Monday, December 24, 2007

Sticky Fingers

Before Chinese factories began putting antifreeze in cold medicine and toothpaste, coating toys with lead paint, and producing counterfeit prescription drugs, China produced generally reliable yet inexpensive goods.

Many "American" brands are actually manufactured in China. You don't even need to look very carefully. For example, Black & Decker produces sealed lead batteries intended to start cars and provide electricity during emergencies.

The actual battery is manufactured by the Vector company in China, and the consumer product is apparently assembled in Mexico.

But let's not pick on Black & Decker, whose power tools are dependable. Although model lines change so rapidly that last year's rechargeable battery is unlikely to fit on this year's driver, or drill.

Some tools are still made in the U.S., and they generally work the best. American hand tools from the 1950s are magnificent.

Which brings us to Bushnell, maker of optics of all sorts, from telescopes, to binoculars to rifle scopes. Virtually all of it's products are made in China, including an inexpensive pair of zoom binoculars with rubber grips.

After a few years in its case, under normal environmental conditions, the rubber grips underwent a chemical reaction of some kind. They're no longer rubbery, they're sticky. Like tacky paint. And since they got sticky just sitting in a case, it seems unlikely that the grips will "dry."

What were the grips made out of? Plastic mixed with industrial waste? Plastic with insufficient plasticizing chemicals? Recycled rubber with leftover epoxy or cyanoacrylate thrown in? Modeling clay mixed with black paint?

We have a heightened suspicion of Chinese goods these days, but it's possible that the American importer insisted that the Chinese contractor make binocular grips out of bubble gum mixed with powdered coal.

Whatever the reasons behind the stickiness problem, the binoculars are useless as binoculars.

When the weather gets warmer, they could be suspended from a ceiling to catch flies.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Nice Doggy! Now, let go... of my throat...

If it's any consolation, the individuals who maimed a dog last week in Milford for no discernible reason are probably going to end up in prison.

Torturing animals is usually a warm-up for other, more severe, anti-social acts. Like killing people.

But meanwhile, the amount of public outrage at the dog slashers is way over the top. Greg, from Guilford, says he would execute them. Ken, of North Branford, thinks they should get a taste of their own medicine.

And Bruno, of Milford, is threatening their lives.

It goes without saying that people should not harm animals. But animals are, well, animals.

Why do so many people care more about dogs than about fellow humans? Because dogs are innocent and have done nothing to deserve this kind of vicious act?

Because pets are pure and people are corrupt? Sure. What about dogs that attack and maim people? There are currently about 75 million dogs in the U.S. and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculate that these dogs bite about 2 percent of the population - more than 4.7 million people - a year.

Do we hear any outcry over dog bites? Getting bitten by a dog is the fifth most frequent cause for visiting an emergency room. About 1,000 people end up in ERs every day because of dog bites.

It is not a shock to find that pit bulls and rottweilers are responsible for 74 percent of the attacks; 68 percent of the attacks on children, and 65 percent of the deaths.

Owners never think their dogs are dangerous until the dog mauls someone. Then the owners say, "He must have provoked the dog."

So, basically, the number of people who attack dogs is minuscule, while dogs take chunks out of people all over the place.

It would be interesting to hear what people who've been bitten and scarred by dogs have to say about the Milford case.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Why Is This Woman So Happy?

We've all seen Rachel Ray and we've all seen Rachel Ray grinning like a maniac.

Why is not clear, except that she's either really happy, someone told her to smile, or has had some transcendent religious experience to which we are not privy.

Her grin is so ubiquitous that there are hardly any photos of her with a straight face. Go ahead, search Google for one.

This means that she could go pretty much anywhere incognito, as long as she does not smile. She could knock over convenience stores and banks and mug elderly people. She must be wealthy, so these activities would have to be purely for fun.

But she must already be having more fun than she can handle, judging from her insane cheek to cheek smile.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cancer? No thanks!

Plants have cells, chromosomes, hormones, and most of the cellular organelles as animals, yet plants apparently do not get cancer, which is kind of strange.

Plants cannot survive without the sunlight that gives humans skin cancer. So, how come we have cells that proliferate out of control and plants don't?

Plants have a complicated collection of pigments that handle excess energy in solar radiation. That may protect underlying cells from having their DNA blasted and ionized.

Radiation will kill plants. But not give them tumors.

Plants do get things called "galls" but galls are caused by viruses, insects, nematodes and other kinds of parasites. The gall is a way for the plant to hold its enemies at bay.

If humans behaved more like plants physiologically, we would grow a tough container of cells around tumors. Of course, part of what makes cancer perplexing is that it is our own cells out of control. Normal cells would recognize the abnormal ones, but as we know, will not kill them all, all of the time.

Why doesn't yeast develop cancer? Suppose one yeast grew a duplicate, and the "daughter" had damaged genes and would not separate? And then the daughter starts to make messed up yeast cells like crazy. They grow into a relatively big clump.

There is no "central yeast" so the mutated yeast could multiply until it ran out of food. No yeast cancer.

Do we even know if insects get cancer? Generally they are not around long enough to accumulate a cancerous number of mutations.

No, only big animals with a lot of cells get cancer.

Maybe that's the evolutionary price we pay for having trillions of cells. Sometimes one of them goes berserk and makes billions of crazy copies.

In return we get eyeballs, brains, bones, and the rest of the stuff. Respiration, metabolism, the Krebs cycle, and so on.

Would you rather be a plant?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Water, Water, Everywhere...

Earning a platinum designation from the U.S. Green Building Council is tough and only the most determined institutions make the attempt.

Essentially, the building has to produce about as much energy as it consumes and should have no carbon footprint.

Yale's under-construction Kroon Hall is aiming for platinum, which is laudable.

How a building of laboratories and classrooms can produce as much energy as it consumes is a puzzle. Either the building has to use a minimal amount of energy, or must come up with ingenious ways to generate electricity.

It would be easy to reduce energy consumption to zero. Just eliminate lights, heating, and electrical sockets. True, the interior would be freezing and dark for several months a year, and then hot, stuffy and dim.

That doesn't seem practical. Solar power in New England is not a great idea because about one out of three days is cloudy. Likewise, New England does not have large plains that naturally generate wind.

Here are a few suggestions: Internal fans, connected to generators, spun by the wakes of walking students. Have students wear thermocouples. Line the halls with copper coils and have students wear magnets as they walk from one room to another.

The Kroon plan does include an intricate water system that will supposedly save 500,000 gallons annually. How in the world could Kroon Hall even consume that much water, unless they are converting bauxite into aluminum?

The water system is intended to treat storm water run-off. Not anything as gross as sewage. Just relatively pure rain that has flowed through turf and soil. The first rain water is dirtiest and it's diverted into a large tank. So is gutter water.

This water is then directed into a pond containing aquatic plants that serve as biofilters. Clean water then flows into a harvesting tank. There it will be used for toilets and irrigation.

So basically, the storm run off still ends up in the sewage treatment plant and/or Long Island Sound, but first it runs through some pipes and a pond. Why bother to clean water that will be used in toilets?

Unless the slope of the pipes is carefully designed and adjusted, moving the water will require pumps, or students turning a big wooden wheel connected to a pump.

The expense of the pipes, pond, and tanks hardly seems worth it. How long will the storm water project take to pay for itself?

By then we'll all be using fusion power.

Monday, December 3, 2007

More applications, more rejections, more money

Johns Hopkins University, the Johns Hopkins University of Baltimore, the real Johns Hopkins University, sends pleas to high school seniors.

Johns Hopkins wants you to apply for "the most amazing four years of your life."

The six-page, full color brochure must have cost a fortune. And the university is sending them out indiscriminately. Why?

Johns Hopkins isn't the only university to engage in this practice. Most of the ones that self advertise are either schools you've never heard of, schools you'd never consider, or both.

After the first few letters, high school students start throwing out the solicitations unopened.

By now, after undergoing SATs, SAT IIs, ACTs, "How to succeed at SAT" classes, private tutors, and several weeks or months of anxiety, most of those applying to college have already settled on their favorites. Or at least, the favorites to which they think they can gain admission.

So here's Johns Hopkins, one of the most selective of the selective, begging the poor student to spend another $60 or $70 to apply to a university that costs around $50,000 a year.

Out of about 14,000 applicants, fewer than 4,000 are admitted, and 1,207 end up attending.

Here are some universities that don't send out unrequested promotional materials: Yale, Harvard, the rest of the Ivy League, Reed, Williams, Oberlin, Carnegie Mellon, the University of Chicago, Stanford, and on and on and on.

Their attitude is "If you don't know who we are, then you're unfit to go to school here." Unfit to take Western Civ, room with an ominous eccentric, play "residence hall" hockey, seal someone in his room with a pile of beer cans, and the rest of the college experience.

The National Guard has a well thought out mailing. Many pretty young women apparently enroll in the Guard, despite what you may think. The Guard brims with possibilities for betterment: education, experience, discipline, service. And, oh yes, (you may have to try to kill people who are trying to kill you). That last part escapes mention.

It's easy to see why the National Guard needs to promote itself. But Johns Hopkins?

The accepted theory of college solicitations is that enlarging the applicant pool while accepting the same number increases the appearance of selectivity. The higher the selectivity, the higher the tuition can be.

But Johns Hopkins? What's up with that? Huh?

Just another one of the strange, inexplicable, and mystifying parts of the college application process.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Emperor of Ice Cream

Is is possible to live on bread and water only?

For a while, yes.

We're assuming a good brand of unenriched white bread.

But then you would develop scurvey (lack of vitamin c), beriberi (lack of vitamin B), rickets (lack of vitamine D), kakke disease (see beriberi), and you would eventually be deprived of essential amino acids, that is, ones you cannot synthesize. That would lead to a loss of protein and breakdown of muscles.

There are also essential fatty acids, such as arachidonic acid.

So even if your diet were restricted to bread, water and a vitamin pill, you eventually would waste away.

Your teeth would fall out, your connective tissue disintegrate, and you would develop pressure sores.

But on the brighter side, you would definitely lose weight.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Stick it in Your Ear

If you surf cable TV channels late at night you're sure to see a new low in smoking cessation ads.

This is the "auricular" treatment that allegedly eliminates the desire to smoke in two weeks.

A crazed blonde claims the device is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (it's not) and so easy to use. The system is two small magnets, perhaps strong rare earth magnets.

The smoker puts magnets on both sides of the left ear. Here's a chance to brush up on the external anatomy of the human ear. The magnets are to be placed on the Scapha, the outermost C-shaped plane next to the outer fold.

That's it. Why would sticking magnets to your ear ease the desire to smoke? A "pressure point" in the ear stimulates the same parts of the brain as nicotine. This is signified in the ad by fireworks going off in the smoker's head.

This suggests that a smoker could give up tobacco and get hooked instead on little magnets in the ear. If any of this contained a grain of truth, that would be good.

However, stimulating the smoking parts of the brain does not seem as if it would quell the desire to smoke.

Or maybe you end up wanting to smoke magnets.

Too Much of A Good Thing

One sentence in the ads for erectile dysfunction prescription medications never fails to get a laugh. If you have an erection lasting more than four hours seek immediate medical help, the warning goes, more or less.

Predictably, men watching this often snicker and say "If I had an erection for four hours I would..." Fill in the lubricious blank. Well, what would you do? It's not as if many middle-aged men have dozens of eager partners waiting to service them.

At any rate, the caution seems silly. What harm could there be in a 240-minute erection?

To understand the problem, consider what causes an erection. Blood rushes in and one-way valves keep it from leaving until the blood is no longer needed.

An erection that won't end is called "priapism," after the king of Troy, Priam, who legend says fathered 50 offspring.

Priapism is usually painful, and usually affects males between 5 to 10 and 20 to 50 years. If not treated promptly, priapism can cause scarring and permanent erectile dysfunction.

Yes, that's right. Permanent.

Priapism cen be caused by sickle cell disease, leukemia, black widow spider bites, carbon monoxide poisoning, and of course, certain medications. The condition is treated with ice packs, injections, and shunts to let the blood drain.

That doesn't seem like a barrel of laughs.

Priapism is one kind of ED you definitely don't want.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Red Moon at Night, Motorists Take Fright

The moon was like our own private lunar eclipse.
the disk was full, and a dark febrile red-maroon.

The riddle was that no lunar clipse was expected that night. There had been one a few days earlier, as the moon swept through the very narrow shadow cast by Earth.

Refracted light passing through Earth's atmosphere paints the moon red. Bluish light is scattered and longer wave-length red light penetrates our atmosphere and hits the moon.

But we were driving though Pennsylvania perhaps 10 or 11 p.m. and the moon was rising. It was about 20 degrees above the horizon and as weird-looking as it ever gets.

The moon hung like a blood blister. Out satellite even seemed ominous, though we knew that lunar signs do portent disaster. (Do they?)

A cell phone check confirmed that no one else was seeing a lunar eclipse.

What was going on?

The only good explanation was that we were looking at the moon through an extremely thick layer of atmosphere, which was exerting its own optical effects. Specifically, the atmosphere was scattering blue, as it always does, and letting red through.

The red was dimmed by tons of soot, dust, water vapor, volcanic ash, fly ash, meteorite dust, smog,and smoke.

And that's the stuff we can see. Even if we got rid of carbon dioxide and the greenhouse effect, it looks like we'd still be in trouble.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I Love You. Now Get Out of My Sight.

Do you remember your first kiss?

How about the first time you kissed someone and decided that he or she wasn't what you were looking for?

Possibly if you're a woman you have done this.

No men in this country these days would dismiss a potential girlfriend based on one kiss. Yes, this is a goofy subject, but not so goofy that researchers at the University of Albany didn't study it.

They found that many college students have been attracted to someone only to realize after kiss number one that they were no longer interested. Kind of schizoid. Presumably, one reason people kiss is that they like each other.

If one ill-executed kiss can erase affection, we're dealing with some pretty superficial students.

"While many forces lead two people to connect romantically, the kiss, particularly the first kiss, can be a deal breaker," the researchers wrote.

In a sample of 1,041 college students, researchers found only five who had never experienced romantic kissing and more than 200 who estimated having kissed more than 20 partners, the scientists report.

They also discovered that when it comes to kissing, women value it more than men. This would come as no surprise to any man who's ever been married or even gone steady for a couple of weeks.

To avoid friction both of you should skip stuff like garlic, onions, anchovies, haggis, blood sausage, and chocolate covered grasshoppers.

An interesting follow-up study would be to measure the number of applicants the university received before and after the kissing study was published.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Why Are Some People Evil?

Yes, of course the men who destroyed the Petit family in Cheshire are evil.

But what does that mean, exactly?

"Evil" is a pejorative, subjective term that carries little formal meaning. Sociologists blanch at the word. They prefer a more clinical "abnormal behavior" or even insist that abnormality depends on context.

How then do we characterize the two men who allegedly beat a well-known Cheshire doctor and killed his wife and children?

Do we describe the perpetrator's actions as the result of the environments in which they were raised? If so, we do not know the specifics of how these hypothetical criminals were reared. They sure weren't brought up by Ozzie and Harriet.

Besides, plenty of people survive poverty, abuse and neglect to become law-abiding citizens. They may be depressed, ill-tempered, or unpleasant, but they do not wantonly rape and kill.

Perhaps the brains of these murders have physiological abnormalities. That's almost a given: horrendously abnormal behavior must reflect an underlying abnormal mind.

Perhaps the pair had complementary psychopathologies.

One may have influenced the other, convincing him that breaking and entering, kidnapping, bank robbery, sexual assault, attempted murder, and murder, and arson was a sensible idea. In that case, the killer who went along must have an extremely weak sense of self or of reality.

Both men arrested in the case have long criminal records, so it's fair to say that whatever was awry in their minds has been that way for quite a while. Could they have controlled these impulses? How many people have the same pressure to act, but hold their homicidal fantasies in check?

Incarceration apparently did not help. They were aware of the death penalty, but the ultimate punishment did not deter them. We cannot put to death or maim convicts to ensure that they will not commit a future crime.

That would mean that the penalty for any infraction is death. Do we want to live in a country like that?

In 18h century London, pockets were picked as crowds watched pick-pockets being hanged. Some societies cut off the hands of thieves, and stone adulterers, but these savage punishments have not brought forth a crime-free paradise.

Since most of us no longer believe in "evil spirits," at least not literally, we are left with only two two avenues of explanation: genetic and environmental.

There is no easy answer, other than that imprecise, loaded word, "evil."

In this case, pure evil.

I'm Rubber, You're Glue...Burning Glue

E-mail may just be a new alternative to writing letters, but increasing anecdotal evidence suggests that on-line communication serves very different purposes.

E-mail allows users to criticize, insult and bait virtual strangers who've done nothing more than write an opinion piece or some other innocuous article on the Web, or in a newspaper or magazine.

Take, for instance, this response to a recent article about the difficulty some long-time pot smokers have in quitting.

Robb McCune,address unknown, emailed:

"Nice read on Pot. if the logic in your story was correct when people who are depressed go to a doc and tell them they would tell them better ways to cope and think about why they are depressed rather then prescribe something like Prozac etc. Nice straw man argument. What is that like reporting 101? Did you just regurgitate what the Good DR said rather then report?"

There does seem to be substance hiding in this tangle of mangled English. Hard to tell. Why the obvious tone of acrimony?

Or a senior at Lehigh University, who writes, "...For your edification, Mr. Katz, I suggest you do some of the research that should've originally been included in your article. Start with some of these published studies. While it's still obvious that marijuana usage, especially among adults should still be casted in a negative light, I think you do a serious injustice as Register Science Editor, to not at the least mention in your article emerging evidence suggests the drug could indeed have some beneficial effects. I think if you took the time to at least interview some of the users themselves, they'd have told you that.

Again, the author seems under the control of an angry muse.

Paste these URLs into your browser and you'll see that none pertains to the question of how to help marijuana-dependent adults quit.

One hopes McCune finds a program of some kind. An anger management program, that is.

Moquet sent further comments indicating that he is actually a personable fellow rather than a weaselly snark.

These are merely two examples of the e-mails that we are all subject to, fair and unfair. Writing takes time and reflection, which would allow flamers time to reconsider. E-mail is strangely uninhibiting, although we know that it is far less private than "snail mail" and as easy to store.

E-mail inaccurately gives people the idea that what they write is ephemeral. But it is not. It all becomes part of your permanent record.

And we all thought the "permanent record" business was a middle school teacher's ploy.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Look into the past with a big piece of glass

The ho-hum telescope is a lot more mysterious than we give it credit for.

How is it that a few pieces of curved glass allow us to look backward in time? Is this a property of light, the telescope or time?

We know time does not require telescopes, because the first known telescope was invented in 1608. But can there be time without light?

These are the kinds of questions that are likely to pop up when the curious non-physicist reads books about general and special relativity. Understanding Albert Einstein's work requires difficult mathematics.

Lacking a readership conversant in Minkowski space, Lorentz transformations, tensor fields, and even plain old integral calculus, writers attempt to explain Einstein's theories by analogy.

For example, space is like a trampoline, Earth causes a dip in the surface, and this curved space bends light. Light is deflected differently depending on the mass of the object it encounters and its distance from the object.

Since light travels at a constant speed, then time must elapse at different speeds depending on distance from the mass. Therefore, an object approaching the mass must shed energy, because it is experiencing slower and slower time.

So in some strange way, what we perceive as gravity is a consequence of mass bending light.

The speed of light also changes depending on what it travels through. This is why a lens is able to focus light and what enabled Hans Lippershey, an eyeglasses maker in the Netherlands, to invent the telescope in 1608.

Using advanced versions of this light-bending instrument we can see galaxies millions and billions of light years away. Or in other words, we can see light that they emitted billions of years ago.

We can look backwards in time. It's just impossible for us to change anything in less than the time it takes for light to travel from the past to the present. If we somehow wanted to change something in a galaxy 100 light years away, which seems unlikely, it would take much longer than a century to get there, because matter cannot travel at the speed of light.

Still, it's amazing that a few pounds of highly polished glass let us view the distant past.

Whadda you mean this violence is fake?

World Wrestling Entertainment is immensely popular, though if you ask anyone if he watches Smackdown, or whatever it's called these days, he'll probably scoff and say, "It's all fake!"

Of course it's not authentic wrestling and sure, the routines and outcomes are planned in advance. But fake?

No one discourages people from going to Harry Potter movies because they're fake. But they are. There is no Harry Potter, just fiction, an actor, and millions of dollars of special effects.

Likewise, those who go to a theater to see "Hamlet" are not confronted by sneers that "it's all fake." No, Hamlet does not see his father's ghost, he doesn't kill Polonius, Gertrude doesn't drink poison, and a dying Hamlet does not skewer Claudius.

Again, it's fiction. Just like the WWE, and Vince McMahon's exploding limo. The fact is, the WWE has more real violence than anything you're likely to see on the stage or screen.

Necks break, wrestlers fall to their deaths, and widely practiced misuse of anabolic steroids has caused numerous premature deaths. Most recently, steroids may have contribited to Chris Benoit's strangling of his wife and son and subsequent suicide by hanging.

The question is, why do we find violence entertaining? Crowds at the Coliseum cheered bloody death, folks flocked to public hangings, fans pay to see men hit each other in the head as hard as they can, and now teenagers play games that realistically simulate killing.

Sony expects parents to shell out $600 for a PlayStation 3 so that junior can play Metal Gear Solid 4 (or 5?) and the latest update of Grand Theft Auto.

Is this just a way to blow off steam? Cope with stress? Channel violent impulses into something harmless? Maybe all three.

The people who complain about wrestling being fake -- they're really disappointed, not disapproving -- aren't they?

Monday, July 9, 2007

Let's build an on-ramp over there!

As all of those purported "improvements" on Interstate 95 enter their 238th month, one begins to wonder whether the construction company has any plan.

The whole venture has an improvisatory quality. One week they're paving these, the next week they're paving that. Lanes come and go. Cones migrate from one side of the highway to the other.

There are formal methods to analyze a complex project and determine the order of construction. That way, different parts of the whole can be worked on spontaneously.

The other question, is, what's taking so long? The only plausible reason for such glacially slow progress is that the workers are being paid by the hour. They apparently are not supervised.

Or the company could be following the Aztec calendar.

This is why the project may never end. Those guys will continue to build, pave, rebuild, re-pave, excavate, fill in, pile up and level, until it's time for their children to take over.

Get into med school without taking chemistry

The fortunately fumbled bombings in London and Glasgow are frightening evidence that medical training has hit rock bottom in the United Kingdom.

Otherwise, how could the cabal of incompetent doctors have tried to make bombs without any explosives? Thank goodness they didn't, of course.

But what did they think would happen to a car packed with containers of gasoline and propane? Liquid gasoline will burn. Vaporize it, ignite with a spark, and the result is a massive thermobaric blast.

Doing that yourself is not simple, by any means. Don't try it, either, unless you want to end up in a burn unit without any skin.

A Department of Defense lab worked on the problem for several months before they produced a thermobaric weapon with which to incinerate caves.

Same deal with propane. Of course, if you place a propane tank in a fire, once it reaches a certain temperature it will explode, and probably streak off in an unpredictable direction like a canon ball.

This is all very basic chemistry. An explosive, high or low, requires unstable bonds that break exothermically. It also requires it's own source of oxygen and large number of molecules of gas that are released and expand rapidly.

Any med student at Yale could easilly make a workable bomb.

That runs counter to Hippocratic oath. But so does filling vehicles with flammable liquids and trying to set them off in a crowded urban area.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Saturn's Hexagonal Crown

Something funny's happening on Saturn.

NASA's Cassini mission has photographed a hexagonal shape on the enormous planet's north pole.

The hexagon is about 15,000 miles across, or big enough to contain four Earth-size spheres.

Why a hexagon with almost equal length lines? Not because there are intelligent aliens there. Saturn is a very interesting — but cold — place with no surface. Just different densities of raining gases, with metallic hydrogen at the very center.

Bees make honeycombs composed of hexagonal cells. Hexagons fit together seamlessly with no wasted space. So shape is most efficient for, say, tiling a floor.

Saturn has just one hexagon. Why not a circular polar vortex like Earth's? It's not coincidental. The chemistry, winds, gravity and other factor favor formation of a hexagon.

Either that or the planet is home to enormous bees.

Don't Worry. Be Happy. And Update Your Resume.

A suspiciously New Age sounding company, Balance Integration, wants to help your boss alleviate the anxiety he creates by firing people willy-nilly.

"Balance Integration believes the sum of any corporation is greater when its parts are whole and they’re functioning harmoniously (and no one’s worrying about losing their job!," B.I. says.

B.I. needs a little grammar training, but nothing to get too worried about. On the other hand, maybe someone should be laid off.

Balance Integration claims to "incorporate simple, stress-relieving tactics into the workday by providing in-office seminars and sessions on how to combat stress and fatigue in the workplace through meditation and even desk-side yoga."

B.I.'s main client is Dunder-Mifflen, from the sound of it.

Wait! Here's an idea: Don't fire people indiscriminately! Treat then with a certain amount of dignity. Act (you don't need to believe this) as if you appreciate their work.

If the company you work for starts training you in desk-side yoga, breathe into a bag until the anxiety attack subsides.

Sixteen Tons and What Do You Get? Good Abs.

How would you like it if your boss gave you an exercise plan and told you to hit a gym?

Probably not overjoyed. Of course, you do need to hit, or do whatever you do, to the gym or swimming pool or bike path.

It's the idea of your personal Mr. Burns telling you to get off your fat rear end that rankles.

He's not helping you get in shape because he likes you. He cares about your health because the less sick you are the more money he makes. Not that many companies offer real health insurance anymore, but that's a much bigger problem.

We have self-proclaimed "corporate wellness expert" Tom Gilliam trying to sell your employer a book of suggestions for molding a thinner, stronger, workforce.

Incidentally, the secret to getting in shape does not require a book-length exposition. Exercise aerobically and don't gorge. That's it.

We should do this despite the Tom Gilliams of the world, because we want a higher quality of life. And if your chief executive gives you gym privileges, as unlikely as that seems, so much the better.

Monday, March 19, 2007

A Lot of Hot Air

Who would you believe on the topic of global climate change: The Competitive Enterprise Institute or Al Gore?

Trick question. Those aren't your only two choices. You could do some research, read some journals, scan some less formal periodicals, and make up your own mind.

Or you could find out who really is an expert on climate change. Again, there's more than one. Some consider it a critical problem. Others believe the change in temperature measured so far is largely the result of natural cycles. Yet more think that the causes are both artificial and natural.

Al Gore, former vice president and presidential candidate, apparently is convinced that corrective action must be taken immediately.

Then there's the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Al Gore and his movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," drives them up a wall. Who is in the CEI? Check it out. No one you've ever heard of, and certainly no scientific experts on climate.

Yet the CEI has prepared point-by-point rebuttals for claims made in the movie.

So here's the decision: Cut greenhouse gases (no down side) and see if the temperature drops, or refuse to do anything and wait to see if the sea level starts to rise (all down side).

Al Gore may not be an expert, but at least you know who he is and where he's coming from. You don't have to accept his movie. Read some books and decide for yourself.

Or don't let facts get in the way and let the CEI make up your mind for you.

Your Child Has A Wolf-Like Muzzle

It is, indeed, a dog's world.

The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is praising BJ's Wholesale Club Inc. for refraining from selling potentially contaminated"pig ear chew treats."

The pig ears may be tained with Salmonella bacteria. Animals are not as sensitive to Salmonella as humans are (So all of you people who secretly chew on pig ear treats, stop doing it.)

This makes sense because until their relatively recent domestication, dogs and cats ate rodents of various sizes — not the cleanest of victuals.

Anyway, the ASPCA prevailed on BJ's to "voluntarily" take the "pig ear chew treats" off its shelves. The ASPCA goes on to advise "pet parents" to discard any suspicious pig ears.

Pet Parents? Huh?

They used to be called "pet owners." At most they might be considered pet step-parents. But pet parents? The anthropomorphism of dogs has gone too far. Dogs' "parents" are other dogs, you know.

If you consider your pet as much your child as your actual child, you need your head examined.

Do not, of course, feed your pet poisonous food.

That goes for the other members of your family as well.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Does This Water Taste Like Crestor?

Americans are throwing away so many medication that traces of common prescription drugs have been found in 80 percent of the nation's streams.

This is different than the beef problem. Steers and cows are given antibiotics and hormones, we eat and drink, and the drugs end up in the effluent water. Since we're loaded with systems to digest and detoxify everything we eat, and what's left over goes through a tertiary treatment plant and chlorination, it's hard to believe many drugs get into the water this way.

The way prescriptions end up in streams and rivers is by flushing them down the toilet.

AARP recommends that instead of dumping meds into the bowl, render them unusable and put them in the trash.

But why are Americans discarding so much medicine, and particularly, prescription drugs?

People who still pay taxes are giving pharmaceutical and insurance companies money to give them the opportunity to join incomprehensible prescription drug plans. And then they dump the drugs in the toilet?

By this time all of us should know that unless the doctor says otherwise, we are supposed to finish all prescriptions. No one should have a stockpile of outdated capsules and pills.

Perhaps we stock up on aspirin, ibuprofen and cold medicines and then discover that some of the drugs expired before they were used. That's wasteful, but OTC drugs are comparatively cheap.
Not so the prescriptions. Some cost hundreds of dollars.

Not to sound paranoid, but if consumers aren't throwing away perfectly good drugs, who would be? The only beneficiaries of reducing supplies of drugs would be the manufacturers.

But that's goofy. Isn't it?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Confused By Cold

Since it seems as if winter temperatures will finally arrive, a word about wind chill.

Wind chill was developed to describe how wind velocity changes the way temperature feels to exposed skin.

We hear about wind chill so often that many people have become confused. Only warm blooded animals with bare skin, humans basically, are affected. If the temperature is 35 but the wind chill is 16, a container of water placed outside will not freeze.

Wind might make the water freeze more rapidly at an ambient temperature of 32 degrees by carrying away heat.

So fear not. Your car will die equally well at 16 degrees or minus 10 with the wind chill.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

How Many Lunar Hectares in a Square Kilometer?

NASA, for reasons known only to NASA, had decided to use the metric system for its future lunar explorations and settlements.
The rest of the world uses the metric system, but not the United States. We've just never seen the point.
Instead, we use miles, feet, yards, inches, pounds and a bunch of other arbitrary units.
The meter, on the other hand, was invented by the French in 18th century.
Christian Huygens suggested that a meter be defined as the length of a pendulum with a period of one second, but that didn't happen.
It was instead defined as one ten-millionth of the distance from the North Pole to the equator along a line running between Dunkirk in France and Barcelona in Spain.
So the meter was a removed reflection of Earth, as were the units for volume, and weight. The original meter was a platinum bar kept in Paris. (The bar was 0.2 millimeters short, but what the heck.)
Scientists have since redefined the meter as 1/299,792,458 the distance traveled by light in a vacuum in one second.
Either way, using meters on the moon makes no more sense than miles, yards, and feet. Isn't NASA the agency that confused metric and British units on the $125 million Mars Orbiter, causing it to crash?
Maybe NASA should just use what we're used to.