Thursday, December 29, 2005

Apple #136: Shea Butter

Yes, I know, it's been a while since my last post, but I've been out of town on vacation. Sorry for the hiatus. But I'm back, and I've got as many questions as ever.

If you've been tuning in recently, you'll know that I've been battling dry air in my apartment, and the dry skin that results. The other day, I was in the store inspecting the various lotions available, when I noticed that several of the bottles boasted that their contents included shea butter. When I got home, I learned that my mother had a pseudo-nut shell-shaped dish of pure shea butter, and she raved that it made her skin very soft. She said another store she'd been in had a veritable vat of this stuff, and you could dip your whole hand in and when you pulled it out, it would be coated with the soothing, wonderful shea butter.

But, I wondered, what the heck is shea butter?

  • Shea butter is the oil, or "butter," that comes from the nuts of the Karite Nut trees. These trees grow in the semi-arid savannahs in West and Central Africa.

Shea nuts (photos from SAL Enterprises in Ghana)

  • The nuts are fairly small and ovoid. After the nuts are picked, they are prized open and the pits or seeds are removed. The seeds weigh about 3 grams each. They are boiled, sun-dried, and then roasted. Once the pits are completely dried, they are then crushed, yielding a soft, yellowy or white pasty vegetable oil. (For a more complete description of the process, click here)
  • This work done mostly by hand. It takes about 20 hours to produce 1 kg, or just over 2 pounds, of shea butter.
  • Each year, 100,000 tons of shea butter are exported from Africa. Many people, especially women, provide the labor behind this vast amount of shea butter. In turn, that shea butter represents the means by which they make their living.

It takes 20 to 30 hours of labor to produce one kilogram of shea butter.
These women live in Togo.
(Photo from VIVO Natural Products)

  • The Karite trees take 40 to 50 years to mature and can live for 300 years. They cannot be cultivated and only grow wild. The trees are so essential to the people and ecosystem of the area that in most parts of West Africa, their destruction is prohibited.

Even though the land around them has been cultivated for farming, these shea trees remain untouched. (Photo from The Shea Project)

  • Women of West Africa have known about shea butter for centuries, but it is only recently that people in other countries are learning of its many uses.
  • What makes shea butter so useful is the fact that it has a lot of fatty acids that are essential in moisturizing the skin. I know that phrase "fatty acids" sounds very unappealing, but apparently, they are essential to maintaining the elasticity of our skin. Some folks say these acids even promote cell regeneration, though that sounds a bit fountain-of-youth-ish to me.
  • Specifically, shea butter has a lot of stearic and oleic acids. If you look at the contents of most lotions or shampoos, you'll probably see one or both of those listed.
  • An additional benefit of shea butter is that it is non-toxic and is not known to produce any allergic reactions. So it can be safely added to most any cosmetic product. And it seems that these days, it is.

  • When people talk about shea butter, they get very excited. They say it is beneficial for dozens of applications including
    • lotion for dry skin, and also to treat
      • burns
      • stretch marks
      • ulcerated skin
      • eczema
      • dermatitis
      • other skin conditions
    • scar and wrinkle remover
    • sunscreen and sun allergy prevention
    • lip balm
    • treatment for rheumatism and aching muscles
    • ointment applied topically as a decongestant
    • soaps
    • cooking products including
      • cooking fats
      • margarines
      • substitute for cacao butter
Well, I've got some lotion with shea butter in it, and I've used it a couple of times now. Seems like regular old hand lotion to me, but what do I know?

Care2, Shea Butter - What It Is, What It Does for Our Skin, Beauty, What is Shea Butter and why should I care?
Liberty Natural Products, Shea Butter (Karite)
Pioneer Thinking, Shea Butter: The Beauty Secret of Africa
University of Purdue, School of Horticulture, New Crops, Shea Butter
For a really good, in-depth article on shea tree products, see Masters, Yidana, and Lovett's "Reinforcing sound management through trade: shea tree products in Africa," published at the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization Corporate Document Repository

Friday, December 23, 2005

Apple #135: Great Danes

The other day, I stopped in at the pet store to look at the puppies. Just to look, you understand. They had several very delightful puppies, but one in particular caught my attention. It was a Great Dane, still a puppy and gangly in the legs, but her paws were quite large and indicated that she would grow to be a Big Dog.

Normally I don't go for the Big Dogs, but she seemed unusual. She had white fur with blue-black spots all over. One eye was dark colored, but the other eye was dark colored on top, and a lighter blue on the bottom, as if her eyes were spotted like her fur. She looked at me through the glass of her cage and I had the distinct impression that we understood something together.

The spotted Great Dane (blue merle) in the picture is similar to the one I saw in the pet store. She is 8 weeks old, and so is the boxer sitting in front of her. (Photo from Hunypunkin's blog)

Alas, I had to leave her in the store (no pets allowed in my apartment, my apartment is WAY too small for as big as she would become, etc.). But I have not forgotten her and so I am curious to find out more about her breed. I was especially curious to know how much exercise Great Danes need. When I've seen people walking them, they seem to walk sort of gingerly, as if their legs are fragile because of their size. Yet also because of their size, wouldn't they want to be pretty active?

  • The first thing to note about Great Danes is their size: 28 to 34 inches high. That's almost a yard tall. That's roughly half my height.

This is the Great Dane Lady's prize-winning Great Dane. Note that the tip of this dog's ears come up to the shoulders of the woman holding his leash.

  • Great Danes can weigh anywhere from 100 to 200 pounds, depending on their sex and other characteristics.
  • I know you're thinking, Can I ride that Great Dane like a pony? In fact, although this is an enormous dog, even if you put only a small child on its back, you can cause serious damage, possibly even to the point of paralyzing the dog.
  • This breed dates back to the way olden times (like, before 1000 A.D.) and is the result of crossing Mastiffs with Irish Wolfhounds to make a dog that could hunt wild boars. Apparently, Mastiff + Wolfhound = huge and strong, yet sleek and agile.
  • Exercise is definitely an issue for Great Danes. While still a puppy, it is important not to allow the dog to gallop for several hours at a time because it can injure its growing bones.
  • As adults, Great Danes do need plenty of exercise, at least one long walk per day. But perhaps because of potential joint issues, especially in the hips where this breed is prone to injury, it might be a good idea to assume a more stately pace, and lengthen the distance you walk together.
  • Great Danes also need a soft bed to lie down on, again, to avoid damaging their joints.
  • Another issue related to their size: Great Danes' food bowls should be placed chest high. They won't need to bend down to reach the food, which will help prevent digestive problems and will also avoid potential damage to shoulder joints.

This is Gambler, eating from a dish placed appropriate to his height. You can see how he likes it. (Photo from DaDane of DaWeek)

  • The specific digestive problem that Great Danes are prone to is bloating, meaning the stomach swells with gas or air. This may sound like no big deal, but it can progress very rapidly within minutes, and the stomach gets all twisted, so that often it is fatal. Large dogs with deep chests are often at risk for this sort of thing. Lots of things can lead to bloating, such as improper food, eating too quickly, or high stress. One Great Dane adoption agency recommends keeping a bottle of antacid on hand at all times, and the number to call the vet handy.
  • Great Danes like to be around people, and one of the ways they express their fondness for you is to lean against you. This might be nice, but since they're so big, you might not enjoy it that much, especially if the person the dog is leaning against is a small child. Some people recommend training Great Danes not to do this.
  • They also like sitting on your lap and offering you their paw to shake or touch. They definitely like to be given attention.
  • Generally, Great Danes don't bark much, but they will bark to let you know if there's a real problem. However, because Great Danes like people so much, and because they're good at towing things around, if a thief is friendly enough to the dog, it may even go so far as to help the thief carry things out of your house.

This Great Dane is ready to go! (Photo from a posting at Terrific Pets)

  • Because it's very difficult to bathe a dog of this size, many vets recommend frequent brushing and grooming, which will help reduce the number of baths the dog will need.
  • Oh, and the name has nothing to do with Denmark. "Great Dane" is an English translation of the French grand Danois. Why the French called the dogs Danish, and why the English persisted in doing that is unknown.
Dog Breed Information Center, Great Dane
Great Dane Adoption Society (UK), Caring for Great Danes and information about bloat
Harlequin Haven Great Dane Rescue FAQ's
Yahoo Pets, Great Dane
For a great place to adopt a Great Dane in the Midwest, check out Great Dane Rescue in Ohio

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Apple #134: Migraines

Every once in a while, I get a migraine headache. I wasn't sure that's what I was experiencing because when people describe migraines on TV, they make it sound like you're completely debilitated and incapable of doing anything except lying in a dark bedroom with a cloth over your face for several hours. But after talking to my doctor and especially after reading lots of people's personal descriptions of their own migraines, I know that what happens to me is officially a migraine headache.

But oftentimes, my head doesn't even get to the aching part. I get the visual "aura," as people call it. If I look at a light bulb just so, or if bright sunlight glances off the chrome fender of a car and hits my eye just right, and if on top of that one or two other things are going on, that triggers the migraine. Or, I should say, the aura starts.

The aura is kind of like looking at a light bulb for too long, and it imprints its image on your retina so that you see it even when your eyes are closed. Except with this, what I see whether my eyes are open or closed is like a tiny replication of a blood vessel, complete with pulsing blood, or perhaps electricity, moving and quivering, in black and white. Then the pulsing wire starts to get bigger, often begins tracing its way clock-wise in a circle. When the circle is completed, what's in the middle of that circle fills in, and I get a big black spot in the middle of my vision.

If I take a couple of ibuprofen when I first see the pulsing vessel image, after maybe 15 minutes or so, the progression from line to circle gets arrested, and often I get no headache. Today, the pulsing line did not make a circle, but branched out into what looked like many and diverse blood vessels, and I got a piercing headache at my temple. Fortunately, because of the ibuprofen I had taken, it didn't last long.

Lots of websites say things like, "there are many triggers for migraines," and then they make a list. This led me to believe, at first, that I'd have to avoid every single thing on that big huge list if I wanted to avoid getting a migraine. But it's not like that. Different people react to different things. Migraines are kind of like allergies in that while many people have allergies, most people are not allergic to every irritant, but rather, most people are allergic to just a few things, or a few classes of things.

Unlike allergies, you may not react to the same trigger the same way on each occasion. In other words, if you eat MSG one day and get a migraine, the next time you eat MSG, you might not. Obviously, this makes identifying your triggers difficult. But what's probably going on is that your body reacts to the confluence of several factors, and if only one or two are present, your body may be able to handle it.

Here is a list of potential triggers. If you keep a journal of the things you eat, the amount of sleep you get, your moods, your menstrual cycle if you're a woman, the atmospheric pressure, and other environmental factors, you might discover which of these stimuli have set off the migraines you've experienced in the past:
  • Foods, especially processed foods or those that deplete magnesium levels, including
      • Coffee, tea, chocolate or anything that contains caffeine
      • Cheese, especially aged cheeses such as cheddar or blue or Parmesan
      • Dairy products, espesically cultured dairy products such as buttermilk or sour cream
      • Red wine (sulfites), vermouth, champagne, or beer
      • Yeast in products such as sourdough bread, rolls, doughnuts, coffee cake
      • Nuts, peanuts, peanut butter
      • Dried fruits such as figs or raisins
      • Overripe fruits such as avocados, bananas, or red plums
      • Beans, including lima, Italian, lentil, broad, soya, or peas
      • Soy sauce or other soy products
      • Canned soups or packaged soup mixes
      • Nitrites in foods such as hot dogs, most lunch meat, dried meats, corn dogs, sausages, bacon, or chicken livers
      • Other aged, canned, cured or processed foods such as anchovies, sardines, dried fish, salami, or caviar
      • Preservative benzoic acid or its associated compounds
      • Preserved or pickled foods such as sauerkraut, pickled herring, pickles, or olives
      • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
      • Other additives such as Nutrasweet or meat tenderizer
  • Lifestyle / other health factors
      • Stress, repressed emotions, or after stress is removed
      • Not enough water throughout the day
      • Not enough sleep the night before
      • Skipped meals
      • Onset of menstrual cycle or other hormonal changes
      • Some medications, especially if you've been taking too much headache medicine
  • Environmental factors
      • Loud noises
      • Sudden, bright light or flashing lights
      • Changes in weather, especially increases in humidity or changes in barometric pressure
      • Pollution, smoke, perfume, or other odors

Again, some of the things listed above may or may not be involved in triggering your migraine. You might discover that things that aren't even on this list are involved in your migraines.

For me, if three of the lifestyle factors are present, I'm more likely to get a migraine. But some of the other factors might also be involved and I just don't realize it.

A note about caffeine. Some people say that it actually helps make their migraines go away. Given the way migraines work (blood vessel dilation, as opposed to blood vessel constriction which is what happens with other types of headaches), caffeine could possibly counteract the migraine. But based on what I've read, I'd say try other things first before trying the caffeine remedy. And of course, check with your doctor.

University of California, Berkeley, Migraine Triggers
Chet Day's Health and Beyond, Foods that Trigger Migraine Headaches
Connective Tissue Disorders, Migraine Triggers, Teri Robert, Migraines Often Triggered by Change in the Weather

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Apple #133: Corduroy

I have a new pair of corduroy pants. I haven't had corduroy pants since, I think, I was 16. Before that, I remember a pair that was rust-colored and had beige tulips embroidered on the pockets. I think that was 5th grade. I like my new corduroys very much.

So now I want to know, when was corduroy invented?

Various corduroys
(Photo from Sigh.)

  • Many sources say the word comes from a French phrase meaning "cord of the king." However, the fabric was actually made in England sometime around 1780. While the experts at the OED admit that the term looks like the French corte de roi, they insist that the English came up with the word.
  • Some people in the Netherlands and Germany still refer to corduroy as "Manchester," because the majority of corduroy in the 19th century was made in mills in Manchester, England.
  • Despite its royal-sounding name, corduroy was made for people of humble circumstances. It was often referred to as "poor man's velvet." In technical fabric terms, it is similar to velvet, but its pile is made from the cheaper cotton rather than the more expensive silk or satin.
  • If you want to categorize corduroy, you'd put it in with other fustian fabrics. Fustian is any sturdy fabric made of cotton, wool, or low-quality wool.
  • In the 19th century, corduroy was widely used for workman's clothes. In the early 20th century, many children's clothes were made of corduroy because it was warm and durable.
  • After World War II, denim's popularity eclipsed corduroy for adult clothing.
  • In the 1970s, corduroy enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, probably because the cloth's associations with poor folks' clothes fit with the sensibilities of the times. All kinds of garments were made from corduroy in this decade, including pants, jackets, caps, suits, vests, jumpers; probably everything but socks and underwear.

This recently-sewn handbag is made from vintage 1970s black corduroy fabric. The bag is available for a cool $82. So much for the working poor.

  • If you've ever worn corduroy, you know it makes a distinctive vrip vrip sound when you move. This sound comes from the ribbing, or wales in the fabric. I used to wonder whether that word had anything to do with the name of the country, Wales, but it does not. The "wale" in fabric comes from an Anglo-Saxon term walu, which means "to flail with stripes." Hooray for stripes.
Historical Boys' Clothing, Corduroy for Boys Clothing and HBC Reader Subject Comments, Women's Fashion, Corduroy
Nostalgia Central, Fashion in the 1970s

Monday, December 12, 2005

Apple #132: Dry Air in Winter

It's very dry in my apartment. My skin is really itchy and I'm putting lotion on all the time. Whenever I'm in the kitchen and moving around, I get shocks every five seconds, it seems like. I've heard people say that the air during wintertime is really dry, sometimes drier than in a desert. But I don't know why that is. Or rather, I don't understand that whole cold air = dryness thing.

A series of articles from USA Today's meteorologist Jack Williams helped me understand this concept better than anyplace else. First, I'll talk about the process by which the air in your house dries out. Then I'll talk about the cold = less humid part.

  • When the temperature outside drops, the air in your house cools off too. Plus, if you have lots of drafts or if your house is poorly insulated, even more cold air comes into your house. So now you've got colder air in your house.
  • By the laws of nature, cold air is less moist. Just accept this fact for the moment.
  • The furnace in your house heats this air that was cold and is also dry. However, the furnace doesn't add moisture to the air, it only heats it. So even though the warmer air now has the potential to hold more moisture, it isn't any more humid because you've done nothing to add moisture. This means that the relative humidity essentially plummets, because the heated air can hold a lot more moisture, but it doesn't.
  • The result: furnace-heated air, with no extra moisture added, feels a heck of a lot drier than regular old outside, sun-heated air in the summertime. Because that summer air has also had moisture added to it from water that's evaporated out of big lakes and rivers and the ocean.
You know your house is too dry if:
  • Your skin dries out, itches, and even cracks
  • You keep getting shocked every time you touch something metal
  • Your nose is dry, but yet you keep getting colds or other respiratory problems
  • Drywall and plaster develop cracks
  • Wood furniture joints loosen and become wobbly
  • Pianos go out of tune
  • Wood floors creak and squeak way more than they used to.
So the air in your house is really dry. What can you do about it? Some options are fairly expensive. Others are less expensive, but they may not solve the problem on their own.

  • You can buy a humidifier. One that has a filter which absorbs water and then passes in front of a fan that blows the moister air into the house is the most effective. Some types of humidifiers can even be connected to your house's HVAC system.
  • You can stop drafts in your house. This can be accomplished by installing more energy-efficient windows, adding insulation, or covering windows with plastic sheeting, or putting draft dampers around door cracks, etc. One of the problems with these sorts of solutions is that if you super-insulate your house, it can build up too much humidity, which can in turn create all kinds of other problems. But that's something that tends to happen with more recently-built, super-energy-efficient homes.
  • You can have lots of house plants. They respirate moisture into the air and may help increase the humidity in your home.
  • You can do lots of boiling, or dish-washing, or clothes-drying, take lots of showers, or otherwise do household activities that will add water to the air. For most houses, these sorts of activities will add enough moisture to balance things out. For other houses, you may have to take additional measures.
If you want to track the relative humidity in your house, a hygrometer will do the trick. Apparently, some versions of these instruments aren't that expensive, or you can make your own hygrometer with hairs from your own head. If you have a hygrometer, look for ideal humidity levels around 45%. If it's below 30%, it's too dry. I have the feeling that the relative humidity in here is probably something nasty like 10%.

Now, about the cold air = less humidity thing. The short answer to why cold air is drier is that at lower temperatures, evaporation happens less often. This means that at colder temperatures, less water vapor is present in the air.

It is actually incorrect to say "cold air holds less water." Air does not "hold" water, the way a sponge holds water. What is actually happening has nothing to do with some property of air but everything to do with the properties of water (which is a pretty unusual and somewhat perplexing substance, even to scientists who study it). If you want to know more, read on.

Water molecules are very active little things. They're always moving, shifting from one of the three states to another (vapor, liquid, and solid). Say there's a dish of water on the table. Viewed at the molecular level, that isn't just a dish of water. In the dish are a bunch of liquid water molecules and above it are a bunch of water vapor molecules. As the water molecules keep trying to shift from liquid to vapor and back again, a continual process of condensation and evaporation is happening above and in that dish.

If the temperature is warmer, the molecules have more energy. They're moving faster and more of them are moving. With this extra energy, they are better able to escape their liquid form and become vapor. This means that evaporation is happening more often than condensation. The amount of water in the dish is reduced, and the relative humidity in the air increases.

If the temperature is colder, the water molecules have less energy. They can't move as fast. They're sluggish. They don't want to go anyplace. They want to stay in the dish. The water vapor in the air gets cold and slows down too. It says, "I don't feel like being vapor anymore," and it condenses into liquid. Because less liquid is turning into water vapor, but more water vapor is turning into liquid, condensation outweighs evaporation. Eventually, there may be so much condensation that even a cloud, or fog, or dew will form.

Clouds happen higher in the sky because up there, the air is cooler. There's more condensation and less evaporation. If the air cools enough closer to the ground, you get fog instead of clouds. If it's right at the ground, you get dew.

Water condenses when it's cold. It evaporates when it's warm. That's what it comes down to. And that's enough for today.

Jack Williams, "How humidity dries out your house," USA Today, May 20, 2005
Associated Press, "Wrong humidity turns your house into a hassle," USA Today, February 1, 2004
Jack Williams, "Getting a handle on humidity," USA Today, July 18, 2005
Jack Williams, "Understanding humidity," USA Today, December 4, 2005
Alistair B. Fraser, Penn State University, Bad Clouds
USGS, "The water cycle: condensation," October 20, 2005

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Apple #131: Mold vs. Mildew

I was cleaning the drain in my sink today, thinking something to the effect of, Ew, that's a lot of mold. But then I wondered, was it really mildew? What is the difference between mold and mildew, anyway?

I thought this would be a pretty easy question to answer. The kind of thing where all I'd have to do would be to check the dictionary and bang, there's the answer. No such luck. Not even close. Apparently, the difference between mold and mildew has become something of a hot-button issue, especially for mycologists.

Many mold remediators -- the people you have to call if your house or your industrial building is infested with nasty mold -- will tell you there's no difference between mold and mildew. They write this on their websites and in their FAQs as if to tell the dumb public to quit asking questions and just let the professionals get to work. So I suspected that there really is a difference between the two, and I kept searching.

Here's what I understand so far:
  • Both mold and mildew are types of fungus.
  • Mainly, molds grow on decaying organic material, including carpets, ceiling tile, drywall, paper, wood, old bread, etc. There are over 150 species of molds.
  • Mildew, on the other hand, grows specifically and exclusively on plants. From what I've gathered, there are three types of mildew, though most often they are either the downy or powdery varieties. Mildew generally produces a whitish, fuzzy coating over the top.

Mildew on a honeysuckle leaf
photo from Purdue Plant & Pest Diagnostic Laboratory

You don't even want to see pictures of mold, not even for comparison's sake.
Or anyway, when I looked at some, they made me feel all creepy-crawly.

  • Some molds can grow on plants, but mildew only grows on plants.
  • Because mildew only grows on plants, that stuff in your shower and bathtub is not mildew. The cleaning products industry wants you to think it's mildew, but it's actually mold.
  • If you call up a mold remediation person and say, "I've got mildew all over the inside of my shower," the mold remediation person will understand that what you mean is you have a certain type of mold that you've been trained to call mildew in your shower. It's probably not the same kind of mold that might be growing on the backing of your carpets or in the walls in your attic, but it's another kind of mold that likes to grow in showers.
  • I'm not sure why the cleaning industry salespeople want you to think it's mildew. Perhaps they discovered that consumers like the word "mildew" better, or that people think it would be easier to clean than mold, or something like that. Perhaps the companies want you to think you need one product to take care of mildew and another product to clean up mold. Or perhaps people may suspect that a bleach-based cleaner in a fancy bottle with a trigger won't really do anything about mold, but those same people might believe that that same fancy bottle with the trigger might be able to do something about mildew.
  • Both molds and mildew love moisture. The only way to get rid of mold for real is to get rid of the moisture that it needs to survive. That means fixing the leak or stopping the drip or otherwise reducing the relative humidity of the area to below 50%. You can spray stuff on the mold in your shower, and it will look like it's gone, but unless you get rid of the source of the moisture, the mold will keep coming back.
  • Professionals who know about cleaning up & killing mold say that bleach is actually a bad thing to use on mold. The same way that antibiotics and antibacterial soaps can create more problems, bleach can create "zones of inhibition." Essentially this means that bleach can kill off the good stuff but it doesn't entirely kill off what you don't want, so then the bad stuff (mold) comes back with an even greater vengeance.
  • Even though I've been a strong believer in the powers of bleach for years, I think I might make the switch to borate-based stuff for cleaning my bathroom. I don't know if there's anything like that available in yon grocery store or not, but I'm going to look.
NACHI, National Association of Certified Home Inspectors, Mold/Fungus in attic space discussion, pages one and two
FYI - Mold & Mildew, Home & Business Inspection Services LLC
Toxic Mold Help, mold vs. mildew discussion topic
Health & Energy, Mold Prevention, Mold Definitions

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Apple #130: Bob Barker

So today, I was watching "The Price is Right." Some days I don't have to be at work until the afternoon, so I check in on this eons-old game show and shout bids at the TV. This morning, a guy in a Navy uniform got called up to be in the bidder's row, and while he was jogging up to the front, Bob Barker said, "The United States Navy. Ah, Petty Officer First Class." Yesterday, there was a guy named Brad who was from the Army, and I didn't remember Bob getting sentimental and deciphering his uniform. I thought, "Was Bob Barker in the Navy?"

Photo from the Cavalier Daily

The answer is, Yes he was. But of course, I have to share with you other interesting tidbits I learned about him as well.
  • "The Price is Right" has been on the air since 1972. Barker has been its host for 35 years. It is the longest-running game show in TV history.
  • Barker was born in 1923 in Darrington, WA. He spent his pre-teen years on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where his mother taught school.
  • His family moved when he was in high school to Springfield, MO, and he graduated high school in 1941.
  • At the onset of World Ward II, he enrolled in Drury College in Missouri on a basketball scholarship.
  • In 1942, he left college and joined the Navy. He moved up from Cadet to Ensign as a fighter pilot, but just as he was about to be assigned to seagoing duty, however, the war ended.
  • He remained on the Naval Reserve's rolls until 1960.

Bob Barker, 1945.
Photo from Naval Air Station, Grosse Ile

  • He went back to college at Drury in Missouri and while he was there, he got a job at a local radio station. He learned that he was most talented at hosting audience participation shows.
  • After graduating summa cum laude with a degree in economics, Barker moved to Palm Beach, Florida, where he got another radio station job.
  • The following year, he moved to LA to host his own radio program, The Bob Barker Show.
  • In 1956, he debuted on television as the host of the very popular "Truth or Consequences." He stayed on as host of that show for 18 years.
  • Two years later, he was hosting "The Price is Right." You've seen the rest, essentially, every weekday morning at 11.
  • When he's sick -- and he has been, only twice: once for a stroke and once for prostate surgery -- they don't have a replacement fill in. They don't tape any new shows and they just play re-runs.
  • Barker has been named twice in the Guinness Book of World Records as television's Most Durable Performer and as Most Generous Host in Television History. When he won the second moniker, the show had awarded $55 million in prizes. Since then, the show has awarded another $200 million.
  • Barker has won 11 Emmy awards for Game Show Host, which is more Emmys than any other performer has ever won. He has also won 2 awards for his role as Executive Producer of "The Price is Right," a position he has held since 1987.
  • He is a vegetarian and is a strong proponent of animal rights. He once went to Washington to meet with members of Congress to request that elephants be banned from circuses and traveling shows.
  • Barker and a fellow entertainment colleague donated $500,000 to Harvard Law School to fund courses on animal rights law.
  • He was accused in 1993 of sexually harassing one of the show's models, Dian Parkinson.

Dian Parkinson
(Photo from The Price is Right TV)

  • They had had an affair for three years (his wife had died in 1981), but Parkinson said it was harassment. Ultimately, she dropped the suit in 1995. Other lawsuits have raged on behind the scenes.
  • He has a black belt in karate and also earned a red belt in tang soo do karate under the tutelage of Chuck Norris.
  • Looking for pictures of him, I discovered that lots of people have named their dogs Bob Barker.

IMDB, Biography for Bob Barker, Bob Barker
"Bob Barker to face courtroom battle after model's suit ruled valid,", September 23, 2004.
For Bob's side of the story, read the transcript of this interview he did with Larry King on CNN

Monday, November 28, 2005

Apple #129: Elevator Music

I called a company today to ask them something fairly important and wound up having to listen to Muzak for three songs. The first one was a trombone-laden reproduction of Madonna's "Lucky Star." As I grew increasingly irritated, that fake song gave way to another reproduction so emotionally muted I could not identify it. I got to wondering, who thought up this nonsense in the first place? And what about the musicians? I pictured them showing up for work, unpacking their instruments and taking out the sheet music for "Lucky Star, Lite," tuning up, and actually playing this garbage. What must go through their minds? How does one get a job like this?
  • When some people talk about "mood music," they mean songs that, in their original incarnations, produce a soothing effect, such as "Girl from Ipanema," or "Clair de Lune." What I'm talking about are the re-arrangements, the muted trumpets softly wafting, without words, well-known songs like "Come on baby, light my.... fire," the de-boned and gutted versions of songs that once had fire and grit and spit, but have since been sanitized, corporatized, and rendered numbing and jelly-like. You can see what I think of it.
    • I'm not alone in my opinion. A former employee of the Muzak company, Jonathan Poneman, has called its music "aural fascism" because it anaesthetizes its listeners against their will.
    • Ted Nugent said in 1989 that he would buy Muzak for $10 million, just so he could destroy its tapes.
    • Even so, just this year, Muzak won "the coveted Best Booth award," at a trade exposition for innovative technologies and design in the retail industry. Their booth was a white and silver circular enclosure, with white 70's-aura round plastic table and chairs placed in the center. The walls were circled with glass shelves, which each held little glass vases of water, each vase holding one red rose. Precious.
  • Elevator music is so-called because it was piped into elevators in 1922 when they were first introduced, to help people feel less fearful about riding in the new contraptions.
  • Muzak is actually the name of one company that produces soothing mood music. To say you're listening to Muzak when you don't know who has produced the pseudo-music is akin to saying you've just blown your nose with a Kleenex, when really you might have used a tissue made by Puffs or any other manufacturer.
  • But it's a good bet that what you're hearing comes to you courtesy of Muzak. Somewhere between 90 million and 100 million people hear Muzak's plush tones at some point during each day.
  • Muzak got its start by piping music into homes in Cleveland in 1934, and then focusing its attention on transmitting music into hotels and businesses in New York City.
  • Muzak does not refer to the process of re-arranging popular songs by any such direct term as that. They call it "audio architecture." They define the phrase as "the art of capturing the emotional power of music and putting it to work for our clients to enhance their brand image." It ain't about music, folks, it's about sales.
  • According to Muzak's jobs pages, you can't work as a musician for the company. They offer jobs in sales, marketing, branding, finance, human resources, operations, design, and the wonderfully euphemistic "audio architect," but they employ no musicians. My guess is they contract out the actual performance of the music to various orchestras.
  • Here's one take on what it means to a music professional to work for Muzak. This quote is taken from an interview done by Paul Morris of the Jerry Jazz Musician, talking with Peter Levinson, who wrote a book about Nelson Riddle. Riddle was one of the most highly-respected and gifted arrangers in American music. He worked on songs made famous by none other than Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Linda Ronstadt, and others. Here's what Levinson has to say about Riddle's involvement, late in his career, with the Muzak company:
    • Interviewer: An interesting anecdote in your book is that in his declining years Nelson Riddle actually worked for the Muzak Company.
    • PL: Yes. That is evidence of just how far down he had fallen. In other words, working for the Muzak Company was a job he had to take because he didn't have a lot of work in the 70's and 80's.
This was an admittedly snarky entry. I'll try to give you something more upbeat -- not saccharine-coated fake sugary-happy, but genuinely upbeat -- next time.

Sources's info on
Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-Listening, and Other Moodsong, by Joseph Lanza
CHUM Television, Media education for program entitled Sonic Power, Ted Nugent & Muzak
"Muzak Takes Best In Show Award: GlobalShop 2005," Send2Press, March 31, 2005

Muzak's unsurprisingly annoying website
Work @ Muzak FAQs and Jobs
Jerry Jazz Musician, Interview by Paul Morris with Peter Levinson

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Apple #128: Hello Hong Kong, part II

I think I figured out why I sometimes get hits from people in Hong Kong. There's a Hong Kong newspaper called Apple Daily. I think people are searching for that paper, and because search engines don't care about word order unless you put a phrase in quotes, my blog comes up on a list of hits, and some people check it out.

If I'm not mistaken, this is the Apple Daily's logo

I went to the Apple Daily's website, but since it was all in characters rather than Romanized script, I couldn't make out much of anything, except a front page photo of someone who was bleeding and had a sheet over him while uniformed people stood nearby.

Looking elsewhere, I learned that the Apple Daily is Hong Kong's second biggest selling newspaper. Some stories printed in other papers allege the Apple Daily has a pro-democracy, pro-Western stance, to the point of possibly losing some advertisers over its positions. According to folks on one chat room site, the Apple Daily is known for printing sensationalist stories. Others say that it is trying to shed that image in favor of more sober coverage, particularly of international news. It's hard to get an idea of what a newspaper is like, even if you can read it yourself, let alone based on what other people say about it.

Whatever the paper is like, I'm glad that people from so far away have stopped by. Hello, Hong Kong! (I'm waving.)

"Hong Kong: Sales of half-price Sun 'triple,'"
South China Morning Post, November 4, 2005
"Hong Kong: An Apple a day keeps developers away,"
South China Morning Post, April 22, 2004
Chatter Garden, Illustrations from the Apple Daily

Monday, November 21, 2005

Apple #127: Ferris Wheels

Driving home tonight, I noticed a Ferris wheel set up in the middle of a street downtown. I have no idea why it is there. It's not like there's a fair going on or anything. This I will have to investigate in our local newspaper. What I'm more interested in for the purposes of this blog, is why it's called a ferris wheel. I had a hunch that it was named after its inventor, and I was right.
  • The first ferris wheel was made by a man named George Washington Gale Ferris. Other turning wheels that carried people were built before Ferris's, but his is recognized as the first official ferris wheel.

George Washington Gale Ferris
(Image from

  • Ferris was a civil engineer. Before he made his wheel, he worked in the railroad industry and then became a bridge builder. He got to know a lot about steel, so much that he founded G.W.G. Ferris & Co., a company which tested steel used in bridges and railroads.
  • In preparation for the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition, which was to be held in honor of the 400th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in America, a bunch of engineers got together in 1891 to plan what marvels they might put together. The goal was to build something that would rival the Eiffel Tower.
  • Ferris was in the audience at this discussion. While he listened to what people said, he got an inspiration and drew a picture of it on his napkin. It was essentially an enormous bicycle wheel that people could ride.
  • The wheel was 825 feet in circumference and 250 feet across. It was supported by two 140-foot steel towers, which were connected by a 45-foot axle. The wheel had 36 wooden cars, and it was powered by two 1,000 horsepower engines. All of these dimensions were considered remarkable and impressive for the time. Many ferris wheels in use today do not approach these dimensions.

The original Ferris wheel
(photo from the Harrison Farm's blog)

  • To build this marvel, Ferris needed $355,000, which he managed to raise. The components were made in Detroit and shipped to Chicago by train on 150 railroad cars. The centerpiece alone weighed 45 tons. Altogether, the whole thing weighed 220 tons. Because of the sheer size and weight, the builders dug eight holes 35 feet deep and 20 square feet across.
  • Fully constructed and operational, the ride cost 50 cents. This was in 1893, when the average daily wage of someone who worked for the Pullman railroad company was $1.03. So basically, a lot of people were paying half a day's salary to ride the Ferris wheel. The ride made over $725,000.
  • However, almost immediately, other people started to make their own ferris wheels, and theirs were bigger, or taller, or carried more passengers. One guy's, Busset's, has cars specifically for first class passengers and other cars for smoking passengers.
  • Most crucially, Ferris's wheel was very difficult to disassemble and set up again elsewhere. Other builders managed to make theirs more portable.
  • After the World's Fair, Ferris's wheel was dismantled and was going to be used when the Columbian Exposition moved to New York City, but it would have cost another $150,000 to ship and rebuild the wheel. The wheel was eventually set up again, but it stayed in Chicago, on North Clark Street. Unfortunately, not enough people rode it and it lost money.
  • By 1900, Ferris was so deep in debt, he took offers for his wheel and sold it for $1,800. Finally, it was re-erected for the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition, but it again failed to raise enough money to pay for itself. In 1906, the original ferris wheel was sold for scrap iron.

This ferris wheel in Vienna has been in operation for over 100 years.
(Photo by Paula Funnell on flickr)

  • However, the concept of the ferris wheel was a hit. More than one hundred years later, any fair worth its cotton candy will have a ferris wheel.
  • Today, the ferris wheel at Chicago's Navy Pier is 10 feet higher than the original, has 4 more cars, but is 110 feet smaller in diameter. As of 1999, the world's largest ferris wheel is in London, checking in at 443 feet tall.

The London Eye, from the top of which riders can see for 25 miles
(photo from the World Guide to London)

Sources, Inventors, Circus and Theme Park Innovations
Columbia Encyclopedia, Ferris wheel
Christine Petone and Mary Lynch, "The Ferris Wheel"
River North Hotel, Chicago's Navy Pier
Nicole Huffman, American Studies Program, University of Virginia, Pullman Strikes Out, Wages and Rents

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Apple #126: Milo Radulovich

Recently I saw another movie, this one Good Night and Good Luck, about Edward R. Murrow taking on McCarthy during all the anti-Communist crap in the 1950's. Here's what happened, in the movie and in real life.

  • An Air Force Reserves lieutenant, Milo Radulovich, was working as a meteorologist in the Air Force. The Air Force had found out that his father subscribed to a Communist newspaper and his sister was "left-leaning" and opposed segregation.
  • Radulovich's father was from Yugoslavia and could not speak English, only Serbian. So he subscribed to a Serbian-language newspaper from his home. The Air Force assumed this meant all sorts of nefarious things about him.
  • Radulovich's sister had picketed a hotel when it had refused to give a room to Paul Robeson, an African American singer and actor and civil rights activist. The Air Force thus assumed all sorts of subversive things about her, too.
  • So the Air Force told Radulovich he was dismissed from the service and would lose his rank, pay, and benefits.
  • Radulovich decided he wanted to fight the charges at a hearing. After a difficult search, he found an attorney from Detroit, Charles Lockwood, who took his case pro bono.
  • Radulovich said much later that, at one point during those hearings, the Air Force's legal counsel took him aside and told Radulovich, "You're embarrassing us. Disown your father and sister, and everything will be all right."
  • But Radulovich did not do as the legal counsel suggested. Despite his and his attorneys' best efforts, the Air Force stripped Radulovich of his rank, pay, etc.
  • The Air Force's decision was reported in the Detroit News. Folks at Edward R. Morrow's show, See it Now, read the newspaper story and decided to produce a show on Radulovich's case.

If you haven't seen the movie and you don't want to know what happened next, stop reading now and go rent the movie. Otherwise, read on below.

Milo Radulovich, 1953
photo from The Detroit News

  • CBS didn't want to fund the show, so the producers paid to air it themselves. Everybody was nervous about how the public would receive a documentary that was clearly critical of the Air Force and McCarthyism.
  • But immediately after the show aired, the switchboards were flooded with calls in support of Radulovich. Viewers sent thousands of letters to CBS and Alcoa, the show's sponsor.
  • One month after the show was aired, the Air Force reinstated Radulovich.

After seeing the movie, I wanted to know what became of Radulovich after the Air Force reinstated him. Did he stay in the Air Force? What's he doing now?
  • Though the Air Force had reinstated him, he had trouble finding work. Several employers had blacklisted him.
  • His marriage was cracking under the strain, and he and his wife decided to leave Ann Arbor. He was pursuing a degree in physics at the University of Michigan at the time, but he and his wife thought he would have better luck finding work if he relocated.
  • They moved to California, but the move did not mend the marriage. He and his wife divorced.
  • Without a degree, he still had trouble finding work. But finally, Radulovich found a job working for a small weather-research firm in the San Francisco area.
  • Later, he was hired by the National Weather Service and reported on weather conditions specifically for firefighters.
  • In November of 2007, he died from complications related to a stroke. He was 81.
So it cost Radulovich much, much more than his Air Force Reserves salary to fight their dismissal. But because the See it Now program about him was one of the first public revelations of the truth about McCarthy's anti-Communist vendetta, his case is largely considered to be the beginning of the end of McCarthyism. And for that, those of us who might like to read newspapers in other languages or from other countries, and those of us who stand up against repressive practices owe Milo Radulovich our gratitude.

Kendall Wingrove, "The 50th Anniversary of the Case of Milo Radulovich, Victim of McCarthyism," George Mason University's History News Network, October 13, 2003
Jack Lessenberry, "Murrow, McCarthy, and a Michigan man named Milo," Toledo Blade, October 21, 2005.
Jack Lessenberry, "Radulovich's brave stand helped end McCarthy witch hunt," Toledo Blade, November 23, 2007.
Julie Morris, "The man who fought McCarthy's red smear," The Detroit News, May 5, 2004.
Douglas Martin, "Milo Radulovich, 81, Dies; Symbol of '50s Red Scare," The New York Times, November 21, 2007.
Kathlen Gray, "Milo Radulovich: He had a pivotal role in U.S. history,", November 20, 2007.
Rick Boeck, "The case against Milo Radulovich," Sacramento News & Review, October 20, 2005

Monday, November 14, 2005

Apple #125: Ginger

Something else my Australian friend and I talked about the other day was ginger.

Ginger root, available from Typical Dutch Stuff

I needed some for a soup I wanted to make; the recipe called for a little bit of gingerroot and all I could find at the store was a package with a whole bunch of roots in it. I said I hardly ever use ginger at all and it would have been a waste of money to buy that much ginger. She said she likes ginger a lot and that she'd like to teach more Americans to appreciate ginger.

She also said she once upon a time went to a "ginger factory" in Australia. I asked her how the plants grew, and she said she didn't see that part, just the part where they ground the ginger and also turned it into candy. Which she loves. She loves the candied ginger.
  • People call it gingerroot, although it's actually not a root. It's a rhizome, which is a plant stem with shoots above and roots below, and which is the reproductive part of the plant.
  • Ginger is one of the earliest spices introduced to Europe from the East. It's thought to have originated either in China or India.
  • Because the plant requires lots of moisture, it grows best in tropical climates. Today, it is grown commercially in China and India, and also East and West Africa, Japan, Brazil, Jamaica, Fiji and other parts of Southeast Asia, and Australia.
  • Even in places that have lots of rainfall, the growers sometimes also irrigate the crops, which then do even better with that extra water.
  • In Jamaica, which some people say produces the best ginger ever, crops are sown by two people. One person cuts the furrows and another person follows behind and drops in a hunk of root. You have to be careful not to plant them too far apart, or else weeds will sprout and choke the plants. With enough moisture, the plants will sprout in 5 to 10 days.
  • In some places like India, they plant other crops such as castor beans or gungo peas in between the ginger plants. (Now I'm going to have to find out what gungo peas are)
  • In Australia, ginger is grown by about 30 growers, and they make most of their income from processed rather than fresh ginger.

Ginger plants grown in a field, in Queensland
  • In Jamaica, the root is often first peeled, then dried in the sun. It is one of the few places that produces peeled/dried ginger, but this product is in danger of disappearing. Peeling ginger is a royal pain. It requires using a special knife with a narrow blade that allows you to mark the peel in between places where new rhizomes are sprouting. Then you have to carefully remove the thin peel in little bits where you've marked it. Most of the people who peel ginger in Jamaica today are elderly women, and fewer and fewer people know how to do it well, if at all.
  • If you want to grow ginger yourself, you can in your home. The keys are to make sure you give the plant lots of water, keep it warm, and harvest the roots from the new sprouts that shoot off from the main plant. For more specifics, see the instructions at eHow.

What your ginger plant might look like, if you grew one yourself (from Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages)
  • You also want to make sure you don't grow ornamental ginger, at least, not if you plan to eat it. There are over 1200 species of ornamental ginger, many of which actually flower. Some of them make flowers that look like little pink pineapples; some look like corn on the cob; and some look like baby pinecones that are yellow at the end and red at the base.
  • Candied, or crystallized, ginger is made by cutting the peeled roots into hunks or slices, then cooking them in sugar syrup and applying yet another, final coat of sugar. The result is a combination of a snappy, yet mellow flavor with definite sweetness from the sugar. If you want to make it yourself, try this one from Premier Systems

Crystallized ginger, as made by Holly Food Co., Ltd.

Growing Ginger in Jamaica
Ginger in Queensland, commercial production
eHow, How to Grow Ginger
Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages, Ginger (includes a discussion of the etymology of "ginger," a description of its flavor in various forms, and a catalog of how it is used in various cuisines)
Earthcare, Spices & Medicinals of the Ginger Family
The Great American Spice Company, Crystallized Ginger - Candied

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Apple #124: Some Non-Fiction Movie Trivia


Someone I work with is from Australia. She and I were talking at lunch today about Australian movies that we both like. Rabbit-Proof Fence was the first one we talked about. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it. Two aboriginal girls are taken from their families by government folks and placed in an orphanage/school run by whites. The girls escape and try to get home, across miles and miles of desert-bush land. It's based on a true story (the movie shows the girls, grown up to old women now, at the end), and it's jaw-dropping what lengths they have to go to to get home.

We also talked about Walkabout, a similar movie released years ago. In that movie, two kids are stranded in the bush and they meet an Aborigine, who helps them get home.

Then I remembered another movie I'd seen on TV, started partway through, and so didn't know the name of it. There was a girl, in constant conflict with her domineering mother. They lived on some sort of farm, or ranch or something, and the mom believed, like everyone else did, that this place required their lives. There was also a boyfriend, and arguments about going off to college. My Australian friend didn't know what this movie was either.

Turns out, the movie was called The Road from Coorain. It's based on a book of the same title. In it, the farm I thought I remembered was a sheep ranch, the mother is described by as "emotionally dependent, recently widowed," and the girl leaves the ranch for school in Sydney. The girl, Jill Ker Conway, grew up to become the first woman president of Smith College, and went on to teach at MIT. She wrote the book about her own life.

In the movie, Juliet Stevenson plays the mother. I've seen her in other Masterpiece Theatre performances, and she always does such a great job with the passive-agressive, messed-up women. I can't decide now whether I want to read the book or see the movie again.


Last night I went to see the recently released Capote. Philip Seymour Hoffman is so good I forgot I was watching an actor, and the movie itself is wrenching and brilliant.

In the movie, Truman's lover's name is Jack. Nobody ever says his last name. Jack announces at one point in the movie that he has just completed a novel. I recognized a lot of famous people hanging out with Truman, but I didn't know who Jack was. So I decided to look him up. It took quite a bit of searching before I found anything more about him than that his name was Jack Dunphy and he was Truman's partner for years.

Turns out, he had written a novel called John Fury: A Novel in Four Parts just before he met Capote in 1948. After they became an item, he wrote at least two more novels: Friends and Vague Lovers, and Nightmovers. One website said that Capote helped him get these novels published. Dunphy also wrote plays, three of them: Light a Penny Candle, Cafe' Moon, and Too Close for Comfort.

This is the kind of guy I feel bad for. He did the work. He wrote, and he got his stuff published. Not just once but again and again. But now, fifty years later, nobody remembers his writing at all. People know his name only because he was a famous guy's main squeeze. The last thing Dunphy published was Dear Genius: A Memoir of My Life With Truman Capote.

I know this information about Jack Dunphy is recorded elsewhere, in places probably much more official and lasting than this website. But still. It can't hurt to have it noted, just one more time, who Jack Dunphy was and that he was a writer and these were the things he wrote: John Fury, Friends and Vague Lovers, Light a Penny Candle, Cafe' Moon, Too Close for Comfort. And sure, to be complete about it, Dear Genius.

Masterpiece Theatre - The Road from Coorain, The Road from Coorain
IMDB, The Road from Coorain
National Women's History Project, Biography Center, Jill Ker Conway
Emanuel Levy's Film Comment, Truman Capote: Everything You Need to Know, Playwrights, Jack Dunphy
Daniel Mendelsohn, The New York Review of Books, "The Truman Show" -- if you want to know what a masterfully-written review looks like, read this.

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Apple #123: Nasal Hair

I'm wondering, why does your nasal hair get longer when you get older? Especially since, for many people, the hair on their head starts to disappear?

This person isn't old enough yet
to be experiencing lengthy nasal hair.

  • The answer, in a word, is testosterone. This is a steroid hormone that controls the growth and maintenance of masculine characteristics, such as hair.
  • Apparently testosterone dictates all sorts of stuff that happens to your hair throughout your life. When you hit puberty, it's testosterone that makes the hair start growing in your armpits and pubic area. When you hit a certain older age, your hair may stop growing in, or even falling out, and again, it's testosterone to blame. Nasal hairs, same thing. Testosterone.
  • Specifically, testosterone gets converted to another substance that shrinks the size of hair follicles on your head. Because the follicles are getting smaller, the diameter of each hair gets thinner. Finally, the follicles close completely and no hair can grow out of them. That's basically what's happening when men start going bald or women start losing hair.
  • Strangely, even though testosterone is what's behind hair loss, it's also the culprit in more hair growth in places like your nose and your ears and eyebrows. Why that same follicle-shrinking thing doesn't happen in these other locations but it does happen on your head is not something I could find an answer to.
  • Many sources I've read on this subject say that long nasal hairs is something only men experience. But if I correctly remember the faces of some of my teachers, women get long nose hairs, too.
  • As it turns out, for women, as they age, their bodies produce less estrogen, especially after menopause. Without the estrogen to "oppose" or block the testosterone, the testosterone goes to work on a woman's hair follicles and may make it stop growing on her head, or grow longer in her nose.
  • So basically, if you've got testosterone, and apparently everybody does, your hair is going to start doing new things starting around age 30.
Vanderbilt Faculty & Staff Wellness Program, Men and Aging, Ear Hair: What Gives?
Pioneer Thinking, Female Hair Loss

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Apple #122: Dachshunds

When I was growing up, my family had two dachshunds, first one who lived to be 16 and then another who lived to be almost 17. Because the first dachshund was in the house when I was born, I always sort of took them for granted, in a way. I put links to pictures of dachshunds up here before, but I thought it might also be nice to learn a few things about them.

  • Dachshunds were bred in Germany over the course of several hundred years for their particular long, low shape to make them good at hunting badgers. The word "dachshund" means "badger hound," or "badger dog."
  • Not only did their shape make it easy for them to burrow into a badger hole, the dogs were also bred for their tenacity and strength, essential if one is planning to engage in a fight with so notoriously stubborn an animal as a badger.
  • Dachshunds have also been used to hunt other animals such as foxes, rabbits, and even wild boars.
  • As most dachshund owners will attest, the dogs retain their feistiness today and may get in quarrels with dogs much larger than they are. As our vet once said, "Dachshunds have no idea that they're smaller than anybody else."
  • They are generally chipper, curious, and companionable. They like going for walks very much.

This dachshund is named Kevin. He keeps a blog about dogs in London.

  • The first dachshunds were brought to the US in 1887. By 1914, they were in the top 10 most popular entries in the Westminster Kennel Club Show.
  • When World War I hit, however, people were suspicious of anything German, and this included dachshunds and dachshund owners. Some dogs were even the victims of stonings. After the War, people came to their senses, fortunately, and the dogs have grown in popularity ever since.
  • Dachshunds may have one of three types of fur:
    • Smooth coat -- short, sleek fur, most typically pictured on greeting cards and the like
    • Longhaired -- soft, silky, wavy at the ends, the fur is longer especially under the body, from the ears, and from the tail. These types of dachshunds are generally considered to be more docile. In my own limited experience, this was the case.
    • Wirehaired -- coat is more similar to the smooth coat, except fur is coarser, thicker, and rougher.
  • Dachshund fur tends to take one of three color schemes: uniform reddish-brown color, uniform black, or reddish-brown with an overlay of black. Less often, dachshunds may be blue-black, cream, or dappled.

Smooth-haired Dexter, Willy, Pepper and Del, from people's eye view. All were adopted or rescued (see Modern Pooch).
  • Dachshunds come in two sizes, Standard and Miniature. Miniature varieties weigh less than 11 pounds, and Standards weigh over that, usually around 20 pounds.
  • In Germany, an additional category is used, called Kaninchenteckel, or rabbit dachshund. German breeders measure chest circumference as a means of determining type of dachshund, and this particular type's chest should not exceed 11.8 inches.
  • Because of the dachshund's long back, it is important to make sure a dachshund does not get overweight. Extra pounds can create a precarious sag between the stout but far-apart front and back legs. The undue strain on the dachshund's back can lead to back pain, slipped discs, even paralysis.
  • For the same reason, it's also important to keep your dachshund from jumping onto high places (which is most furniture, especially for miniatures). And when you pick up a dachshund, be sure to support its back.
  • Dachshunds will bond well with people, especially if they are socialized at a young age. They don't yip a lot, though they may have a neighborhood nemesis such as the postal carrier or the garbage collector.

  • They're fairly easy to housebreak and to train, or at least it seemed pretty easy for my mom to teach our dogs to do tricks or not to do Other Things.
  • Since dachshunds were bred to be hunting dogs, they might want to do things like go investigate Very Interesting Smells, or roll in stinky smells to disguise their own odor, or try to bury toy bones under the extension cords in the house. But in my experience, they don't tend to chew up your stuff or cause other damage to the house, the way some other breeds do.
  • Gergweis, Germany, has been dubbed the Dachshund Capital of the World. Here, dachshunds outnumber people 2 to 1. Tourists can rent the dogs by the hour to take them for walks.
  • Recently, the popularity of dachshunds has taken on a new form: Dachshund racing. Most breeding clubs oppose these races, due to the breed's predisposition to back problems, and also for fear that the same thing will happen to dachshunds as has happened to greyhounds.
If you're thinking of adopting a dachshund into your home, check out the Dachshund Rescue Web Page, which helps to find homes for dachshunds in need.

Dachshund Rescue Web Page, Dachshund Information
Steven Michelson, Dachshunds
Breeds of Dogs, Dachshunds
Wikipedia, Dachshund and Dachshund racing

Thursday, November 3, 2005

Apple #121: Hong Kong

I've noticed from my site statistics that every once in a while, a reader (or possibly, readers) from Hong Kong stops by. I thought I'd say hello by doing a little Apple on Hong Kong.
  • Hong Kong is a peninsula below the southern border of China, and several surrounding islands. The total area it encompasses is 1,103 sq kilometers, or 685 sq miles.
  • On this peninsula and its islands live about 6.9 million people. That's more than the populations of Los Angeles and Chicago combined.

Map from Yahoo Travel
  • Hong Kong was occupied by Great Britain from 1841, when China gave it to the UK after the Opium Wars, until 1997, or 156 years. Portuguese sailors were among the first Europeans to trade with Hong Kong, and a Portuguese cultural influence remains in Hong Kong to this day.
  • In 1984, China and the UK signed an agreement that would make Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of China in 1997. Under this agreement, Hong Kong operates almost autonomously from China, which is allowed to control only Hong Kong's foreign affairs and defense operations. This agreement is to stay in place until 2047.
  • The UK's influence can still be seen in the fact that people drive on the left, they use the British spelling of words like "colour" and "centre," and the country's deepest port is called Victoria Harbour.
  • Today, 96% of the country's population is Chinese, primarily Cantonese. The remaining 4% are mostly Filipinos, Indonesians, or Americans.
  • The name Hong Kong means "fragrant harbor." Or I should say, "fragrant harbour."
  • Hong Kong's official name, in English, is Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China. Local folks who speak Mandarin call their country Xianggang.

Xianggang during the day (photo from CCTV)
  • Hong Kong's biggest industries are clothing and textiles, tourism, shipping, and electronics and plastics, including toys, watches, and clocks.
  • Its primary source of income, however, comes from the fact that it has one of the largest and busiest ports in the world.
  • As the world's 11th largest trading economy and with Asia's 2nd biggest stock market, Hong Kong is widely recognized as an affluent, bustling economy in Southeast Asia. Even so, just over 31% of Hong Kong's population lives in public housing.
  • Average wages across all industries are $US 1,370 per month. Income tax is 16%.

  • Hong Kong gets a lot of monsoons, and sometimes typhoons. In the summer, winds from the south bring moist, humid air. In the winter, winds from the north cool things off.
  • Hong Kong-ites have 5 AM radio stations and 9 FM stations. They have 4 broadcast TV stations and 4 airports.
  • People use smart payment cards called Octopus cards, which are used to pay fares for railways, buses, and ferries, and they are also used in parking meters and garages.
CIA World Factbook, Hong Kong
US Census, Population of the 100 Largest Urban Places, 1990
Hong Kong SAR Government Information Centre, Hong Kong in Brief
Wikipedia, Hong Kong

The Economist, Hong Kong Factsheet

Monday, October 31, 2005

Apple #120: Fog vs. Dew

I was driving home one night and moisture kept forming on my windshield so that I had to use my wipers. I wondered if this was technically fog or dew. And what's the difference between the two, anyway?
  • Basically, the difference is that fog is moisture that has condensed but stays in the air, floating just above the surface of the earth in a cloud. Dew is water vapor that has condensed on the surface of things.
That's the simplest way to think of it. But of course there's more to it than that.
  • This is dew:
    • It appears on the surfaces of things in the early morning or in the evening.
    • After a warm day that begins to cool, the surface temperature of things cools faster than the air. When the air cools too, it can't hold as much moisture. So the moisture that was in the air forms on the surface of cooler objects.
    • Most often, the things that collect dew are thin or small objects like blades of grass or strands in a spider's web or the shallow cup of a fallen leaf.
    • If the temperature is cold enough, the dew freezes and becomes ice, which is better known as frost.

(photo from University of Aberdeen School of Physics

  • Now here's fog:
    • Fog is a cloud that touches the ground, but just barely.
    • There are actually lots of different kinds of fog, which can form under many circumstances:
      • Fog at the end of the day
      • Fog when wind comes off water and blows over land
      • Fog when rain falls out of a damp cloud into drier air below
      • Fog when a clump of cold air passes over much warmer water and makes steam
      • Valley fog in mountain valleys
      • Upslope fog as air rises up the slope of a mountain and cools and condenses as it does so.

(photo from the University of Houston's Fog in the Woods

    • For my money, the most exciting types of fog are ice fog and freezing fog.
      • Ice fog happens when the moisture in the fog freezes into ice crystals. Temperatures have to be below freezing, and this usually happens in places like Alaska or Canada or in the Arctic.
      • Freezing fog happens when the droplets in fog freeze onto surfaces. This forms a particular ice called "rime ice." It happens most often on mountainsides exposed to low clouds. It's the same thing as what happens in a freezer that's not frost-free. It looks like the wind blew and froze the moisture instantly into place.

Rime ice
(photo from Grandfather Mountain)

The moisture on my windshield certainly wasn't ice fog or freezing fog. It wasn't so late at night that you could say it might as well have been morning, which would lead me to say it couldn't be dew. However, there were no cloudy patches in the air around me that I was driving through (I do like to drive through fog. I like to make a verbal "foom" sound effect when the car first punches into it.)

The temperature probably had been quite a bit warmer earlier in the day and had cooled fairly significantly by the time I got in my car to drive home. So I'm going to say that the moisture on my windshield that I kept having to wipe away was dew.

And that's probably why using the defroster also helped, because it raised the air temperature so that the water on the window could evaporate away from my window into the air.

This also means that that old song "The Foggy Foggy Dew" is more than just inexplicable, it's enormously confusing.

Wikipedia, Fog
Wikipedia, Dew
Wikipedia, Dewpoint
Thanks, Wikipedia!
Onelook, Fog
Onelook, Dew