Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for December 11th, 2006

Turin model finally getting another look

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I blogged about this earlier. From the current issue of New Scientist:

Nose model gets a cautious sniff

It kicked up a stink among sensory scientists when it was proposed a decade ago. Now a controversial theory that smell receptors in the nose respond to the vibration of molecules, rather than their size and shape, has been revitalised.

The theory, first proposed in the mid-1990s by Luca Turin, then of University College London (UCL), was based on the observation that some molecules with almost identical shapes can smell wildly different, while others with the same vibrational frequency, but different shapes, can smell similar. Turin proposed that the nose may work like a particular type of spectroscope that identifies molecules on the basis of the frequency at which their atoms vibrate in response to an electron stream (New Scientist, 18 November, p 74).

It wasn’t clear that this would work in the nose, however, allowing critics to dismiss it as unfeasible. “It was a pretty sketchy idea,” Turin admits.

Now Andrew Horsfield at UCL and his colleagues have entered the fray by modelling how a nasal spectroscope might work. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

11 December 2006 at 6:44 pm

Posted in Science

The Bush Administration: an American nadir

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Look at this:

In defiance of Congressional requests to immediately halt closures of library collections, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is purging records from its library websites, making them unavailable to both agency scientists and outside researchers, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). At the same time, EPA is taking steps to prevent the re-opening of its shuttered libraries, including the hurried auctioning off of expensive bookcases, cabinets, microfiche readers and other equipment for less than a penny on the dollar.

In a letter dated November 30, 2006, four incoming House Democratic committee chairs demanded that EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson assure them “that the destruction or disposition of all library holdings immediately ceased upon the Agency’s receipt of this letter and that all records of library holdings and dispersed materials are being maintained.” On the very next day, December 1st, EPA de-linked thousands of documents from the website for the Office of Prevention, Pollution and Toxic Substances (OPPTS) Library, in EPA’s Washington D.C. Headquarters.

Last month without notice to its scientists or the public, EPA abruptly closed the OPPTS Library, the agency’s only specialized research repository on health effects and properties of toxic chemicals and pesticides. The web purge follows reports that library staffers were ordered to destroy its holdings by throwing collections into recycling bins.

“EPA’s leadership appears to have gone feral, defying all appeals to reason or consultation,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that Congress has yet to review, let alone approve, the library closures. “The new Congress convening in January will finally have a chance to decide whether EPA will continue to pillage its library network.”

Meanwhile, in what appears to be an effort to limit Congressional options, EPA is taking steps to prevent the re-opening of the several libraries that it has already completely shuttered. In its Chicago office, which formerly hosted one of the largest regional libraries, EPA ordered that all furniture and furnishings (down to the staplers and pencil sharpeners) be sold immediately. Despite an acquisition cost of $40,000 for the furniture and equipment, a woman bought the entire lot for $350. The buyer also estimates that she will re-sell the merchandise for $80,000. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

11 December 2006 at 6:23 pm

Now that’s a hot chilli

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From the Times:

The world’s hottest chilli pepper does not come from a tropical hot spot where the locals are impervious to its fiery heat but a smallholding in deepest Dorset.

Some chillis are fierce enough to make your eyes water. Anyone foolhardy enough to eat a whole Dorset Naga would almost certainly require hospital treatment.

The pepper, almost twice as hot as the previous record- holder, was grown by Joy and Michael Michaud in a polytunnel at their market garden. The couple run a business called Peppers by Post and spent four years developing the Dorset Naga.

They knew the 2 cm-long specimens were hot because they had to wear gloves and remove the seeds outdoors when preparing them for drying, but had no idea they had grown a record-breaker.

Some customers complained the peppers were so fiery that even half a small one would make a curry too hot to eat. Others loved them and the Michauds sold a quarter of a million Dorset Nagas last year. At the end of last season Mrs Michaud sent a sample to a laboratory in America out of curiosity. The owner had never tested anything like it.

According to Mrs Michaud, the hottest habañero peppers popular in chilli-eating competitions in the US generally measure about 100,000 units on the standard Scoville scale, named after its inventor, Wilbur Scoville, who developed it in 1912. At first the scale was a subjective taste test but it later developed into the measure of capsaicinoids present. The hottest chilli pepper in The Guinness Book of Records is a Red Savina habañero with a rating of 570,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

11 December 2006 at 6:20 pm

Posted in Food

Netflix tries to hide their phone number

Via The Consumerist, even the Netflix CEO couldn’t find the phone number on their Web site. So write it down:

Netflix Customer Service Number: 1-888-NETFLIX or 1-800-585-8131.
Mon-Fri 9am-10pm Eastern Time
Sat-Sun 9am-5:30pm Eastern Time.

Written by Leisureguy

11 December 2006 at 6:06 pm

Posted in Business, Movies & TV

Thank you for not smoking

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I smoked cigarettes in college, then pipes for another year or two, but then quit in my 20’s. I wonder now what I was thinking, of course.

If you’re a woman, here’s a list of 14 reasons you in particular should avoid smoking if you value life. But it is your decision.

Written by Leisureguy

11 December 2006 at 4:52 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health, Medical

Starting up the hill

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Once there was a time… but so many things that older people say start that way. I am now plugging away at my new obsession, using my Fitday software to track diet, exercise, and the like. “Exercise” right now is the Nordic Track, an indoor training machine that I really like, though initially I thought I would never be able to balance on it. But that was quite a few years ago.

Like much exercise equipment, it goes through times of being a coat rack, but I always end up going back to it: easy on the knees, good workout, and handy—right there in the bedroom, enjoyable even when the weather’s cold and rainy. Mine is similar to this one, except the tension adjustment on the flywheel is better on mine. (Mine is pre-bankruptcy.)

So I’m doing 12 minutes a day on it, on my way up to 30 minutes. And I’m getting out my little collection of weights. I was very impressed by Miriam Nelson’s research that led to her books (Strong Women Stay Young, Strong Women Stay Slim, Strong Women Eat Well, and Strong Women, Strong Bones) and many of her findings are independent of sex.

Written by Leisureguy

11 December 2006 at 4:48 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Health

Clever idea for receipt storage

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I just had my Dymo LabelWriter 330 fail altogether: won’t power up, so I assume the power supply is gone. Repair would be $75 since I’m sure it’s out of warranty. In reading about possible replacements, I found a comment on Amazon.com from a disgruntled Dymo customer that his LabelWriter 330 also had the power supply go.

Okay, I’ve ordered a new LabelWriter, the 400 Turbo, and I’m going to keep better track of purchase date thanks to this clever idea from The Wife: tape the receipt to the bottom of the unit. Cute, eh? And works for all sorts of stuff.

Written by Leisureguy

11 December 2006 at 2:17 pm

Posted in Daily life

Communication from Drug Policy Alliance

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Just got this heartening email from Drug Policy Alliance:

We did it! After months of hard work, I am pleased to report that we have achieved a critical victory for patients. Last week, a San Diego Superior Court judge rejected the lawsuit brought by three counties attempting to challenge California’s medical marijuana laws. This win not only protects seriously ill Californians, but demonstrates that states do not have to march in lockstep with the federal government’s failed war on drugs.

The lawsuit was brought against the state of California in January 2006 by San Diego County, later joined by San Bernardino and Merced counties. These local governments argued that federal laws prohibiting all use of marijuana invalidate state medical marijuana laws.

DPA, along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Americans for Safe Access (ASA), intervened in the case to represent patients, their caregivers, and doctors, to make sure that the people who were most affected by the case had a voice. Not only did we file our own briefs in the case, we also worked closely with the Attorney General’s office–charged with protecting the law–to craft persuasive arguments for the court.

Following oral arguments by the three groups in November, the court confirmed the full validity of California’s medical marijuana laws. Enacted in 1996, the Compassionate Use Act, also known as Proposition 215, allows qualified patients with a doctor’s recommendation to use medical marijuana. The Medical Marijuana Program Act, passed in 2003, requires counties to implement an identification card program that allows law enforcement to properly identify legitimate patients.

We’re waiting to see whether the counties will appeal the judge’s ruling, and at least two Boards of Supervisors are meeting this week to assess their options. If the counties do appeal the trial court ruling, we stand ready to continue defending the interests of patients and physicians in the higher courts. Either way, we predict victory.

Written by Leisureguy

11 December 2006 at 12:41 pm

A cat’s brain is the size of a walnut

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So says Kevin Drum, and to prove it, he links to this post.

Written by Leisureguy

11 December 2006 at 12:10 pm

Posted in Cats

August Pinochet, 1915-2006, RIP (Rest in Pain)

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From an email newsletter from Greg Palast:

Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, Tinker Bell and General Augusto Pinochet had much in common.

All three performed magical good deeds. In the case of Pinochet, he was universally credited with the Miracle of Chile, the wildly successful experiment in free markets, privatization, de-regulation and union-free economic expansion whose laissez-faire seeds spread from Valparaiso to Virginia.

But Cinderella’s pumpkin did not really turn into a coach. The Miracle of Chile, too, was just another fairy tale. The claim that General Pinochet begat an economic powerhouse was one of those utterances whose truth rested entirely on its repetition.

Chile could boast some economic success. But that was the work of Salvador Allende – who saved his nation, miraculously, a decade after his death.

In 1973, the year General Pinochet brutally seized the government, Chile’s unemployment rate was 4.3%. In 1983, after ten years of free-market modernization, unemployment reached 22%. Real wages declined by 40% under military rule.

In 1970, 20% of Chile’s population lived in poverty. By 1990, the year “President” Pinochet left office, the number of destitute had doubled to 40%. Quite a miracle.

Pinochet did not destroy Chile’s economy all alone. It took nine years of hard work by the most brilliant minds in world academia, a gaggle of Milton Friedman’s trainees, the Chicago Boys. Under the spell of their theories, the General abolished the minimum wage, outlawed trade union bargaining rights, privatized the pension system, abolished all taxes on wealth and on business profits, slashed public employment, privatized 212 state industries and 66 banks and ran a fiscal surplus.

Freed of the dead hand of bureaucracy, taxes and union rules, the country took a giant leap forward … into bankruptcy and depression. After nine years of economics Chicago style, Chile’s industry keeled over and died. In 1982 and 1983, GDP dropped 19%. The free-market experiment was kaput, the test tubes shattered. Blood and glass littered the laboratory floor. Yet, with remarkable chutzpah, the mad scientists of Chicago declared success. In the US, President Ronald Reagan’s State Department issued a report concluding, “Chile is a casebook study in sound economic management.” Milton Friedman himself coined the phrase, “The Miracle of Chile.” Friedman’s sidekick, economist Art Laffer, preened that Pinochet’s Chile was, “a showcase of what supply-side economics can do.”

It certainly was. More exactly, Chile was a showcase of de-regulation gone berserk.

The Chicago Boys persuaded the junta that removing restrictions on the nation’s banks would free them to attract foreign capital to fund industrial expansion.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

11 December 2006 at 12:05 pm

Posted in GOP, Government

Every time you think the Bush Administration has hit bottom…

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You read something like this (from the Boston Globe):

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have fled their homeland are likely to seek refugee status in the United States, humanitarian groups said, putting intense pressure on the Bush administration to reexamine a policy that authorizes only 500 Iraqis to be resettled here next year.

The official US policy has been that the refugee situation is temporary and that most of the estimated 1.5 million who have fled to Jordan, Syria, and elsewhere will eventually return to Iraq. But US and international officials now acknowledge that the instability in Iraq has made it too dangerous for many refugees, especially Iraqi Christians, to return any time soon.

Ellen Sauerbrey, assistant secretary of state for refugees and migration, said that while the Bush administration does not think resettlement is needed for most refugees, its policy could rapidly change.

“It is quite possible that we will in time decide that because of vulnerabilities of certain populations that resettlement is the right option,” Sauerbrey said. While acknowledging that the administration originally set a quota of no more than 500 Iraqi refugees, she said the president has the legal authority to admit 20,000 additional refugees.

Eventually, specialists said, the number of Iraqi refugees settling in the United States could be vastly higher.

But few Iraqi refugees have yet to be allowed to resettle here, due partly to finger-pointing between the State Department and the United Nations over who is responsible for determining which Iraqis need to be resettled. Sauerbrey said she has been pleading with the United Nations to do its job of surveying refugees.

“We have not been getting referrals from [the United Nations],” she said, pointing to the office of the UN high commissioner for refugees. “They have got to do a better job.”

Judy Cheng-Hopkins, the United Nations assistant high commissioner for refugees, responded to such criticism by saying that the UN needs more funding from the international community to identify possible refugees. But she predicted that the numbers would be large because most refugees now see little chance of returning to Iraq.

She said many want to settle in the West, including in the United States, because their life in Iraq “is pretty much gone.”

“A great majority would be dreaming of resettlement elsewhere, in the West,” said Cheng-Hopkins, who recently returned from a trip to Jordan and Syria to assess the extent of the refugee problem.

In particular, more than 120,000 Christians who have fled Iraq are unlikely to go home and about 100,000 of them want to come to the United States, where many have relatives, according to a group representing the Christians. A great many of the estimated 1.4 million Iraqi Muslims also are expected to try to resettle, many in the West, according to UN officials.

An effort by hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to resettle in the United States would put the Bush administration in an extraordinarily awkward position. Having waged war to liberate Iraqis, the United States would in effect be admitting failure if it allowed a substantial number of Iraqis to be classified as refugees who could seek asylum here.

Arthur E. “Gene” Dewey, who was President Bush’s assistant secretary of state for refugee affairs until last year, said that “for political reasons the administration will discourage” the resettlement of Iraqi refugees in the United States “because of the psychological message it would send, that it is a losing cause.” [The scum, the scum… No hearts, no mercy, no compassion, no souls. – LG]

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

11 December 2006 at 11:58 am

Interesting use of drugs in treatment

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Psilocybin for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, MDMA (Ecstasy) for Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder, and more. Read here.

Written by Leisureguy

11 December 2006 at 11:45 am

Ugly news about your food

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Best read while not eating. Eric Schlosser reports in an Op-Ed in the NY Times. Depressing fact from the article: “Cutbacks in staff and budgets have reduced the number of food-safety inspections conducted by the F.D.A. to about 3,400 a year — from 35,000 in the 1970s. The number of inspectors at the Agriculture Department has declined to 7,500 from 9,000.

Read the whole thing:

This fall has brought plenty of bad news about food poisoning. More than 200 people in 26 states were sickened and three people were killed by spinach contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. At least 183 people in 21 states got salmonella from tainted tomatoes served at restaurants. And more than 160 people in New York, New Jersey and other states were sickened with E. coli after eating at Taco Bell restaurants.

People are always going to get food poisoning. The idea that every meal can be risk-free, germ-free and sterile is the sort of fantasy Howard Hughes might have entertained. But our food can be much safer than it is right now.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 76 million Americans are sickened, 325,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 die each year because of something they ate.

Part of the problem is that the government’s food-safety system is underfinanced, poorly organized and more concerned with serving private interests than with protecting public health. It is time for the new Democratic Congress to reverse a decades-long weakening of regulations and face up to the food-safety threats of the 21st century.

One hundred years ago, companies were free to follow their own rules. Food companies sold children’s candy colored with dangerous heavy metals. And meatpackers routinely processed “4D animals” — livestock that were dead, dying, diseased, or disabled.

The publication of Upton Sinclair’s novel “The Jungle” in 1906 — with its descriptions of rat-infested slaughterhouses and rancid meat — created public outrage over food safety. Even though the book was written by a socialist agitator, a Republican president, Theodore Roosevelt, eagerly read it.

After confirming Sinclair’s claims, Roosevelt battled the drug companies, the big food processors and the meatpacking companies to protect American consumers from irresponsible corporate behavior. He argued that bad business practices were ultimately bad for business. After a fight in Congress, Roosevelt largely got his way with passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.

The decades that followed were hardly an idyll of pure food and flawless regulation. But the nation’s diverse agricultural and food-processing system limited the size of outbreaks. Thousands of small slaughterhouses processed meat, and countless independent restaurants prepared food from fresh, local ingredients. If a butcher shop sold tainted meat or a restaurant served contaminated meals, a relatively small number of people were likely to become ill.

Over the past 40 years, the industrialization and centralization of our food system has greatly magnified the potential for big outbreaks. Today only 13 slaughterhouses process the majority of the beef consumed by 300 million Americans.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

11 December 2006 at 11:35 am

Now THIS is an EXTRA-cool warming idea

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I’ve always been a big fan of the Stirling engine, as has The Son-in-Law. In fact, I gave him a little model Stirling engine that ran from the heat provided by an alcohol lamp. He discovered that using a propane torch instead really ran up the RPMs. 🙂

As you can guess, it’s an external-combustion engine, where the heat source is external to the engine itself—like the steam engine in this regard. And now someone has made VERY clever use of that characteristic:

Heat Wave Fan The Heat Wave Wood-Stove Fan:

The Heat Wave Wood Stove Fan quietly and efficiently circulates warm air from your wood stove into your room, dramatically increasing the effectiveness of your heating appliance and improving your comfort level. You can instantly gain up to 35% more efficiency from your wood stove with this amazing fan. Even more impressive there is no electricity required! The Heat Wave uses a Stirling-Cycle Powerplant to power the fan. No longer will you have to stoke your stove to blazing hot temperatures only to end up with a VERY hot area in the direct proximity of your stove and mildly warm air across the room. At temperature between 390 degrees F (minimum requirement) and 1000 degrees F the Heat Wave circulated 200-300CFM (cubic feet per minute) of air. Base measures 6″ x 3″, Overall height 13″ and Fan Diameter 10″. Made of stainless steel, aluminum and brass. Color is black, stainless steel and brass.

Note: This product must sit on a hot surface. Soap stone wood stoves, gas stoves, and others may not produce enough heat on the stove surface to operate this fan. The surface of your stove must be at a minimum of 390 degrees F for this fan to operate.

Written by Leisureguy

11 December 2006 at 11:23 am

Adorability never goes out of style

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Adorable 1 Adorable 2

Watching me blog apparently gets a little bit boring, so Megs turns on the charm.

Written by Leisureguy

11 December 2006 at 11:10 am

Posted in Cats, Megs

Seven Habits that help

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Stephen Covey wrote a book based on talks he gave about 7 habits that seemed common to a variety of highly effective people. The ideas in the book are indeed valuable, and I once wrote a piece to help (PDF file) with the reading of book. What I wrote is incomplete, but it does expand on some points that I found difficult to understand in the book. Maybe it will be helpful. The topic arose in connection with this post.

Written by Leisureguy

11 December 2006 at 10:54 am

Amplified razor?

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My Nik is sealed

Normally when you shave with a safety razor in a quiet bathroom, you can hear the sound of the double-edged blade cutting through the stubble. This morning it was so loud it was as if my razor were electrically amplified. Since I use an acoustic razor, this gave me pause—especially when I got a nick. (Not bad, but normally now I don’t get nicks.)

I was using the Merkur Futur, which has a snap-on head that clamps down on the blade. One end, it turned out, had not quite snapped into position, so the blade was acting as a sounding board. Rather nice, in a way, but I snapped the head home and finished without incident.

A QED shaving stick (Pine & Cedarwood), the Emperor 2 Super brush. Finished with alum bar, some My Nik Is Sealed, and Pinaud’s Lilac Vegetal aftershave.

Written by Leisureguy

11 December 2006 at 10:14 am

Posted in Shaving

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