Should I use cotton buds to clean my ears?

Everyone – even health-care professionals – will have done it at some point. But it’s dangerous – and, thanks to the ear’s self-cleaning mechanism, unnecessary Who doesn’t enjoy sticking a cotton bud in their ear? To twist gently, pull it out and examine the white tip turned to yellow? Q-tips were part of many childhoods. The Q-tips website has users sharing how they use buds to clean not only ears but toilet cisterns and pistols. Which is just as well, as guidelines released last week by the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery Foundation, state that cotton buds should not be used for cleaning ears. Continue reading… [hmp_player]

Diamond dame: Marcia Gay Harden on hellish roles, washed-up stars and nipple clamp tweets

From Miller’s Crossing to Fifty Shades of Grey, Marcia Gay Harden has always played hard-boiled women. Her UK stage debut, in Sweet Bird of Youth, is no exception Marcia Gay Harden is a fortnight into rehearsals and having difficulty sleeping due to the lines that are going round and round her head. It’s not that she’s anxious about remembering them, but because they are so troubling. The latest in a long line of leading American actors to sign up for meaty roles on the English stage, she is taking time out from a busy film and TV schedule to do battle with a character she doesn’t yet love, in a play that she sometimes wants “to tear apart with my nails”. The drama in which she is making her UK stage debut is Tennessee Williams’s Sweet Bird of Youth, and the character is a ravaged Hollywood star holed up with a disgraced gigolo in a small-town hotel, after fleeing the fallout from her comeback movie. Both are addicts who drown their misery in drugs and liquor. “It’s so dark,” says Harden. “The self-degradation that both of them are going through will wake me up in a nightmare.” She carried her Fifty Shades persona over to Twitter, cracking jokes about mistaking a nipple clamp for a brooch Continue reading… [hmp_player]

Monday’s best TV: The Andrew Neil Interviews: Theresa May; The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway

Will a grilling provoke the prime minister into uttering anything other than ‘strong and stable’? And how much railway does £15bn buy you? Assertions of strength and stability are likely to figure prominently during this first of a series of interrogations of the major party leaders (and Paul Nuttall). Theresa May has resembled a malfunctioning robot for most of this election campaign. Maybe tonight she’ll throw off her shackles and reveal herself as a politician of charm and substance. Or maybe she’ll just say “strong and stable” a lot and wait for the votes to roll in. Phil Harrison Continue reading… [hmp_player]

‘I knew they were sugar pills but I felt fantastic’ – the rise of open-label placebos

IBS patient Linda Buonanno knew the pills she was given contained no active drugs, yet they had an immediate effect on her condition. So can placebos play a useful medical role? Linda Buonanno had suffered 15 years of intense cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and pain she describes as “worse than labour”. She was willing to try anything to get relief from her irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and leapt at the chance to take part in a trial of an experimental new therapy. Her hope turned to disappointment, however, when the researcher handed her a bottle of capsules he described as placebos containing no active ingredients. Nonetheless, she took the pills twice daily. Four days later, her symptoms all but vanished. “I know it sounds crazy,” says Buonanno, of Methuen, Massachusetts. “I felt fantastic. I knew they were just sugar pills, but I was able to go out dancing and see my friends again.” Related: How do placebos work? The science of mind over body – podcast Related: The placebo effect: is there something in it after all? Continue reading… [hmp_player]

The Faraday cage: from Victorian experiment to Snowden-era paranoia

Michael Faraday’s pioneering work on electricity made him a 19th-century superstar. Now his signature invention is being repurposed for surveillance–proof bags, wallpaper and underpants – not to mention plot points in TV shows such as Better Call Saul There is not much room to build a box the size of a garage in the Royal Institution’s lecture theatre. Tiered seating surrounds the large central table and leaves little room for much else. It was the same in January 1836, but Michael Faraday had no choice. He left his cramped lab in the basement of the building in London’s Mayfair and set to work. He put a wooden frame, 12ft square, on four glass supports and added paper walls and wire mesh. He then stepped inside and electrified it. Faraday all but lived in the box for two full days. In that time, with electrometers, candles, and a large brass ball on a white silk thread, he explored the nature of charge. What he discovered transformed how scientists viewed electricity. But the cage itself was simply a means to an end, a way to insulate experiments from the outside world. It hardly screamed applications. Standing on the spot where the box was built, Frank James, the RI’s historian, gives the simple reason: “What was there to protect against electrical charge in 1836?” Continue reading… [hmp_player]