Later On

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

Archive for February 1st, 2011

Learning Spanish

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It’s now more than obvious that I made a serious time commitment. Expect light blogging until Spring break, most likely. (Spring break: last week of March, which includes a little bit of April.)

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2011 at 6:44 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

Cost, convenience, and health: A homemade food story

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Trent Hamm has an interesting post at The Simple Dollar:

Over the past week, the fast food restaurant chain Taco Bell was sued for claiming that the taco mixture used in their products was actually beef. According to USDA standards, a beef mixture served by businesses must contain at least 40% beef in ordered to be labeled as such, and the lawsuit alleges (with some evidence) that their taco mixture only contains 36% beef., not the 88% beef that they claim.

Taco Bell themselves list ingredients in their “meat filling products” that include “water, isolated oat product, wheat oats, maltodrextrin, soy lecithin, maltodrextrin, anti-dusting agent, autolyzed yeast extract, modified corn starch, sodium phosphate and silicon dioxide.”

Silicon dioxide?

Here’s the thing: the lawsuit itself isn’t really all that important. It’s the broader issue that scares me. Consider that the USDA only requires that something contain 40% meat to be called “meat,” whether at Taco Bell or anywhere else you might buy a “meat product.”

If you start digging into the standards for what can be labeled as particular foods, the issues get quite disturbing. Check out this article in which it’s revealed that the standards for meat in school lunches are lower than the standards for meat in fast food.

The point of all of this is that whenever we buy a product, we’re relying on both the company being honest with us about its contents as well as government regulations that do not always have the best interest of the consumer in mind. This goes for not just food, but for all manner of things from toothpaste to makeup to even product placements in television and film.

The most common arguments in favor of such products revolve around convenience and cost. All right, let’s look at those.

For comparison’s sake, I took a look at Taco Bell’s value menu. An $0.89 value menu five layer burrito there – which you’ll also have to pay tax on – weighs 248 grams…

Continue reading. The photos at the link are quite illuminating.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2011 at 4:51 pm

Thelonious Monk, solo: "Satin Doll"

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Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2011 at 4:45 pm

Posted in Jazz, Video

CSI: Reality vs. Fiction

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Interesting report at ProPublica:

In detective novels and television crime dramas like "CSI," the nation’s morgues are staffed by highly trained medical professionals equipped with the most sophisticated tools of 21st-century science. Operating at the nexus of medicine and criminal justice, these death detectives thoroughly investigate each and every suspicious fatality.

The reality, though, is far different. In a joint reporting effort, ProPublica, PBS "Frontline" and NPR spent a year looking at the nation’s 2,300 coroner and medical examiner offices and found a deeply dysfunctional system that quite literally buries its mistakes.

Blunders by doctors in America’s morgues have put innocent people in prison cells, allowed the guilty to go free, and left some cases so muddled that prosecutors could do nothing.

In Mississippi, a physician’s errors in two autopsies [4] helped convict a pair of innocent men, sending them to prison for more than a decade.

The Massachusetts medical examiner’s office has cremated a corpse before police could determine if the person had been murdered; misplaced bones; and lost track of at least five bodies.

Late last year, a doctor in a suburb of Detroit autopsied the body of a bank executive pulled from a lake — and managed to miss the bullet hole in his neck and the bullet lodged in his jaw.

"I thought it was a superficial autopsy," said Dr. David Balash, a forensic science consultant and former Michigan state trooper hired by the Macomb County Sheriff’s Department to evaluate the case. "You see a lot of these kinds of things, unfortunately."

More than 1 in 5 physicians working in the country’s busiest morgues — including the chief medical examiner of Washington, D.C. — are not board certified in forensic pathology, the branch of medicine focused on the mechanics of death, our investigation found. Experts say such certification ensures that doctors have at least a basic understanding of the science, and it should be required for practitioners employed by coroner and medical examiner offices.

Yet, because of an extreme shortage of forensic pathologists — the country has fewer than half the specialists it needs, a 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences [5] concluded — even physicians who flunk their board exams find jobs in the field. Uncertified doctors who have failed the exam are employed by county offices in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and California, officials in those states acknowledged. Two of the six doctors in Arkansas’ state medical examiner’s office have failed the test, according to the agency’s top doctor.

In many places, the person tasked with making the official ruling on how people die isn’t a doctor at all. In nearly 1,600 counties across the country, elected or appointed coroners who may have no qualifications beyond a high-school degree have the final say on whether fatalities are homicides, suicides, accidents or the result of natural or undetermined causes.

For 26 years, Tim Brown, a construction manager, has served as the coroner of rural Marlboro County in South Carolina, a $14,000-per-year part-time post. "It’s been kind of on-the-job training, assisted by the sheriffs," he said.

Long before the current economic crisis began shrinking state and county government budgets, many coroner and medical examiner offices suffered from underfunding and neglect. Because of financial constraints, Massachusetts has slashed the number of autopsies it performs by almost one quarter since 2006. Oklahoma has gone further still, declining to autopsy apparent suicides and most people age 40 and over who die without an obvious cause.

Some death investigation units do . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2011 at 4:40 pm

Eating distracted: When food gets ignored

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Janet Raloff in Science News:

There’s little doubt that humanity has been tipping the scales at increasingly higher weights and rates. A study now lends support to the idea that meal-time distractions can mask the cues that we really have eaten quite enough. Moreover, it finds, the caloric fallout of not paying attention to what we’re eating doesn’t necessarily end when a meal is over.

Rose Oldham-Cooper of the University of Bristol, England, and her colleagues recruited 22 men and an equal number of women for a luncheon experiment. Each person dined alone, sequentially receiving nine small portions of food items. These ranged from cheese twists and potato chips to carrots, cherry tomatoes and sandwiches or sausage rolls.

Because the goal was to test the potential impacts of distraction on satiety, the researchers randomly assigned half of the participants to eat in front of a computer — and to rack up as many wins as possible at the “card” game solitaire. Everyone else was told to focus on the sensory attributes of their meal.

Per their instructions, the recruits ate all of the food given them. Yet people who played a computer game during lunch found their meal substantially less filling than the mindful eaters had. Game players also scarfed down twice as many cookies, almost an hour later, when they were allowed all the dessert they wanted (under the guise of a taste test). The British scientists present their findings in the February American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Earlier research by others had shown distraction can speed our feeding rate, potentially fostering overconsumption. So Oldham-Cooper’s team provided each participant his or her food at a precise, timed rate. The new findings can’t, therefore, be chalked up to half of the participants simply eating too fast for their bodies to gauge.

“Our findings are highly relevant to today’s society where a multitasking mentality is especially prevalent,” the authors say. Particularly troubling, they note: “One U.S. study reported that up to one-quarter of children’s total energy intake was consumed while watching television . . . [and] in a study of overweight women, almost one-half of all weekly meals were reportedly consumed in a room with a television set switched on.”

The real question is why distracted eating should impact subsequent snacking. It appears, the scientists say, that memory plays some subtle role in how we register what we eat and the degree to which it satisfies.

Interestingly, eight years ago, Britta Barkeling of Huddinge University in Stockholm and her colleagues reported somewhat related findings. Their 18 obese subjects had no choice other than to tune out everything but lunch, on one day — because they were blindfolded. Compared to a day when they could view what they were dining on, these people consumed only three quarters as many calories. Yet even hours afterward, they reported being no less sated than on the day they had been able to see their plates.

Of course dining in the dark isn’t practical. And sometimes what we eat doesn’t really invite our rapt attention. But there is certainly a growing mountain of data indicating that mindless eating is a waste of resources, a risk to our waistlines — and a costly threat to health.

Just how costly was indicated by an analysis that I ran across today (while eating at my desk, if I’m to be honest). It pegs the costs associated with obesity at 0.7 to 2.8 percent of a nation’s health care expenditures. One reason, its University of Toronto authors report in Obesity Reviews: “[O]bese individuals were found to have medical costs that were approximately 30 percent greater than their normal-weight peers.”

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2011 at 4:37 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

Cool tools for learning Spanish

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I already pointed out Verbix.com, which has many fun things—like this guide on Spanish verbs. And there’s Phonetics, hosted at the U of Iowa, with pronunciation help for American English, German, and Spanish. The Grammar Gorilla teaches elementary grammar—and from a remark the professor made, it sounds very much as though grammar is no longer taught as a part of standard education in this country. If so, there goes diagramming sentences. More advanced help with grammar is provided by the University of Ottawa. And here’s a Spanish instruction site at Colby College. Here’s a site that seems to focus on Spanish verbs.

Rather than buy a dictionary, she suggested that we simply use WordReference.com.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2011 at 3:51 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

Class report

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My Spanish I class going to be very good though difficult. The emphasis is on communication. From a handout from our professor:

Keeping with the guiding principles of the Communicative Approach, authentic and meaningful communication is the main goal of this course. Therefore, in Spanish 1A you will develop the ability to understand, speak, read, and write basic everyday Spanish, using the present and past (preterite) tenses to express such things as greetings, descriptions, family, seasons, etc. . . .

Upon successful completion of this class, you will have demonstrated the ability to:

  • Use vocabulary and idioms in basic life situations using the necessary rules of pronunciation, grammar, and syntax of a first-semester level
  • Understand basic spoken Spanish and respond to it at the novice-high/intermediate-low level, as established by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) proficiency guidelines.
  • Read and write simple Spanish prose at the sentence level.
  • Obtain a beginning understanding of Spanish-speaking cultures.

Also, the class will be conducted totally in Spanish from now on. And a lot was done in Spanish today.

Besides the high-tech wonders of the text/workbook, the college also has a site http://ilearn.mpc.edu, doubtless a canned program used at multiple universities. Assignments, grades, and all sorts of educational communications come via that channel. Our class has its own section, and already it’s filled with things to do. So I’d better get started.

That first lessons in the work/textbook? We spend 3 class sessions on it. So I’m going to stop worrying.

One interesting site that allows one to skip the books on verbs: Verbix.com, a wiki devoted (so far as I can tell) to giving the complete story on verbs in a long list of languages. For some languages, the “story” is more like a novel, though Esperanto (which is included) amounts to nothing more than a vignette at most: no irregular verbs, and the conjugation is simple. Verbs don’t change with respect to person or number: “esperas” is the present tense of “hope” for first, second, and third person, singular and plural.

I wonder if they don’t teach Esperanto because it would tough to drag it out for a semester?

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2011 at 3:22 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

Durance L’òme revisited else

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I put new batteries into the camera (see above). Once again, a very nice lather and a very nice shave: three passes, a splash of Klar Seifen Klassik, and I’m almost ready to leave for campus.

Here is the brush before the first pass:

And here it is after the third and final pass:

Although not much lather is stacked on top of the bristles, the spaces among the bristles are filled with good lather—and the performance is excellent, quite unlike what Bruce Everiss experienced with a brand new puck of Durance L’òme. So I strongly suspect that the accountants have struck and reformulated the soap to increase profits, which (from an accountant’s point of view) is the purpose of the soap: to produce profit. Also, apparently some people use it for something else as well.

This reminds me of a trap Procter & Gamble once fell into: a product manager is given charge of a product. S/he wants to show success, to move up in the organization, so the natural inclination is to increase profits for that product, and the easiest way to do that is to reformulate the product, using some cheaper ingredients. (Perhaps also reduce the size of the container a tiny amount, changing the shape, so that “NEW” will fit.)

Careful testing is done to determine that consumers show no definite preference for the old formulation, and once that’s assured, the product is re-released, the profits increase, and the product manager is promoted. In comes a new product manager, eager to make a mark.

The easiest way to increase profits is to reformulate again, using cheaper ingredients. etc.

Call the original product A, and the first cheaper version B. Customers can’t tell the difference. And then there is C, and customers can’t distinguish C from B. And so on. But somewhere around F or G, the cumulative difference becomes quite noticeable, and comparing A to G would show a universal preference for A. So product sales fall off a cliff, the product is discontinued, and that last product manager, left holding the bag, is fired or disciplined. But the pattern continues.

I think something like that must have happened to Durance. I think I’ll have to remove it from the book: although my tub of Durance L’òme is just fine, if the new ones are bad, I don’t want people to buy them. And I think I probably need a general warning note about reformulations, because other vendors are routinely reformulating their soaps.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2011 at 9:47 am

Posted in Shaving

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