Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Freeze drying

[The proess doesn't sound as if it would result in inedible food...]
Freeze drying
(also known as lyophilization) is a dehydration process typically used to preserve a perishable material or make the material more convenient for transport. Freeze drying works by freezing the material and then reducing the surrounding pressure to allow the frozen water in the material to sublimate directly from the solid phase to gas in a manner similar to that which causes unused ice cubes to shrink in a frost-free freezer. The greatly reduced water content that results inhibits the action of microorganisms and enzymes that would normally spoil or degrade the substance.

The application of high vacuum in freeze drying causes ice to sublimates much more quickly, making it useful as a deliberate drying process. A cold condenser chamber and/or condenser plates provide a surface(s) for the vapour to re-solidify on. These surfaces must be colder than the temperature of the surface of the material being dried, or the vapour will not migrate to the collector. Temperatures for this ice collection are typically below -50 °C.

If a freeze-dried substance is sealed to prevent the reabsorption of moisture, the substance may be stored at room temperature without refrigeration, and be protected against spoilage for many years. Freeze drying tends to damage the tissue being dehydrated less than other dehydration methods, which involve higher temperatures. Freeze drying doesn't usually cause shrinkage or toughening of the material being dried, and flavours/smells also remain virtually unchanged.

Liquid solutions that are freeze-dried can be rehydrated (reconstituted) much more quickly and easily because it leaves microscopic pores in the resulting powder. The pores are created by the ice crystals that sublimate, leaving gaps or pores in its place. This is especially important when it comes to pharmaceutical uses. Lyophilization also increases the shelf life of drugs for many years.

The process has been popularized in the form of freeze dried ice cream and as an example of astronaut food. It is also popular and convenient for hikers because the reduced weight allows them to carry more food and reconstitute it with available water. Freeze drying is used in the manufacture of instant coffee as well as some pharmaceuticals.

In high altitude environments, the low temperatures and pressures can sometimes produce natural mummies by a process of freeze-drying.

In chemical synthesis, products are often lyophilized to make them more manageable or more easy to dissolve in water for subsequent use.


Tuesday, May 30, 2006


[I found this somewhere in regards to the Scientology meaning -- but the others are just as interesting.]
is a word with several meanings, one commonly derogatory, the others not.

As a racial epithet in British English
Illustrator Florence Kate Upton's Golliwogg and friends from The Adventures of two Dutch Dolls And A Golliwogg, in which he was described as "a horrid sight, the blackest gnome".
Illustrator Florence Kate Upton's Golliwogg and friends from The Adventures of two Dutch Dolls And A Golliwogg, in which he was described as "a horrid sight, the blackest gnome".

British racial term originating in the colonial period of the British Empire. It was generally used as a label for the natives of India, North Africa and the Middle East. By the 1950s it had become a pejorative term used in order to offend.

The origins of the term are unclear. Most dictionaries say "wog" either possibly or likely derives from the generic term golliwog after the Golliwogg, a "grotesque" blackface minstrel doll-character from a children's book published in 1895. Various facetious explanations include the claim that it originated from acronyms for "Westernized/Worthy/Wily Oriental Gentleman" or variants thereof, or for "Workers of Government" or "Wards of Government", used to refer to early immigrants into the United Kingdom. Such attempts to explain the word's origin are apocryphal at best.

The use of the word is discouraged in Britain, and most dictionaries refer to the word with the caution that it is slang, derogatory, and offensive. James Robertson & Sons, a British manufacturer of jams and preserves, discontinued use of the Golliwog as its trademark in the early 1990s for similar reasons. It is generally considered unwise to use it in modern Britain without expecting an extreme reaction.

The saying "The wogs begin at Calais" was originated by George Wigg, Labour MP for Dudley, in 1945. In a parliamentary debate concerning the Burmese, Wigg shouted at the Tory benches, "The Honourable Gentleman and his friends think they are all 'wogs'. Indeed, the Right Honourable Member for Woodford [i.e. Winston Churchill] thinks that the 'wogs' begin at Calais." Wigg's coinage, sometimes paraphrased as "Wogs start at the Channel" or "Wogs start at Dover", is commonly used to characterise a stodgy Europhobic viewpoint, and more generally the view that Britain (more commonly England) is inherently separate from (and superior to) the Continent. In this case, "wog" describes any foreign, un-English person.

As a racial reference in Australian English

Wog is also a slang term in Australian English, denoting non-Anglo-Celtic Australians, usually people of Southern European Mediterranean ancestries. These days it is still applied to Greeks and Italians but is also used with Arabs or Turks. Historically, the term included Slavic peoples

This meaning came into popular use in the 1950s when Australia accepted large numbers of immigrants from Southern Europe. Although originally used pejoratively, the term is increasingly used more affectionately, especially by the individuals the term is used to describe. Wog is a word with definite and widespread currency in contemporary Australian English, and for the most part it is rarely considered to be the sort of slur or insult that it remains in other parts of the Anglosphere.

The process by which it has become embraced by the communities it describes is similar to the reclaiming of gay and poof in the homosexual community, a process designed to take the sting out of the pejorative. The process was accelerated in the early 1990s with the popularity of the stage show Wogs Out of Work starring Greek-Australians including Nick Giannopoulos, George Kapiniaris and Mary Coustas. The production was followed on television with Acropolis Now, and in film with The Wog Boy.

Nevertheless, this process of reclaiming the word is only partial and is mainly restricted to ethnic groups broadly accepted by the dominant white Anglo-Celtic ethnic group. The term remains quite offensive to a lot of people in Australia, particularly people of non-anglo origin who grew up in Australia during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. In those times the word was usually used as a racist slur or insult. Its use was often preceded by a word such as "dirty", "greasy" or an expletive such as, "fucking".

In Australia, the word is still used as a racial slur. For example, in December 2005, the term was used frequently in its pejorative sense before and during the Sydney race riots.

As a synonym for "illness" in Australian English

Wog has also been used in Australia as a slang term for illness such as colds, the flu or malaria. This usage has been in existence since at least the early 1940s. It is recorded in the 1941 Popular Dictionary of Australian Slang by S. J. Baker as meaning a germ or parasite.[1]

Another use of the term, which dates from at 1909, was to describe insects and grubs, particularly if they were hunting insects or regarded as being unpleasant in some way.[1]

The derogatory nature of the term when used as a racial taunt largely succeeded in overtaking and driving out use of the term wog to describe illness or undesirable insects. In common parlance, the word no longer has much currency in these contexts, and many young Australians would be unfamiliar with this usage. Nevertheless, older usages may occasionally be referred to ironically or humourously. For example, The Australian National Dictionary cites a joke in a publication called Nichigo Press from 1983:

Have you been in bed with a wog? Oh no, I'm married! [1]

Maritime usage

Wog is a shortened version of the word polliwog (frequently modified with the word slimy), used for sailors during the Line-crossing ceremony on the first time they cross the equator. Polliwog or pollywog is an increasingly obsolete synonym for tadpole which has been traced back to Middle English.

This use of polliwog goes back to at least the 19th century and thus may be the oldest source of wog. Dictionaries are unaware of it, possibly because Eric Partridge missed it in his Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (1937).

Maritime wog is a possible alternative ancestor of the racial wog, particularly since Partridge does record a usage for presumably annoying Bengali bureaucrats:

"A lower-class babu shipping-clerk: nautical: late C.19-20" - Concise Dictionary of Slang, Eric Partridge, 1989

As a term in Scientology

Scientologists use "wog" disparagingly for non-scientologists. Scientology's founder L. Ron Hubbard employed the term frequently in his lectures and writings, and his followers in the Church of Scientology continue to do so. From a 2000 staff recruitment leaflet:

"Why spend your time and ability working a 9 to 5 job in the wog world, when you can be 100% on-purpose, working full-time to help change conditions and Clear the Planet?"

As Hubbard had been an officer in the U.S. Navy during World War II, his usage may have derived from the maritime rather than the racial meaning.


Friday, May 26, 2006


[These little explanations of how and why I find these things are surprisingly hard to do. Because who really knows why he thinks of this word or that one? Sometimes things just come to you.]

Fondant is a confection used as a filling or coating for cakes, pastries, and candies or sweets. In its simplest form, it is sugar and water cooked to a point, specifically soft-ball stage, cooled slightly, and stirred or beaten until it is an opaque mass of creamy consistency. Typically, glucose is added to prevent the syrup from graining while cooking. Corn syrup is probably the most common form of glucose used.

The finished product solidifies and may be stored until needed, when reheating returns it to a liquid state. As a liquid it may be poured into molds, or over cakes and pastries as a form of icing. The word fondant comes from the Old French fondre and Latin fundere, meaning "to melt."

In an intermediate temperature between liquid and firmly solid, fondant may be rolled or molded. In this state it is often used for making "cream"-filled chocolates, and elaborate cake decoration. Fondant may be used as a substitute for chocolate in coatings for candies, either as mock white chocolate, or with chocolate added to the fondant, as a chocolate-like covering.

Cherries or other fruits preserved in liqueurs or syrups are dipped in liquid fondant, which is then allowed to solidify. When the fruits are subsequently dipped in chocolate for an outer hard shell, the fondant liquifies again inside the chocolate.

When used as an icing for cakes, petit fours, and certain pastries, fondant is often put over a base layer of marzipan.


Thursday, May 25, 2006


[Someone said this at my office once and it confused me...]
Kegerator is a term used to describe a home made beer dispensing device. A keg, typically of beer, is stored in a refrigerated container in order to keep the keg chilled. The user is able to maintain a tapped keg in such a device for extended periods of time, usually a couple months, without losing any quality in the taste of the beer. Normally they are made from a refrigerator or a freezer with special equipment. The term "Kegerator" is a portmanteau combining the words keg and refrigerator.

Parts of a Kegerator

  • Co2 tank
  • Regulator
  • Coupler
  • Beer & Air Line
  • Tap
  • Tower
  • Drip Tray
  • Faucet
  • Faucet Handle

One crucial part of a kegerator is a coupler. Beverage dispensing devices, such as the kegerator, have many standards for couplers:

  • System D (Sankey) - Standard for American beer
  • System S - Common for European beer
  • System U - Specifically for Guinness
  • System G - Used by some Irish breweries
  • System A - Used by some German breweries

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

"Happy Birthday to You"

[If you've ever wondered where this came from -- which I'm sure you have...]

"Happy Birthday to You" is a song which is sung to celebrate the anniversary of a person's birth. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, "Happy Birthday to You" is the most popular song in the English language, followed by "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" and "Auld Lang Syne". The song has been translated into many languages, though it is often sung with the English lyrics in countries where English is not a primary language. It's also the most frequently sung song in America.

The melody of "Happy Birthday to You" was written by American sisters Patty and Mildred Hill in 1893 when they were school teachers in Louisville, Kentucky. The verse was originally intended as a classroom greeting entitled "Good Morning to All". The version as we know it was copyrighted in 1935 by the Summy Company as an arrangement by Preston Ware Orem, and is scheduled to expire in 2030. This was the first copyrighted version to include the lyrics. The company holding the copyright was purchased by Warner Chappell in 1990 for $15 million dollars, with the value of "Happy Birthday" estimated at $5 million. [1] While the current copyright status of the song is unclear, Warner claims that unauthorized public performances of the song are technically illegal unless royalties are paid to them. It is not completely certain who wrote the lyrics to "Happy Birthday to You".

During the SARS outbreak in Hong Kong in 2003, the government advised people to regularly wash their hands with soap for around 15 seconds. In order to make this practice more easily handled by kids, some primary school and kindergarten teachers told their students to sing "Happy Birthday to You" slowly while they washed their hands, and to only stop washing after finishing the song.[citation needed]

"Happy Birthday to You" copyright status

There is a 1935 copyright registration for "Happy Birthday to You", as a work for hire by Preston Ware Orem for the Summy Company (the publisher of "Good Morning to All"). "Good Morning to All", however, was published in 1893 and is public domain by U.S. statute. The current owner of the 1935 copyright believes that one cannot sing "Happy Birthday to You" lyrics for profit without paying royalties. Except for the splitting of the first note in the melody "Good Morning to All" to accommodate the two syllables in the word happy, melodically "Happy Birthday to You" and "Good Morning to All" are identical.

"Good Morning to All" is printed in Song Stories for the Kindergarten, published 1893 (revised edition published 1896). It credited Patty Hill for the lyrics and Mildred Hill for the music.

Neither the words nor the music of "Good Morning to All" are copyrighted under U.S. federal statute.

In 1924, Robert Coleman included "Good Morning to All" in a songbook with the birthday lyrics as a second verse. Coleman also published "Happy Birthday" in The American Hymnal in 1933. Children's Praise and Worship, edited by Andrew Byers, Bessie L. Byrum and Anna E. Koglin, published the song in 1928.

Later the "Happy Birthday to You" lyrics combined with the Hills' published melody showed up on stage. The Broadway musical The Band Wagon used "Happy Birthday to You" in 1931. There was no copyright for the Happy Birthday lyrics at the time. Contrary to what is often erroneously reported, the lawsuit was dropped, and there was no outcome to the case. As a result, the Summy Company registered the copyright for Happy Birthday to You, which does not affect today's public domain status of "Good Morning to All."

Precedent (regarding works derived from public domain material, and cases comparing two similar musical works) seems to suggest that the melody used in "Happy Birthday to You" would not merit additional legal protection for one split note.

Whether or not changing the words "good morning" to "happy birthday" should be protected by copyright is a different matter. The words "good morning" were substituted with "happy birthday" by others than the authors of "Good Morning to All".

An interesting earlier songbook is The Golden Book of Favorite Songs (Chicago: Hall & McCreary, 1915). It includes the song "Good Morning to All" printed with the alternate title: "Happy Birthday to You." However, the "Happy Birthday to You" lyrics are not actually printed along the staff.

Regardless of the fact that "Happy Birthday to You" infringed upon Good Morning to All, there is one theory that because the "Happy Birthday to You" variation was not authored by the Hills, and it was published without notice of copyright under the 1909 U. S. copyright act, that the 1935 registration is invalid.

Outside of the United States both the melody and the words are protected by copyright in those jurisdictions with a copyright term of length of life of the author plus 70 years. Of the two co-writers of the melody, Patty Hill's life determines the length of copyright as she died decades after her sister in 1946. The lyrics on the other hand are protected with reference to their writer Preston Ware Orem who died in 1938. In life of the author plus 70 years jurisdictions the lyrics will come out of copyright at the end of 2008 and the music will come out of copyright at the end of 2016. In those jurisdictions which remain life of the author plus 50 years for determining copyright both lyrics and music are already out of copyright.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

New Madrid Seismic Zone

[The U.S.G.S. is worried that Arkanas may see a major earthquake at some point in the (near?) future. Yes, Arkansas.]
The New Madrid Seismic Zone, also known as the Reelfoot Rift or the New Madrid Fault Line, is a major seismic zone located in the Midwestern United States. The New Madrid fault system was responsible for the 1812 New Madrid Earthquake and has the potential to produce damaging earthquakes in coming decades.

The 150-mile long fault system, which extends into five states, stretches southward from Cairo, Illinois, through Hayti-Caruthersville and New Madrid, Missouri, through Blytheville, to Marked Tree, Arkansas. It also covers a part of Tennessee, near Reelfoot Lake, extending southeast into Dyersburg.

Earthquakes in the New Madrid seismic zone since 1974. Credit: USGS

The red zones on the map above indicate the epicenter locations of hundreds of minor earthquakes recorded since the 1970s. Two trends are apparent. First is the general NE-SW trend paralleling the trend of the Reelfoot Rift. The second is the intense cross trend, NW-SE, that occurs just southwest of New Madrid. This second trend coincides with an intrusive igneous body which lies deeply buried beneath the sediments of the rift zone. Several other bodies of deeply buried intrusive rock are known to exist within the seismic zone. The depths of these igneous rock bodies closely corresponds to the depth of the seismic activity.

The zone has seen four of the largest North American earthquakes in recorded history, with magnitude estimates greater than 7.0 on the Richter scale, all within a 3 month period. Many of the published accounts describe the cumulative effects of all the earthquakes, thus finding the individual effects of each quake can be difficult.

  • First earthquake of December 16, 1811, 0815 UTC (2:15 a.m.); 7.7 magnitude; epicenter in northeast Arkansas; Mercalli XI. It caused only slight damage to man-made structures, mainly because of the sparse population in the epicentral area. However, landslides and geological changes occurred along the Mississippi River, and large localized waves occurred due to fissures opening and closing below the Earth's surface.
  • Second earthquake of December 16, 1811, 1415 UTC (8:15 a.m.); 7.0 magnitude; epicenter in northeast Arkansas; Mercalli X-XI. This shock followed the first earthquake by six hours.
  • Earthquake of January 23, 1812, 1500 UTC (9 a.m.); 7.6 magnitude; epicenter in Missouri Bootheel. The meizoseismal area was characterized by general ground warping, ejections, fissuring, severe landslides, and caving of stream banks.
  • Earthquake of February 7, 1812 (the New Madrid Earthquake), 0945 UTC (4:45 a.m.); 7.9 magnitude; epicenter near New Madrid, Missouri. New Madrid was destroyed. At St. Louis, many houses were damaged severely and their chimneys were thrown down. The meizoseismal area was characterized by general ground warping, ejections, fissuring, severe landslides, and caving of stream banks.
These catastrophic earthquakes occurred during a three-month period in December 1811 and early 1812. They caused permanent changes in the course of the Mississippi River, which flowed backwards temporarily, and were felt as far away as New York City and Boston, Massachusetts where churchbells rang....

The potential for the recurrence of large earthquakes and their impact today on densely populated cities in and around the seismic zone has generated much research devoted to understanding earthquakes. Establishing the probability for an earthquake of a given magnitude is an inexact science. By studying evidence of past quakes and closely monitoring ground motion and current earthquake activity, scientists attempt to understand their causes, recurrence rates, ground motion and disaster mitigation. The probability of magnitude 6.0 or greater in the near future is considered significant; a 90% chance of such an earthquake by the year 2040 has been given. In the June 23, 2005 issue of the journal Nature, the odds of another 8.0 event within 50 years were estimated to be between 7 and 10 percent.[1] Because of the unconsolidated sediments which are a major part of the underlying geology of the Mississippi embayment as well as the river sediments along the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys to the north and east (note the red fingers extending up these valleys in the image above), large quakes here have the potential for more widespread damage than major quakes on the west coast.


Monday, May 22, 2006

Plato's Retreat

[The good old days.]
Plato's Retreat was a sex club in New York City, owned by Larry Levenson, that catered to heterosexual couples. It opened in 1977, and was popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The club was located in the basement of the Ansonia Hotel, an ornate 19th century building corner Broadway and 73rd Street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Before Plato's Retreat opened there, the site housed the Continental Baths, a famous gay bathhouse. It moved to 509 West 34th Street circa 1980.

During its heyday, Plato's Retreat was considered the world's most famous sex club [1] and was popular with many celebrities as well as well-to-do couples. As author Steven Gaines described in his book Good Buildings, the club attracted "an assortment of kinky types from the suburbs: dry cleaners and their wives or fat men in toupees with their heavily made-up girlfriends."

However, like other establishments of its kind, it fell out of fashion when AIDS became a concern in the mid 1980s. The club was finally shut down on New Year's Eve, 1985 by the city of New York for violating public health ordinances.

In May 2005, Plato's Retreat was in the news because of allegations made by Hustler publisher Larry Flynt that John R. Bolton, President George W. Bush's nominee for ambassador to the United Nations, visited the club and forced his first wife, Christina Bolton, to engage in group sex.


Friday, May 19, 2006

Economy class syndrome

[If you ever feel sick on the plane...]

Economy class syndrome was coined in the late 1990s when it turned out that people who has traveled long distances by aeroplane were at an increased risk for thrombosis, especially deep venous thrombosis and its main complication, pulmonary embolism. Although all these diseases had been recognised for a long time, the possibility of litigation against airline companies brought them into the limelight when this "syndrome" was reported.

The mechanism for thrombosis in travellers is probably due to a combination of immobilisation, dehydration and underlying factors. Patients with disease that predisposes them for thrombosis, such as antiphospholipid syndrome or cancer, are probably at a much greater risk.

Prevention consists of adequate hydration (drinking, abstaining from alcoholic beverages and caffeine), moving around and calf muscle exercises. In patients with a known predisposition for thrombosis, aspirin is often prescribed, as this acts as a mild anticoagulant. Severe risk for thrombosis can prompt a physician to prescribe injections with low molecular weight heparin (LMWH), a form of prophylaxis already in common use in hospital patients.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Brooks' law

[An interesting business processes theory....]
Brooks' law
was stated by Fred Brooks in his 1975 book The Mythical Man-Month as "Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later." Likewise, Brooks memorably stated "The bearing of a child takes nine months, no matter how many women are assigned." While Brooks' law is often quoted, the line before it in The Mythical Man-Month is almost never quoted: "Oversimplifying outrageously, we state Brooks' Law."

A commonly understood implication of Brooks' law is that it will be more productive to employ a smaller number of very talented (and highly paid) programmers on a project than to employ a larger number of less talented programmers, since individual programmer productivity can vary greatly between highly talented and efficient programmers and less talented programmers. However, Brooks' law does not mean that starving a project of resources by employing fewer programmers beyond a certain point will get it done faster.

The common way around the constraints of Brooks' law is to segment the problem into smaller sub-problems, each of which can then be solved by a smaller team, and to have a top-level team that is responsible for systems integration. However, this method relies on the segmentation of the problem being correct in the first place; if done incorrectly, this can make the problem worse, not better, by impeding communication between programmers working on parts of the problem which are actually closely coupled, even when the project plan has decreed that they are not.

Some would claim the programming practices associated with open source software development allow open source projects to defy the predictions of Brooks' law, but this is not true. A late OSS project will become even later if additional developers are added for the reasons addressed above. Also, most OSS projects (e.g., Linux) have no schedule, so "late" and "later" have no meaning.

Brooks' law's applicability to other disciplines varies depending upon the nature of the work. In any area where the work products are commodities, the law does not apply. For example, on a late construction project, one can employ additional dump trucks to haul refuse faster, without suffering the time penalty. The function of hauling refuse can be performed by anyone who possesses a minimal level of skill and a truck. Nothing differentiates one truck from the next, and no additional communication or training is required to commence the additional hauling. The requirement to get the new truck drivers up to speed is minimized and the resultant additional communications channels do not exist; truck drivers do not need to talk to other truck drivers in order to haul the refuse.

This is in sharp contrast to the typical work of software engineers (or most other design disciplines). New workers on the project must first become educated in the work that has preceded them; this education requires diverting the resources already working on the project, temporarily diminishing their productivity while the new workers are not yet contributing.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Amputee fetishism

[Jason Kottke posted a link to some pictures on Flickr showing women whose limbs had been Photoshopped to look like they'd been amputated. Flickr has since removed the images; they were an example of "electronic surgery," mentioned here...]
Amputee Fetishism is a fetish focused on amputations, generally of limbs. An Internet virtual community exists, with its own special terminology.

Two subtypes of this fetish are generally recognized. Acrotomophilia is an intense desire for one's partner to be an amputee. Acrotomophiles are also known as "devotees." Apotemnophilia is an intense desire to be an amputee. Aptemnophiles are also known as "wannabes." With each, the presence or absence of artificial limbs as an added stimulant is a personal matter for the fetishist.

Amputation fetishism is a paraphilia, a focus on a specific body part or inanimate object. it is technically a form of Teratophilia, sexual attraction to a "deformed or monstrous person". was a Usenet newsgroup as far back as 1996, featuring stories and pictures. It has since become overrun with spam.

Electronic Surgery (abbreviated "ES") is a term for images (usually from porn sites) that have been modified to make the subject appear as an amputee.

A "pretender" is a "wannabe" who acts out aptemnophilic fantasies, sometimes in public, usually through limb-binding and the use of loose clothing.


Monday, May 15, 2006

"Have one's cake and eat it too"

[Ever wonder how this somewhat senseless saying began?]
To wish to have one's cake and eat it too (sometimes eat one's cake and have it too) is to want more than one can handle or deserve, or to try to have two incompatible things. This is a popular English idiomatic proverb, or figure of speech.

The phrase's earliest recording is from 1546 as "wolde you bothe eate your cake, and haue your cake?", alluding to the impossibility of eating your cake and still having it afterwards; the modern version (where the clauses are reversed) is a corruption which was first signaled in 1812.

Comedian George Carlin once critiqued this idiom by saying, "When people say, 'Oh you just want to have your cake and eat it too.' What good is a cake you can't eat? What should I eat, someone else's cake instead?". Of course, in the original correct form (eat your cake and have it too), Carlin's critique does not apply.


Friday, May 12, 2006


[Our overuse of antibacterial products is making this stuff toxic...]
Sludge is a generic term for solids separated from suspension in a liquid by a variety of processes. Most commonly sludge refers to solid waste extracted in the process of sewage treatment; the term sewage sludge is used commonly. When fresh sewage or wastewater is added to a settling tank, approximately 50% of the suspended solid matter will settle out in about an hour and a half. This collection of solids is known as raw sludge or primary solids and is said to be "fresh" before anaerobic processes become active. Once anaerobic bacteria take over, the sludge will become putrescent in a short time and must be removed from the sedimentation tank before this happens.

This is commonly accomplished by two different ways. In an Imhoff tank, fresh sludge is passed through a slot to the lower story or digestion chamber where decomposition by anaerobic bacteria takes place resulting in liquefaction and a reduction in the volume of the sludge. After digesting for an extended period of time, the result is called "digested" sludge and may be disposed of by drying and then landfilling. Alternately, the fresh sludge may be continuously extracted from the tank by mechanical means and passed on to separate sludge digestion tanks which operate at higher temperatures than the lower story of the Imhoff tank and as a result digest much more rapidly and efficiently. Excess solids from biological processes such as activated sludge can also be referred to as sludge, although more often called “biosolids,” a public relations term that is increasingly used by water professionals in the United States. Sludge has limited value as a soil conditioner and if derived from municipal wastewater treatment plants it will contain toxic materials. Often thought to consist of only "human waste," sewage sludge in fact contains all materials from cities which the treatment can remove from wastewater. After the 1991 Congressional ban on ocean dumping, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) instituted a policy of disposing of sludge on agricultural land. EPA promoted this policy by presenting it as recycling. But with more and more incidents of illness reported, there has been increasing concern among scientists about the disposal of sewage sludge on land.

Industrial wastewater solids are also referred to as sludge, whether generated from biological or physical-chemical processes. Surface water plants also generate sludge made up of solids removed from the raw water.


Thursday, May 11, 2006

Iodine deficiency

[Piece of advice: Never search Google Images for "goiter." Just don't do it.]
Iodine is an essential trace element; the thyroid hormones thyroxine and triiodotyronine contain iodine. In areas where there is little iodine in the diet—typically remote inland areas where no marine foods are eaten—iodine deficiency gives rise to goitre, so called endemic goitre.

Iodine deficiency is particularly common in the Western Pacific, South-East Asia and Africa. Iodine deficiency is also associated with poverty. In many (but not all) such areas, this is now prevented by the addition of small amounts of iodine to table salt in form of sodium iodide, potassium iodide, potassium iodate—this product is known as iodized salt.

Iodine deficiency is the leading cause of mental retardation, producing typical reductions in IQ of 10 to 15 IQ points. It has been speculated that deficiency of iodine and other micronutrients may be a possible factor in observed differences in IQ between ethnic groups: see race and intelligence for a further discussion of this controversial issue.

In a not widely accepted theory, geographer Jeremy Dobson has suggested that Neandertals exhibit characteristics similar to modern humans with iodine deficiency, or cretinism.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

"Song of the South"

[Some people say Stephen Merritt of the Magnetic Fields is racist because he doesn't like hip-hop and because he really likes "Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah," the hit song from this controversial Disney movie.]
Song of the South is a feature film produced by Walt Disney Productions, released on November 12, 1946 by RKO Radio Pictures and based on the Uncle Remus cycle of stories by Joel Chandler Harris. It was one of Walt Disney's earliest feature films to combine live action footage with animation and was the first Disney feature film in which live actors were hired for lead roles. The live actors provide a sentimental frame-story, in which Uncle Remus relates the folk tales of the adventures of Brer Rabbit and his friends; these anthropomorphic animal characters appear in animation. The film is often the subject of controversy, because of content which is considered by some to be racially insensitive towards African-Americans. It has never been released in the U.S. on DVD or home video, and is thus subject to much rumor and speculation. There is a Japanese subtitled version available.

Plot [Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.]

The setting is the Southern United States, in a "dream time" shortly after the American Civil War, which folklorist Patricia A. Turner characterizes as happening "during a surreal time when blacks lived on quarters on a plantation, worked diligently for no visible reward and considered Atlanta a viable place for an old black man to set out for."

The frame tale does not follow the original framing narrative by Harris. While Disney Studios tried to avoid the more offensive stereotypes of African Americans still common in the 1940s, Disney also tried to make sure that nothing in the film would be objected to by the white segregationists then in political and cultural control of the Southern United States. This resulted in the subservient relationships of the black children towards white child Johnny, played by child star Bobby Driscoll, in his Fauntleroy suit, that are particularly stilted and perhaps unintentionally revealing. Few recent critics found the results of this attempted balancing act successful, though it passed without comment in 1946, aside from a mild rebuke from the NAACP. Blacks are shown as subservient to whites, and singing contentedly about "home". The framing story has therefore been accused of idealizing the harsh lives of blacks on rural southern plantations in the Jim Crow era.

The hit song from the film was "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah", which won the 1947 Academy Award for Best Song....

Although the film has been re-released several times (most recently in 1986 in the United States), Disney has avoided making it available on home video tape in the United States or DVD anywhere because the frame story was deemed controversial by studio management. Film critic Roger Ebert has supported this position, claiming that most Disney films become a part of the consciousness of American children, who take films more literally than do adults. [1] The film has been released on video in various European and Asian countries. In the U.S., only excerpts from the animated segments have ever appeared in Disney's DVDs and television shows, and the popular log-flume attraction Splash Mountain is based upon the same animated portions.

Despite rumors of a forthcoming DVD release, this exchange took place between a shareholder and Disney CEO Robert Iger on Friday, March 10, 2006 at a Disney Shareholder Meeting:[2]

"My name is Howard Cromer. I live in Cypress, I'm a Disney shareholder. I'm actually delivering a message from my son, 10. He wants to know in recent years, in the midst of all your re-releases of your videos, why you haven't released Song of the South on your Disney Classics?" [Applause] "And, he wonders why. Frank Wells told me many years ago that it would be coming out. Well obviously Frank Wells isn't around anymore, so we still wonder why. And by the way, Mr. Iger, he thinks it was a very good choice when they made you CEO of Disney." [Applause]

Iger: "Thank you very much. You may change your mind when I answer your question, though. Um... we've discussed this a lot. We believe it's actually an opportunity from a financial perspective to put Song of the South out. I screened it fairly recently because I hadn't seen it since I was a child, and I have to tell you after I watched it, even considering the context that it was made, I had some concerns about it because of what it depicted. And thought it's quite possible that people wouldn't consider it in the context that it was made, and there were some... [long pause] depictions that I mentioned earlier in the film that I think would be bothersome to a lot of people. And so, owing to the sensitivity that exists in our culture, balancing it with the desire to, uh, maybe increase our earnings a bit, but never putting that in front of what we thought were our ethics and our integrity, we made the decision not to re-release it. Not a decision that is made forever, I imagine this is gonna continue to come up, but for now we simply don't have plans to bring it back because of the sensitivities that I mentioned. Sorry."

Thus, the Disney company will not be releasing the film in the U.S. in the near future. The Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah and Brer Rabbit tricking Brer Fox into the trap scenes are found in the 1950 special "One Hour in Wonderland" included on the 2004 two-disc release of Alice in Wonderland.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

David Blaine

[This guy is such a nut, but you know you can't get enough of him...]
David Blaine (born April 4, 1973) is an American illusionist and stunt performer born in Brooklyn, New York City. He made his name as a performer of close-up magic, usually working on the streets. Born David Blaine White, his father is Puerto Rican and his mother was Jewish of Russian descent....

Blaine began his career with street magic, performing card tricks and illusions such as levitation or bringing apparently dead flies back to life. Recorded live in front of everyday people by a small camera crew, this act provided the basis for his television specials, David Blaine: Street Magic, David Blaine: Magic Man, and David Blaine: Mystifier.

He later turned his attention to feats of endurance; these included being buried alive for seven days, spending 61 hours encased in ice, standing on a tiny, 22 inch (56 cm) wide platform at the top of a 90 foot (27 m) high pole for 35 hours, living in a transparent box for 44 days without food, and living underwater for 7 days.

Though not the first entertainer to perform street magic or survive endurance stunts, Blaine's unique contribution to magic was his charismatic use of video and television to reach the MTV Generation in a decade where magicians were out of touch with younger audiences.

Premature Burial

On April 5, 1999, Blaine spent seven days buried inside a glass coffin at the bottom of an open pit in front of an office building in New York City where passersby could view him, 24 hours a day.

"There were Jewish Hasids standing next to Muslim cabdrivers who were next to Black kids. Businessmen in designer suits stood beside heavily pierced street kids. Every conceiveable social type was represented," recalls Blaine. "I saw something truly incredible. I saw every race, every age-group, and every religion gathered together smiling, and that made everything worth it. I saw magic!"

Frozen in Time

On Monday, November 27, 2000, Blaine began a stunt called 'Frozen in Time'. Blaine spent time in a closet of ice located in Times Square, New York. A tube provided him with air and water, and a tube was provided for removal of his urine. He was encased in ice for 61 hours, 40 minutes, and 15 seconds before being removed. The block of ice was on a stand, with space between the ground, and the ice was transparent, to prove to skeptics that he was inside the ice the whole time. He was taken to the hospital immediately after being removed because doctors feared he was going into shock. He says he still could not walk normally a month after the stunt. A TV special aired covering the stunt.


On Monday 22 May 2002 Blaine began a stunt he named 'Vertigo'. Blaine was lifted by crane onto a 90 foot (27 m) high pillar in Bryant Park, New York City. He remained on the pillar, which was 22 inches (56 cm) wide, for nearly 35 hours without food or water or anything to lean on. Blaine appeared to be without safety harnesses and had no safety nets underneath him for almost the duration of the stunt. He ended the feat by jumping down onto a landing platform made of a 12 foot (3.7 m) high pile of cardboard boxes. He suffered a minor concussion on the way down because he hit his head on the boxes, from which he fully recovered.[1]

Mysterious Stranger

On October 29, 2002, Random House published Mysterious Stranger: A Book of Magic by David Blaine. Part autobiography, part history of magic, and part armchair treasure hunt, the book also includes instructions on how to perform card tricks and illusions.

The treasure hunt, Blaine's $100,000 Challenge, was devised by game designer Cliff Johnson, creator of The Fool's Errand, and was solved by Sherri Skanes on March 20, 2004, 16 months after the book's publication.

Above the Below

David Blaine suspended in front of City Hall, London (October 3, 2003)
David Blaine suspended in front of City Hall, London (October 3, 2003)

On September 5, 2003, Blaine began his 44-day endurance stunt sealed inside a transparent Plexiglas case suspended 30 feet (9 m) in the air over Potters Fields Park on the south bank of the River Thames in London. The case, measuring 7ft by 7ft by 3ft (2.1 x 2.1 x 0.9 m), had a webcam installed so that viewers could observe his progress. During this period the magician reportedly received no food but only water.

Contrary to his New York City stunt Premature Burial, the majority of Londoners were generally against the performance happening in their city, although at first there were little signs of protest. Later, the stunt became the subject of much press and media attention.

Newspapers reported that eggs, lemons, sausages, bacon, water bottles, beer cans, paint-filled balloons and golf balls had all been thrown at the box; a hamburger was flown round the box by radio-controlled model helicopter (a stunt organised and implemented by a British 'lads' magazine); one man was arrested for climbing the scaffolding supporting Blaine's box and attempting to cut the power and water supply to the box; and the magician was treated to numerous displays of bare bottoms and breasts.

"You've picked the wrong town to be hung in, Mr Blaine," wrote The Sunday Times. "What is clear from the start is that Londoners are not taking Blaine quite as seriously as he takes himself. ... Really, it makes you proud to be British."

A gaunt Blaine emerged on schedule on October 19, murmuring "I love you all!" and was quickly hospitalized. A subsequent letter in the New England Journal of Medicine, co-written by Blaine, described his nutritional recovery, revealing similar symptoms often exhibited by the malnourished who are being reintroduced to liquid and solid foods. The letter reported that Blaine had lost 54 pounds (24.5 kg) during his fast.

Drowned Alive

David Blaine at Lincoln Center, sharing a moment with a fan as spectators look on (2 May 2006).
David Blaine at Lincoln Center, sharing a moment with a fan as spectators look on (2 May 2006).

On May 1, 2006, Blaine was submerged in an 8 foot (2.4 m) diameter, water-filled sphere (isotonic saline, 0.9% salt) in front of the Lincoln Center in New York for a planned seven days and seven nights, using tubes for air and nutrition. He concluded this event by attempting to hold his breath underwater to break the world record of 8 minutes, 58 seconds. In a change to the original stunt plans, whilst attempting to break this record, Blaine also tried to free himself from handcuffs and chains put on him upon coming out after the week in the sphere.[2] Blaine held his breath for seven minutes and eight seconds before being pulled up by the support divers, thus failing in his attempt.

Critics such as Mark Harris of the British Free Diving Association have been reported before the stunt saying that Blaine would have had an unfair advantage.[3] In any case, Blaine's feat could not have been officially recognized, as judges from the International Association for the Development of Apnea (IADA) were not present to verify that Blaine breathed no pure oxygen for at least two hours prior to beginning his attempt. For reference, the world record for holding one's breath after having breathed pure oxygen is closer to fifteen minutes.[4]

Blaine did nonetheless succeed in setting a record (as yet unrecognized by any record-keeping institution) for being fully submerged in water for more than seven days straight (170+ hours).

It is expected that Blaine will suffer medical problems as a result of his stunt.[5]

In an interview on the Howard Stern Show on Sirius satellite radio, Blaine spoke of the week long fasting he did before the "drowning alive" stunt, to prevent the need for solid waste issues. For urine, he wore an external, condom-style catheter.


Monday, May 08, 2006

Cochlear implant

[Inspired by the wonderful documentary "Sound and Fury"...]
A cochlear implant is a surgically implanted hearing aid that can help provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing. The cochlear implant is often referred to as a bionic ear. Unlike other kinds of hearing aids, the cochlear implant doesn't amplify sound, but works by directly stimulating any functioning auditory nerves inside the cochlea with electrical impulses. External components of the cochlear implant include a microphone, speech processor and transmitter.

An implant does not restore or create normal hearing. Instead, under the appropriate conditions, it can give a deaf person a useful auditory understanding of the environment and help them to understand speech when coupled with post-implantation therapy. According to researchers at the University of Michigan [1], approximately 100,000 people worldwide have received cochlear implants; roughly half are children and half adults. The vast majority are in developed countries due to the prohibitive cost of the device, surgery and post-implantation therapy — Mexico had performed only 55 cochlear implant operations by the year 2000 (Berruecos 2000).

Cochlear implants are controversial, and their introduction has seen the renewal of a century-old debate about models of deafness that often has the medical profession on one side and the Deaf community on the other. While cochlear implants have been welcomed by late-deafened adults, hearing parents of deaf children, audiologists, speech pathologists, and surgeons, the implantation of deaf children has been vigorously opposed by many from the signing Deaf community.

Ethical issues
Cochlear implants for congentially deaf children are most effective when implanted at a young age, during the critical period in which the brain is still learning to interpret sound; hence they are implanted before the recipients can decide for themselves. Deaf culture advocates question the ethics of such invasive elective surgery on healthy children — pointing out that manufacturers and specialists have exaggerated the efficacy and downplayed the risks of a procedure that they stand to gain from. Parents and audiologists paint a much brighter picture.

Much of the strongest objection to cochlear implants has come from the Deaf community, which consists largely of pre-lingually deaf people who use a sign language as their preferred language. Very distinct from adults who have lost their hearing, many do not share the pathological view of deafness held by the medical profession that deafness as a disability to be "fixed", but instead celebrate being Deaf and value their membership of the visual culture that they have grown up in (see Deaf culture).

The confict over these opposing models of deafness has raged for hundreds of years, and cochlear implants are the latest in a history of medical interventions promising to turn a deaf child into a hearing child — or, more accurately, a child with a mild hearing impairment. Parents with implanted children equate this to refusing to treat any other handicap or disease which has an effective treatment.

Critics argue that the cochlear implant and the subsequent therapy often become the focus of the child's identity, at the expense of a positive Deaf identity and the ease of communication in sign language. Measuring the child's success by their success in hearing and speech will lead to a poor self image as "disabled" (because the implants do not produce normal hearing) rather than having the healthy self-concept of a proud Deaf person. Proponents of cochlear implants counter that the child's life proceeds normally once the initial adjustments in audiological mapping are completed. The older child goes for a "checkup" to tune up their map once or twice a year, and the implanted infant is often finished with speech therapy by preschool.

Some of the more extreme responses from Deaf activists have labelled the widespread implantation of children as "cultural genocide". As cochlear implants began to be implanted into deaf children in the mid to late 1980s, the Deaf community responded with protests in the US, UK, Germany, Finland, France and Australia. Opposition continues today but in many cases has softened, and as the trend for cochlear implants in children grows, deaf community advocates have tried to counter the "either or" formulation of oralism vs manualism with a "both and" approach; some schools now are successfully integrating cochlear implants with sign language in their educational programs. However, some opponents of sign language education argue that the most successfully implanted children are those who are encouraged to listen and speak rather than overemphasize their visual sense.

How the cochlear implant works
The implant works by using the tonotopic organization of the basilar membrane of the inner ear. "Tonotopic organization" is the way the ear sorts out different frequencies so that our brain can process that information. In a normal ear, sound vibrations in the air lead to resonant vibrations of the basilar membrane inside the cochlea. High-frequency sounds (i.e. high pitched sounds) do not pass very far along the membrane, but low frequency sounds pass farther in. The movement of hair cells, located all along the basilar membrane, creates an electrical disturbance that can be picked up by the surrounding nerve cells. The brain is able to interpret the nerve activity to determine which area of the basilar membrane is resonating, and therefore what sound frequency is being heard.

In individuals with sensorineural hearing loss, hair cells are often fewer in number and damaged. Hair cell loss or absence may be caused by a genetic mutation or an illness such as meningitis. Hair cells may also be destroyed chemically by an ototoxic medication, or simply damaged over time by excessively loud noises. The cochlear implant by-passes the hair cells and stimulates the cochlear nerves directly using electrical impulses. This allows the brain to interpret the frequency of sound as it would if the hair cells of the basilar membrane were functioning properly....


Monday, May 01, 2006


[Trying to find an answer to the ancient question, "What's faster: the laziest ant or the busiest sloth?"]

Sloths are medium-sized South American mammals belonging to the families Megalonychidae and Bradypodidae, part of the order Pilosa. Most scientists call these two families the Folivora suborder, while some call it Phyllophaga. Sloths are herbivores, eating very little other than leaves.

Sloths have made extraordinary adaptations to an arboreal browsing lifestyle. Leaves, their main food source, provide very little energy or nutrition and do not digest easily: sloths have very large, specialized, slow-acting stomachs with multiple compartments in which symbiotic bacteria break down the tough leaves. Sloths may also eat insects and small lizards and carrion. As much as two thirds of a well-fed sloth's body-weight consists of the contents of its stomach, and the digestive process can take as long as a month or more to complete. Even so, leaves provide little energy, and sloths deal with this by a range of economy measures: they have very low metabolic rates (less than half of that expected for a creature of their size), and maintain low body temperatures when active (30 to 34 degrees Celsius), and still lower temperatures when resting....

The main predators of sloths are the jaguar, the harpy eagle, and humans. The majority of sloth deaths in Costa Rica are from sloths getting into electrical lines and from poachers. Despite their adaptation to living in trees, sloths make competent swimmers. Their claws also provide a further unexpected defense from human hunters - when hanging upside-down in a tree they are held in place by the claws themselves and do not fall down even if shot from below, thus making them a meaningless target to shoot.

Sloths move only when necessary and then very slowly: they have about half as much muscle tissue as other animals of similar weight. They can move at a marginally higher speed if they are in immediate danger from a predator, but they burn large amounts of energy doing so. Their specialized hands and feet have long, curved claws to allow them to hang upside-down from branches without effort. While they sometimes sit on top of branches, they usually eat, sleep, and even give birth hanging from limbs. Sloths are herbivores, and generally eat leaves, especially those of the cecropia tree. Fruit flies are in their diet as well. In terms of their sleep, sloths are one of the most somnolent animals ever, sleeping from 15 to 18 hours each day. They are particularly partial to nesting in the crowns of palm trees where they can camouflage as a coconut. They come to the ground, to urinate and defecate, only about once a week.

Infant sloths normally cling to their mother's fur, but occasionally fall off. Sloths are very sturdily built and very few die from the fall. In some cases they die from the fall indirectly because the mothers sometimes prove unwilling to leave the safety of the trees to retrieve them. Females reproduce one baby every year.

The living sloths belong to one of two families, known as the two-toed (Bradypodidae) and three-toed sloths (Megalonychidae). Both families have three toes: the "two-toed" sloths, however, have only two fingers. Two-toed sloths are generally faster moving than three-toed sloths. Both types tend to occupy the same forests: in most areas, a particular single species of three-toed sloth and a single species of the larger two-toed type will jointly predominate.

Although unable to survive outside the tropical rainforests of South and Central America, within that environment sloths are outstandingly successful creatures: they can account for as much as half the total energy consumption and two-thirds of the total terrestrial mammalian biomass in some areas. Of the five species, only one, the Maned Three-toed Sloth, has a classification of "endangered" at present. The ongoing destruction of South America's forests, however, may soon prove a threat to the others.