My thoughts on the Google Pixel 2

As you may or may not have noticed, I’ve not written anything in a while. After starting a new job a few months ago I’ve been exceptionally tired and lacking motivation.  I got to that point in my mobile phone contract when I was bored of my phone and it wasn’t going to cost any more to upgrade – so thought writing about my new Google Pixel 2 would be a good reintroduction to my blog. Bear in mind most of the science behind mobile phones is physics, which is far from my specialty, so any science mentioned will be basic! But I’ll share my thoughts on the phone, then a little about smartphone science.

I managed to get my phone when it was released on Thursday 19th, alongside the free Google Home Mini that came with it (nice little extra!). To be honest, I couldn’t unbox it straight away like I really wanted – I was far too hungry after work so I had to contain my excitement for a bit longer…

It was an easy set up with helpful advice on transferring across from my iPhone. I was desperate to get playing with it: first impressions were tainted by the criticism I’ve heard about the relatively chunky bezels top and bottom, but it didn’t bother me – it looked clean and simple, it meant there were no extraneous lines or funny-looking joins anywhere. The latest OS Oreo seemed built for the Pixel and it was a welcome relief not to find all the usual bloatware from the manufacturer you would otherwise find.

The first feature I liked was the subtle motion wallpaper: although the display isn’t as high resolution at its XL sibling, it’s very impressive. The colours do look great on it, I imagine the OLED screen helps with that. There are basic components to every mobile phone: circuit board, screen, battery, microphone, speaker, antenna, those sort of things. And most of the smartphones this year have pretty similar specs, but the software is usually the thing that differentiates them.


The home screen with the clean layout: At a Glance on top and search bar at the bottle.  With this wallpaper, the waves gently crash against the sand.


Noticeably impressive, somewhat surprisingly, is the fingerprint scanner. It’s very quick and is convenient for me at least. The most recent fingerprint scanners are capacitive – measuring the difference and pattern of electrical charge when the ridges make contact.  There are no buttons involved in unlocking the phone or even to see notifications, it’s all pretty speedy and simple.

I’ve not tested the Always On display’s effect on battery life, but it is useful, giving the time and icons of notifications you may have.  A slightly creepy feature is Now Playing, where your phone just listens out for a series of offline musical patterns to show you what song’s on in the background – handy, but still creepy.

Now, the somewhat flagship feature of the phone – the camera, with the (for now) highest DxOMark rating of 98. Google hasn’t followed the trend of adding a second lens to the rear but have managed to quite effectively add Bokeh portrait mode via software, which also works with selfies. The image stabilisation is very effective – using optical and digital image stabilisation to get rid of all the jitters. I like it anyway! It’s 12 megapixel and capable of 4K video recording.  With Google’s unlimited cloud storage it’s definitely a good perk.  Having had a few days use of the camera, I’m pretty impressed but will need a while with different conditions to really find out its limits.

Having a Chromecast and now the free Google Home Mini too has meant it’s really easy to cast music and videos over to either. The Google Assistant is actually fairly useful – on the Pixel 2 and Home Mini, with the addition of the Active Edge “squeezy sides” on the phone to launch the assistant (and silence calls) is just a neat little extra. I mean it would’ve been nicer to customise the Active Edge to launch something of your preference but that’s just a software issue for now.

It’s hard to tell how good the battery will be, I’ve been using it a lot so not really typical use. At 2700mAh it’s not astonishing but Google’s advertised it to be quick charging, so we’ll see…

Overall I’ve enjoyed the Pixel 2 so far, it sits nicely in the hand and pocket and is quick and effective and doing what I’ve wanted.

Some basic properties of smartphones are quite interesting: some highly complex and some rather simple. The elements used can be relatively rare, as you can see below, one of the reasons they can be so expensive.


Something rather simple, albeit probably proprietary, is the popular feature of being waterproof. There’s usually a lot of glue around the edges and o-rings at the ports for mechanical protection, and a special small mesh for speakers etc, letting air in. They’re often coated in Gore-Tex.

Applying smartphone technology into something helpful to society like medicine has always been of personal interest; as you may or may not have read before, I’m diabetic, advances like the trials into reading blood glucose levels with a smartphone sound pretty cool. The ease of doing such mundane things several times a day is boring enough, also meaning carting around the equipment to actually test. Advances like this are always welcome! There’s currently a system that uses NFC in android phones to get glucose readings from a small device that sits on the arm – but it lasts 10 days and costs about £60 a pop.

Hopefully, that’s a good enough insight, for now.  Let me know your thoughts if you’re due for an upgrade soon!


What are we made of? The unit of life

Last week I was chatting about the basic constituents of the body – quite literally what we’re made of, the elements and the working up of all the systems that join together. This week is a look at the controller of all that stuff – the thing that makes it all happen from our single fused-cell origins to the fully-formed trillions of cells we are today. Our deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) sits protected in the nucleus of our cells and controls everything we are and everything the cell is and does. I’m sure describing DNA has been done a million times over, so I just want to make it a bit more understandable and tell you how amazing it actually is!

Below you’ll see what DNA actually looks like. It’s only when cells are ready to divide that it’s all coiled up tight into the chromosomes we’re used to seeing – it’s been twisted so much it’s called supercoiled.

dna structure 1

It’s made of things called nucleic acids, attached to a backbone of sugars and phosphates. The nucleic acids are the letters of the genetic code, called Adenine, Thymine, Cytosine and Guanine. In one strand of DNA, there are all these letters and they match the other strand since A only binds with T and C only binds to G, the bits just chemically match up and they seem to like each other!  See the image below, it shows you the chemistry of it all.


So great, there’s a big coiled bunch of chemicals held together in strands by this backbone. Crick and Watson theorized this shape it forms – the double helix. Now the fun comes with what all these letters do. When a bunch of letters together do something specific it’s called a gene; it “codes” for proteins. Basically, every three letters correspond to a specific building block – an amino acid. This means joining amino acids together in this specific order makes unique proteins. These fold up in unique ways too to eventually form proteins. It’s proteins that carry messages, give structure, virtually everything that makes cells and the body functional. Humans have about 20,000 genes that all encode proteins, which is a lot, but not really considering how many different functions cells have with all their unique components.

Cells can’t function properly if they don’t have DNA to make and control all the bits to keep it going. This is why there’s a security system in place to make sure that when it comes to making copies of itself, it’s only done if DNA is intact, without any changes being made to any of the letters – these are called mutations. So when the cycle comes round and it’s cell multiplying time, the DNA all condenses into the chromosomes we’re used to seeing. If there are any mutations it stops and will try repair it; if it can’t, it goes through a programmed cell death (apoptosis). If maverick cells ignore this, cells keep dividing until masses form – known as tumors, then certain criteria define it as cancerous.

So it’s pretty amazing stuff this DNA. It’s also true that we share most of it with our friends the chimpanzee. But there are a lot of “conserved sequences” which is why animal models are so useful in experimentation – if they make the same proteins as us, we can see the effects of its mutation or absence by following it around and seeing where it works and what it does. By tagging the proteins the sequence makes with something radioactive or fluorescent it can be tracked to see what’s going on. It’s been revolutionary in understanding countless mutations that can cause diseases and disorders.

Have a look below for the background of genetics and a summary of what DNA is and does. Meanwhile, since it’s summertime, go get some strawberries… and keep a few to extract some DNA for yourself! All you need is some salt, washing up liquid and ice cold rubbing alcohol/vodka. Look here for the instructions! From Visually.

What are we made of? The Basics

I’m not very philosophical, so strictly scientifically – what are we?  It’s a complex thing the body, tiny but important parts all together making a pretty robust organism. There are a few different ways to look at this, it depends on how microscopic you want to go: systems, organs, tissues, cells, molecules, atoms.  You could go smaller but it’s too small for me – quantum mechanics governs that stuff.

You could get roughly 160 billion helium atoms side-by-side in a centimeter but there’s a relatively huge gap between the middle (nucleus) and the electrons whizzing round the outside of the atom.   If the Earth was an atom, the nucleus would be a football stadium. All the space adds up, so we are mostly empty space, but so is everything else!  The atoms that make us are a little bigger than helium, but not hugely…

periodic table

Oxygen ~65%     Part of water (H2O) that’s in every cell in the main fluid of the body.

Carbon ~18.5%     It’s in every carbohydrate, protein, fat, all the organic chemicals in the body.

Hydrogen ~9.5%     The other part of water, and in your organic chemicals too, not very big or heavy, but very important.

Nitrogen ~3.3%     It’s in all your proteins, the amino acids that make them have it and the nucleic acids your DNA is made of.

Calcium ~1.5%     Bones and teeth: we all know how important they are! Also used in signaling to make muscles contract.

Phosphorous ~1%     The major player in energy is something called ATP, the P being phosphorus, so very important! It’s in bones too.

There’s a lot more, like sodium, potassium, and magnesium that help electrical signals in the body, that’s those “electrolytes” you may have seen in sports drinks. There’s probably hundreds of elements inside you, including arsenic and uranium! But the top four make up over 95% of your body weight, so there aren’t much of the others but we need them!

Thinking bigger, we get cells. Cells are amazing: they’re the functional units that make us, the building blocks. We have trillions of them and they’re all specialized.

Cells of the same type grouping together give us tissues; like muscle, nerve and connective tissue.  For example, muscle cells are built to contract, nerve cells are built to pass along electrical charges.  A big tissue is epithelial, made from tightly packed cells forming sheets – barriers to separate bits.

Organs are when you’ve got tissues working together for something specific. The biggest is the skin. Skin is pretty amazing, it has plenty of functions with all the kind of sensors it has.  The liver is the biggest internal organ and it too is amazingly complex with hundreds of vital functions.

Systems of the body are made of a group of organs like the digestive system from mouth, stomach, with a lot of intestines. There’s the respiratory system, cardiovascular, endocrine, immune, skeletal, muscular, lymphatic, reproductive, urinary, nervous… it’s a complex thing the body. This is a good site to learn more about all the different systems and their bits!

The Human Body

There we have the basics of the body, taken down to the littlest bits. Not that you’d put a price on a life, and the body is hugely complex, but if you could sell all the elements – I thought it’d be maybe £100, but a few years ago, the Royal Society of Chemistry ran a competition to guess the value of Benedict Cumberbatch and he went for around £96,500. So who knows your value, you could be worth millions! But let’s just not sell our elements, I mean I’m quite happy with mine?

The science of gin

Time for a drink? Maybe today’s one of those rare occasions where it’s not raining, perhaps it’s actually warm and the yellow thing in the sky makes an appearance. If it’s a pleasant evening then gin is what you need to match it. Gin and tonic maybe? Gin has had a huge renaissance just in the past five years; in Scotland alone there’s been a few brands gaining huge support and many more being set up. One of the main reasons for its popularity for producers is its relative simplicity and speed in making; many whisky distillers have chosen to make gin whilst they’re waiting at least three years for their batch to be ready. If you’ve ever been to a gin distillery you’ll have heard the history of gin, and it is quite interesting; the word itself coming from the dutch “geniver”. Living in Edinburgh it has also been interesting to learn about the local history of gin.


All the different gins across Scotland – there’s quite a few!

To start making your gin, you need some neutral grain spirit. It’s the basic, tasteless, odourless highly pure alcohol used for making spirits like vodka and gin. They come from grain crops that are fermented. Next, you’ll need some botanicals: legally you’ll need juniper berries. It’s the most important and defining ingredient. They grow wild in Scotland but are protected; they’re often imported from other countries like Greece and various places in Europe, southwest Asia, and North America. Juniper is part of the pine family and that’s what it tastes like. It’s been used for hundreds of years for medicinal properties: diuretic, antiseptic, stomachic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antirheumatic. They all come from an oil inside; specifically there’s terpinen-4-ol that makes your kidneys filter more, which will make you need the toilet more often (diuretic); there’s amentoflavone that’s found in a few other plants and has a number of properties like antimalarial and anticancer, as well as inhibiting enzymes that metabolise some drugs (in the liver). If you get cold sores a lot, chemicals called desoxypodophyllotoxins might inhibit the virus that causes them (herpes simplex virus) – so drink up! Or just use a normal cream that definitely works… Other parts of the berry – the resins are tars – can be used for topical treatments for things like psoriasis. A really useful little berry then. Find out more about Juniper

Other botanicals add depth of flavour, bind flavours together and add special characteristics. Coriander, angelica, citrus peel and orris root are common ones used. There are a few different ways to infuse the botanical flavours into the gin, the infographic below describes them. You’ll probably add a bit water at some point soon to help everything mix properly. It’s heated and the first to be cooled, the “heads”, aren’t pure and aren’t collected. The product will be about 80% pure, once the product falls under about 60% again it’s not collected. After it all, there will just be the water and what’s left of your botanicals. The stuff that’s not collected for the final product can be scrubbed and the pure alcohol recovered to use again. Your final gin will be roughly 40% ABV (alcohol by volume) if you’re going for Navy Strength, closer to 60% ABV. There’s a bit more to it than that but that’s basically it.


The molecules important in all gins

A good tonic water will complement your gin nicely; the quinine gives a bitter taste and balances it all nicely. Then once you’ve got your bottling and PR sorted, you can go ahead and sell your gin! To get your “perfect serve” you’ll need to match whatever botanicals you have with the contents of good quality tonic, then a garnish of fruit or herb that will complement it too. It really makes all the difference. So you can say it’s for medical reasons, or just because it’s just really refreshing, either way, have a gin. If you want a proper review of any gins, head over to Juniper Daze – Steph’s even got a gin of the month going on!