The joys of spring

Dare I say spring might finally be on its way? After a long and bitterly cold winter here in the United Kingdom, and not to mention a few false starts along the way, it looks like spring might finally be here to stay.

A delicate Narcissus flower

Glorious sunshine, blue skies and the signs of growth and rejuvenation. Daffodils colour the landscape in hues of yellows, oranges and white. This narcissus typifies the beauty of spring and belies activity that is obvious in nature. I shot this picture at a high shutter speed with the aperture stopped at f8.0 to keep the background dark. As it was the flower was conveniently highlighted by a lone ray of sunlight through the hedge.

Ladybird beetles show signs of renewed activity. The browns, greys give way to reds, greens and other colours resplendent of spring. And I’ve been out in the spring sunshine, in trying to capture the feeling of joy (and relief) that the days of shivering are a memory of times past and yet to come in the distant future.

A ladybird beetle basking on a oregano leaf.

This picture was shot with the use of a 10mm extension tube with a Sigma 105mm f2.8 macro lens. The image has been cropped very slightly to remove extraneous distractions.

Surely, with so much happening around, spring is surely here to stay? This yellow-orange daffodil was shot in my garden. In order to get this angle, I had to sprawl on the ground (my muddy jeans bear witness!). 1/200 f6.3, 105mm f2.8 Sigma Macro lens.

A yellow-orange daffodil

Reiki or Quackery

A friend of mine recently went on a Reiki course and now swears by this spiritual technique that can apparently solve all ills of the body, mind and soul by channelling and transference of universal spiritual energy through touch. Sounds incredible, doesn’t it? As a scientist and a rational thinker I was curious to know more about this branch of spiritual medicine (if I may be allowed to call it so!). This is what I have learnt/understood from reading. Caution: Reiki practitioners and believers may find this deeply upsetting.

For all the ancient wisdom and practices that originate in the mists of time from the orient, Reiki appears to have been developed as recently as the early 20th century (1922 according to Wikipedia)! The spread and appeal of Reiki appears to be linked with the spread of eastern mysticism to the west in the 1970s. The principles of Reiki mention among other things (from

  • There is no belief system attached to Reiki so anyone can receive or learn to give a Reiki treatment, the only prerequisite is the want to be healed.
  • It is possible to heal at any level of being: physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.
  • Reiki healing can be given anywhere at any time as no special equipment is needed. The practitioner is a channel which the energy is drawn through by the need or imbalance in the recipient. Neither person has to use any effort of will or concentration during this process.

You get the idea….

In order to be cured, you should really want to be cured. Sceptics such as myself will not be healed because we look at the technique dispassionately. I have concerns with the statement that any level of ailment can be cured or helped by Reiki. This must be the magnet for attracting all those people who have chronic illnesses, and are in a position where they are willing to take anything that offers even a glimmer of hope of improvement!!

As such, it sounds brilliant – you go and lie down somewhere for an hour or more, someone places their palms on your body at various places and you get up and feel an improvement. Wow!! Maybe NHS (here in the UK) and doctors around the world trying to find cures for various chronic disorders should just become Reiki practitioners. Of course, I will still not be cured as I will always activate the escape clause (want to be healed one!). The Reiki practitioners are careful to say that rapidly progressing disorders like cancers and terminal illnesses cannot be reversed since the time for treatment is less, but they offer to reduce your pain and discomfort as you lie dying. Well ok! I could accept that in cases of terminal illnesses, anything that alleviates pain, even if it be Reiki is acceptable (if it works, that is!).

Large scientific studies have shown that:

“the evidence is insufficient to suggest that Reiki is an effective treatment for any condition. Therefore the value of Reiki remains unproven.” (Link to Article).

However, other scientific publications show that Reiki is effective. Some articles:

2011: The Effects of Reiki Therapy on Pain and Anxiety in Patients Attending a Day Oncology and Infusion Services Unit. (PubMed Link).

And for those of us who think placebo effect, this study showed otherwise.

2011: Immediate effects of Reiki on heart rate variability, cortisol levels, and body temperature in health care professionals with burnout. (PubMed Link).

So the jury is out on Reiki, and like many other things in this world, people who believe will continue to believe and those like me who are sceptical will continue to remain so. It may turn out in the end that Reiki appears to be effective because people want it to work, like Homoeopathy! And there is peer-pressure to show that it worked. After all, if it did not work for you, the argument could be made that you did not really want to be cured. There is no winning this argument, is there?

But to trust in Reiki like therapies at the cost of modern medicine for life-affecting diseases would be a stupid thing to do. I’d probably consider using Reiki if I had back pain or something similar to complement physiotherapy, but not as a treatment for pneumonia or bird flu!

Growing Indian Vegetables in the UK

There is a charm in growing ones own vegetables and fruits, not to mention the exceeding good taste and unparalleled freshness that comes from being able to go from plant to plate relatively quickly. Indian vegetables are invariably difficult to find here in the United Kingdom, and being imported from far away places, tend to be expensive. The following article describes my attempts at growing Indian vegetables from seeds and any successes/failures and experiences gained from this exercise.

As Indian vegetables such as Calabash (Lauki or Dudhi), Ridged Gourd (Turai) and Bitter Gourd (Karela) are essentially summer vegetables in India, they benefit from extended growth periods and hotter than usual climes if grown in the United Kingdom. It therefore, helps to start growing these seeds in late-February or early March indoors.


Seeds: I was lucky to be able to get good quality seeds of Calabash, Ridged Gourd and Bitter Gourd from Mahyco in India. These seeds are also available from specialist sellers in the UK. I have previously used seeds from market purchased vegetables and germinated them successfully, so that is also an option.

Propagator: In order to give seeds a good chance of germinating early, an electrically heated germinator is essential. I purchased mine from Amazon. (Link).

Seed Compost: Purchased from B&Q

Vermiculite: To improve water retention and drainage, Purchased from B&Q

Preparation (Late February 2012)

The propagating trays were prepared by mixing in equal amounts of well sieved compost and crushed vermiculite to form a light mixture. The mixture was pressed down to form a uniform firm layer, with about 1.5cm space at the top of the trays. The trays were then watered gently with a rose sprinkler till totally wet and the compost-vermiculite mixture allowed to settle.

Sowing (Late February 2012)

6 Calabash, 7 Ridged Gourd and 6 Bitter Gourd seeds were sown in two trays at a depth equal to that of the seeds. In all cases, the seeds were placed in a horizontal position, about 2 cm apart. The seeds were then covered with compost. The propagator was turned on to generate higher temperatures, and placed in a place with lots of natural light (window-sill) but no direct sunlight.


1st week of March, 2012

Germinating Ridged Gourd Seedling

Lauki/Calabash: The first seedlings germinated within 3 days of sowing. All 6 seeds had germinated by end of the week.

Ridged Gourd: First seedlings emerged in 4 days. All 7 seeds germinated by end of the week.

Bitter Gourd: No germination after one week of sowing. It has been mentioned elsewhere the bitter gourd seedlings benefit from an overnight soaking in warm water to soften the seed coat. This is something I need to try next to see if it improves germination rates and/or speeds for this plant.

Aubergine: I had also sprinkled some aubergine seeds on the surface of the compost in some available space on the tray. Most seedlings of aubergine had also germinated in the space of one week.

2nd week of March, 2012

The Lauki (Calabash) and Turai (Seedlings) were about 3 inches tall and beginning to grow their first true leaves. Aubergine seedlings were about one inch long and still only had cotyledons and no true leaves.

Bitter Gourd: Two of 6 seedlings germinated in the second week (one pictured above). Once germinated, the rate of growth was very fast and by about 6 days post germination, they were about 2 inches tall and developing their first set of true leaves.

3rd week of March, 2012

Ridged Gourd Seedlings

The Lauki and Turai seedlings were ready to be moved into small pots at this stage. They were gently pricked from the propagator tray and placed into 7.5cm coir pots. These pots have the advantage that roots can grow right through the pots as the plant grow, and the whole pot can be planted into the ground or grow-bag when the plants are ready to be placed in their final positions. The coir pots were filled with a 70:30 mixture of compost and vermiculite and watered till the pot was damp.

Lauki Plants

In order to continue the growth of the seedlings and as it is still quite cold in the nights out here in Cambridge, the plants were all placed into ziplock bags. This helps in maintaining a greenhouse-like feel for the young plants and allows them to grow whilst still waiting to be transplanted outside in their final positions. With the bags it is also possible to allow the plants aeration by opening the top of the bags as and when necessary.

But what of the aubergine seedlings previously mentioned? Well, they’re growing nicely in the propagator trays and should be ready to be moved out into pots in the next week or so. The exercise of growing these usually difficult to grow plants has been successful but I’ll keep updating progress on how these do in the coming days. At some point of time, the plants will be moved outside to harden off and acclimatize before going in the ground.

4th week of March, 2012

Update: The plants (Lauki/Dudhi/Calabash, Ridged Gourd/Turi) were moved out into a temporary greenhouse at the beginning of the week to acclimatize, while still inside the zip-lock bags. They have now all grown to about 6 inches tall and have between 3-5 leaves each. The roots have begun to poke their way through the coir pots. In the late evenings, before sunset, I take them out carefully from the bags to expose them to light, but not direct sunlight. They go back into their bags before dusk.

Aubergine Seedlings

I lost a few aubergine seedlings due to ‘Damping off Disease”. Read more in this informative article here.

The weather continues to improve and with temperatures expected to reach 20C this weekend, I think the plants will all be in their final positions by the beginning of April.

1st week of April, 2012

Update: All plants continue to grow well in the greenhouse in their small pots. Unfortunately, the danger of frost has not yet passed so they are not in their final positions yet.

Heart of Water…

Originally uploaded by Jaws1.

One of those strange things you see sometimes. This picture was taken in Ely sometime in end September. It was raining, and while walking, I spotted this heart-shaped puddle on the road. Funnily enough, this was visible from only one particular angle, and if we had walked in another direction, we would have missed this altogether. The puddle is about 8 inches across.

Now to speculation.. how would such a shape form on the road ? Was it intentional or merely a matter of chance ?

Manhattan at Night

Originally uploaded by Jaws1.

One of my better pictures. Downtown Manhattan as seen from the Rockefeller Center (Top of the Rock). The empire state building is in the foreground. On the right, along the Hudson bay, Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty can be made out.