Two heads are better than one

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Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero just practised for his proposed human head transplant by transplanting a second head onto a rat. In multiple iterations. None lived for longer than 36 hours, but that’s a hell of a lot better than the results from 20th century animal head/brain transplants.

The isolated beating heart at the beginning of that video looks macabre, but those animal organ experiments directly led to human organ transplants, which are commonplace now.

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Canavero’s full paper is here, but it’s not public access. And frankly, that sucks. All academic knowledge should be free to read and not held ransom by journals.

Canavero used a third rat as a blood bag to keep the blood pressure up in the donor rat and the recipient rat during surgery.

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Hopefully Canavero will use a different technique during human surgery.

Maybe Canavero will attempt his human transplant this year as promised, maybe not. But someone will, somewhere, eventually.

Head transplants work on the basis that that bit of us that is “me” lives in our brains is a fixed unchanging essence, and our bodies are only interchangeable shells we use for ambulating and oxygen processing. But this ignores the fact we’re embodied beings: we experience reality through and in our bodies. For one thing, our bodies are home to at least as many bacterial cells as human cells. There’s increasing evidence that our bacteria alter the way we think, feel, and love: like the outgoingness of humans infected with toxoplasma gondii, or the link between gut bacteria and obesity.

Transplanting a brain onto another body isn’t just giving an existing personality a new home, it’s creating a whole different being. I think we should go for it, but we have to acknowledge we can’t know what the outcome going to be like.

The future is barreling toward us and we’re not ready.

Music Monday: Bonobo feat. Innov Gnawa

The thing I miss most about music stores is finding unexpected treasures. Queen St store Real Groovy was my dealer of choice. You had to ask to try a CD/vinyl and they’d put it on one of the ‘listening posts’ so you could sample it. I almost always ended up buying whatever was playing in the store, though: the guaranteed-eclectic choice of random staff members. That’s how I found Bonobo aka Simon Green, with his Remixes and B Sides in 2002. In 1997 I walked in and Degobrah by Butter 08 hit me like an aural brick. I immediately bought the City of Industry soundtrack without knowing a damn thing about the film or the artists, and that’s how I discovered Massive Attack.

Real Groovy still exists, although in a new, smaller, building across the road. Yet somehow it seems too hard to head into the CBD by bus (there is zero parking) and sample music in meat space, when I can download it instantly without leaving the cocoon of my home. Instead I subscribe to a couple of thoughtfully curated mass-market new music lists, although I have no idea of the curators’ motivations, loves, or potential kickbacks.

I’m missing out. Where is the new, unexpected work that grabs my liver and shakes me by the vertebrae? I know it’s out there. There must be an online equivalent of descending into a gloomy cavern, entirely unaware of what’s about to ooze into your ears.

 

Makeup planner

Nine years after conception, I just found out this is a thing. Make up artist and Home Shopping Networker Trish McEvoy produces seasonal “makeup planners”: ringbinder cases for cosmetics.

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They come in seasonal colors like Kalahari Sky, Gold, Azure, Magenta Croc, White Sand, or Classic Black Quilted.

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Although the filled planners are pricey – USD $185 to $350 – for the amount of product you get I don’t actually think they’re too bad. And I admire the heck out of McEvoy for implementing the idea. I can see a big crossover market between the planner community and makeup buyers.

There’s something about the organization that comes with planners that makes part of me deeply content. I also get a huge sense of peace associated with completion and preparedness that comes with buying complete sets of things. (This may stem from an Erma Bombeck piece about a coordinated travel wardrobe I read when I was seven.)

I see these and just want to own one and play with it, to be like Eeyore taking things out and putting them back in again. Although I’m not a Trish McEvoy kind of person, in another lifetime I think I’d love to be.

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Amazon Australia is going to crush large Kiwi retailers

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The “Stone Store” Kerikeri. New Zealand’s first store, built in 1832. I bet it had quicker cross-town delivery times in 1832 than Farmers do now. Photo by Jennifer Whiting on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence

Mainstream New Zealand retailers suck at online service. Small specialty retailers have had to step up their game since the late 90s and in general they are awesome. I buy my fountain pen ink from a place call Inkt. They dispatch the same day I order and I receive it the very next day. I get Leuchtturm journals from locals Philatelic Distributors, and also get these the next day.

In contrast, on 16 April I ordered face cleanser online from Farmers Trading Company because it was 30% off. It should arrive some time this week. Maybe. With luck. Farmers – and why, yes, it did start its life as a mail order supplier for literal farmers, in 1906, how did you guess? – is a national mid range department store – the only national mid-range department store. They offer delivery for $7 in 4-7 working days. Seven working days? Over a week to ship goods by courier from a warehouse in Auckland to another part of Auckland?

It gets worse. I could choose to collect my purchase in store. Ok, more hassle, but at least it would be quicker and cheaper than waiting for that courier, right? Wrong. Click and collect costs $5 and still takes 4-7 working days. That’s insane. Why does it cost me five dollars to collect from the store? I’m saving you labor costs, Farmers! You’re practically begging me to find an alternative supplier.

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So as a consumer it’s great news that Amazon Australia announced this week they’re expanding to include retail services. They’ve been around since 2012, but you could only buy ebooks there. Now they’re going to offer everything, and it’s going to change the retail landscape not only in Australia, but also in New Zealand. Internet shopping already killed Kiwi legend Kirkaldie and Stains after 152 years of trading. South Island department store chain Arthur Barnett got bought out by competitor H &  J Smith in 2015. Auckland’s Smith and Caughey’s (est. 1808) hangs on for now – mainly because they own land and buildings in Auckland’s CBD.

Responsive companies will survive and thrive, but more than a couple of large Kiwi retailers will be pricking their ears for the hoofbeats of Death’s mount in 2018.

And if Amazon Australia means I won’t have to pay for the privilege of collecting products from a store I will be fucking cheering.

[Update: I finally received my Farmers parcel on 1 May. This is not an unusual experience.]

I Possess Ovaries

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Seriously, fuck the cultural gender binary. Photo by Janet on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons licence

Not in a “don’t look in the serial killer’s fridge!” way, but in a “some humans make snap judgements about my personality, preferences, interests and skills, based on the meat my DNA grows” way. I feel it’s wise to bring this up because the gmail address for my pen name is michal.caspian@gmail.com. Fun fact: in New Zealand Michal is not an uncommon name for a human with ovaries. I’ve worked with three women called Michal, there was a woman editor of the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly called Michal, and my cousin is a Michal – Mike for short. It’s a versatile, non-gender-specific name, like Hayden, Robin, or Taylor. However I’ve just learned that overseas Michal is pretty much solely reserved for humans culturally gendered as ‘male’. Therefore, in the precarious current gender politics of m/m authorship, it might look – if you squint your eyes in low light – as if I am trying to present myself as a different gender in order to gain privilege and authority.

The Michal was an accident, actually. I just wanted an M. For Em. But M.Caspian@gmail.com was taken, so I needed to find a first name that went with the initial. And that cousin I just mentioned? I decided age 12 I would call my daughter Michal. Flash forward, years later, my aunt gave birth to her daughter three months before I had mine. She called her Michal. I had to pick another name. I’m still not over it. So what better choice for my email address than my lamented unusable baby name? (Now I verbalize that explicitly, that’s weird, right? I don’t think of books as my babies or anything. But I wanted to use the name, goddamn it!)

And I’ve got a book underway that is less . . . rapey and violent. And I thought I might distinguish this from the M. Caspian works by publishing it under Michal Caspian, so it was clear it’s still me, but also a book you can read even if you’re totally not into, you know, rapey violence.

So, yeah. Ovaries. I’ve got them.