Farewell funny bag. You were a comfort in cold times and in times of pain

I don’t recall exactly when or where we got the funny bag. It was most likely at the seaside markets in St Kilda in the winter of 1996. What I do know is how it became known as the funny bag and who named it thus.

The bag in question is one of those handcrafted numbers you often find at markets. Variously called heat packs or wheat bags they are about the size of a kilo bag of rice, and contain about a kilo of barley or wheat often sewn into particularly unattractive offcuts of fabric (Ours was brown corduroy). Indeed I suspect some of them do contain rice. Some of the fanciest ones may contain lavender so they smell nice when heated. It’s been so long I can’t recall if ours ever did.
Anyway for us newcomers to Melbourne the winter of 1996 was quite cold, and we had a small baby in tow. We bought the bag for our young daughter to heat up prior to bedtime and place in her cot to warm it up before we put her to bed. A couple of minutes in the microwave and it was piping hot, too hot in fact for a baby straightaway of course as the safety instructions clearly told us. But great for prewarming the bed. The bag of course also found use in dealing with my wife’s occasional back pain. And over the years, it warmed the bed for another two children. Our eldest had named the bag the funny bag as a young child due to its magical properties of making bedtime an attractive option. The name has stuck ever since with her and us.

After moving to Brisbane it saw less use but occasional peak demand in winter required the purchase of a second bag, which confusingly was also christened the funny bag. It was mostly purple corduroy. This second one has a Velcro seal that occasionally comes a bit undone and reveals it’s by now very dark brown grainy contents of uncertain species. Certainly they both in later years produced a lovely warm malty smell in the kitchen when heated.

In recent years the funny bags have been doing heavy duty service summer and winter supporting me during my long illness. Constant leg pain and added back spasms and hand and feet cramps have been a constant issue for me. My nightly ritual consists of heating both bags and taking them to bed to help with the pain along with my medication. Some nights they’re superfluous but I do it anyway to save me from having to do the painful (and cold) walk to the kitchen if I start to cramp up when I lie down.
Sadly however the original funny bag finally broke a month ago. The brown corduroy having finally been worn through in several spots, it was beyond repair. After a few mornings of waking up with hard dark brown grains in the bed it was time to bid a sad farewell. It should be noted that somewhere in those long lost safety instructions there was probably something about a maximum lifetime of these things. Indeed as I write these words I vaguely recall stories in the press of the things catching fire. Indeed these wheat bags have caught fire, resulting in house fires and a fatality in 2011. Or that may have been This usually results from people nuking them too long. Anyway we probably should have replaced them years ago but we didn’t.
So the original brown funny bag was thrown out and a replacement was sought. Sadly the pressing need for a replacement and my inability to walk far through crowded markets didn’t allow for the purchase of the perfectly unfashionable corduroy craft replacement. Instead, two modern heat/cold packs were purchased from the pharmacy. These newfangled plasticky dual purpose things are flat and filled with some sort of squishy gel. And half the side is covered in safety instructions, warning of imminent napalm consequences should it be overheated. But worst of all it just doesn’t feel as comfortable as the remaining purple fabric wheaty bag.
Sigh. I have become an old person. Things were better in brown corduroy. Farewell funny bag. You were a comfort in cold times and in times of pain


Updates: 15/6/2016 added the link to the Choice article where a wheat bag actually caused a fatality


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Grappling with my scientific identity

Many of you may know that I’ve been quite ill over the last two years. As I wrote in a post last year, in April 2013 I had a bone marrow stem cell transplant (BMT). In retrospect I was travelling OK a year ago, both physically and mentally compared to now.

But a year on, and things have not improved. In many ways they have gotten worse. The Graft-Versus-Host Disease (GVHD) that I was suffering has progressively weakened me physically and I could now just hobble about instead of getting more robust exercise. I have also been recently assigned the status of “Totally and Permanently Incapacitated” which threw me into a rather nasty mental spiral where I had to shut myself off for a bit. What, one day I am “Temporarily Incapacitated”, the next T&P? This somewhat arbitrary classification signalled for me the end of my scientific career as it stands. An event which despite looking increasingly like the only outcome, I was not prepared for and not really accepting of. But here we are. In the nearly 3 years since my transplant, and 3 and a half years since I last did lab work I have managed to avoid the issue of my scientific identity. As I mentioned last year, I still have not updated any of my websites and blogs to reflect that I am no longer a current employee of the University of Queensland. I still have access to my old work email, and the IMB sysadmins have kept my internal computer accounts running. The few co-author papers that have come out in the last few years still have my address as UQ, which is fair enough as that is where the work was done.

But I now have a large number of publications in various states of undress, wondering what to do with them. As has become clear to me, the fact that these have not been taken up enthusiastically by remaining members of the group, or pushed to completion by my collaborators and my PI means that unless I come up with some creative ways to get them published they are likely to remain unseen. The compounds I slaved away to design, make, purify and test, or sent off for testing to collaborators will never see the light.

What are my options?
1) Just let it go? Just admit that it’ll never happen and that those funds were effectively wasted?
2) Just release them as a series of blog posts? As I have argued previously this is pretty pointless from a scientific method perspective. No-one is going to dioscover these chemical structures or mechanisms and bioactivities if they’re not indexed properly by a credible searchable index like Scifinder or Chemspider
3) Publish them open access in some Z-rank OA journal? I don’t have the funds to splash $thousands for publishing access fees.
4) For some commentaries and reviews I have planned that I am writing now as a private citizen, containing no work originating at UQ do I drop my .edu.au email address as the corresponding author? How much credibility would I get from reviewers of scientific journals coming from a *@gmail.com address anyway? Is it now dishonest to use my old work address?

This all received another burst of urgency when I got a nasty infection a couple of weeks ago. As a highly immunocompromised person I have been acutely aware for the last few years that I am only ever potentially 24 hours away from death by infection. I had managed to stay free of many infections by following doctor’s orders post transplant regarding community contact, food hygiene and a host of other risk factors, but now I can barely walk, and face weeks of lack of mobility. What am I to do with myself if I cannot call myself a scientist any more?

I have always regarded myself as a scientist. Even when I stopped actively doing lab work, I still managed to convince myself that I was still was one as I was doing the other important work, the writing and communicating of science, albeit part-time. But now I fing myself grappling with my identity anew. What am I if not a scientist?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

iOS/Bluetooth Car Streaming Bug Leads to Mobile Data Costs

Dear Apple,

I use Bluetooth connectivity to stream music playlists a lot in my car. And I really like the way that when I get in the car, it remembers that I was playing a playlist, reconnects and starts from where it left off.

Except when it doesn’t. Twice in the last couple of days it has instead started playing something else entirely. Once while I was out of the car, I listened to a bit of streaming live radio via the ABC radio app. I love this app because it lets me listen to local ABC radio from other cities as well as some digital only content. When I was done, I quit the app and the stream stopped playing. When I got into the car however, the stream restarted. I took me a while to notice because it was a news segment that was playing. By the time I realised, pulled over safely, and investigated it had been downloading data over my finite mobile data allowance for several minutes. The ABC radio app was not running in the background. I had to start an alternative audio source (my local, on phone, iTunes playlist) to get it to stop chewing through my data.

The ABC app lets you listen to local ABC radio wherever you are. Helpful if you live in a different timezone.

The ABC app lets you listen to local ABC radio wherever you are. Helpful if you live in a different timezone.

The next time was when I had half watched a YouTube video. I halted it halfway through and put Safari into the background. When I got back into the car, it started downloading the YouTube video again and started playing that through the car audio speakers, instead of the playlist it had been halfway through. Again, eating into my meagre mobile data allowance.

I realise that I can turn off mobile data for an app like ABC Radio in the settings, I just didn’t expect that iOS would relaunch the stream when the app had been quit. I cannot however turn off mobile data for a single web domain like youtube.com anywhere without turning it off for all of Safari.

I don’t know where the blame lies here. Is it with the Bluetooth reconnect spec? Or is it just iOS sending the last available audio stream guessing that’s the one I want? What I actually want is the Bluetooth stream that was playing at the time I left the car to resume when I get in the car. Surely that info is embedded in the stream itself and can be reconnected, not some other audio THAT COSTS ME MONEY!

Yours sincerely,

Martin Stoermer


iOS streams audio via Bluetooth to a car audio system using the last played audio source, even by launching streams from apps that have been hard quit, interrupting any playlists you were listening to.

Posted in Audio, Bluetooth, iOS | Tagged , | Leave a comment

IRL I really don’t like the misuse of IRL

I get really sick of people misusing the abbreviation IRL when discussing their interactions with people outside of the Internet. As if things you do and say online aren’t real. I’m with Professor Dumbledore on this one:

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

Real people interact on the Internet every day. Sometimes constructively, sometimes not. And still there persists the impression that what happens on the internet is somehow less real, that the consequences are less, that it’s all a bit of a laugh. No. 

It is a part of life. It is now practically essential to affluent modern life. It’s time to stop describing it as something less than life. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I practically never do these WordPress Daily prompt thingies but…

…I thought I would today. 

I wore Brown Flared Corduroy Trousers in my teens. There, I’ve said it. Move along please…
New Sensation

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lord of the Ring Systems






My apologies to JRRT

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

If chefs did scientific peer review

Reviewer #1. This establishment starts with an interesting premise. Can fine dining be had on a budget? Unfortunately in this case the chefs do not live up to the standards expected of this food guide. The wine list lacks several outstanding vintages that ought to have been included. The over-reliance on house wines to bolster the list is a cheap stunt and serves only to bolster sales of the proprietors side project. Reject.

Reviewer #2. The menu is disappointing. Outdated ingredients prepared with outdated methods. Where’s the impact factor? Why are there no <insert trend vegetables > for example? Unexciting meals served with lacklustre style. Reject.

Reviewer #3. is this guy f&%king serious? The name of the restaurant is just a self indulgent wank. The f&%king entrée doesn’t set the scene for the rest of the f&%king meal! The main course lacks enough f&%king meat! The dessert is supposed to be the f&%king conclusion! In the f&%king bin!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment