This was 2016 in the blog

A new year has come along with new year’s resolutions such as reading blogs. Therefore, we start 2017 revisiting 2016. This way, if you’re new to the blog, you can learn what it is about. Conversely, if you’re a faithful reader, you can re-read the most popular posts.

The most popular posts of 2016 in pictures

The most popular posts of 2016 in pictures

These are the posts published in 2016 with more hits (posting month in brackets):

  1. Correct these mistakes for Christmas (December)
  2. 1st SETAC science slam across the pond (August)
  3. Chemists conspiracy: all drinks are the same alcohol (February)
  4. Science slam: Enjoy learning science (June)
  5. Posters at scientific congresses (May)

Interestingly enough, the last post published was the most successful. Either people care a lot about mistakes for Christmas or I’ve been writing rubbish for twelve months.

Additionally, the two most visited articles of all times were:

The most popular posts of the year and of all times were mainly about science and language, respectively. It seems that readers want what’s in the title of the blog. It’d be weird if you came here to read mostly about books and birthdays.

Let’s hope we keep on the right track this year.

Correct these mistakes for Christmas

‘Tis the season to be jolly, and there’s nothing jollier than knowing your vocabulary. Therefore, today we’re learning about two Catalan words that foreigners tend to get wrong.

Now that the tió tradition has gone properly international thanks to Kate McKinnon (see video below), it’s time to debunk the belief that tió means uncle. ‘If you know basic Spanish’ some people say and even write on their blogs ‘you’ll know that tío means uncle’. Well, yes; but we’re talking about a Catalan tradition, hence a Catalan word. Tió—not tío—means log, as Kate explains. And isn’t it obvious? I mean, just look at the bloody thing.

What Kate doesn’t get so right is calling it cagatió. However, there is currently a debate among natives about this issue (trending topic included: #EsDiuTió). As the song to make the tió poo presents starts with ‘Caga tió’, which literally translates to ‘poo [imperative] log’, some use this as the log name and that’s wrong. Conversely, cagatió is indeed a word that means the act of making the tió poo, the event. So you’ll say: On the evening of the 24th we’re doing the cagatió and the tió will poo lots of sweets and presents for us.

It's only Barcelona, BCN or Barna

It’s only Barcelona, BCN or Barna

A not-so-festive issue, but relevant any time a foreigner mentions Barcelona, is what you can call the Catalan capital. Barcelona is the official name, that’s easy. BCN is a well-known and correct abbreviation. There is only one more alternative: Barna, from Bar(celo)na. Barça (pronounced ‘barsa’) is just a name for the football team. So calling the city Barça or Barsa is utterly wrong. Mispronouncing the wrong term and calling it Barca (‘barka’) is even worse, as barca means boat.

So you finally know it and you can sound a bit wiser this Christmas. Now go, deck the halls and don your gay apparel, unless you live in an extremely religious country. Ah, the irony!

Final names for the new chemical elements

Something that affects me as a chemist and a terminologist has happened. I’m obviously not talking about my sprained wrist after falling off my bike, which forced me to write this post with only my right hand. Yes, that happened, but it affects me many additional parts of my life.

El setè període s'ha completat [imatge©: IUPAC]

The seventh period is complete [image©: IUPAC]

The IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry) has officially validated the new names and symbols for the elements that remained unnamed in the seventh period (i.e. line) of the periodic table.

On the 8th of June, the IUPAC presented the names and symbols proposed by the teams that discovered the four elements. Although more about synthesising and characterising rather than discovering nowadays. Five months of revision were required, finishing on the 8th of November, for the IUPAC Council to formally approve them. Note that the approval was made public on the 30th; I’m not the only one with no rush to publish.

The new names and symbols

atomic number
name symbol
113 nihonium Nh
115 moscovium Mc
117 tennessine Ts
118 oganesson Og

The first three names are related to the places of the discovery of the elements. Nihon is a way of pronouncing in Japanese the name of Japan. Moscovium refers to Moscow, the capital city of Russia. And tennessine comes from Tennessee, in the USA. Oganesson, however, honours Yuri Oganessian for his contribution to transactinoid elements research.

Now you know what to call these four elements in your everyday conversations about chemistry. Or, at least, there are some new combinations of letters to obtain a high score playing Scrabble.

Vegan birthday to you!

The most faithful readers of this blog might have my birth date marked on your calendar. Or you might not. Anyway, this year my birthday party was vegan—almost.

Indeed, I’ve been mainly vegetarian for a couple of years. The modifier means that in festive dates I might eat a typical dish with meat and that I usually eat a can of tuna a week. I don’t consume dairy, but I do eat eggs. My reasons to be a vegetarian are a combination of the ones you can imagine.

It may seem a hard sacrifice, but variety and creativity have increased in my diet. Should you be curious about it, I started as a weekday vegetarian, which is a very good compromise to get the best of both worlds—like Hannah Montana.

Back to my birthday, the guests didn’t know about the vegan food. There are people with lots of prejudice and willing to mock those who don’t hurt anyone. However, nobody pays attention to the ingredients when the table is ready laid. Some won’t even notice that none of the ingredients of the pizzas and the cakes are of animal origin until they are told.

You won't miss the cheese, not its texture nor its flavour

You won’t miss the cheese, not its texture nor its flavour

In order to make a vegan pizza you can buy the dough or make it yourselves. You just need to pick ingredients excluding meat (fish meat is meat), eggs and cheese. Don’t you worry about cheese; there is vegan cheese. But instead of resorting to imitations, you can do what I do and spread hummus on the base before spreading tomato sauce. Toppings may include pepper, onion, fresh tomato, mushrooms… and don’t forget about spices and a trickle of oil.

The vegan cake is a bit more complex, but not too much. Mix 250 g of flour, 150 g of sugar, 1 packet of baking powder and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Stir and add a trickle of olive oil and 250 ml of soya drink. Keep stirring until you get an homogeneous dough. Let it settle for 30 min and put it in the oven (inside a mould, please). About 25 min at 170 °C should be enough.

To add flavour, use chocolate or vanilla soya drink. If you choose chocolate, you can melt black chocolate with almonds and add it to the dough. If you prefer vanilla, you can spread margarine and grated chocolate on it after baking. Nuts and cinnamon are always a nice addition, both before and after baking. These are basic tips with great results.

To keep focused on the theme, avoid placing a platter of cold meats between the pizzas. Nuts and crisps will fill the gaps in the table nicely—I forgot my crisps in the cupboard though… By the way, that almost in the lead of the article refers to a potato and spinach omelette (with 3 eggs) I did serve.

‘In the Country of Last Things’

AUSTER, Paul. In the Country of Last Things. 1987.

‘This is the story of Anna Blume and her journey to find her lost brother, William, in the unnamed City. Like the City itself, however, it is a journey that is doomed, and so all that is left is Anna’s written account of what happened.’

Faber and Faber’s 2005 edition

Faber and Faber’s 2005 edition

A decade ago a friend joined me on a trip to the bookshop and recommended to buy something by Paul Auster. And I did. Only, I hadn’t opened it until this year. As the synopsis on the back cover says, this is a story of a hopeless enterprise in a hopeless place with little to no expectations of success.

From the very first page, the narrator describes the struggling life in the decaying City. At first, I was under the impression that it was an over-dramatic analysis of any city. As I read on and learned new facts, I realised it was the depiction of a specific post-apocalyptic City isolated from the rest of the world. It didn’t look like the happy-ending type of books—and I loved that.

A strong point of the book is that Auster keeps it real—within the fiction—and doesn’t try to explain everything. The reader never gets to know what happened to the City to start with or what the fate of different characters is after they separate from the main character, or even Anna’s own future. The novel is the letter she wrote and it can only tell what she knew and experienced until the moment she wrote the last line.

It also contains lots of food for thought. Isolated post-apocalyptic cities where people are trapped and lead miserable lives while the rest of the uncaring world remains the same are not that fictional after all.

1st SETAC science slam across the pond

It’s been almost two months since my post about the science slam in SETAC Nantes (video of the whole show included—check it out!). If you got any ideas from that, you should know that it’s happening again soon in Orlando.

It has now been three years of successful science slams for SETAC Europe. In exactly three months SETAC North America is going to hold their first edition at the other side of the pond. The good news is that an extended deadline means you can apply to the session until next Friday! At first it was last Monday.

Of course, to apply you should be a researcher who’s willing to work some extra hours in August and provide a fine product before a ridiculously close deadline now. Same old, same old.

You’ll find very detailed and useful information on the official website. You can also watch this video for lighter information. Yes, it’s me… singing… I should stop doing this.