Monday, January 31, 2011

Apple #504: Fear of Being Watched by a Duck

An article that's been getting passed around the internet lately is about Anatidaephobia, or the fear of being watched by a duck.  What has made people keep forwarding it is because on the same page is an ad for Aflac.  Get it?  You're reading about fear of being watched by a duck, and there's that omnipresent Aflac duck?  Just about makes you shudder, doesn't it?

The only problem is, anatidaephobia is made up.  By Gary Larson, in fact, in this cartoon:

(Cartoon by Gary Larson, sourced from Warbears)

The few dictionaries that list the word at all cite Gary Larson, as in the following definition:
anatidaephobia: nonce-word  the fear that somewhere, somehow, a duck is watching you [coined by Gary Larson, The Far Side]

"Nonce" means that this word was coined for this one occasion only.  So it doesn't exist.

Maybe it's obvious to most people that all those articles getting passed around are extending the joke.   But I don't think it's obvious to everyone.  That original Associated Content article, for one, seems to take it pretty seriously:
As with all phobias, the person coping with Anatidaephobia has experienced a real-life trauma. For the anatidaephobic individual, this trauma most likely occurred during childhood.

Perhaps the individual was intensely frightened by some species of water fowl. Geese and swans are relatively well known for their aggressive tendencies and perhaps the anatidaephobic person was actually bitten or flapped at. Of course, the Far Side comics did little to minimize the fear of being watched by a duck.

While we may be tempted to smile at the memory of those comics or at the mental image of being watched by a duck, for the anatidaephobic person, that fear is uncontrollable. Whatever the cause, the anatidaephobic person can experience emotional turmoil and anxiety that is completely disruptive to daily functioning.

Sounds like the article of that author meant people to take it seriously, doesn't it?

The people who are members of the facebook group, however, Anatidaephobia -- the fear that somewhere, somehow, a duck is watching you seem to be fully aware that it's a made up word.  Judging by the photos they've uploaded, they are thoroughly enjoying the joke.

These guys take the joke to its furthest extent, having produced a rather too-lengthy mockumentary about people who suffer from anatidaephobia and the therapist who promises to cure him.

Gary Larson made up another phobia: Luposlipophobia, or the fear of being pursued by timber wolves around a kitchen table while wearing socks on a newly waxed floor.

A site called English for All has an extensive list of phobias, the real and the made up.  Keanuphobia might be my favorite among the made-up ones.

Related entries: Mallard Ducks, Somebody's Watching You

Tammy Duffey, Anatidaephobia - The fear That You are Being Watched by a Duck, Associated Content, December 8, 2008
someecards, Greatest ad placement ever
BuzzFeed, Greatest ad placement ever
English for All, List of Phobias

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Apple #503: Lightning Striking Airplanes

So I was watching a really bad and therefore entertaining disaster movie this weekend.  It was one of those global-warming-is-causing-crazy-weather-and-destroying-the-planet situations.  

The movie in question, Category 7: The End of the World. A storm with multiple tornados is on the path to colliding with a hurricane. Starring such luminaries as Randy Quaid, Shannen Doherty, Robert Wagner, Swoosie Kurtz, James Brolin, Tom Skerrit, and more. Superb 3-star entertainment.
(Photo from Amazon)

At one point in this movie, Tom Skerrit had to fly his airplane into one of these really bad storm clouds to collect weather data, and his plane got struck by lightning.  It wasn't just a simple lightning strike, of course, but one that enveloped the plane in blue zappy light.  This caused me and my movie-watching companion to wonder, what happens in real life when a plane gets struck by lightning?

  • The short answer: not much.
  • In 2001, an engineer for a company called Lightning Technologies Inc (LTI) wrote an article for Scientific American about lightning strikes and airplanes. His company makes equipment to protect airplanes from lightning strikes, so apparently he knows a lot about the topic. Anyway, everybody has been quoting his data ever since.
  • According to this LTI guy, somebody (the FAA?) estimated that, on average, each US commercial airplane gets struck by lightning at least once a year, if not more often.
  • But even though lightning strikes are rather common, they don't do a whole lot of damage. 
  • The National Lightning Safety Institute says that since 1959, there have been 7 airplanes in the world that have gone down due to lightning strikes.  The last US plane to have gone down due to lightning was a Pan Am Boeing in 1963.  Given that each commercial airplane gets struck by lightning once or twice a year, the fact that none have crashed due to lightning in 48 years is a pretty good safety record. 
  • Most of the time, passengers are completely unaware of it if lightning strikes an airplane in flight. Sometimes they may notice a bright flash or hear a loud noise, or the lights in the cabin may flicker.  But usually everybody flies onward, blissfully ignorant.
  • After a plane has landed, the ground crews and pilots walk around the outside of the plane to check for any damage. They do this for every plane, at every landing.  Damage from lightning strikes is one of the things they look for. Such damage is usually very small, burned-looking hole about the size of a quarter, and most often at the tip of the wing or the tail.

Small burned patches where lightning entered and exited the nose of this private plane. This type of lightning damage is even smaller and less common on commercial aircraft.
(Photo from Learn to Fly)

  • But most of the time if a plane does get struck by lightning, there isn't even this much damage. Usually, the plane is pretty much unaffected. This is because airplanes have been engineered, since the 1930s and more recently, to withstand lightning strikes.
  • First of all, the outer "skin" of an airplane is made almost entirely of aluminum.  Aluminum conducts electricity very well, which means that if lightning strikes the plane, the bolt won't zap through the frame but instead the electricity will travel along the skin and exit at one of those pointy places, usually the tail or the end of the wing.
  • If the "skin" has other metals in it that are less conductive, the manufacturers will add composites which are more conductive.  They'll line the outside of the plane with these composites in such a way that they'll act as a kind of channel or pathway for the electricity to follow along the body of the plane toward the pointy places at the extremities. 
  • The nose cone (radome) contains the radar and electronic equipment associated with the flight instruments, and those can't be covered with conductive material or they won't work.  So the nose cone also gets additional strips of conductive material applied along it.  Sometimes instead of strips, the conductive metal is in the form of buttons that are spaced close together.  Closely spaced dots are visible on the photo of the radome above.
  • Another lightning precaution is pointy metal things called static wicks. You've probably noticed them sticking off the wing of the airplane you're flying on.  They're connected to the pointy parts of the aircraft, and they're encased in fiberglass so that whatever charge they collect won't be transferred to the frame.  Any static electricity that builds up in the air around the plane gets dissipated through the static wicks. If lightning does strike the plane, the electricity often will travel to and along the wicks, away from the plane.  They're not supposed to be considered as lightning protection, but some people describe them as doing that.  Missing static wicks is another thing the crew look for when they're doing a visual check of the plane.

One kind of static discharge wicks mounted along the wing of an airplane.
(Photo from the 737 Technical Site)

  • Additionally, all the parts that are anywhere close to the fuel supply have to be built to withstand any lightning currents and so that no sparks will enter the fuel system. The tanks have to be made to a required thickness, the joints and fasteners must be kept to a specified tightness to prevent sparks, and caps, doors, vents, and fuel lines all have to be tested to make sure they're thick enough and can withstand lightning. Fuel tanks also contain their own static discharge equipment.
  • The electronics within the plane are also built -- "hardened" -- to withstand lightning and to protect against static buildup.
  • Finally, pilots are trained to avoid flying through or even close to thunderstorms.  They're actually trying to avoid wind shear and turbulence, which are far more problematic for an airplane than lightning, but reducing the possibility of lightning strikes is of course helpful, too.
  • Because of all these precautions, lightning strikes, though common, are considered to be a pretty low threat in air travel.

Here's a Boeing 747 taking off in a rainstorm. As it ascends, a bolt of lightning hits it. The video shows this once, then loops back to show the same lightning strike in super-slow-motion again. You'll be able to see how the bolt enters near the front of the plane and exits at the tail. The plane keeps right on flying, undisturbed.

You may also be interested in my entry on Lightning or another one on Thunderstorms.

Edward J. Rupke, What happens when lightning strikes an airplane? Scientific American, 2001 (reprinted August 14, 2006)
A. Pawlowski, Can lightning bring down a plane? CNN, August 17, 2010
National Lightning Safety Institute, Aviation Losses from Lightning Strikes, How is a plane protected from Lightning strikes?
The 737 Technical Site, Wingtips, Static Dischargers
Jack Williams, USAToday Weather, Answers: Does lightning hit airplanes, June 1, 2004

Monday, January 17, 2011

Apple #502: Martin Luther King

Today is Martin Luther King Day.  In honor of the day, I thought I'd present you with some facts about the man that you may not know.

(Photo from The Roosevelts)

  • When he was born, he was named Michael Luther King, Jr, but later changed his name to Martin.
  • He graduated from high school at age 15.
  • His grandfather and his father were both pastors at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Martin Luther served as co-pastor with his father from 1960 until he died.
  • His first significant experience with prejudice happened when he was 6 years old. A friend he had played with up until that time told Martin his parents had said they couldn't play together anymore now that they were going to segregated schools.
  • When Martin was 12, his grandmother died of a heart attack.  He learned of her death while he was at a parade, which he was watching without his parents' permission.  He was so upset about his grandmother's death, he jumped out of a second-story window, in an attempt to commit suicide.
  • Before going to college, he worked for a year on a tobacco farm in Connecticut. He was surprised to see that "Negroes and whites go to the same church," and that the races could mix much more freely than they did in the south.
  • He got his Bachelor's of Arts degree from Morehouse College, where he first studied medicine and law but then switched to ministry studies. He received his Bachelor's of Divinity at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, and finally his doctorate at Boston University. When he had completed all this education, he was 24.
  • It was while he was in Boston that he met and married Coretta Scott. They would have four children together, some of whom were born shortly before or after various arrests of his.

King and Coretta Scott on their wedding day, June 18, 1953
(Photo from itThing)

  • It was in college that King read about Gandhi's principles of non-violent protest.  His ideas influenced King tremendously, and later after he went to India and met with Prime Minister Nehru, he was further convinced that non-violent protest was the best way to bring about social change.
  • The Atlanta bus boycott, which began in December 1955 after Rosa Parks would not give up her seat, marked the beginning of his career as a leader in the civil rights movement. The boycott lasted 382 days.
We have no alternative but to protest. For many years we have shown an amazing patience. We have sometimes given our white brothers the feeling that we liked the way we were being treated. But we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice. --King, in his first speech on the bus boycott, 1955

In February 1956, MLK was arrested in connection with the bus boycott. This is his mug shot.
(Photo from the open end)

  • Following the boycott, he spoke publicly at numerous venues all across the country. From 1957 to 1968, he traveled over 6 million miles and spoke more than 2500 times.
  • In 1958, while signing his book at a store in Harlem, he was stabbed in the chest by a mentally ill woman. The knife blade went into his chest and stopped just short of piercing his aorta. The New York Times reported that if he had sneezed, he would have died.
Dear Dr. King: I am a ninth-grade student at the White Plains High School. While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I'm a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I'm simply writing to say that I'm so happy that you didn't sneeze. --King, quoting a girl who wrote him a letter following the stabbing, 1958
  • In 1960, during a sit-in at a lunch counter, he was arrested along with 33 other protesters. Although charges against him were dropped, he was said to have violated his probation for driving without a license and was sentenced to Reidsville State Prison Farm. The case became the topic of widespread discussion and controversy. John F. Kennedy, then-candidate for President, called Coretta Scott King to express his concern. The next day, Senator Robert Kennedy called the judge in the case to ask if King's right to bail had been upheld. Later the same day, King was released on $2,000 bail. 

King being arrested at a lunch counter
(Photo from The Roosevelts)

  • In the spring of 1963, he was again campaigning to end segregation at lunch counters, this time in Birmingham, Alabama. In response, police turned fire hoses on the demonstrators and set dogs on them. King was arrested and jailed as were hundreds of students who had also been protesting. He was put in solitary confinement, but it was here that he wrote his famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" in response to some clergy members who did not support his actions.
I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.  --King, Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 1963
  • In August of 1963, an estimated 250,000 participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The march ended at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and it was from here that King addressed a crowd of some 200,000 or perhaps 400,00 in what would later become known as his "I Have a Dream" speech.

  • In 1964, at the age of 35, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was the youngest man ever to have received the award.
The ultimate test of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and moments of convenience, but where he stands in moments of challenge and moments of controversy. --King, at Nobel Peace Prize Recognition Dinner, 1965
  • In 1965 in the march on Selma in support of voting rights, King and his supporters were met with state troopers armed with night sticks and tear gas. The marchers turned back and a federal court issued an injunction against them marching again. King decided to lead a second march, but when they were again met with state troopers, he asked his followers to kneel with him in prayer and then turned back. Many felt disappointed that King had turned back.  Even so, the Voting Rights Act was passed soon after.

I'm not sure which march this is from, but look at all the people.  
(Photo from The Roosevelts)

  • Protests were continuing around the country, but many of them were taking a more violent approach, such as the Watts riot in Los Angeles and the protests at the Democratic convention in Chicago.
  • In 1968, King admitted,  “I'm frankly tired of marching. I'm tired of going to jail,” he admitted in 1968. “Living every day under the threat of death, I feel discouraged every now and then and feel my work's in vain, but then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.”
  • He was on his way to Washington to lead another march, but he detoured to Memphis where the city sanitation workers were on strike. At the Mason Temple Church in Memphis, he gave what came to be known as his I've Been to the Mountaintop speech.
  • It begins with the Almighty asking King in what age would he like to live. King says he wants to go to the top of Mount Olympus and from there, he surveys centuries of human experience. But he does not stop there. He says he wants to come all the way to the present day, in spite of the fact that "the nation is sick, trouble is in the land, confusion all around. . . . But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars."
  • He reviews the state of the civil rights movement, reminds people to stay united, reminds them of obstacles they've overcome in the past, the power that they have to overcome more injustice. He concludes with the following:
And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out (Yeah), or what would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers. Well, I don't know what will happen now; we've got some difficult days ahead. (Amen) But it really doesn't matter to with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. (Yeah) [Applause] And I don't mind. [Applause continues] Like anybody, I would like to live a long life; longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. (Yeah) And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. (Go ahead) And I've looked over (Yes sir), and I've seen the Promised Land. (Go ahead) I may not get there with you. (Go ahead) But I want you to know tonight (Yes), that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. [Applause] (Go ahead, Go ahead) And so I'm happy tonight; I'm not worried about anything; I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. [Applause] --King, I've Been to the Mountaintop, April 3, 1968
  • The next day, April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of the hotel room where he was staying in Memphis, he was shot and killed.  
  • In all, he was arrested more than 20 times, his house was firebombed at least once, and he was personally assaulted at least 4 times. He was named TIME magazine's Man of the Year in 1963, he consulted with two Presidents, and he was awarded five honorary degrees. When he died, he was 39 years old.

His public speaking, his interactions with people, and the changes he helped bring about are what endure.
(Photo from Lola Has Something 2 Say!)

Sources, Biography, Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, Interview after Release from Georgia State Prison at Reidsville, Chronology, I've Been to the Mountaintop speech
Our Georgia History, Martin Luther King (chronology), Martin Luther King Jr. Biography

Monday, January 10, 2011

Apple #501: Milky Taste in My Mouth

For the last several weeks, I've had a persistent milky taste in my mouth.  As if I'd just drunk a big glass of milk and really needed to brush my teeth.  But brushing my teeth or chewing mint gum had no effect.  The inside of my mouth also felt tacky or sticky.  I was also pretty thirsty, but again, no amount of water that I drank had any effect on the milky taste or that stickiness.  Very mysterious.

My mouth has tasted as though I've been drinking a glass of milk like this every five minutes. But I haven't had a glass of milk in years.
(Photo from Teacher Art)

So naturally I did what any good Apple Lady would do, I looked online for answers.

I found out that a lot of people have experienced a similar situation. "This weird milky creamy taste has been driving me crazy," said one person. "Everything tastes creamy and nothing I do changes it. It's weird as I don't drink milk as I am lactose intolerant."  A woman named Katy said, "It won't go away, there is no discharge, or discoloration to my just tastes milky--everything! even water!"

A number of people suggested brushing your tongue to get rid of the taste.  Since I do that every morning, I doubted that doing it again would make any difference, but I tried it.  No difference.

People also suggested rinsing with mouthwash.  Tried it.  No difference.  Then I read elsewhere that you should avoid mouthwash under these circumstances.  Oops.  Brush with baking soda.  Tried it.  No difference.  Rinse with salt water.  Tried it.  Slight improvement, but the milky taste came back within a few hours. 

But of course these suggestions weren't a diagnosis, and to find the effective treatment, you really need a correct diagnosis.  Again, lots of people had lots of different ideas about what might be causing the persistent milky taste.

You must be pregnant, several people said.  Not possible in my case, and it was also not possible for a member of the male sex to whom this was suggested.  Here are some other suggestions people had, which also did not apply to me:
  • Diabetes
  • Sinus infection
  • Neurological issue
  • Side effect of birth control
  • Burning mouth syndrome -- feels like your mouth has been scalded when it hasn't
  • Dysgeusia -- sense of taste gets confused by any number of conditions, including:
      • too little Zinc
      • too much Vitamin A 
      • too little thiamine
      • Chemotherapy medications
      • Blood pressure medications
      • Formaldehyde inhalation
      • Alzheimer's, strokes, Parkinson's disease
      • Multiple sclerosis
      • Diabetes
These possible illnesses were getting way too exotic to be correct.  The only other condition that kept popping up all the time and seemed like a possibility was oral thrush, or candidiasis.

(Normally I would insert a picture here, but I find the photos of this condition to be really unpleasant.  I don't want to inflict them on anyone who doesn't want to see them, so instead, I'll provide links to a few photos.)

  • Here's a photo of thrush on the tongue (it's #25 of 40), with a tell-tale smooth red patch in the middle.

Thrush is really a yeast infection. This yeast is different than the kind of yeast used to make bread or beer.  Unpleasant though this sounds, it's actually a fungus. Its scientific name is Candida albicans. It's a permanent resident in our mouths and in women's vaginas, but it's usually kept in balance by the equally always-present bacteria.  Sometimes, though, the balance between the bacteria and the yeast gets thrown off and the fungus gets out of control.  Hence, yeast infections, or oral thrush.

All this sounded like it might apply. But as I read on, it sounded less and less accurate.  The people who get it most often tend to be
  • very old or very young
  • immunocompromised which means people with HIV or on chemotherapy
  • people taking anti-bacterial medications
  • people taking cortisone-type drugs or birth control pills
  • people who have diabetes
  • people who smoke
  • people who wear dentures, especially if the dentures don't fit right.
None of those things applies to me.  [Update: Another thing that should be on that list is people who are very stressed out or tired or haven't been eating properly lately.  Anything that can put your immune system under strain can make you susceptible to this sort of thing.  So if you've got the thrush in your mouth, that doesn't necessarily mean you have some terrible immune disorder. First thing to do, get more sleep! Eat healthier foods! I say this as much to me as anybody else.]

Most of the medical sites about this condition also say that it's characterized by
  • white cottage cheese-like lesions or bumps on the tongue or inside the mouth
  • when scraped off, they are painful and may bleed
  • cracking at the corners of the mouth
  • painful swallowing
  • stomach ache
I did have the stomach ache, but only for a little while after eating.  I did not, however, have the white bumps or cracked lips, which seemed to be the primary indicator, so I thought it couldn't be thrush after all.

To be on the safe side, though, I tried some other things that people suggested for warding off thrush.  I read that sugars, bread, beer, or wine will only feed the thrush, so it's best to avoid those. Since so many foods seem to have either sugar or carbs in them, this was difficult to do but I did my best.  I didn't see much difference in the milkiness in my mouth, though.

Drinking beer or wine while you've got thrush will only feed the yeast in your mouth. You also may experience huge amounts of flatulence as the yeast in your mouth is essentially partying way more than you are.
(Photo from The Caterer's Blog)

I also read that the active cultures in yogurt may help fight the thrush, so I did try eating some.  I ate what I had in the fridge at the time, which was a typical variety with fruit, but my stomach hurt as usual and it otherwise didn't seem to have any effect.  As the days passed with no change in the milkiness, I continued to search online, hoping I would find a different answer that seemed to fit better.

Then I remembered.  Some time back, my dentist told me it looked like I've been grinding my teeth, so I got one of those over-the-counter bite guard things that you mold out of plastic.  I tried them, but after a day or two they felt like they didn't fit right.  I cleaned them by brushing them with toothpaste as directed, but when they became too irritating to wear, I set them aside.  Weeks passed.  Then I thought, eh, I'll give it another try.  But they still didn't feel right and the next day I put them away again.  They aren't dentures, but maybe these bite guard things could cause thrush like dentures do.  And if I remember correctly, I think it was shortly after this that the milky taste showed up in my mouth.

I can't remember now if this was the brand of bite guard I bought or not. But it was something like this, anyway.
(Photo from Amazon, where you can buy a set of bite guards like these for around $19)

So.  It is my theory that I did have the oral thrush, but it wasn't advanced enough for the white bumps to show up.  [Update: my theory was correct; I did have thrush.]  The sites I read online said that oral thrush is pretty easily treated with antifungal medications which a doctor can prescribe.  I was all set to make an appointment, but then I thought, let me see if I can make it go away on my own.

I decided to eat yogurt.  This time, instead of eating one with fruit in it I decided to look for a kind that had the least amount of sugar possible.  I compared the labels of the various brands at the grocery store, fully expecting that I would wind up with Plain and Boring and Terrible.  But, I told myself, if it makes this milky taste go away, it will be worth it.

The brands with the least amount of sugar were those that had sugar substitutes like Nutrasweet.  I didn't want any of those.  The variety with the next-lowest amount of sugar was actually semi-flavored. It was Stonyfield Organic French Vanilla, with 24 grams of sugar.

At 24 grams of sugar, this was the winner of the Yogurt In My Grocery Store With Low Sugar competition. I've more recently discovered that some of the Greek yogurts have less sugar per container, between 16 & 18 grams.
(Photo from Green Mountain Vermont

The label also boasts that it has "six live active cultures: S. thermophilus, Bifidus, L. bulgaricus, L. casei, L. acidophilus, L. rhammosus." All the yogurts I've ever encountered have at least the L. acidophilus.  I had no idea whether it would matter or not that those other 5 are in this yogurt, and I still don't know whether it makes any difference.

I bought a few 6-ounce containers of it and gave it a try.  It was actually pretty tasty, not bland at all.  I ate one container with my dinner that night.  The next morning, the milky taste was still there, but quite a bit less than it had been before.  So I had some with my breakfast.  By the time I had the third one with my dinner that night, saints be praised, the milky taste was gone!

Keeping in mind the fact that the medications doctors prescribe to knock out things like this are supposed to be taken for at least a week to have a lasting effect, I went back to the store and bought all the rest of the containers they had.  I have been eating this yogurt with breakfast and dinner for the past four days or so, and the milky taste is still gone.  I have been feeling very smart and self-reliant.  I did eat a few cookies tonight -- lots of sugar -- and I can feel the milky taste threatening to come back.  Which means more yogurt is in my future!

[Update: While the yogurt got rid of the milky taste, that was only fleeting.  The milky taste came back after I ate some cookies -- sugary stuff -- and though the taste went away again after more yogurt, I then noticed some very small white patches on the back of my tongue.  They looked as if the tops of my taste buds had turned white.  Very distressing.] 

The "live active cultures" in yogurt are actually good bacteria.  The word that's really in right now and which means essentially the same thing is "probiotics."  These bacteria in yogurt -- L. acidophilus and the others -- will increase the amount of bacteria present in your mouth and they may be sufficient to get that out-of-control fungus back in balance.  By the way, if you're lactose intolerant, it's possible that these bacteria, the Bifidus in particular, may help make your digestive system more lactose-tolerant.

I do need to point out that my oral thrush -- if in fact that's what it is and I'm 95% sure that's what it is -- is very mild.  No white spots or anything like that. My guess is that if you've got the white spots like mad, yogurt might not be enough to handle the problem. If the thrush has started creeping down your throat and you're experiencing pain when you swallow, for sure skip the yogurt plan and go straight to your doctor to get the anti-fungals ASAP.

Medical websites disagree about yogurt's effectiveness.  Some say that yogurt might help, and others say that yogurt is no better than placebo and you're better off getting yourself to a doctor to get the special anti-fungal medication that will get things under control.

I want to be very clear that I am not saying or guaranteeing or anything-ing that if you eat this (or any) yogurt, you will be magically cured.  All I'm saying is that this is what happened to me, this is what I tried, and these are the results I've seen.  I am also not ruling out the possibility that I may have to go see the doctor and get a prescription after all.

[Update: I did go to my doctor to get a prescription. The yogurt was keeping it at bay, but it wasn't knocking it out and I suspect if I let things go on much longer, the yogurt would have lost the battle entirely.]

But if you've got the milky taste in your mouth and you want to give the yogurt a try, give it a shot and see what happens.  Be sure to choose a very low-sugar kind, though, or you'll only be feeding the thrush.  Alternatively, you could take acidophilus tablets, though I've never seen any in a typical grocery store.

L. Acidophilus tablets. See how they've added the hip new word "probiotics" on the label? This stuff has been in yogurt for decades.
(Photo from Amazon, where you can buy these tablets for $7.94)

Apparently, there are also anti-fungal mouth washes like Lotrimin or Diflucan or Mycostatin which can help if the yogurt of tablets do not.  I think those mouthwashes are available over the counter, but I'm not sure.

[Update: those mouthwashes are available by prescription only.  My doctor prescribed Nystatin, and though the label boasts "fruit flavored," and though it's thick and bright yellow which seems to promise that it might be banana-flavored, it actually tastes like very strong cough syrup. Very terrible.  You have to swish it around and keep it in your mouth as long as possible, and then swallow it.  You have to do this five times a day.  It tastes horrible, but it's working.]

Last Update, I promise: I posted this in the comments but I'm going to put it in the body of the entry too because sometimes people skip the comments.  Neither the yogurt, the mouthwash, or even prescriptions were effective enough to get rid of the problem. It turned out, the only thing that was truly effective was not giving the little buggers any sugar at all whatsoever.  That meant changing my diet pretty extensively to avoid all sugar and carbs.

If you've got the same kind of milk mouth I had, it won't work to only reduce sugar.  You have to cut it out of your diet completely.
(Image from the Weight Loss Blog)

It was hard to do, but it was the only thing that worked.  It's known as the candida diet. It is extremely restrictive and not easy to follow, but doing so is the only thing that made the milky mouth go away. If I ate anything on the Avoid list, even a little bit of it, the milky taste came back.

A side benefit was that, after a few months of avoiding sugar, I lost nearly 30 pounds.

After a few solid months of being on the diet, when the milky taste had been gone for a good long while, I slowly and very gingerly started trying a few foods that contain sugar, to see if the milky flavor would come back.  The first thing I tried was ketchup.  No milky taste.  Good.  After another few days, I tried eating a hot dog with half a bun.  No milky taste.  Good.  So you see, bit by bit, and very slowly in case it showed any signs of coming back, I stepped back into the waters of a more regular diet until I was sure the dang condition was gone.

Eventually, I went back to my previous eating habits.  All the weight I'd lost came back, and then some. :(  But the milky taste did not return.

One final note to all interested readers: there's no point describing your symptoms to me in a comment and asking me to give you a diagnosis.  I am not a doctor, and I can't help you with that.  If you're at all in doubt about what's going on with your body, whatever it is, the best idea is always to go see your doctor and let him or her diagnose the situation and prescribe treatment.

Blurtit, I Have Had a Milky Creamy Taste In My Mouth For The Past Week
suite101, Bad Taste In the Mouth, February 2, 2009
NetWellness, Dental and Oral Health (Adults), Milky saliva, May 19, 2008
Questionland, Bizarre rotten milk taste in my mouth
Yahoo!Answers, I have had a milky taste in my mouth for almost a week? HELP!?
Mayo Clinic, Oral Thrush
American Academy of Oral & Maxillofacial Pathology, Burning Mouth/Burning Tongue Syndrome
and Oral Candidiasis
University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, Health Topics, Thrush
The Straight Dope, What's with the "live active cultures" in yogurt?
National Yogurt Association, Live and Active Culture (LAC) Yogurt FAQ's

Monday, January 3, 2011

Apple #500: Apples

I have reached my 500th entry! What better way to celebrate a significant Daily Apple anniversary than by talking about apples?

Recently I've been enjoying a re-found appreciation for apples.  First of all, they're portable.  You can put them in your lunch bag or shoulder bag and they won't turn to mush in there.  You don't need a utensil to eat it, there's no peel to worry about like with a banana, you can hold it in your hand the whole time you eat it.

Best of all, of course, is the actual eating.  Biting into a crisp apple is incredibly satisfying.  If it's juicy and sweet with some tanginess about the edges, mm-mm.  Nothing else like it.  I especially enjoy eating apples while reading a book.  The two activities somehow become synonymous and equally delicious.

Boy, you can just about smell those apples, can't you?
(Photo from Luna Cafe)

  • The apple tree originated in an area between the Caspian and the Black Sea.
  • Based on archeological evidence, researchers believe that people have been eating apples since at least 6500 B.C.
  • Apples were introduced to England when the Romans conquered it in the first century B.C.
  • In Shakespeare's day, apples were often served roasted with caraway seeds.
  • Trees grown in the colonies in the 1600s produced very few apples because there were no honey bees. Colonies of bees were shipped to the colonies in 1622. By the 1640s, nearly every landowner in the colonies had an apple orchard.

Some apple trees live hundreds of years. This man is Jack Turner, and this apple tree was planted in Arizona in 1912. There are also lots of orchards still growing apples that were originally planted in colonial times.
(Photo from Native Seeds)

  • George Washington didn't just have cherry trees; he had apple trees too.
  • Around this time, apples were called "winter banana" or "melt-in-the-mouth."
  • Newton Pippin apples were the first apples exported from America in 1768. Some were sent to Benjamin Franklin in London.
  • Johnny Appleseed traveled the country distributing apple seeds he collected from cider mills in the early 1800s.  He planted seeds and started nurseries for apples as well as herbs and other vegetables. He killed no animals, chopped down no trees, and carried neither gun nor knife. He traveled for 40 years and covered an estimated 10,000 square miles.
  • Apples were introduced to the Pacific Northwest when a young lady at a farewell banquet for a certain Captain Simmons slipped apple seeds into his pocket and told him to plant the seeds in the wilderness. He did as she told him and planted the seeds at Fort Vancouver in Washington.

Areas in red are where Johnny Appleseed is thought to have traveled
(Map from Marc Levitt)

Tree & Fruit Facts
  • Apple trees are in the rose family.  The blossoms resemble wild rose blossoms.

Apple blossom
(Photo by Age Kotyk at The Kotyk Report)

Wild rose
(Photo by Stoner at Tech Support Guy)

  • It takes 50 leaves soaking up enough sunlight and rain to produce one apple.
  • It takes about 36 apples to create one gallon of apple cider.
  • Most of an apple's fragrance cells are concentrated in the skin.
  • Fresh apples float. This is because 25% of their volume is air. 
  • Apples ripen six to ten times faster at room temperature than if they were refrigerated.

Nutrition -- the Real Story

Biting into an apple -- hooray!
(Photo from The Essential Skills)

  • Lots of sites say that apples are good at lowering blood pressure.  Well, yes, but this is not some magical property limited only to apples.  Studies have shown that diets high in any fruits and vegetables help reduce people's blood pressure.  Reducing saturated fats also helps.  So does regular exercise, getting adequate amounts of sleep, etc., etc., all the stuff you've heard a million times over. 
  • People also claim, by the way, that apple cider vinegar is some miracle home remedy for high blood pressure and other ailments such as high cholesterol and arthritis.  The truth is, there is no scientific evidence to support any of these claims.  Apple cider vinegar has hardly any nutritional value at all. People say that the acetic acid in the vinegar does marvelous things, but in truth, it gets broken down by the acid in the stomach and would therefore be rendered ineffectual.
  • In general, there's no magic bullet for any health issue.  Anybody who tries to tell you so is lying.  It's important to eat a variety of foods, leaning of course toward the healthy side of the spectrum.

Nutrition, or Eat the Peel
  • All that said, apples do provide some nutritional goodies to the body.
  • Compared to other fruits, apples aren't jam-packed with vitamins and minerals, but they do provide a fairly good dose of vitamin C, about 10% of your daily requirement.
  • Almost half of the vitamin C content is just underneath the skin.  Peeling the skin, therefore, takes away most of the vitamin C.
  • Apples are also a good source of fiber, and again, it's the peel that contributes most of the fiber.
  • The pectin present in apples is also beneficial.  It helps control insulin levels -- helpful to diabetics -- and by lowering insulin production, it also helps reduce levels of cholesterol.
  • Apples contain two antioxidants in particular, phenolics and quercetin.  These antioxidants may be what enables apples to help people who eat apples enjoy lower rates of lung and colon cancer.
  • Again, the antioxidants are in the peel, so if you want to get these goodies, don't discard the peel.
  • If you don't have a toothbrush, eat an apple.  Eating an apple after the meal helps clean the teeth and massage the gums.

Remove the peel and you remove most of the nutritional benefit of an apple
(Photo from

    Baking & Eating Varieties
    Some apples are better for baking and some are better for eating out-of-hand. For baking, choose a variety with a lower sugar content and that's more tart than what you might usually eat. Sugary apples tend to get mushy and lose their flavor when baked.

    These are just a few of the varieites of apples that are commonly available. If you want to see lots more varieties, check out this poster from Pgris.
    (Photo from

    • Baking:
        • Cortland: slightly tart, excellent for baking, won't brown quickly so good for cheese plates
        • Golden Delicious: sweet and mellow but still good for baking
        • Granny Smith: tart or even sour, best when paired with sweeter apples
        • Ida Red: tangy, flesh is sometimes pink, great for applesauce
        • Jonathan: tart and slightly spicy, a long-time favorite
        • Jonagold: blend of Golden Delicious and Jonathan, also ok for eating
        • Rome: perfectly round, firm flesh, one of the best for baking
        • Winesap: juicy and crisp, some say it's ok for eating but I thought it was too tart
    • Eating:
        • McIntosh: juicy and crisp, tends to break down in cooking but good for sauces, doesn't keep well
        • Gala: crisp and sweet but not overly so, my favorite for eating
        • Honeycrisp: honey-sweet and also tart, also ok for baking
        • Macoun: sweet, with bright red skin and juicy flesh
        • Lady: perhaps the oldest variety still grown, sweet-tart but tiny, ok for baking too
        • Pink Lady: developed in New Zealand, crisp and tart at first with sweet finish
        • Fuji: developed in Japan, aromatic, very sweet, very juicy, improves with age
        • Braeburn: also from New Zealand, crisp and juicy, also ok for baking
        • Red Delicious: large, brilliant red with five knobs at base, very sweet and no tartness
    • Either:
        • Spy: large, sweet-tart, red skin streaked with yellow
        • Pippin: juicy but tart and crisp
        • Empire: cross between McIntosh and Red Delicious

    This little girl, Cate, is holding a little apple, a Lady. Lady is one of the oldest varieties still being grown today.
    (Photo from this week for dinner)

    Growing & Commerce
    • About 10,000 varieties of apples are grown around the world.
    • About 7,000 varieties are grown in the US.
    • Only about 25 to 30 varieties are wild.  Most of those are crab apples.
    • The only country that grows more apples than the US is China.  In 2006, they grew about 6 times the number of apples as the US -- 24 million metric tons in China vs 4 million metric tons in the US.
    • Apples are grown in all 50 states.  They are grown and sold commercially in 36.
    • The top apple producing states are Washington, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, California and Virginia.
    • Almost one out of every four apples harvested in the United States is exported.

    China grows way more apples than anybody else. Interesting that one of our favorite apple varieties is from Japan, which isn't even on this list.
    (Graphic from DailyMe)

    A Few Final Facts
    • Exactly when and why people starting bobbing for apples is not known for sure.  But a book in 1902 says that after bobbing for them, you should peel the apple, pass it three times in the direction of the sun around your head and then throw it over your shoulder. The shape it assumes is the shape of the first letter of your true love's name.  That's right. The apple knows these things.
    • It probably wasn't being hit on the head with an apple that caused Sir Isaac Newton to think about the force of gravitation.  Most likely he only observed an apple falling from a tree.
    • When the NASA space shuttle went into space in May 2010, they took a piece of Newton's apple tree on the shuttle with them, where it experienced zero gravity.
    • Steve Jobs may have named his first Apple computer after the apple orchard and farm where he'd worked the previous summer.  Certainly the very first logo showed Isaac Newton sitting under his apple tree. But that was thought to be too complicated, so it was changed to the more simple rainbow apple with a bite out of it.
    • The tree in the Garden of Eden is only identified as a "fruit" tree.  It was a painting made in 1470 that suggested it was an apple tree.  Historians think that actually, based on the agriculture of the time, it probably would have been apricot.

    Hugo Van Der Goes' The Fall of Man, the first place where the Tree of Knowledge was depicted as an apple tree.  How different would things have been if he'd painted an apricot tree instead?
    (Image from

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