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 Blood—How our oxygen gets carried throughout our body

There are not many things we need to do to survive, but there is one action, in particular, that is critical for life. Luckily for us, most of us do it unconsciously, and that is breathing. When I say breathing, I am not only talking about lungs, bronchi, alveoli and passive gas diffusion. Even though those structures and actions are essential and play a large part in respiration, they are responsible for ventilation only. However, with ventilation alone, we cannot sustain our body in its entirety. To keep each and every one of our limbs intact, we need to bring all of this oxygen we inhale further from the lungs and closer to our limbs. And that’s where the blood comes into play, and that part is called perfusion. Yet, blood does not only serve to feed the rest of our bodies with oxygen; it has way more responsibilities. It’s basically our life essence. 

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So, our blood is actually way more than a reddish gooey liquid that leaks out of our skin when we injure ourselves. It’s indeed packed with many elements that are, of course, accountable for respiration but also protection, nourishment and waste removal. First of all, when we talk about blood, it’s practically impossible not to talk about our red blood cells; since those cells give human blood its most observable characteristic, or more precisely, its famous crimson colouration. Interestingly, not all animals have red blood. In some lizards, blood can be lime green; in some octopuses, blue; and in some fishes, virtually colourless. The reason why our blood shows that colouration is thanks to some protein called hemoglobin. It is precisely this protein that gives colour to our red blood cells, and since red blood cells outnumber all other elements, our blood consequently takes that crimson hue. Here, one might think that hemoglobin only serves as a blood pigment, but it does not. 

Hemoglobin is actually the protein in charge of carrying oxygen to our entire body. Its name comes from the presence of four heme groups, forming a tetramer. Each heme group contains one iron atom that can bind one oxygen molecule. So all hemoglobins can carry throughout the body four oxygen molecules each. Still, the heme groups are not only in charge of ferrying oxygen throughout our body, but it is also responsible for clearing part of the carbon dioxide by transporting it to the lungs. The binding of carbon dioxide to hemoglobin produces carbaminohemoglobin responsible for almost a quarter of carbon dioxide elimination. Yet, hemoglobin is not the only protein capable of carrying oxygen. There is also hemocyanin which can be found in some invertebrates instead of hemoglobin. 

The particularity of this molecule is that it contains copper instead of iron, giving this protein a blue colour. And this is the reason why some octopuses have blue blood. As for green blood, it is not caused by the absence of hemoglobin; nor the presence of another (green-pigmented) oxygen-binding protein. It is merely the result of red blood cells decay. When the hemoglobin-rich red blood cells break down, they leave behind a protein called biliverdin, which -you may get from its name- possess a green pigmentation. Even humans produce biliverdin, but it is highly toxic and assuredly deadly to us. So, we remove it like crazy, leaving our blood with mainly red pigments. However, some lizards can tolerate incredible amounts of this protein that can even supplant red blood cells concentration. The more abundant presence of biliverdin leaves the blood with a lime green colour. 

As for some fishes, most specifically cold water fishes, their blood does not bear any colour and is usually completely transparent. In this case, the culprits for the colourlessness are the red blood cells, or more precisely, its lack. Under cold temperatures, hemoglobin-rich blood can get so thick that it can jeopardize respiration entirely and can actually be more of an impediment than an advantage. The use of cold ocean water directly as an oxygen source is definitely a smart choice since it contains more oxygen than regular sourced water. So rich, in fact, that using red blood cells to carry it is overkill. Water merely gets incorporated directly into the blood that carries its oxygen throughout the body.

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As I said previously, there are way more components in the blood than only the red blood cells, precisely three more: platelets, white blood cells and plasma. Platelets are in charge of forming blood clots whenever an injury occurs. In such circumstances, it is of the utmost importance that the blood coagulates to stop any internal or external hemorrhages from forming. Uncontrolled hemorrhages can lead to organ failures, seizures, coma, and eventually death. And as for white blood cells, they are also vital players. Without them, our immune systems would be compromised. They are our first line of defence against potential pathogens and chemicals. They can recognize a vast array of pathogens and chemicals and signal their presence to the body. It is the first step that leads down to an enormous chain reaction. And if you think that white blood cells are marvellous, wait for plasma. 

As soon as I turned 18, I started donating blood during each blood drive organized by my school. I felt that it was a particularly satisfying and easy way to give back to my community. However, once I had my first tattoo done, it got particularly more complicated to donate blood. So after six donations, I entered a period when I didn’t give out blood and that lasted for about six years. Three years ago, I got a call from a plasma center; they were recruiting. Plasma seemed like a compelling option, and it was also more convenient as this center was permanently based. Yet, even though I knew what plasma was, I realized that I didn’t entirely understand what it was. Thanks to my firsthand encounter with plasma, I can now enjoy its importance more closely than ever. Plasma is what holds all the blood proteins and their other components in suspension. In plasma, we can find some more proteins like globulin, albumin and fibrinogen. Globulin helps fighting infection, liver function and forming blood clots. Albumin is there to keep water from leaking out of our blood and transport things like hormones, enzymes and vitamins in our body. Fibrinogen is a clotting factor. Plasma can also carry hormones, glucose, electrolytes, carbon dioxide and oxygen.  

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Plasma is indispensable for immunocompromised patients as it helps them get some precious antibodies. For these patients especially, blood transfer can be harmful as it may contain certain viruses, like cytomegalovirus, that can be harmless in healthy patients but, for them, can cause severe disease. Plasma can also be needed by patients with severe burns or blood disorders. Fortunately, plasma donations are even more convenient to make than blood donations, which take two weeks in between each of them instead of eight. This rapidity is made possible by its extraction method. Whereas each blood donation requires us to form back every component of blood: platelets, white blood cells, red blood cells and plasma, plasma donation only requires us to form back plasma. Even though during plasma donation, we also extract blood from our veins, only plasma is collected. The rest is immediately returned to the body. Plasma can be separated from other blood constituents easily using a centrifuge. Once separated, everything that is not plasma is brought back into a solution and returned to the donor. 

However, whenever the situation arises where a dearest one might need blood, we may feel compelled to give them ours, but it’s probably a bad idea. If blood types do not match, we may cause them to develop some deadly clotting. Blood types are actually a result of two things: antigens and rhesus factor, and together can create up to 8 different blood groups. There are two possible antigens, A and B, and we indicate O in the absence of both antigens. The rhesus factor is a protein that can be present on the surface of our red blood cells. When the protein is present, we say that our blood is positive and negative when the protein is absent. In my case, I am B-positive which is the same as my fiancée. It is pretty weird as the Canadian prevalence of this blood type is only 7.6%. It would have been much more likely if our blood type were A-positive (36%) or 0-positive (39%). Yet, the rarest blood type remains AB-negative with only 0.5% of the population. It means that statistically speaking, only one person out of a group of 200 people may be AB-negative. Also, O-negative individuals are considered universal donors as they may give their blood to anyone and AB-positive universal receiver as they can obtain the blood of virtually anyone. Now, what blood type are you?

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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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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 Coffee—What Is In Besides Caffeine

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Coffee is such a morning staple that I cannot remember a morning without it. For instance, my parents always consumed a cup of coffee as soon as they were up. However, they never grab their daily cup from a coffee maker nor an espresso machine. They instead preferred using instant coffee powder. My parents were not too keen on us drinking coffee too young as they have heard that it can disrupt our growth. So, as I reached my 16th birthday, I was then allowed to drink coffee. At first, I found the taste of coffee to be too bitter for my taste. I would typically add an equal amount of coffee powder and sugar to my mug. My parents interpreted this particularity as an undeniable reflection of my disdain for coffee. Believing that I dreaded coffee, they often tried to dissuade me from drinking it. However, I knew something that seemed to escape their understanding. I had come to realize that once my coffee got spiked with abundant amounts of sugars, the taste became fantastic. Yet, it still took me years to grasp the difference between the taste of instant and filtered coffee. And oh boy, it’s weird how distinct it can be.

Once I started dating my fiancé and moved in together, we had to acquire a coffee maker. Manuel was used to the taste of filtered coffee, and even though he constantly assured me that instant coffee was fine, I wanted to please him. It turns out that filtered coffee became my preferred sort of coffee. I was now able to reduce the amount of sugar I had to put in. Now, I don’t even need any. Sometimes when I feel like spicing things up, I add a little something along with my freshly ground coffee beans, like cinnamon. It supplements the taste by inserting an extra layer, or a new dimension, to it. I have also read that some also like adding cardamom to their coffee, and I have tried. Although I like it very much, my fiancé isn’t exactly interested in its taste.

Despite my clear preference for filtered coffee, I find myself now routinely rejecting it. My sudden bouts of insomnia have recently justified my self-restraint toward its consumption. To reduce the gravity of this drastic and sudden change, I decided to replace my cup of filtered coffee with a cup of instant decaffeinated coffee. It is not quite the same, but it does the trick. Although, when you look back at the making of instant coffee, it doesn’t explain the noticeable taste difference between both coffee preparations. Its manufacturing process starts by brewing the coffee beans and then pouring the liquid through a filter to produce filtered coffee. So both instant and filtered coffee are brewed first. If there would be no other steps, then instant coffee and filtered coffee would be synonyms of each other, but this sadly is not the case. Contrary to instant coffee, we can serve filtered coffee immediately after brewing. As for instant coffee, it will need further processing of the brewed mixture to produce the soluble solid that is so characteristic of its instant nature.

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To produce instant coffee, we need to collect the brewed coffee and then desiccate (aka dry) it. We can do this dehydration step using two very different techniques: freeze-drying or spray drying. Freeze-drying or cryodesiccation is very expensive but is the best method to preserve the molecules’ structure and integrity. In other words, it is better at conserving the flavours and aromas of the coffee. This technique involves bringing the temperature of the brewed coffee below the water’s triple point. The triple point corresponds to the lowest temperature at which gas, liquid, and solid can coexist. For water, this triple point is near 0℃. After we reach the ideal temperature, we reduce the internal pressure of the container. The pressure drop allows the frozen water (solid form) to sublimate (straight to gas, bypassing its liquid form). We subsequently remove the water (gas form) to leave the final product devoid of water. 

Compared to freeze-drying, spray drying is much cheaper. The resulting savings can explain why a lot of food manufacturers will opt for this drying method. However, by choosing spray drying, they also sacrifice some of the flavours we can find in our dearly beloved filtered coffee. Instead of making use of cold temperature, spray drying involves the presence of heating. For spray drying, we atomize brewed coffee into a drying chamber which creates tiny droplets. Some heated gas is also projected into this chamber to evaporate any water present in the droplets. Since the droplets are not very large, the water inside them vaporizes almost instantaneously.

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The dried particles form what we know as instant coffee. After the particles are thoroughly devoid of any water, the final product is collected and packaged. Generally speaking, spray drying will produce more fine and round particles than freeze-drying, which typically makes larger fragments. The larger coffee flakes tend to be preferred since it is easier to use. Even though both these methods have their distinctions, they both have the same objectives. Instant coffee prolongs shelf life, doesn’t require any additional tools, and it’s super quick to make. Although these characteristics are certainly enough to justify their popularity, there have been recent claims that could motivate us further to switch products. Indeed, eco-friendly groups are insisting that instant coffee has a lower carbon footprint. This implication resides in the notion that instant coffee uses less space and is significantly lighter than its counterpart, the coffee beans. These characteristics would also indicate that shipping would require less gasoline consumption which means less carbon dioxide emission. Furthermore, not needing a processing machine to make our daily cup of coffee would also reduce our carbon footprint by reducing our waste. 

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Now that we know more about instant coffee, we can maybe investigate the secrets behind decaffeinated coffee. Essentially, we all know that coffee beans contain caffeine. Yet, before the beans get roasted, we can expose them to many processes which remove their caffeine content. Some methods require exposing the beans many times to an organic solvent like dichloromethane to extract the caffeine, and others will use water. In some cases, manufacturers will even utilize carbon dioxide at high temperatures and pressure to remove caffeine. Carbon dioxide is a fascinating gas as it allows for caffeine to dissolve in it, yet it won’t allow the same for the compound responsible for flavours and aromas. This gas is thus an efficient solvent that can surprisingly conserve both of these desirable attributes. Yet, even though all these methods adequately remove most of the caffeine content, the result is still imperfect. Most decaffeinated coffee brands can accept the presence of up to 3% caffeine, depending on the country’s legal standards. Here in Canada, we tolerate no more than 0.3% of caffeine left in the final decaffeinated product.

So even though the concentration is so minute that you may even consider it null, it’s still not a great idea to consume it late at night. This statement is especially true if you suspect yourself of being highly sensitive to caffeine. During the past weeks, I found myself experiencing some sleep disturbances. These events seemed to correlate with my coffee consumption. And even though my coffees were decaffeinated, I decided to purge myself of it entirely. Surprisingly, I seem to experience fewer of these events than in the past months. Yet, I don’t really know if it is a coincidence or if there truly is a link. A way to find out would be to resume drinking coffee for a couple of days and then stop. Maybe my insomnia would have resolved itself on its own; we don’t know. 

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Drinking coffee is undoubtedly something that I miss and would unquestionably like to reintegrate into my routine. Not only did the taste feel incredible, but just a sip of it seemed sufficient to keep going. Being an entrepreneur in charge of writing, reading, and researching makes me desperately crave my daily cup of coffee. Nonetheless, until I can unquestionably revoke all my suspicion towards it, I must resist the temptation to succumb to its striking appeal.

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 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. 

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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 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 Choices – How an Economist Might See Them

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One of my favourite activities is to sit down next to a window, at a coffee shop, on a busy street, and watch people go about their daily lives. Sometimes you will capture interesting scenes such as a couple arguing or an older woman being ecstatic while on the phone, or perhaps two strangers giving each other flirting stares. I like to imagine what is going on in their minds or their lives at that moment. Maybe the couple is arguing about how one of them forgot the other’s birthday: trust me, it’s bad news if you do! Perhaps, the person receiving the phone call just got the news that she will be a grandmother for the first time. Maybe the strangers are not strangers after all. Perhaps, they just finished going on their second date and agreed to make their relationship official.

I have always been interested in human behaviours, and I have always wanted to understand them – from a distance. I am not too keen on being in large crowds or being surrounded by a lot of people. I like being in my little bubble and ignored for the most part. In fact, in recent times, I have been much more curious about the choices we make. Why do some people buy Apple products rather than Samsung products? Why do we have a particular “type” of people we prefer to date? How do we decide which job to apply to? Because I like to observe people from a distance, like a fly on a wall, I have a penchant for theoretical things rather than applied things: I like to think, imagine, and ponder.

Now, if I said: I want to go to College and study human behaviours and the choices we make. What would you suggest? Psychology? Sociology? Commerce/business? Neuroscience? Mathematics? What about Economics? Would you have suggested Economics? Most would not. For some reason, when I tell people that I study Economics, they ask me about the current hot stocks to buy, what do I think about the housing market, or what policies the government should adopt to boost our economy. I typically answer: “Sorry – I have no idea, and I don’t really care all that much, to be honest.” I am a theoretical Game Theorist and Market Designer. And, this is the way I see the world around me.

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Each person in a given situation of interest is called a player or agent. Each player has choices they can make. They are sometimes referred to as actions, strategies, or alternatives. Each choice results in a level of satisfaction which is called a payoff. For example, choosing an apple product over a Samsung product must imply that somehow, you preferred the apple product at that moment. Then, we could say that buying the apple product was more satisfying and thus provided you with a higher payoff. There are different approaches to state that you prefer, say, Mac computers over Alienware computers. One of them is revealed preferences: since I saw you buy a Mac computer, whereas the only other option was Alienware computers, then you revealed to me, from your choice, that you preferred Mac computers. Another is the classical axioms of consumer preference, which would require us to dive deep into set theory. These axioms ensure that every player makes rational choices and that these choices are “well-defined.” Amongst these axioms, there is transitivity. A transitive preference is: if I prefer A to B and I prefer B to C, then it must be that I prefer A to C.

I have come across many who have told me: “economics is faulty because humans are not rational beings, but you assume that they are.” I typically respond by paraphrasing one of my undergraduate professors from Bishop’s University:

In economics, we say that every person is rational because they make the best feasible choice in the given situation they find themselves in.

Recall a time where someone accused you of being irrational. That individual was most likely comparing your current state to your “normal” state. That is, the difference in your behaviour is what made them believe that you were being irrational. However, in economics, we look at every infinitesimal timestamp, as well as their environment. These elements are used to determine what actions are feasible to you. Given these feasible actions, your choice of action is rational. Hence, agents behave ‘rationally.’ Immediately, you will notice that an economist’s definition of rationality is different from the everyday use of the word ‘rational.’ So, does this mean that classical preferences and revealed preferences explain every choice we make? At this moment in time: no. The concept of preferences is highly theoretical, and thus we must conduct experiments to show that they are correct. Mathematically, they make sense, but experimentally, sometimes things do not go according to plan. So, when experiments do not match the theory, what does one do? We reevaluate the hypothesis. In fact, we say that classical preferences and revealed preferences hold under certain assumptions.

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So, we have players, strategies, preferences and payoffs, and rational agents. These are the building blocks I use. The next step is to ask myself: why would a player want to make a certain choice? That is, I seek the incentives of each player and determine what kind of strategies I am dealing with. If choice A gives you a higher payoff than choice B, then would it not be better for you to choose A? Would A not strictly dominate choice B? By doing so, it is sometimes possible to conjecture a reasonable outcome or solution. The only problem is that our choices are usually conditional on something else. In Game Theory, choices are typically conditional on other players’ choices. Then, we would specify that your choice A strictly dominates your choice B, if its payoff is higher, conditional on the other players’ choices. This theory works very well if everyone knows everyone’s set of actions.

coach edwin indarto | unsplash.com
coach edwin indarto | unsplash.com

On the other hand, it is much more realistic to consider the fact that we do not know with certainty what another person will do. Think about the game rock-paper-scissors. Do you know for sure what the other person will choose? No. However, you can have a belief of what they will do. You may tell yourself: “Oh, this person always chooses paper. So I will go with scissors.” Since there is a probability that they will not choose paper, it is only a belief, never a fact. Also, economists will consider your beliefs to be updatable. That is, your belief of the other person’s choice may change over time. In fact, if you did choose scissors, but the other person chose rock, then you just lost that round. What if they said “best of three.” Then you go again and repeat the game. But this time, you may think that because you just played scissors, they will think “surely they (you) wouldn’t go for scissors again!” and since you think they would say such a thing, then you decide to play scissors again. Suppose the other person knows you well and is sure that you will have this exact thinking process. Then they might play rock again. Now, what if you also knew them well? This back-and-forth reasoning is a defining feature in sequential games or repeated games

Now that I have explained how I see the world around me, why is this useful? Game Theory explains a lot of our interactions in a basic way. It can explain why some couples argue differently than others. Sometimes a couple will use a tit-for-tat strategy where, if you say something hurtful to me, I will say something hurtful back to you and so on. Or it may be a tit-for-two-tats where, if you say something hurtful to me, I will ignore it. If you say something hurtful again, I will unleash hell onto you and bring up the time you forgot my birthday!

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Alternatively, if you just turned 18, unexpectedly got pregnant, and you want to phone your mother to tell her, but she doesn’t know. Then perhaps you will adopt a specific strategy (sequence of actions) that will minimize the possibility of an adverse reaction from your mother. For instance, you may simultaneously announce your pregnancy and the marriage proposal from your romantic partner, who wishes to bring up the child with you. Your mother might not be as upset as if you had only announced the pregnancy. Thanks to your strategy, your mom is now compassionate and understanding, which makes everyone better off. To you, dear readers, what was a strategy that you recently used to minimize negative results?

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 Coffee—What Is In Besides Caffeine

The most enduring morning staple is probably coffee. Most people may even swear that their ritual cup of coffee is the only thing that keeps them going. Without coffee, some people might feel lost or incomplete. And even though we can all agree that heaps of people drink coffee, they do not all drink it…

Bring Up Perspiration—How I Am Regulating My Temperature

It is no secret that water is a vital component for life on Earth. For instance, us humans need water for more than one physiological process. Water is used by our kidneys to help filter out waste products, by our blood to help transport products to different parts of our body and by our sweat…

Bring Up Water—What is Behind Hydration

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Living in Canada, I can probably say that there is nothing here that we take more for granted than water. Bottled water is just one example of this. I love regular tap water; I feel incredibly fortunate to live in a place where tap water is not only drinkable but also tastes great. However, some people would preferably opt for bottled water. They can swear that the taste is different. Somehow, the only difference between the bottled water made in Quebec and our tap water is the plastic bottle. The water source is customarily identical. Yet, bottled water is not our only problem. When given the opportunity between water and other drinks, people would typically choose any alternative options. 

I must confess that I am guilty of making this choice, and I am embarrassed by it. Hence, for the last few months, I have been trying my best to remedy the situation. Choosing to adopt intermittent fasting has made this task much easier, but drinking water is still far from enjoyable. When it comes to drinking water, my main bother is the taste, or more precisely, its lack of taste. Yet, over the last months, I have been able to appreciate the subtle taste of tap water. The many minerals found in tap water are responsible for the hints of flavour we can perceive when drinking it. I can definitely say that water from Sherbrooke (my hometown) and Montreal (where I was until recently residing) has a different flavour. This variation is most often credited to their respective filtration and sanitization processes. 

Whereas Montreal still uses a system relying on multiple screens and a bed of sand to filtrate the water, Sherbrooke relies on a new system that involves making use of membranes to filter out unwanted particles and microbes. The system Montreal is using hardly clears out 85% of bacteria, which leaves the water undrinkable. To decontaminate it, the city of Montreal must chlorinate and ozonate its water. Sherbrooke’s newer system allows for the elimination of virtually all contaminants without further need for extra sanitization. When added to water, chlorine can add a bitter or metallic taste that can be undesirable. Sherbrooke does not have to use chlorine, and thus its taste relies uniquely on its mineral content. I also have to mention that both cities are not getting their water from the same source. Montreal’s water reservoir is the St-Lawrence River, whereas Sherbrooke is the Memphremagog Lake; hence, they both have two different mineral content profiles.

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If asked to choose between Sherbrooke’s water or Montreal’s, I would pick the former. Although, It would still be hard for me to pick between water or something else entirely, something with more taste. The delicious taste of these drinks (sodas and juices) typically comes from the presence of sugars or sweeteners. So, despite the reasonable amount of water it contains, it is unquestionably an option that’s best avoided. It may succeed in hydrating you, but in the process, it also delivers a toxic dose of sugar to your body. Over time, the elevated consumption of sugar can lead to the development of obesity and diabetes. In drinking tap water, you absolve any of those risks. However, this statement is not valid for bottled water.  The generic plastic used to make these bottles is not typically strong enough to sustain the repeated stress it has to endure. 

The splashing and sploshing of the water inside the bottle and the mechanical stress we create can liberate microplastics in the water. Yet, given that there is now a total of 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic waste globally, there is already an enormous number of microplastic created and ingested. Indeed, some newspapers have reported that we usually inhale or ingest 5 g of microplastic in no more than a week. If you wondered what 5 g is, well, it weighs the same as one of your credit cards. If you think that this figure is scary, then you might think again before grabbing your next bottle of water. Some scientists may have found hints that consumers of bottled water could ingest twice this amount each week. 

If you are still not scared at this point, you may like to know that we presently consider the presence of microplastic in our body to trigger DNA damage, cellular damage, and inflammation. Now, we may all vow to stop drinking water forever, but this is not an option, and we know it. We are all composed of 60% water, and as such, we must all drink around 2 litres of water a day to maintain this body composition. This water serves an immense variety of functions, from digestion to lubrification. 

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Knowing its importance might be more apparent to us once we are dehydrated. Since I do not particularly like drinking water, I often forget to drink. This behaviour has repeatedly led me towards dehydration. In this state, I realize that my eyes and mouth are considerably dry, my urine becomes dark yellow, and sometimes I even get a headache. Our eyes here become dry since there are no longer enough tears to lubricate them. Tears are composed of water. As for our mouth, it is dry because there is no longer enough saliva, also composed of water. Our pee adopts a darker coloration since there is not enough water diluting it. Our kidneys must reabsorb the water to keep filtering out any waste products created. This process creates extra stress on the kidneys, which we should all aim to avoid. The headaches may come from the shrinking of our brain, which may temporarily pull away from our skull, causing pain.

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Water is also responsible for digestion by carrying digesting enzymes to the nutrients. It is also a medium used for the fabrication of hormones and neurotransmitters. It creates a shock-protective bubble around the brain called the blood-brain barrier (often referred to as the BBB). It helps to regulate our body temperature through perspiration. Moreover, our blood needs water to carry its red blood cells in charge of delivering oxygen throughout our body. And you may suspect here that the list is even longer, but here I will add only one last one. Water is necessary for the survival and reproduction of our cells. 

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This little piece of information is the sole reason supporting the fact that there is unmistakably something such as drinking too much water, especially non-mineralized water. There are even names for it, overhydration or water poisoning.  When there is excess water outside the cells, they will absorb water to even out the ions present inside and outside of them. Indeed, the water moves in since the sodium ion concentration is higher within than outside. Absorbing too much water may induce the cell membrane to rupture, causing irreparable damage, which could then lead to cellular death. Once it reaches this stage, it can be fatal. However, before it reaches this stage, our brain sends us a signal warning us about the danger. When they start swelling, the brain cells increase their volume, which also increases the intracranial pressure. 

This swelling can create a vast range of cognitive dysfunction that we should all keep in mind. The risk associated with ignoring early signs of these dysfunctions might lead to seizures, coma, brain damage and death. Avoiding overhydration is quite simple. It is not about how much you drink but how fast you drink. The kidney can eliminate no more than 1 litre of water per hour, so you should never drink more than that. I realize that reading through this article may have scared you, but be confident that those catastrophic scenarios are pretty unlikely. Just remember to drink enough, not too much, and to drink less sugary drinks and more tap water 😉

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 Alcohol—What We Can Expect From Drinking

Some people would believe that there is no Summer without alcohol and others would prefer to abstain from consuming it entirely. However, it really doesn’t matter what your relationship is with alcohol. In the end, we all came in contact with alcohol in one form or another. That’s right! I am not talking here about…

Bring Up Breathing—How We Get This Precious Oxygen in Our Blood

Fortunately for us, when we stop breathing consciously, our autonomous respiratory system kicks in. This alternative system allows us to entirely refocus our attention on other tasks, which can be truly beneficial. However, when left unchecked for too long, our breathing can change so much that our gas exchange can be impaired. It may be…

Bring Up Ageing—What We Can Expect With Growing Older

It’s hard to accept, but every year we are getting older. There seems to be no way around this. Well, that was until very recently. More and more age-related researchers are coming up with new observations suggesting that it could actually be possible. Still, I wouldn’t get too excited as those studies are still in…