which will directly and negatively reflect on the appearance and state of your hair. If you want your hair to look as healthy as possible, make sure to ingest enough proteins and vitamins. You can get them from fruits, vegetables, eggs, nuts and more. 

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Are you worried that you are losing too much hair? You probably aren’t. Your hair maturation is produced in three distinct phases. First, there is the anagen phase when your hair grows. It will do as such for a time that can reach up to 7 years, but more often would last only 3–5 years for most people. Secondly, your hair enters the catagen phase, which is an intermediary step where your hair stops growing. This phase only lasts around 10 days. At last, there is the telogen phase when your hair falls out. After this cycle is completed, the follicle (or your hair bulb) will stay inactive for up to 3 months and then will begin the anagen phase again. Each hair cycle is not synced with one another, which prevents your hair from falling out all at the same time. On average we lose 80 hairs a day.

PS: Hair colour like skin colour is induced by a pigment called melanin, the more melanin the darker your hair will be.

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer as soon as humanly possible.