Later On

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

Archive for July 6th, 2007

Restoring the sense of smell

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The idea of someone blind being able to see again is something most of us have considered—or the deaf person able to once again hear. But the sense of smell is so basic and fundamental that to lose it is awful, and to regain it… Science News:

Betty (not her real name) remembers the day 9 years ago when she fully experienced an orange. As she split the fruit’s skin, the sections, citrus scents sprayed into the air and the 51-year-old woman experienced a sensory epiphany: “Whoa! This is an orange. My God, this is what an orange smells like.”

Even now, she says, recalling that day “makes me tear up because that orange was the very first thing I smelled.” Ever.

“There are probably around 25 million people in this country who have some olfactory problem,” observes Barry Davis, who directs the taste and smell program at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders in Bethesda, Md.

Few people lack all sense of smell. Among these, Davis notes, only a tiny share were either born that way, as Betty was, or lost olfaction so early that they can’t recall being able to smell.

More common is a gradual diminution of olfaction among seniors, notes Beverly J. Cowart, a sensory psychologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. By age 70, she says, “some degree of smell loss will be close to universal.”

Smell loss can also follow head trauma, arise as a complication of respiratory or brain disease, or signal pollutant poisoning of nasal cells.

Many research programs are not only probing what underlies loss of the sense of smell, but also investigating ways to restore it. Strategies to achieve that goal include drug therapy, sniff training, and even reseeding the nasal lining with stem cells.

Prodding the research is recognition that good olfaction can be a lifesaver, enabling people to detect gas leaks or pick up putrid warnings from spoiled food.

But for Betty, the main benefit has been an improved quality of life. She’s building an inventory of identifiable scents—from the fragrances of new-mown grass and roses, to the odor of a cat box. “I love that I can smell them all,” she gushes. “Well, maybe not the cat box.”

Taste versus flavor

Jason Feifer, an associate editor at Boston magazine, can’t smell a thing. However, he wasn’t aware of this sensory deprivation until he was in college and a girlfriend began constantly asking for his opinions on foods. It didn’t take long for him to realize that she was responding to cues that he couldn’t even vaguely detect.

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Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2007 at 9:02 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health, Science

Are We Rome?: worth reading

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I’m about half through Are We Rome?: The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America, by Cullen Murphy, and I’m finding it fascinating. This is a library copy I’m reading. It’s definitely a book worth searching out. Not long, but rich.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2007 at 8:48 pm

Cellphone forensics

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From a sidebar to a New Scientist article:

The precise location data supplied by GPS-equipped cellphones could allow governments to track the movements of suspects more closely than ever before. But it turns out that a mobile’s dirt-digging talents are even more extensive.

Cellphones may not look like smoking guns, but that’s exactly how some police officers see them. Their digital memories are home to a treasure trove of contacts, audio and video recordings, images, emails and text messages, while their hardware is a source of reliable physical evidence such as DNA and fingerprints.

“Although cellphones were not invented for law enforcement they have become incredibly significant in that field,” says Amanda Goode, a digital evidence consultant with Forensic Telecommunications Services (FTS), which has labs in the UK and Canada.

One source of DNA on a phone, she says, is from loose cheek cells that have settled in the microphone from the user’s breath. Skin flakes in the button recesses and earpiece, meanwhile, might also harbour valuable DNA.

Cellphones are also a source of high-quality fingerprints, thanks to the way users interact with them. For instance,

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Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2007 at 8:29 pm

Posted in Government, Science

Letter to US Senator Norm Coleman, R-MN

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Good letter from one of Coleman’s college friends:

The following is a letter addressed to Minnesota Republican Senator Norm Coleman — a strong advocate of the brutal federal drug laws on the books — reminding him that he used to be a happy, safe, fun-loving pot smoker.

My friend Norman,

Years ago, in a lifetime far away, you did not oppose the legalization of marijuana. Years ago, in our dorm rooms at Hofstra University, you, me, Billy, your future brother-in-law, Ivan, Jonathan, Peter, Janet, Nancy and a wealth of other students smoked dope.

Sure, we had to tape the doors shut, burn incense and open the windows, but we got high, and yet we grew up okay, without the help of the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s advice.

We grew up to become lawyers. Our other friends, as you go down the list, are doctors, professors, parents, political consultants and professionals. No one ever got cancer from smoking pot or diabetes from using a joint. And the days of our youth we look back fondly upon as years where we stood up, were counted and made a difference, from Earth Day in 1970 to helping bring down a president and end a war in Southeast Asia a few years later. We smoked pot when we took over Weller Hall to protest administrative abuses of students’ rights. You smoked pot as you stood on the roof of the University Senate protesting faculty exclusivity. As the President of the Student Senate in 1969, you condemned the raid by Nassau County police on our dormitories, busting scores of students for pot possession.

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Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2007 at 7:21 pm

Posted in Congress, Drug laws, GOP

Better than sit-ups or crunches

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You can’t dead lift 600 pounds if your abs aren’t strong, but you will never see a 600-pound dead-lifter doing crunches and sit-ups.

Both exercises have a long history in our military, but dead-lifters know something most in the military do not: Isolation exercises are the wrong way to develop abdominal muscles.

Abdominal strength is the result of proper training in movement patterns. The abs, as the supporting cast, will develop alongside the rest of the muscles.

Isolation exercise leads to a collection of body parts, not the integrated fighting unit we need to succeed on the battlefield.

There are two excellent drills to get started on this quest — standing weighted arm raises and the “hot potato.”

Standing weighted arm raises

Standing weighted arm raises challenge the abs from a static standing position.

Select one or two light dumbbells (5 to 15 pounds.) and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Brace your stomach as if for a punch. At the same time, squeeze your glutes and tuck your pelvis under and forward — this is essential.

Squeeze the handles hard and hold your body very tight. Exhale tightly, making a hissing sound as you lift the weights with locked arms out in front of you to shoulder level or straight above your head. This movement must be done slowly and under control with maximum tension. Lower the weights to the starting position with the same breathing and control. You will feel the burn immediately.

Now raise the weights with locked arms to the side to shoulder level or above the head with the same breathing and tension. Lower in the same manner.

Perform three to five sets of three to five reps each. Relax and breathe between sets for about one minute.

For a more advanced version, lift the weights above your head to the front and lower them to the side. Then reverse the movement.

The hot potato

The hot potato places a more dynamic load on the muscles.

Hold a medicine ball or a kettlebell hand weight (picture a cannonball with a handle) in one hand in the “rack” position — the weight at your shoulder, your arm tight to your side. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and maintain the same ab and glute tension as above.

In a slow, controlled motion, transfer the weight to the other hand and repeat. You should feel your abs fire to accept the weight.

Next, gently toss the weight from hand to hand, starting with your hands close together and moving slowly farther apart — no more than 12 inches. Add weight to increase the difficulty if desired.

This drill can be done for many reps. The general guideline is to rest when your form begins to deteriorate. Three to five sets is a good goal.

Nate Morrison is an Air Force pararescueman staff sergeant. He is a military fitness expert and founder of the online magazine

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2007 at 7:16 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health

On-line music: 90 sites

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Read the list.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2007 at 7:13 pm

Posted in Music

Engineered biofilm foe

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Biofilms are quite interesting, as indicated by this brief definition from Wikipedia (much more at the link):

A biofilm is a complex aggregation of microorganisms marked by the excretion of a protective and adhesive matrix. Biofilms are also often characterized by surface attachment, structural heterogeneity, genetic diversity, complex community interactions, and an extracellular matrix of polymeric substances.

Single-celled organisms generally exhibit two distinct modes of behavior. The first is the familiar free floating, or planktonic, form in which single cells float or swim independently in some liquid medium. The second is an attached state in which cells are closely packed and firmly attached to each other and usually a solid surface. The change in behaviour is triggered by many factors, including quorum sensing, as well as other mechanisms that vary between species. When a cell switches modes, it undergoes a phenotypic shift in behavior in which large suites of genes are up- and down- regulated

Biofilms are tough and difficult to destroy, but now a biofilm nemesis has been engineered:

A virus has been genetically engineered that could help to break down the slimy colonies of bacteria that clog medical devices such as catheters.

Biofilms, which contain bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, can form on medical devices, where they clog fine tubes and make the bacteria hard to eradicate. Even if the bugs don’t carry genes for drug resistance, the slimy matrix often helps to protect them from antibiotics.

Some researchers are already trying to battle biofilms by deploying viruses known as phages that infect and kill the unwanted bacteria. Now Tim Lu and Jim Collins of Boston University have gone a step further. They have boosted one phage’s ability to break up biofilms by arming it with the gene for a slime-busting enzyme.

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Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2007 at 4:17 pm

Posted in Health, Medical, Science

More evidence of evolved altruistic behavior

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First chimpanzees, now rats:

If rats benefit from the kindness of strangers they are more likely to assist an unfamiliar rat in future. In doing so, they provide the first evidence of an unusual form of altruism that appears to violate evolutionary theory.

Claudia Rutte and Michael Taborsky of the University of Berne, Switzerland, trained rats to pull a lever that released food for their partner in the next cage. If the rats subsequently received snacks released by lever-pulling strangers in neighbouring cages, they were more likely to lever-pull and so feed another unfamiliar rat in the future. In other words, the rats became altruistic in response to a general level of cooperation in the population.

Theoretically, such “generalised reciprocity” shouldn’t exist. In large groups, dirty rats will take advantage of helpful strangers and offer nothing in return.

It persists, says Taborsky, because exploited animals move away. “An animal is more likely to leave the group if it didn’t receive cooperation in the past,” he says. “This leads to cooperative and uncooperative groups in a population.” If cooperative groups are better at exploiting the environment, generalised reciprocity remains in the population (PLoS Biology, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0050196).

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2007 at 4:07 pm

Posted in Science

Birdsong fashion

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So fashion exists even in the wild:

Behavioural ecologists have long known that some songbirds develop local dialects, and that individual birds respond more strongly to their own dialect than to a foreign one. Less is known about how, or how quickly, such differences arise.

To study how a dialect changes over time, Elizabeth Derryberry, a behavioural ecologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, compared recordings of male white-crowned sparrows’ song from 1979 – when the Bee Gees topped the charts – and 2003. The modern song, she found, was slower and lower in pitch.

This difference mattered to the birds. When Derryberry played the songs to 10 female and 20 male birds, she found that females solicit more copulations and males showed more aggressive territorial behaviour to the contemporary song than to the older ones – even though the recordings were of equal quality and no bird had ever met any of the recorded individuals (Evolution, DOI: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2007.00154.x). The result shows that meaningful differences in song styles can arise within just a few years, and thus that mating barriers can be erected quickly, says Derryberry.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2007 at 4:00 pm

Posted in Science

Kitty origins

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So, now we know:

A new feline family tree gleaned from DNA shows that cats were domesticated from local wildcats in the region that extends from Turkey down into Mesopotamia.

Carlos Driscoll at the US National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Maryland, and colleagues studied DNA from 979 domestic cats and wildcats from across Europe and Asia. The wildcats broke down into five groups, or clades, of the wildcat Felis silvestris: the European wildcat, the southern African wildcat, the central Asian wildcat, the Chinese desert cat and the Near Eastern wildcat.

All of the domestic cats – from fancy breeds to feral tabbies – fell within the Near Eastern wildcat group (Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1139518).

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2007 at 3:58 pm

Posted in Cats, Science

Organic tomatoes better

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It may be that some organic foods really are better (in terms of food quality):

Is organic food healthier for you, after all? A 10-year study comparing organic tomatoes with those grown conventionally suggests that it may be. It’s the kind of evidence that pro-organic groups have been desperate to dig up, as most studies have suggested otherwise.

According to the new findings, levels of the flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol were found to be on average 79 and 97 per cent higher, respectively, in organic tomatoes. Flavonoids such as these are known antioxidants and have been linked to reduced rates of cardiovascular disease, some forms of cancer and dementia, says Alyson Mitchell, a food chemist who led the research at the University of California, Davis.

Differences in soil quality, irrigation practices and the handling of harvested produce have made direct comparisons difficult in the past, says Mitchell. So in this study, due to be published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the researchers used data from a long-term project in which standardised farming techniques are used to reveal trends in crop productivity.

Mitchell’s team say the finding can be explained by the availability of nitrogen. Flavonoids are produced as a defence mechanism that can be triggered by nutrient deficiency. The inorganic nitrogen in conventional fertiliser is easily available to plants and so, the team suggests, the lower levels of flavonoids are probably caused by overfertilisation.

Previous research has found no differences between organic and conventional crops such as wheat or carrots. Meanwhile a study proclaiming that organic milk had higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids failed to convince the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA), which pointed out that these short-chained fatty acids do not have the health-promoting benefits offered by long-chained omega-3 oils.

This latest study does not prove that a healthy diet must be organic. The evidence of health benefits for flavonoids is conflicting, says Peter Bramley at Royal Holloway, University of London. And even if such benefits exist, higher flavonoid levels do not necessarily make organic food healthier, says John Krebs, former chair of the FSA and now at the University of Oxford. “This depends on the relevance of the differences to the human body,” he says. “Tomato ketchup has higher levels of lycopene than either organic or conventional tomatoes. So if you wanted lots of lycopene you should eat ketchup.”

Of course, as any schoolchild knows, if you want lycopene, you’re better off eating watermelon than tomatoes:

Diets rich in lycopene, the primary pigment in tomatoes, can reduce a man’s risk of developing prostate cancer, data suggest. Now Agriculture Department scientists have found that watermelon is a far better source of the so-called carotenoid than tomatoes are and at least as well absorbed by the body.

New chemical analyses by USDA scientists show that the red part of the watermelon can have about 40 percent more lycopene than an equivalent weight of uncooked tomatoes has. More importantly, a second study finds, raw watermelon’s lycopene is available to the body, whereas little of a tomato’s lycopene is absorbed unless it’s first cooked.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2007 at 3:51 pm

Posted in Food, Health, Science

Fiber Gourmet pasta

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I mentioned this pasta before. They didn’t have any stores in this area yet, but asked for nominations. I nominated a store in Pacific Grove that I thought might be interested, and today I’m going to drop off this brochure (PDF) at the store—nothing like a customer request to motivate a store to try a new product. The reviews (at the first link) look quite good. I’m eager to give it a go. Try giving the brochure to your local independent healthfood store and see if they will try carrying the product. (The company is already talking to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, but those take a lot of time before they commit.)

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2007 at 10:40 am

Posted in Business, Food, Health

Iced coffee

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I have a regular routine now of making a jar of iced coffee around 19:00 and then decanting it as I do the first kitchen things (feed Megs her canned food, make a cup of (hot) coffee, put the oat groats and flaxseed on to simmer). I now know the coffee grinder timer setting to get 1/2 c. ground coffee, and I shake that up with 2 1/4 c. water in the jar. It sits over night, and then I strain the coffee into a paper filter sitting over the 2 c. measuring cup, shake strainer and jar over the trash to get rid of the grounds, rinse out both. When the coffee has been filtered, I pour it into the jar and put that into the fridge. I drink it over a day or two, mixing it half and half with water, adding ice and perhaps a splash of milk. It is quite tasty.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2007 at 10:18 am

Friday cat-blogging

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Megs likes to loiter in the hallway just outside the study when I’m working at the computer—or sit behind me on the platform atop her scratching post, or on top of the supply cabinet. She’s a supervisor sort of cat. So I thought I’d take a photo of her contentedly lounging in the hall, but of course as soon as I bring the camera out and squat for a proper shot, she immediately walks toward me. So this is as good as I got. Still, it’s a large photo if you look at it full size (click on thumbnail, then click on image) and you can clearly see that she, as a British Shorthair, has no awn hairs.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2007 at 9:42 am

Posted in Cats, Megs

Tater Mitts

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Via Slashfood and NSFW: audio starts at this link. Interesting idea, though: gloves with a rough plastic surface—wearing the gloves, you rub the potato under running water and the skin is quickly removed. Not for me, though: I always ate the skin, even if I was mashing the potatotes, and nowadays I don’t eat potatoes at all. (Raise my blood glucose too high and quickly.) So this post is a just a service to readers who enjoy cooking gadgets. But eat the skin.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2007 at 9:28 am

Posted in Daily life, Techie toys

Late Bloomer, Part 2

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Incremental accomplishment is something that I’m very gradually learning. For example, I have four pucks of Honeybee Sue’s shea-butter shaving soaps I want to melt and pour into shaving stick containers. It’s an easy job, but presents a mild psychological barrier. So I am getting it done through incremental accomplishment:

  1. Put the four soap pucks on a counter in the kitchen.
  2. Put the four shaving stick containers near the pucks.
  3. Use the silicone grease to coat the inside of the containers. [See update]
  4. Make and apply the labels for the shaving sticks.
  5. Melt the pucks and pour into the shaving stick containers.

I just finished step 3. Each step is followed by an interval of a few days before I notice the project again and take the next step.

Little by little—or, as my grandmother used to tell me, slow and steady wins the race (her comment on the Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare).

UPDATE: Silicone grease should not be used as the lubricant. Giovanni, of RazorandBrush, writes:

I read your blog about the waterproof Omega brush. The problem you describe can be caused by shaving sticks in which Silicone grease is used as a slider lubricant. Nothing prevents lathering and makes badger hair waterproof faster than silicone grease. I don’t know if this is what happened in your case, but I thought I’d mention it, just in case.

The shaving stick I was using where the problem occurred was indeed a shaving stick I had made using silicone grease as the lubricant. Bad, bad idea.

In fact, it turns out that no lubricant is needed. From ShaveMyFace:

You only need to start with a clean container and then fill it with the desired soap. Allow the soap to harden and you should be good to go. If you find the soap is hard to advance put the stick in the freezer for 30 minutes. Remove from the freezer and allow to sit for 10 minutes at room temperature and then try to advance the soap. Once the soap moves freely you are done. Soap is poured and removed from plastic molds all the time and usually does not stick too much so the freezer part may not even be necessary but is a trick soapmakers use on stubborn batches. No oil should be necessary to get the soap to release. 

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2007 at 9:13 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

Chicken stock from bargain chicken

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So I ended up cooking the whole 6.5 lbs of chicken thighs ($5 at the sale price). I used the extremely handy 7-qt All-Clad Stainless pot, and first filled it halfway with water, added 3-4 carrots, 1 large onion, 1 large lemon, and what was left of a bunch of celery—about 7 stalks together with the inner leaves—all chopped into chunks. The lemon I just cut into quarters: across the equator, and then each half into half. Then I added salt, pepper, and—on the advice of The Eldest—whole cloves and whole allspice. She points out that these spices stay around forever if you don’t find ways to use them, so I put them into various things now—and they always add a nice touch.

I brought that to a boil, put on the lid, and simmered it for 30 minutes. Then I dipped out the veg and fruit, added the chicken thighs, and brought it back to a boil, put the lid back on, and simmered it for 45-60 minutes.

I removed the thighs, stripped off and discarded the skin, and put them into a Rubbermaid container in the fridge. The pot of stock, covered with a thick layer of fat, also went into the fridge for the fat to solidify. Today I’ll remove the fat and use the stock for various things—cooking rice and whole grains, as a liquid in a stir-fry sort of stew, and the like.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2007 at 7:25 am

Microsoft surface computer

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Or, for a slightly more cynical take:

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2007 at 7:10 am

Coffee-Mocha to kick-start the day

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Honeybee Sue’s wonderful Coffee-Mocha shaving soap this morning. I still have some other new fragrances to try, but I couldn’t resist an old favorite. I used the doughty little Edwin Jagger Silvertip (only mine has the logo the other way around, so the logo’s upright when the brush is bristles-down in the holder) and created quite a good lather. Then the Wilkinson “Sticky,” loaded with a Tesco blade, quickly put paid to the stubble. A rinse, and then Parfums de Nicolai New York aftershave—truly wonderful. (Got it on eBay at a very good price, thanks to a tip from another shaver. Herbwoman’s Store seems to have quite a few good deals.)

Luca Turin, FWIW, has a high regard for Parfums de Nicolai. From the little note enclosed: “A descendant of Pierre Guerlain, Patricia de Nicolai launched her own brand to offer different fragrances, always creative, made with more natural essences. … She is the first woman ever to receive the Award of the Best International Perfumer.” And in describing New York aftershave, “Spicy-oriental. Elegant.”

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2007 at 6:40 am

Posted in Shaving

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