Archive for June 2008
Is the US next? Kirk Murphy’s post at Firedoglake discusses that possibility. He begins:
In today’s Observer, Caroline Davies describes how this year British gardeners find their fruits and veggies are stunted, deformed, and dying. The culprit: Dow Chemical’s persistent herbicide aminopyralid sprayed on grazing land or fodder. The herbicide stayed in the plants the cattle ate, stayed in the cattle (and horse) poop, stayed in the compost produced from the poop, and came out the other end of the process all ready to kill food crops and home gardens.
Problems with the herbicide emerged late last year, when some commercial potato growers reported damaged crops.
[T]he herbicide has now entered the food chain. Those affected are demanding an investigation and a ban on the product. They say they have been given no definitive answer as to whether other produce on their gardens and allotments is safe to eat.
It appears that the contamination came from grass treated 12 months ago. Experts say the grass was probably made into silage, then fed to cattle during the winter months. The herbicide remained present in the silage, passed through the animal and into manure that was later sold. Horses fed on hay that had been treated could also be a channel.
It can’t happen here?…
Continue reading. Apparently it’s not a good idea to apply poison to your crops and cropland.
Interesting that some strongly prefer working at Microsoft to working at Google.
Via comments to this Lifehacker post, JeffK points out two useful sites for information on working on your bike:
The Lifehacker post points to The Bicycle Tutor, but that site is temporarily overwhelmed by hits as a result. Check it in a few days.
The growing body of evidence that marijuana (cannabis) may be effective as a pain reliever has been expanded with publication of a new study in The Journal of Pain reporting that patients with nerve pain showed reduced pain intensity from smoking marijuana.
Researchers at University of California Davis examined whether marijuana produces analgesia for patients with neuropathic pain. Thirty-eight patients were examined. They were given either high-dose (7%), low-dose (3.5%) or placebo cannabis.
The authors reported that identical levels of analgesia were produced at each cumulative dose level by both concentrations of the agent. As with opioids, cannabis does not rely on a relaxing or tranquilizing effect, but reduces the core component of nociception and the emotional aspect of the pain experience to an equal degree. There were undesirable consequences observed from cannabis smoking, such as feeing high or impaired, but they did not inhibit tolerability or cause anyone to withdraw from the study. In general, side effects and mood changes were inconsequential.
It was noted by the authors that since high and low dose cannabis produced equal analgesic efficacy, a case could be made for testing lower concentrations to determine if the analgesic profile can be maintained while reducing potential cognitive decline.
In addition, the authors said further research could probe whether adding the lowest effective dose of cannabis to another analgesic drug might lead to more effective neuropathic pain treatment for patients who otherwise are treatment-resistant.
- Barth Wilsey, Thomas Marcotte, Alexander Tsodikov, Jeanna Millman, Heather Bentley, Ben Gouaux and Scott Fishman. A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Trial of Cannibis Cigarettes in Neuropathic Pain. The Journal of Pain, (in press)
English is now mostly spoken by non-native speakers of English, who import into it their own rules of pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. The result is a different form of English—the evolution of the language, by the mass of speakers will thus be in that direction.
One benefit of using Esperanto as an international language is that it preserves the smaller languages that would otherwise die out. People can continue to speak their own family language and learn one other language—Esperanto—for general communication. English may soon feel the pinch that these smaller languages have long felt.
From an article by Michael Erard in Wired:
Thanks to globalization, the Allied victories in World War II, and American leadership in science and technology, English has become so successful across the world that it’s escaping the boundaries of what we think it should be. In part, this is because there are fewer of us: By 2020, native speakers will make up only 15 percent of the estimated 2 billion people who will be using or learning the language. Already, most conversations in English are between nonnative speakers who use it as a lingua franca.
Unlike Italy’s, for example:
As women advanced in education levels and career tracks over the past few decades, Norway moved aggressively to accommodate them and their families. The state guarantees about 54 weeks of maternity leave, as well as 6 weeks of paternity leave. With the birth of a child comes a government payment of about 4,000 euros. State-subsidized day care is standard. The cost of living is high, but then again it’s assumed that both parents will work; indeed, during maternity leave a woman is paid 80 percent of her salary. “In Norway, the concern over fertility is mild,” Aassve told me. “What dominates is the issue of gender equity, and that in turn raises the fertility level. For example, there is a debate right now about whether to make paternity leave compulsory. It’s an issue of making sure women and men have equal rights and opportunities. If men are taking leave after the birth of a child, the women can return to work for part of that time.”
The quotation is from the article discussed here.
Glenn Greenwald discusses the obsolescence—and the risk—of “moving to the center” for Democratic candidates. The public nowadays is far to the left of that “center.” Good column.
The Bush Administration sees how well we’ve succeeded in Iraq, and now they’re readying the country for war with Iran. Seymour Hersh has the details in his article, which begins:
Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program.
Clandestine operations against Iran are not new. United States Special Operations Forces have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since last year. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” in the President’s war on terror, who may be captured or killed. But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded, according to the current and former officials. Many of these activities are not specified in the new Finding, and some congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature.
Under federal law, a Presidential Finding, which is highly classified, must be issued when a covert intelligence operation gets under way and, at a minimum, must be made known to Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and the Senate and to the ranking members of their respective intelligence committees—the so-called Gang of Eight. Money for the operation can then be reprogrammed from previous appropriations, as needed, by the relevant congressional committees, which also can be briefed.
The Guardian has a very nice brief science course to remind you of some basic knowledge that you, as a citizen, should possess. The articles are brief and illuminating and may even provide the occasional bit of new information. If you have a budding scientist in the family, s/he will probably be interested as well.
I love shiitake mushrooms, fresh or dried, and now it turns out that they offer some significant nutritional benefits:
Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) mushrooms are good for you—and shiitake byproducts can be good for other crops.
These mushrooms contain high-molecular-weight polysaccharides (HMWP), which some studies suggest may improve human immune function. Other research indicates that the shiitake compound eritadenine may help lower cholesterol levels.
Agricultural Research Service (ARS) agronomist David Brauer has been studying shiitake production at the agency’s Dale Bumpers Small Farm Research Center, Booneville, Ark. Working in collaboration with producers at the Shiitake Mushroom Center in Shirley, Ark., Brauer evaluated whether shiitakes grown on logs have higher levels of HMWP than shiitakes grown on commercial substrates.
The group inoculated logs with spores from three different shiitake varieties and compared the yield with shiitake yields grown on commercial substrates. They found that the log-grown shiitakes had HMWP levels as much as 70 percent higher than the substrate-grown shiitakes. The team also observed that shiitakes grown on red and white oak logs had higher levels of HMWP than shiitakes grown on sweet gum logs.
Potatoes are a rich source of potassium (as shown by the chart in this post): one potato has 1081 mg of potassium, almost as much as a cup of raisins (1089 mg). A banana, generally thought of as a good source of potassium, has 594 mg. And potassium, as explained at the link, is important for building muscle.
But if you cube the potato and boil it, the minerals are tossed out with the water. If you must boil potatoes, use the water as soup stock or the like. Obviously, if you are cubing the potatoes to cook in a soup, the minerals are not lost; they just go into the soup. The “loss” occurs only if the cubed potato’s cooking water is discarded. Here’s the story:
Cubing potatoes can reduce boiling time, but it also reduces mineral content by as much as 75 percent. That’s one conclusion from a study by research geneticist Shelley Jansky and plant physiologist Paul Bethke at the ARS Vegetable Crops Research Unit in Madison, Wis.
Jansky and Bethke subjected six potato varieties to various methods of preparation, and then ran a mineral analysis for potassium and 10 other minerals. They found that cubing or shredding potatoes prior to boiling resulted in significant potassium reductions.
This could be a good cooking strategy for potato fans hoping to reduce potassium intake, such as dialysis patients. But individuals who want to get the highest nutritional bang for their buck would be better off boiling their potatoes whole.
Jansky and Bethke also examined the effects of leaching the potatoes—letting them soak in water overnight. Their results showed that leaching had no significant impact on potassium reduction, in contrast with conventional wisdom.
Yesterday I made a big batch of catfish stew—I can never resist buying catfish nuggets: taste exactly like the fillets, but less than half the price and perfect for stew. I measured the ingredients, of course, but I made a gallon of stew—enough for three days. I suddenly realized that I could enter into Fitday the foods and measures for the entire stew, rather than trying to compute the calories and composition per bowl. If I enter the entire stew yesterday, and then eat from it over the next couple of days, not entering anything for those meals, the average calories and nutrients will be accurate. Same thing with buying a couple of pounds of strawberries for snacks: enter the total amount on day 1 and enter nothing as I snack on them over the next day or two. The average will be accurate.
The Wife often attends meetings where she finds herself taking notes on-line. I don’t think she yet knows about this cool wiki, specifically designed for that purpose. Looks pretty cool to me. Have any of you used it?
Interesting long article by Russell Shorto on the effects of a declining birthrate. The replacement fertility rate in industrialized countries (which have relatively low infant mortality) is 2.1 births per woman—in developing countries it might be 2.5-3.3 (see this Wikipedia article). In 1999 the fertility rate in the US was 2.0, but declines were offset by immigration—and immigrant families tend to have more children, at least in the first generation. In the second generation, the fertility rate drops sharply. Here’s a list of fertility rates by country. Those below 2.1 will decline in population unless they embrace immigration, a tough topic in some countries. The article at the first link begins:
It was a spectacular late-May afternoon in southern Italy, but the streets of Laviano — a gloriously situated hamlet ranged across a few folds in the mountains of the Campania region — were deserted. There were no day-trippers from Naples, no tourists to take in the views up the steep slopes, the olive trees on terraces, the ruins of the 11th-century fortress with wild poppies spotting its grassy flanks like flecks of blood. And there were no locals in sight either. The town has housing enough to support a population of 3,000, but fewer than 1,600 live here, and every year the number drops. Rocco Falivena, Laviano’s 56-year-old mayor, strolled down the middle of the street, outlining for me the town’s demographics and explaining why, although the place is more than a thousand years old, its buildings all look so new. In 1980 an earthquake struck, taking out nearly every structure and killing 300 people, including Falivena’s own parents. Then from tragedy arose the scent of possibility, of a future. Money came from the national government in Rome, and from former residents who had emigrated to the U.S. and elsewhere. The locals found jobs rebuilding their town. But when the construction ended, so did the work, and the exodus of residents continued as before.
When Falivena took office in 2002 for his second stint as mayor, two numbers caught his attention. Four: that was how many babies were born in the town the year before. And five: the number of children enrolled in first grade at the school, never mind that the school served two additional communities as well. “I knew what was my first job, to try to save the school,” Falivena told me. “Because a village that does not have a school is a dead village.” He racked his brain and came up with a desperate idea: pay women to have babies. And not just a token amount, either; in 2003 Falivena let it be known he would pay 10,000 euros (about $15,000) for every woman — local or immigrant, married or single — who would give birth to and rear a child in the village. The “baby bonus,” as he calls it, is structured to root new citizens in the town: a mother gets 1,500 euros when her baby is born, then a 1,500-euro payment on each of the child’s first four birthdays and a final 2,500 euros the day the child enrolls in first grade. Falivena has a publicist’s instincts, and he said he hoped the plan would attract media attention. It did, generating news across Italy and as far away as Australia.
Timothy Pychyl has a good post on procrastination—which reminds me of something I should post…. He’s a psychology professor who specializes in the study of procrastination, so what he has to say is especially interesting.
One of the best books on software engineering that I’ve read is Principles of Software Engineering Management, by Tom Gilb. (Secondhand copies at the link from $3 up.) His most important principles: “Early!” For example, when you get a six-month assignment, sit down at once and start—do as much as you can that very day.
Of course the same idea has been told to me since… well, all my life, I suspect. But somehow Gilb’s single-word injunction really made a mark. Ever since, I have always started any assignment/project the day I received/conceived it. Generally I start with a free-associative list in an outliner, moving the entries around as I made them so that they are in an order and hierarchy that makes sense. This structure not only creates an implicit plan, it also breaks the task down into smaller chunks, and I keep at it until I get something that I can complete that very day. That breaking of the ice provides enough momentum so that I can usually do something each day, always making at least a small amount of progress.
The result is that normally I complete the task or project well before the deadline. I do not, of course, submit it at that point—for one thing, I would immediately be assigned another task/project and the speed expectations would be higher. I prefer to sleep on the completed effort for a day or two, and then look at it again. I generally find that it does indeed require more work—sometimes just polish, sometimes (as I look at it with a rested and critical eye) a substantial reworking. But I have time for that, and I have a better understanding of the whole thing, having done it once. This second (and third) look is vital.
If you’re a programmer, you may have occasionally had to improve the speed/size of your own or another’s code. As you look at it, you normally can find substantial improvements—the largest improvements generally not from small incremental improvements but by reconceiving the whole task and finding another approach that makes a quantum leap in efficiency.
Reflect that the improvement you found was available all the time, even at the time the original code was written. The original programmer—perhaps you—just stopped short. S/he was prematurely satisfied with the mere completion of the task and did not take the time to sleep on it and re-examine the premises and the implementation with a critical and imaginative eye. Indeed, unless they obeyed the Supreme Directive (“Early!“), they may not have had time to rethink their approach—they may have been in a race to completion by the deadline.
“Early!” Remember that.
Another principle, one that I discovered for myself when I first started programming in Forth: “Hindsight is your most powerful tool. Use it early and often.” By that I mean that after you finish a module or (in Forth) a word, look at with the benefit of the hindsight you have after writing it and sleeping on it. (You need a little distance to exercise hindsight—if you look at it immediately after finishing it, you’re still mired in your initial mindset.) After a day or two, look at it and think about it critically. Is it really as good as it should be? As clear, as tight, as easy to verify? Use your hindsight.
And as you compile those submodules/words into bigger entities, use hindsight again—repeatedly, at a higher level. By second-guessing yourself, by doing your own Monday-morning quarterbacking on your own work, what you produce will be stronger and better overall. Being able to achieve this benefit, of course, depends on “Early!”
And, BTW, I just went through this very post again—after a brief wait to provide a hindsight distance—and made several fixes.
Take a look. Photos at the link, with description that begins:
Moto Designshop recently finished schematics for this beautiful modern residence situated on Pine street in Philadelphia. The Grid House packs a highly efficient floorplan into tight quarters, maximizing daylighting and ventilation via an abundance of open green spaces. The entire front and back façades open to infuse interior spaces with fresh air while the home’s flowing floor plan ensures a seamless transition between rooms. An elevated front garden preserves the residence’s interaction with the street while concealing an underground garage.