Friday, April 29, 2005

Apple # 63: Spyware II and Penguins


Days later, I look back at the previous entry and think, "Oh, innocent fool." I was not, in fact, a day away from recovery. It turned out, my computer had so much spyware on it -- spyware that was not detected by any of the three programs I ran, including one I purchased -- that every time I got online, it continued to download more spyware and more adware like mad. It was as if my computer was shouting, "Hey you guys! Over here! This patsy's open!" One of the tech support guys at my internet service provider told me that every time I logged on for the past few days, enormous amounts data were being sent to my computer, more even than my computer knew how to handle.

I was told it would take at least $100 for professionals to "clean" away the spyware. My PC was old, fashioned for me by a friend back in 1999. I had already replaced the hard drive once, in 2001. Then the start button fell apart so that I was essentially hot-wiring it every time I started it. It had USB ports but no drivers. Etc. etc. So I purchased a new computer.

I come to you now from a brand, spanking new HP system. I am still paranoid about downloading bad stuff, so I have three anti-spyware programs running. I plan to "sweep" my system with all of them after I log off. Based on my experience with the nastiness, I highly suggest that you do the same. Spyware is pernicious. It's ineradicable. It's the kudzu of the Internet.


I like penguins. Here are a few facts about them.

Photo from Guillaume Dargaud's Penguins FAQ blog
  • here are many species of penguins. Some of the better-known ones include:
    • Emperor
    • King
    • Adelie
    • Rockhopper
    • Gentoo
    • Macaroni
    • Fairy
    • Galapagos
  • On average, penguins swim at about 7 miles per hour, though some swim as slowly as 2 mph.
  • It is most efficient for penguins to swim just below the surface. However, they have to come up for air. Most species compromise by "porpoising," leaping up out of the water and diving back down in a rhythmic fashion. Thus they can breathe without interrupting their forward motion.
  • Emperor penguins lean back on their heels, essentially, to give their feet a break from standing on the cold ice.
  • Their overlapping feathers provide waterproofing and trap air to provide about 80% of the thermal insulation that penguins need to survive. They also have a thick layer of fat under the skin.
  • When penguins hold their flippers away from their bodies, they are exposing more body surface to the air and are thus cooling themselves off.
  • Penguins, like many seabirds, excrete salt through glands around their bill. This is essentially how they sweat, and it is also how they are able to drink seawater with no ill effects.
  • Penguins eat krill (something like shrimp), squid, and various fishes. Adelie penguins eat about 3.5 pounds of krill and small fish each day.
  • Penguins have spiny tongues, which help them to grip the slippery fish they have caught in their bills.
  • Penguins fast in several circumstances. They fast during breeding season, and some fast through the entire courtship and mating process as well. Penguins also fast while molting, or shedding their feathers. Because their feathers are often patchy during molting, they don't have the protection they need to go into the water, so they wait to feed until their feathers have grown back. Depending on the circumstances and species, an adult penguin may fast for as long as 120 days.

SeaWorld animal information database, chapter on Penguins
You can also hear a penguin call at Guillaume Darguad's blog

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Apple #62: Spyware


For the past few days, I've been battling a nasty case of spyware. I downloaded something that I thought would allow me to look at a map, but lo and behold, it was spyware, complete with a few viruses as well. It started installing links on my desktop, making everything run like molasses, it corrupted my Internet Explorer as well as my Firefox, it screwed up my internet connection, and generally made a huge mess. I've been trying to get it off my computer for three days now, and though not everything has been eradicated yet, I expect to be in the clear by the end of the day tomorrow.

These are the tools I used to take care of these problems. If you don't have these or something like them on your system, I highly recommend that you install these on your hard drive as soon as possible:
  • Norton Anti-Virus
  • Norton WinDoctor -- usually part of the Anti-Virus package. Helps rebuild problems with anything in Windows.
  • Spybot -- freeware, gets rid of spyware that is probably running in secret on your hard drive even now, available here
  • Ad-Aware -- ditto, gets stuff that Spybot misses and vice versa, available at

Two ways to tell whether you've got spyware:

  1. Your system is running super-slow, especially when you're online
  2. You get more pop-ups than usual.

The best way to find out for sure is through your Task Manager:

  1. Type control+alt+delete to bring up the Task Manager. Click on the Processes tab. This shows all the "background" programs that are keeping your computer running.
  2. Some programs, like svchost.exe, are the steady essential things. Some, like WinMgmt.exe or explorer.exe, are pretty obvious what they're for.
  3. If anything shows up that you can't figure out what it does, log on (if you can), and type in the filename in Google. You'll see pretty quickly if the program is spyware.
  4. If it is spyware, right click on the filename in Task Manager. Choose End Process Tree. This will make the spyware program stop running, and it will also turn off any associated functions that are part of its annoying behavior. Then you will be free to fix the problem without having to fight off endless pop-ups.

Several states as well as the US Congress and also the UK have passed or are in the process of passing laws that fine companies severely for sending out spyware. The fines are enormous -- in some cases, in the millions. I now understand why these huge fines are called for. Because it took me three days to deal with this problem! And it's not advertising, it's a crime against sanity!

The Apple Lady will have regained her composure in a day or two.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Apple #61: Cumberland Gap


During the trip I mentioned in the previous entry, we passed signs for the Cumberland Gap. There was some debate among us in the car about where this is, exactly, and what mountain range it cuts through.

(map from Cumberland Gap Wedding Chapel)

The Cumberland Gap indicated with the red star is actually a gap between mountains (a map showing the Gap's gap-itude is available here). As you can see, the Gap is in Tennessee, right near the northern border with Virginia and the northeast border with Kentucky.

At the border of Tennessee, the highway US25E becomes a tunnel that drives through the mountain pass.
  • The Gap is a natural opening, carved out by wind, in the Appalachian Mountains.
  • Large animals first used the Gap on their migrations westward, Native Americans followed the path that game had made, and settlers also used the Gap on their own journeys to the west.
  • The Gap's heyday in the westward migration was between 1775 and 1810, when an estimated 200,000 to 300,00 people passed through it.
Due to the enormity of technical difficulties I am currently experiencing, which has made composing this brief entry the work of about four hours, I'm going to stop here for now. More later when I get this crap fixed.

Virginia Places, Dr. Thomas Walker
Cumberland Gap National Park

Monday, April 18, 2005

Apple #60: Kudzu


I just got back from a trip which involved driving through Kentucky. During this drive, I saw entire hillsides covered with a grayish mat of stuff. There was nothing living on these hills, just the gray, almost ashlike junk. Somebody else in the car said, "That's kudzu. It's killing everything in the South."

And then I saw that the gray stuff was vines, dead maybe from the winter, tangled and matted over everything, reaching up into trees until the trees had been choked to death, crawling along telephone wires until the wires were weighed down to the ground, just completely smothering everything. It looked similar to pictures I've seen of the devastation after a volcano: everything covered and destroyed by thick gray stuff.

  • Kudzu is a perennial vine in the pea family.
  • In the right climatic conditions (like that of the Southern US), it can grow as much as 20 meters in a season, or 30 centimeters per day.
  • It is native to Japan and China. It was first introduced to the US in 1876 at a plant exhibition in Philadelphia. It was shown again at an exposition in New Orleans in 1883, after which people started planting it to provide additional shade for their porches or for decoration on trellises.
  • In the early 20th century, people started using it for things beyond decoration, and here it started to get out of hand because the stuff took root in the ground. Mainly, people were using it as cheap supplemental feed for livestock that had over-grazed the land.
  • The snake oil people got into it and started selling it as a "wonder plant" that could do all kinds of magical things. The Georgia railroad was handing out free kudzu plants, there was a Kudzu Club, kudzu became almost a cult.
  • Then in the 1930's, the US government started planting it as a way to prevent soil erosion. This was maybe the source of the greatest damage of all. In an effort to stop erosion, which was part of the Great Depression at the time, the government handed out 84 million seedlings of kudzu. They gave farmers $20 per hectare of kudzu. By 1946, 1.2 million ha were planted with kudzu.
  • Not too long after this, people started noticing that this plant was growing out of control. But it took a while before the wheels were set in motion to try to stop its progress. It wasn't until 1970 that the plant was designated as a common weed, and it was 1997 before the government called it a "noxious weed" in recognition of the damage it had caused.
  • By the mid 1990s it had a "stranglehold" on an estimated 2.8 million ha and was spreading by 50,000 ha per year. So far, the only plants known to compete successfully with kudzu are other invasive species -- privet hedges and honeysuckle -- from China and Japan.

The good news is, people have found some ways to control kudzu:

  • --Repeated mowing: this can weaken and ultimately control kudzu, but you need a pretty sturdy mower and blade to chop through the vines, which can be very thick and starchy.
  • --Repeated grazing: this was one of kudzu's intial purposes in the US, and it does provide a good source of nutrition, and livestock like it. But you have to fence the area, give the livestock a big enough space to walk around in it, and you have to rotate the livestock to other types of feed.
  • --Burning: I'm sure a lot of people would like nothing better than to light a torch to it, but it really only works if you burn in late winter or early spring. This limits erosion, and it also helps to expose the germinating seeds. And you also need to couple burning with an herbicide for it to be most effective.
  • --Herbicide: This is the most common and most expensive option. Lots of different herbicides have been made, and most can be used in combination with grazing or burning. But some you have to be careful about getting it in a water supply, and most you also have to follow up with spot treatments for several years afterwards.
  • --Persistence: The main recommendation I see over and over is to be persistent. As fast as this vine grows, and as ubiquitous as it has become, that is how persistent people have to be in fighting it back. And it's not just the vine that's responsible for the damage; it was also the ways people overused the vine that allowed it to get to where it is today. So we also have to change the ways we live and deal with it now.

Richard Blaustein, "
Kudzu's invasion into Southern United States life and culture," from The Great Reshuffling: Human Dimensions of Invasive Species, The World Conservation Union, 2001
Controlling Kudzu in CRP Stands," University of Georgia Warnell School of Forest Resources and College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
Kudzu in Alabama: History, Uses and Control," ANR-65, Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, 1999

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Apple #59: Barry Manilow


I just learned today that Barry Manilow was behind a ton of songs for commercials back in the day. As the composer or the voice of so many songs that filled my childhood years, he is therefore the one forming many of my impressions about the way the world works. Asking yourself why the world is the way it is today? Maybe the answer is Barry Manilow.

Oh, by the way, his real name is Barry Allen Pincus.
  • Like a Good Neighbor (State Farm Insurance)
  • Stuck on Me (Band-Aid brand)
  • Bathroom Bowl Blues (Green Bowlene)
  • Stridex (Stridex acne fighting products)
  • Dodge (Dodge vehicles)
  • You Deserve a Break Today (McDonald's -- sung, but not composed)
  • The Most Original Soft Drink Ever (Dr. Pepper -- sung, composed by Randy Newman)

Also, he didn't actually write "I Write the Songs." That was actually written by Bruce Johnston, who later became one of the Beach Boys. The first person to record "I Write the Songs" was teen idol David Cassidy.

Sources, Barry Manilow
BarryNet, his music, commercial jingles, I Write the Songs

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Apple #58: Stork Bites

STORK BITES or, the red patches on the back of a lot of people's necks

The other day, somebody bent down to get something off the floor for me, and I noticed she had one of those birthmarks that a lot of people have -- a red or sometimes pink, longish, irregular patch at the nape of the neck that looks kind of like a rash. Usually you can't see it because it's hidden by hair, but with some people, it's pretty apparent.

I heard, once upon a time from some crazy people in a hair salon, that this was not a birthmark but actually a sign that many toxins had built up under your scalp. So I finally decided to find out if this is true.
  • The red patches are known as "stork bites," suggesting that this is where the mythical stork held you in its beak as it carried you to be born. They are also called "salmon patches."
  • They are birthmarks, a particular type unto themselves. They are caused by poorly formed blood or lymph vessels. The patches are where the dilated capillaries are visible under the skin.
  • Stork bites are extremely common. Different sources give different rates of occurrence, but they appear in anywhere from 1 in 5 to 1 in 2 newborns.
  • They become more visible when the baby cries or when its temperature changes. If you apply pressure to it, the coloring fades, but when you remove pressure, the coloring comes back.
  • Babies can also have these patches on their faces (quaintly, sometimes called "angel kisses"). The patches in these places typically fade as the baby gets older. As for stork bites, however, they do not go away in 50% of the people who have them.
  • I was wondering if maybe the trauma of birth made these marks appear, but apparently, nobody knows what causes them.

As a general observation, I've found this to be true of a lot of medical knowledge. They can tell you a lot about where and when something weird occurs in the human body, and sometimes even how it all works. But most of the time, they have no idea why it happens. Somebody really ought to get on the why part.

University of Maryland Medical Center, Medical Encyclopedia,
Stork Bites entry and Birthmarks - red entry
Dr. Joseph F. Smith Medical library encyclopedia,
Birthmarks entry
Healthwise Knowledge Base & Reuters Headlines Topic: Birthmarks

Friday, April 8, 2005

Apple #57: The Pixies


For those who don't know, the Pixies was a four-person band in the late 1980s and early 1990s which is often credited with laying the foundations for what we now call "indie rock." They mixed punk and pop and surf rock with a sprinkling of Spanish and came up with inventive, catchy, and crazy songs. As many music reviewers have put it, it's hard to imagine Nirvana without them. Nirvana the band, that is.

Doolittle (album cover photo from Pixies Music)

  • Lead singer Black Francis was "inspired by Iggy Pop" to change his name from Charles Thompson.
  • While he was still Charles Thompson, he was an anthropology major at the University of Massachusetts. He went to Puerto Rico to study Spanish, and after six months there, he decided to go back to the US, drop out of college, and form a band.
  • Guitarist Joey Santiago was his college roommate. Santiago named the band by flipping through the dictionary.
  • They advertised for a bassist and found Kim Deal. She and sister Kelley were in a garage band called The Breeders long before Kim ever joined the Pixies.
  • On Kim's recommendation, they recruited drummer David Lovering, and that was the Pixies.
  • As they recorded and toured together, tensions between Francis and Deal grew, especially when it came to songwriting.
  • Their albums, in chronological order:
    • Surfer Rosa
    • Come on Pilgrim (an EP, released with Surfer Rosa)
    • Doolittle
    • Bossanova (no songs by Kim Deal)
    • Trompe le Monde
    • Death to The Pixies (post break-up)
    • Best of the The Pixies (ditto)

  • They became known for being quirky and a little nuts. On their second American tour in 1989, the band often played their entire set list in alphabetical order.
  • All the touring and the sudden burst of fans wore them out and they took a break for a while.
  • After Doolittle, Kim formed her other band, the Breeders, with her sister Kelley and two other women from other bands.
  • Trompe Le Monde, the band's last album, was reportedly inspired by Ozzy Osbourne, who was using a nearby studio at the time.
  • Following this album's release, the band opened for U2 on its Zoo Tour.
  • Black Francis started working on solo stuff, and then he was interviewed as saying the band was breaking up. The next day, he faxed everyone else in the band the text of his interview, and that was it for the Pixies.
  • They did get back together for a tour recently, and they've written a couple new songs, but it looks like that might be as far as the reunion goes.

I don't know what I expected to find when I started this, but I thought I'd see something that would explain where those crazy-great songs came from. These people are not insane like David Lee Roth, they're not messed up like The Replacements. It looks like they're pretty much normal people who made fantastic songs.


People have asked me, "What about the heroin? Isn't Kim on heroin?" As far as I can tell, based on interviews and public documents (it's hard to know for sure what people do in their private lives) the answer is no, that is not her, that's her sister, Kelley.

Kelley was sentenced to mandatory rehabilitation for heroin use. This was after the Breeders' big hit album, Last Splash, and its subsequent tour. She did her time in rehab and came out clean, and this was why the next album, Title TK, was delayed for so long. Unfortunately, based on what I saw at a Breeders show after that album was released, it looked like Kelley didn't really have it together yet.

Kim gets ticked when people get her and Kelley mixed up. I'm not going to reproduce what she said in an interview about this because it includes many swear words, but the short version is, "I hate that!"

She also said, "If something ever goes wrong with Kelley again, everything stops until we fix it."

So, getting back to the original point, heroin was not a factor in the weirdness of the Pixies. The weirdest thing I know about Kim is that she uses black shoe polish to dye her hair black. She says that regular hair dye doesn't get it black enough to suit her. So it looks like the thrilling weirdness of their songs just comes straight from the personalities they were born with.

The Pixies' Biography on Yahoo Music (republished from Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide)
Rolling Stone bio of The Pixies and discography

Satan Stole My Teddybear blog of music reviews, page on the Pixies
J. Eric Smith interview with Kim Deal, 1997
NME's Review of All Tomorrow's Parties, on an unofficial Breeders website,

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Apple #56: The Alphabet Song


Here's the burning question: where did the alphabet song come from?

I thought maybe Sesame Street, but it's way older than that.
  • First copyrighted by C. Bradlee from Boston in 1834.
  • Originally titled "The Schoolmaster."
  • Uses the same melody as a French song called Ah! Vous dirais-je, Maman, ("Ah, I would say to you, Mama").
  • Many people attribute this melody to Mozart, but it was actually first written down by a man named M. Bouin, in 1761. Music history suggests that this song existed in the culture even before that.
  • Mozart did compose several variations on this song in the 1780's. Haydn used the melody, too, in the second movement of his "Surprise" symphony. It also appeared in several popular songs in the late 1700's and 1800's.
  • This melody is also the same as "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."
  • Which is also the same melody as "Baa Baa Black Sheep."

All these years and I never noticed those songs were the same.

The Straight Dope,
"Who wrote the melody to the alphabet song?" entry on the
Alphabet Song (references Wikipedia),
Mozart variations

Saturday, April 2, 2005

Apple #55: V.C. Andrews


Somebody told me today that V.C. Andrews, the woman who wrote THE gothic-horror novels about super-sick-messed-up families, died years ago. And all the novels that have been coming out under her name for the past however many years have actually been written by her family. Could this be true?

Yes. It is true. And apparently it has been old news for some time.

And was her own family the model for the lurid nastiness in her novels?
  • She was born in 1923 as Virginia Cleo Andrews, in Portsmouth, Virginia.
  • She was the youngest of three children. Her father was a retired navy officer who ran a tool-and-die business, and her mother was a telephone operator.
  • When she was in high school, she fell down the stairs of her school and suffered severe spinal injuries. Some say her doctor was an idiot and denied that she was in pain. Others say that doctors tried experimental surgery and failed. Either way, she underwent several surgeries, but they never really worked and she had to use either a wheelchair or crutches, and she battled with arthritis for the rest of her life.
  • After her father died in the 1960s, Virginia supported the rest of her family as a commercial artist, professional portrait painter, and fashion illustrator.
  • In 1972, at 48 years old, she started writing novels, but none were published. One short story she wrote did get published; it was called "I Slept With My Uncle on My Wedding Night."
  • In the late 1970's, she submitted a novel called The Obsessed. At the request of her publisher to spice it up, she added "unspeakable things my mother didn't want me to write about." In 1979, it was published as Flowers In The Attic.
  • She discovered after it hit the shelves that the publishers had decided to change the name on the cover from "Virginia Andrews" to "V.C. Andrews." They thought men wouldn't be likely to buy a horror novel written by a woman.
  • She died in 1986 after having been diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time of her death, she had over 24 million books in print and her estate was worth more than $8 million.
  • Five years before she died, she told the Washington Post that she had made synopses for 63 other stories. After her death, two novels that she had actually written were published, and then the family announced, in a letter printed in the novels, that they were "working closely with a carefully selected writer" to turn the synopses into full-fledged novels.
  • It has since been disclosed that this ghost writer is a horror novelist named Andrew Neiderman.
  • A rough count of books that have been published under V.C. Andrews' name since her death, through March 2005, totals 49.

All the sources I checked say that except for the debilitating fall she suffered, her childhood was a happy one. She was interviewed as saying she writes about fears that people develop as children, fears of being helpless, trapped, or out of control. One source of inspiration for her novels may have come from the fact that after she was relegated to a wheelchair, her protective mother tried to keep her indoors so that she would not be injured further.

The Complete V.C. Andrews Biography
V.C. Andrews Biography
Barnes & Noble's Meet the Writers:
V.C. Andrews,
The Unforgettable V.C. Andrews