Monday, July 30, 2007

Apple #258: Hillary's Hair

Hillary Clinton, hoping to secure her party's nomination for the Presidential race in 2008, has been in the news especially this past week. She and Barack Obama have gotten into quite a dust-up over who knows more about foreign policy protocol, and who would play with what unsavory leader, and would they play nice together, or would they really say, "My mommy says I can't play with you," and go home with all the toys.

Putting politics aside, I've been thinking lately about Hillary's hairstyles. I thought I remembered that she's changed her hair style several times since she's been in the national public eye. And I thought I'd document those changes here on your Daily Apple.

But what I discovered when I looked into it is that she's gone back and forth between two basic styles and then, bing! she became Senator and introduced an entirely new, third style.

Her yearbook photo marks the first known appearance of her school-girl look.
Nape-length, curled at the ends.

(Photo from the Hillary Clinton Quarterly)

Here's the serious politician look.
Straighter, pushed back away from her face.
Also note, her hair's not blond.

(Photo from Pop and Politics)

In 1983, standing up and speaking at an Arkansas Educational Standards Committee meeting (of which then-Governor husband Bill made her chair), she's back to the school-girl look again.

(Photo from the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture)

In this still from a video recording of a speech before the same committee, her hair is going towards that serious political look again. Layered along her face, a little bangs, but swept back.
Still not blond, though.

(Photo from the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture)

In this, her official First Lady of the United States photo from 1992, she's sporting more of the school-girl look again. Straight on the sides, curled under, definite bangs. Now she's got undeniable blond highlights. She's no threat, she's everybody's favorite wife!

(Photo from the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture)

In this 1994 photo for the Smithsonian, she's totally got the serious politician look going on. Swept back from her face all over the place and lo and behold, it's short!

(Photo from the Smithsonian Institution)

This rogue hair-do is from 1995, when Hillary participated in a leadership conference at the National Institute of Health. This style is a bit schizophrenic, combining the length and curl-at-ends factor of the school-girl do with the swept-back-itude of the serious politician do. (As I'm sure you've guessed by my technical lingo, I know all about hairstyles)

(Photo from the Children's Circle of Care)

But soon after this, she stepped it down to school-girl again. Here, with Minerva Bernardino, a Dominican politician, she even looks kind of cute. Perky.

(Photo from the Minerva Bernardino Foundation)

At the National Library of Estonia in 1996, she's doing the school-girl thing, complete with under-curl, with the optional headband. She's even posing in a non-threatening manner.

(Photo from the Embassy of the United States to Estonia)

At her husband's second inauguration in 1997. This do is sort of a compromise between the school-girl and the serious politician. A little longer but not curled much; lighter-colored, but with some hard-shell pouf going on.

(AP Photo, sourced from CBC News)

Here she is in 1999, visiting a refugee camp in Macedonia. The transition is becoming more apparent. There's some curl happening here, reminiscent of the school-girl days, but it is swept back from her face. Approachable yet serious, both.

(Photo from the Washington Post's Fact-Checker)

Also in 1999, speaking about the Viking heritage in the US, she's got the serious politician look again: swept back from her face, little shelf of bangs, but with more blond highlights. I'm serious, she's trying to say, but a little bit blond. Except my theory is, the blond is actually a sign of when she's turning on the extra-serious. Because look what happens next.

(Photo from the National Museum of National History)

In 2001, her First Lady-ship over and her term as New York State Senator begun, she's gone all the way to the serious politician look. Swept back off her face, little shelf of bangs, plus those extra blond highlights. But now, it's shorter. All the way around. And this begins her short-hair revolution.

(Photo from the Cornell Chronicle)

On the cover of her 2004 biography, she's going way serious politician-short, but with some of that Florence Henderson thing going on in the back.

(Photo from

During the Kerry / Edwards campaign in 2004, she's got no more Florence Henderson hanging out back there. It's mostly brown again, though she does have those streaks of highlights. Yet there's also some pouf injected into the style. I read this one as: it's not my campaign so I can relax a little bit, but it still is a campaign and I'm working it nonetheless.

(AP Photo by Richard Drew, posted by Newsweek)

Now here she is in 2007, as we've gotten used to seeing her hair lately: short all the way around, completely off her face (except sometimes her little shelf of bangs drops down toward her eyebrow), going for mainly blond, and really all business. (Plus, in this photo, she's wearing that classic Martha Washington blue. Get the hint?) No school-girl here anymore.

(AP Photo reprinted at

All right, so that's my completely un-sophisticated, off-the-cuff analysis of the hairstyles of Hillary Clinton -- or is it Hillary Rodham Clinton? -- through the years. You never knew political statements could involve so much hair spray, did you?

If you're interested, I have another entry on a related topic: Women who have run for President.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Apple #257: Cross-Bred Animals

A few months ago, Daily Apple reader Lily Anne wanted to know about mules and donkeys and what was the difference between them, and what combinations of animals yielded which hybrids. In my entry, I provided a list of various animals that are bred with horses or ponies or zebras and the resulting combinations (zedonk being my personal favorite). However, I didn't realize that the true focus of Lily Anne's curiosity was a far more complicated question.

She wanted to know not only about all the varieties of horse-type animals, but a much larger question, which is, why is this possible with horses and horse-type animals? Does cross-breeding happen with other animals? It seems like when you mate two breeds of dogs together, this isn't on the same order of magnitude, but why is that?

Very good questions, all. I had to look into this topic a fair amount before I got a grasp on it myself.

  • Mating dogs of different breeds is less dramatic. Most breeds of dogs are very similar genetically since they are all part of the same species (Canis familiaris). So it's relatively easy to get the genes of, say, a cocker spaniel to mix with, say, a poodle (with this, you get cockapoo).

This cockapoo has the markings of a cocker spaniel,
but the fur texture and non-sneeze factor of a poodle.
(Photo from Pet Works)

  • Breeding a horse with a donkey, however, is a different thing. This is because the two animals are members of different species (Equus caballus plus Equus asinus, respectively).
  • In most cases, you won't be successful if you try to get animals of two different species to breed. Elephant plus wildebeest simply won't work. Catfish plus camel -- well, that's just ridiculous.
  • But in the case of two species that aren't obviously ridiculous combinations, even if you took the two animals out of their usual habitats and put them in the same room together, thus overcoming whatever geographic or behavioral barriers that might naturally exist between the two, and then if you artificially inseminated one with the juice of the other, in most cases, it wouldn't take. The genetic differences between the egg of one and the sperm of the other would be too great for the egg to get fertilized and remain viable.
  • However. In some cases, among some species, breeding across species lines, or cross-breeding, does happen. It occurs more commonly -- and successfully -- in captivity where people can oversee and assist during all parts of the process, from insemination through weaning and rearing the young. But cross-breeding has also happened in the wild.
  • Often, the resulting hybrids have genetic disorders of various kinds, or they may be infertile. They may also be susceptible to diseases that their non-hybrid parents may be able to resist. But sometimes the hybrids do survive -- and not only that, sometimes they flourish and also help the populations of both their parent species thrive.

This is a liger (son of a male lion and female tiger). His name is Hobbs.
He has a mane and roars like a lion. And, like a tiger,
he has stripes and enjoys swimming.
He can't chuff, though, the way a tiger does.
(Photo from Ligers and Tigons)

The table I've created below lists animal hybrids that I've encountered in my brief foray around this-here internet. I'm sure there are more combinations than what I've listed. It's also important to note that I have focused on mammals. There are myriads of combinations among birds, among fish, and even more among plants, and who knows how many among insects.

In this table, I've indicated the name of the resulting hybrid, if one was noted. In most cases, people named the hybrid if it was born in captivity. Also, some animals have been bred in captivity (wolf plus coyote combinations, for example), and scientists have also discovered similar combinations breeding in the wild (a species of wolf mating with coyotes).

Hybrids Born In Captivity

Species One

Species Two






"false killer whale" (orca?)







Liger / Tigon




Grizzly bear

Polar bear

Grolar / Pizzly




Tamworth pig

Wild boar

Iron age pig

Horse, female

Donkey, male (jack)


Horse, male

Donkey, female (jenny)



Any equine

Zebra hybrid


Horse, male








Golden Pheasant

Lady Amherst Pheasant

Florida panther (endangered)

Texas cougar



Cross-Breeding in the Wild

Species One

Species Two


Grizzly bear

Polar bear

Grolar / Pizzly





White-tail deer

Mule deer





Mark Derr, "Crossbreeding to Save Species and Create New Ones," July 9, 2002
MadSci Network, Genetics, cross breeding posted by Michael Onken, May 30, 1996
"Cross-species Mating May Be Evolutionarily Important and Lead to Rapid Change, Say Indiana University Researchers,"
Science Daily, August 8, 2003
"What are the ramifications for wildlife of cross breeding species...", week of July 24, 2005
Hemmy.Net, Top 10 Hybrid Animals, June 19, 2006
Fact Monster, Hybrid Animals

Monday, July 23, 2007

Apple #256: Lunacy and the Full Moon

At the last full moon, an inquiring Daily Apple reader wanted to know if there is a correlation between the occurrence of a full moon and people acting strangely. We've come back around to a this month's full moon, so I thought now would be a good time to answer this question.

For centuries, people have held onto this theory that the full moon makes people nutty. The word lunacy or lunatic is actually derived from the Latin luna, which means "moon." But is there any actual truth to the theory that people go even slightly crazy during the full moon?

Does this sight make you feel a little wacky?
(Photo by David Heath, who provides details about how he took this picture)

The short answer is no.

Scientists have studied the correlation between the presence of a full moon and upticks in emergency room visits, spikes in aberrant psychiatric behavior, possible increases in drug abuse, etc. The majority of the studies conducted can find no correlation between the full moon and people's behavior. Some studies do show an increase in some activity or other, but sometimes that increase occurs during a different phase, like the new moon or the waxing moon, rather than the full moon And some of those studies suffer from serious flaws in how they were designed or carried out.

Despite the preponderance of evidence weighing against the theory, many people do still believe that there is a correlation. They often present their own "evidence," which is often anecdotal, or the story of what happened to one guy on one night that happened to be a full moon.

Some police departments do staff more officers on the full moon -- not because the moon makes people crazy, but rather because the extra light keeps people out and about longer, so they seem to be more likely to get into car accidents or otherwise have things happen to them. It is worth noting, however, that many research studies did not show an increase in the number of car accidents during any particular phase of the moon.

If people do get wonky during the full moon, how come the wonkiness doesn't seem to start when the full moon is visible during the daytime, but waits until nightfall?
(Photo by cinnamon gurl, posted at her blog Write About Here)

Even so, people have an ongoing fascination with the moon, and some hold on to the theory that the full moon makes people nutty. Well, all right, if you really want to go on believing that, I guess that's fine. But to those of you who persist in this belief, allow me to pose these questions: why should the moon's fullness (which is really a play of light based on the positions of the Earth and the moon relative to the sun) have an effect on the behavior of some individuals? And if it does affect the behavior of some people, why doesn't it affect everybody, and in the same way?

Selection of Studies that Found the Full Moon Does Not Influence Human Behavior
  • One 1983 study found that while calls to a poison center about unintentional poisonings increased during the full moon, calls about intentional poisonings showed no correlation.
  • Furthermore, that study found that drug abuse and suicide attempts increased -- not during the full moon but during the new moon.
  • A study in 1994 found no correlation between the presence of a full moon and admissions to a psychiatric hospital.

Is it the full moon, or is it Beatlemania?
(Photo by Birinci Bölum)

  • A 1983 study of calls for police assistance over a three-year period found no relationship between the number of calls and the phases of the moon.
  • Multiple studies investigating the relationship between the phases of the moon and the occurrence of suicide have been conducted. Many have found no relationship, including an extensive study of 4,190 suicides over a 58 year-period.
  • A study of nearly 151,000 emergency-room admissions over a four-year period found no increase in patient visits to the hospital, the number of calls for ambulances, or admissions to hospitals on the day of a full moon.

You may want to be less aggressive toward animals during the full moon, although this particular dog looks too happy to bite anybody.
(Photo from Dog Chat)

  • One study did show that the number of people reporting being bitten by animals increased during the full moon. However, two other similar studies showed no such relationship.

For a longer and more comprehensive list of these and other studies, see Dr. Chudler's list of studies on whether the full moon influences behavior.

And finally, I'll ask you: did you feel a little extra psycho today? Did you notice any inexplicable oddities in your behavior at all? Did you even know that tonight was a full moon?

We'll probably understand the connections between the full moon and human behavior only when we get our hands on a few of those werewolves out there. Like this one!
(You can print out this picture and color it yourself for free)

Hannah Holmes, The Skinny On Lunacy and the Full Moon, Discovery Online
Eric Chudler, Ph.D., University of Washington, Moonstruck! Does the Full Moon Influence Behavior?
Robert Todd Carroll, The Skeptic's Dictionary, full moon and lunar effects
Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Astronomical Psuedo-Science: A Skeptic's Resource List, 5. The Full Moon and Lunacy
Benjamin Radford, "Strange Things Do Happen at Full Moon," Live Science, June 13, 2007

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Apple #255: Norton 2007 and SpySweeper Don't Mix

For nearly a month now, I've been trying to resolve installation problems that happened after I renewed my subscription to Norton. I signed up for Norton SystemWorks Basic and Norton Internet Security. I think I even paid an extra $5 and increased the functionality or features of one of them.

But I had the following problems:
  • Because my computer has a "multi-boot setup or hidden recovery partition," one feature called GoBack won't install. GoBack tells your PC to revert to the way its hard drive used to be before some chaotic event. I could live without it, I guess, but a link in the error message suggests that maybe it could be installed after all. So, which is it -- yes GoBack or no GoBack?
  • LiveUpdate was not updating automatically, which is what it's supposed to do, and then when I tried to make it update, I got error messages and was told to download something called Intelligent Updater, which neither worked nor was intelligent.
  • The status of Norton Internet Security was continually at an exclamation point / danger-red "FIX NOW" state. It told me the reason for this was that it needed new Protection Updates. When I told it to get those Protection Updates, it happily ran LiveUpdate again, downloaded a bunch of stuff, and then reverted right back to its danger-red FIX NOW status.
  • Norton Anti-Spam, which was part of Norton's 2006 package, seemed to have disappeared.

Norton Internet Security 2007, culprit #1.

I re-downloaded, I cleaned my downloads, I re-installed, I restarted a kajillion times, but still these problems persisted. So I contacted Technical Support. Hah.

I chatted. It didn't take long to figure out I was chatting with a robot, not a person. So I e-mailed. Again, a robot e-mailed me back. I asked if a person could respond. I got a person, but he responded to one of my four questions, and then gave me the same (incomplete) suggestion I had found on Symantec's byzantine, labyrinthine, and ultimately inadequate help pages.

Norton SystemWorks Basic edition, culprit #2
Actually, compared to all the problems with
Internet Security, this was relatively bug-free.
Except for that one problem with GoBack.

Well, that was about three weeks ago. I won't take you through the minutiae of the rest of the frustrating, irritating, exasperating, and infuriating attempts to resolve the problem with Symantec's technical support. I have never, ever lost my temper with any tech support people -- not the phone company, not the gas company, not the cable company -- the way I lost my shit with these people. I was shouting at them. I was pounding on my desk, telling them I would not be hung up on again, I was not going to be ignored and have my questions half-answered, they were going to stay on the phone with me until the problem was fixed.

Sutherland, the company that provides Symantec's
technical support, is perhaps the biggest culprit of all.
Dear Symantec: this might make your bottom line happier
for the moment, but in the long run, it will be red raw,

Five phone calls, five tech support people, three new program installations and two passes with the Norton Removal Tool which is supposed to remove all things Norton from my hard drive to allow for a clean re-install, three instances of shouting, and SIX AND A HALF HOURS LATER, I started to get some real information. I learned that SpySweeper, which I have also paid for and installed on my PC, is not compatible with Norton's 2007 products. The technician was trying to tell me that SpySweeper, Trend Micro AntiSpyware, and Ad Aware SE -- all of which are running happily together on my PC -- all do exactly the same thing as Norton and that it is unnecessary for me to have all these on my PC.

You know, maybe it is a bit of overkill. But the last PC I had got besieged by spyware and was killed completely in a very few days. Some of those anti-spyware programs removed some of the spyware, but not one was sufficient to the task on its own. They each removed different spyware programs, which convinced me that while they each have a little corner of the spyware world covered, nobody has even half of it under control. So, no, I'm not going to remove any of my programs. And it's not my fault, or the fault of SpySweeper or anybody else, that Norton was built so that it doesn't play nice with others.

The reason this version of Norton doesn't play nice is that they've added an anti-spyware feature. I'd like to use other elements of Norton's system and disable the anti-spyware feature, but now I don't even have that option because after the fifth tech support's hard work, NEITHER NORTON PROGRAM IS AT ALL FUNCTIONAL. They both open, but more than half of the features are greyed out and nothing happens when you click on them. Nada.

So, what that technician did convince me of is that Norton 2007 is a big bully on my hard drive. She said that though she or any other technician might do their best to resolve the problems, Norton 2007 still might never install properly as long as I have SpySweeper on my PC. At first, she was trying to be diplomatic about it and said that she was not trying to convince me to abandon these other software programs. But after she deleted all things Symantec or Norton off my hard drive -- even going into the registry and deleting several files manually -- and then re-installed not once but twice but to no avail, she began to list to me the programs I had on my PC which "were not necessary" and said that I should remove them from my hard drive.

That's when I started shouting.

Well, she hung up on me. But by this point, I realized I'm done, too. I'm going to contact Symantec (somehow; they hide behind their "tech support" links, which connects you with Sutherland-hired people in India, not Symantec), and demand a refund.

Because not only were there all these problems with installation, it also turns out that:
  • In spite of downloading an additional program called Add-On Pack, which is supposed to put Norton AntiSpam back into the mix (at the request of many disappointed customers), Norton AntiSpam didn't work. It found my e-mail program, it found my address book, it found my e-mail address. But it never appeared anywhere in my e-mail program. I followed all of Symantec's online suggestions to click and unclick on my software program in the configuration screen and then re-started, but to no avail. AntiSpam still doesn't show up in my Microsoft Outlook.
  • Though some links in the error message about GoBack's failure to install suggested that there might be some secret work-around to get GoBack to install in spite of my unfortunate "multi-boot setup or hidden recovery partition," in actual fact, I'm SOL as far as GoBack is concerned. Though none of the tech support people ever answered this question, even though I asked it of every single person I spoke to.

But I don't suppose the functionality of either of these features matters because now I can't even get either @#&!@@! program to function at all.

Then, just a few minutes ago, when I'd just about given up on the whole Norton venture entirely and was about to close down my system, lo and behold, LiveUpdate blissfully began to run. Though with only dysfunctional, half-installed, Frankensteinish software to update, it was downright silly.

When I'm calm again, I'm going to find another program that protects against viruses (looks like SpySweeper has that capability; I only need to enable it), and another one that sits in my e-mail and keeps out the spam. Then it's good-bye Norton.

I did write to Symantec's refund department, and I cc'ed the members of the Board of Directors, describing what I had experienced, telling them they had lost a customer forever, and asking them to refund my money. About a week later, I got an e-mail from an actual person, asking what she could do to help. Well, if she'd read my letter, she would have known what she could do. I also got -- you guessed it -- an automated e-mail. The automated message said my credit card would be credited the purchase price that day (this was in September), but I should allow 30 days for it to be processed.

Within about a day or two, they did give me my refund, at least.

I'm Not the Only One
  • Also click on the comments to that InfoWorld article to read more gripes and warnings about various customers' experiences with Norton + SpySweeper
  • njbay, Symantec Sucks njbay's emails to Symantec support are all too familiar . . .
Looks like a lot of people are saying that if you remove Webroot from your system first, before installing Norton Internet Security 2007, and then reinstall Webroot, both can co-exist. I'm all out of patience with this whole thing so I'm not going to mess with my Webroot as well as my Norton crap, but if you want to give this suggestion a try, please do. And let me know if it works!

Symantec Customers Not Happy about No AntiSpam in Internet Security 2007

Symantec Support Pages that Gave Erroneous Advice or Installed Programs Insufficient to the Task
  • Clean Download is supposed to fix problems with incomplete downloads. Actually, this one did work.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Apple #254: Fruit Flies

A friend of mine asked me a long time ago to do an Apple about fruit flies. I hesitated, thinking the subject might be too disturbing and icky. But, he said, maybe there's some way you can get them out of your kitchen that would be good to know about.

So finally I looked into it. And he was right. There is a little trick to get rid of them that seems pretty simple. I haven't tried it myself so I can't say whether it works. Maybe I'll give it a shot and report on my findings later.

In the meantime, here are a few details about the pesky things and some suggested remedies:

I know you've seen fruit flies hovering over fruit before. But come to think of it, I can't think of any still life paintings of fruit that include the fruit flies . . .
(Image from the Discovery channel's The Skinny On...)

  • You've probably seen fruit flies in the produce section of the grocery store, hovering over the apricots, and they've probably come home with you and taken up residence in your kitchen.
  • Fruit flies like over-ripe fruits and vegetables. That includes things like bananas, apricots, melons, grapes, squash, even produce that you would think might be too tough for the little buggers, including potatoes and onions.
  • They also like yeasty and alcoholic things like beer, wine, vinegar, cider, and even soft drinks.
  • The fruit fly likes vinegar so much, they're even sometimes called vinegar flies.
  • They like to eat produce, but they also like to lay their eggs in it. I know, this is the gross part.
  • Fortunately, they lay their eggs at the surface of the food. When the eggs hatch, the young eat the fruit nearby, but again, only at the surface. This means you can cut away the over-ripe portions of food and the remainder will have been untouched by the fruit flies.
  • Once you've thrown away the bad part of the produce, the fruit flies will continue to survive in your trash can. They can reproduce like mad -- they have to, since they only live for about a week -- so the potential for your trash can to become a fruit fly haven is quite real.

However, getting rid of the fruit flies can also be fairly easy. In this case, their short life span works to your advantage.
  • Throw out over-ripe or rotting produce.
  • Clean out your trash can or in-sink disposal or other drains as best you can.

Wouldn't it be nice if your kitchen sink ever looked this clean?
(Photo from Nosumo's blog entry about remodeling her kitchen)

  • If you still can't get the bugs out of your drain, there's a product called Drain Gel that destroys the film of organic material at the bottom of your drains where the fruit flies are reproducing. Since it costs $19.95 per quart, this is probably suitable for restaurants and larger places of business.
  • You can use a variety of pesticides, but this is not my favorite method because I don't like the idea of using pesticides in the kitchen.
  • You can also use bug zappers or those sticky flypaper strips.
However, my favorite method for catching fruit flies is the home-made trap:

(Drawing from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture)

    • Pour a little cider vinegar or diluted honey or into the bottom of a jar.
    • Roll up a sheet of notebook paper into a cone and place in the mouth of the jar.
    • That's it. The fruit flies will find the cider vinegar and fly into the jar, but they won't be smart enough to be able to figure out how to get out again.
    • You can either kill them once they're in the jar or release them outside.

Another trap is just as simple and may work even better:
    • Coat the inside of a jar with diluted honey or corn syrup or some other sticky liquid.
    • Invert the jar and place it on top of two pieces of wood or something to keep some space between the jar and the surface of your counter or table.
    • Place a banana or some other sweet & fruity goody at the base of the open jar.
    • Fruit flies will find the bait, fly into the jar, and then get stuck on the gooey sides of the jar.
    • Wait about a week to ten days and they'll all be stuck dead. Discard the jar.


Michael F. Potter, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Entomology, Fruit Flies, January 1994
Professional Pest Control Products, Fruit Flies
Metro, Fact Sheet, Fruit (Vinegar) Fly
Hannah Holmes, The Skinny On . . . Where Fruit Flies Come From
Wendy Boswell, Lifehacker, Get rid of fruit flies with a soda bottle trap, July 8, 2007

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Apple #253: Freckles

In response to the Apple about sunburns and sunscreen, regular reader Dustin suggested I put together an entry about freckles.

Okay, Dustin (a.k.a. a3dmofo), here you go:

  • The medical term for freckles is ephelides (ə-FEL-ih-dēz).
  • People who have fair skin and red or blond hair are more likely to be born with freckles.
  • Though freckles are a genetic trait, they usually don't appear on the skin until age two.
  • More freckles will appear over time, depending on your genetic predisposition, from childhood through the teen years.

This boy's freckles are supplied by his genes.
(Photo from Akvis' tips about how to remove freckles from your photos)

  • After you pass your young adult period, the genetically-related freckles stop appearing. Any freckles that show up after this point are ones that are caused by too much sun exposure.
  • When your skin tans or burns (really, that amounts to the same thing as far as your skin is concerned), your skin produces more melanin. This is the skin's attempt to try to protect itself from further burning.
  • If your skin is light or fair, your skin will work harder to protect itself. This means it will try to produce more melanin, and that means more freckles. So in effect, fair-skinned people get hit with more freckling twice over: once when they're young, and again as they age and are exposed to the sun.

Looks like this woman's freckles are inspired by her genes as well as too much sun!
(Photo is by Helen Bankers from New Zealand and was nominated for a 2006 Spider Award for photography)

Rachelle Lefevre has freckles, and look how beautiful she is!
(Photo from VH1)

  • If you're in your twenties or older and you have a lot of freckles, this does not necessarily mean you're going to get skin cancer. What it does mean is that your skin is really sensitive to the sun, and you need to do as much as you can to protect it from further over-exposure.
  • Age spots are a similar deal as freckles. They show up after too much sun exposure. They are actually a concentration of melanin at the surface of the skin. If you've got age spots, that means, again, slather on the sunscreen next time you go out into the sun.
  • People have tried for centuries to get rid of their spots and freckles. There are all sorts of home "remedies" that involve washing in lemon juice or milk or bleach or who knows what all. But none of those things have any effect on the melanin that is chemically present in the skin cells. And in most cases, those "remedies" will actually increase your skin's sensitivity to the sun and ultimately result in the appearance of more freckles.

Melanin is produced at the melanocyte layer, which as you can see is far below the surface of the skin. This is why nearly every topical "remedy" for freckles or age spots will have very little effect.
(Diagram from the American Academy of Dermatology)

  • Some people report some success in lightening their age spots by using creams that contain Retin-A. But, again, this is a treatment that will make your skin more sensitive to sun exposure in the future.
  • The only methods that actually remove freckles and age spots are
    • laser resurfacing
    • freezing off the spots
    • chemical peels.
  • These three methods are all really expensive, usually require several treatments, and have somewhat significant recovery time. In some cases, you can also suffer permanent scarring besides.
  • The moral of the story is, if you've got spots, your skin is trying to tell you something. Rather than trying to kill the messenger, heed its warnings and put on that sunscreen!

See? Putting on sunscreen is fun!
(Photo by Davehat at Flickr)

Emedicine, Ephelides (Freckles), January 12, 2007
Skinandhealth by Lumenis, What are freckles
Better Health Channel, Sun protection and skin cancer Q&A
Test Symptoms at Home, Sunburn, skin-aging, and skin cancer symptoms
Mayo Clinic and Yahoo Health, Skin Conditions, Age spots (liver spots), February 23, 2007
Go Ask Alice, University of Columbia, Freckles, April 27, 2001
Dr. Melton, Freckle Removal
Onelook, ephelides

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Apple #252: Motorcycling Signals

Just got back from my trip. Norton has been giving me the hairy fits, and Blogger has a new bug all its own, too. You now have to move the mouse verrry slowwwly over the top portion of the title field until the pointer changes to a cursor and allows you to begin typing in the title field. Otherwise, you get no title. Gee, thanks for that update, Blogger!

Driving back here from my trip, I happened to wind up behind a cluster of three motorcyclists for a while. Many times, other motorcyclists passed us going the opposite direction, zipping by on the left. I noticed that as the oncoming cyclists approached, one of the cyclists in front of me lifted his left hand slightly in a very casual hello. The cyclists passing by all returned his greeting. It was not a typical wave, but something sort of specialized. And all the cyclists knew the signal.

Aha, I thought. A secret code. Maybe there are more secret hand signals, known only to motorcyclists.

The view from behind a group of Harley riders can be quite educational.
(Photo from Motorcycle Cruiser)

  • First thing to know, apparently, is that there is a hierarchy among motorcyclists. People who drive the same motorcycle as you (Harleys especially) are more likely to return your hello. People who wear similar gear (helmet or no helmet, leather chaps or denim only, do-rag or braid, etc.) will also be more likely to return your greeting.
  • But this is not to say that people with different bikes, braids, or bottoms will ignore your hello. The bikers I saw exchanging greetings all drove quite variously different motorcycles and, though there was a lot of leather and denim, not everyone they waved to wore the same.
  • It is also reportedly true that some bikers will never return a hello, regardless of your equipment or your gear. In some cases when traffic is heavy or tricky, it might be too difficult for a biker to wave. So bikers are cautioned not to over-interpret another biker's failure to return a wave hello.

That said, here are some of the signals I found described and explained online:
  • Two-Finger Peace - biker keeps hand on the grip but raises index and middle finger in a peace sign. Safe but also very casual. Like saying, "Hey, dude."
  • Down Low Peace - biker drops hand off grip below handlebars and flashes the peace sign. Since the biker took the time to remove his or her hand from the grip to greet you, this is a true hello.

I had trouble finding a picture of the down-low waves I saw bikers trading with each other. But this Christmas card shows exactly what I saw. Santa's flashing the peace sign, and the mystery biker going the other way is giving the casual wave in return.
(This motorcycle Christmas card is from 2006, but I bet they'll have new cards for '07)

  • Casual Wave - variant of the Down Low Peace. Biker drops hand off grip below handlebars and gives an open-palm wave. The return of the greeting is sometimes held as the bikes pass so that it appears as though the bikers would give each other low-fives but for the extra necessary distance between them.
  • Sport Bike Point - biker raises hand without moving the arm and points at fellow biker with a flick of the wrist.
  • The Geeky Hi! - biker lifts hand from grip and raises hand into the air and waves. This increases wind resistance and could result in injury. It is also how newbies or nerds -- or I who have never driven a motorcycle -- would wave. Serious motorcyclists say that drivers of mopeds and motor scooters greet each other this way. In other words, if you want to be cool -- and don't want to slow down -- don't wave like this.

Oh, dear. So many things wrong with this picture.
(Photo from Jupiter Images)

  • The Dis - biker removes hand from grip and lays it flat on the thigh. No peace sign, no open palm, just a big obvious nothing. Supposedly, this comes from motorcycle gangs and some riders will still interpret this as an open sign of disrespect. Newer riders might instead see this as a sign of tiredness and that a driver is merely resting his or her arm. If it were me, though, I wouldn't take the risk.
  • Debris Warning - biker points one finger repeatedly down to the ground to warn of debris on the pavement ahead.

Pointing straight down indicates a hazard in the road
(Image posted at Ohio X-Riders)

  • Smoky Alert - palm of hand taps top of helmet several times in succession alerts other bikers to a police officer ahead.
  • Ticked Off - middle finger proudly extended. No guide to hand signals would be complete without this one.

Other types of signals:
  • Helmet on the ground in front of or behind the bike - sign of distress. This is like popping the hood of a disabled car.
  • There are also lots of signals used to communicate with other members of your biking group: everybody speed up, let's all slow down, let's ride staggered, etc. Flash-based images demonstrating these signals have been reproduced at several sites, but I think they're easiest to read at the Ohio X-Riders site (which also provides additional, extensive tips on group riding).

  • Cage - automobile or other non-motorcycle vehicle. Some bikers think of "cagers" as "the enemy."
  • Squid - motorcyclist who takes more risks than necessary. A show-off and, in the end, probably not that good a rider. Some think that cyclists who hardly wear any safety gear and only skimpy things like flip-flops and a flappy sleeveless T-shirt are squids by virtue of their dress alone. There's even a way to signal another biker that a squid is on the way: drop hand with palm down, and wave the fingers in a tentacle-like fashion.

Sport bike riders wearing helmets so they don't get pulled over, but eschewing shirts altogether and leaving their legs and ankles bare. Some refer to riders like this as squids; others refer to them as "future body bag occupants;" still others simply wince at the thought of skin grafts.
(Photo from the blog of the highly opinionated Nealz Nuze)

I'd give people the Down Low Peace sign, but I doubt it would work too well from inside my car -- er, cage.

View from the Cloud, Secret Motorcycle Hand Greetings: Revealed!
VTwin Mama, Biker Symbology, 2004-2007
Motorcycle Tips and Techniques, Forums, Greeting Other Riders
Timberwoof's Motorcycle FAQ, Cages and Other Vehicles also includes some ideas on the origin of the term "squid"
Road Carvin, Squid Row

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Summer Apples

I'm on vacation from my paying job, so I'm going out of town for a few days. In the meantime, here are some entries about summery topics for you to browse through:

Happy Independence Day!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Apple #251: Fireworks

Recently, some readers have made a few excellent suggestions for potential Apples. I will answer their requests, but I have another topic I'd like to cover first.

I saw a part of a program on the National Geographic Channel today that talked about how fireworks are made. I want to pass along what I learned, and hopefully expand on it.

Four gold fireworks. You can't tell, but these were enormous. It's tough to take a good picture of fireworks. At the very least, you have to get the timing just right.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • A firework is made primarily of two parts: a sleeve or tube, and a shell.
      • The shell is the part that contains the explosive material that makes all the pretty colors
      • The sleeve or the tube holds the shell and provides the initial propulsion to get the shell up into the air as far as it needs to go.

    A cluster of fireworks, cut away to show the shells within the tubes
    (Diagram from Pyrouniverse)

    • Both of these parts are activated by a fuse.
        • The fuse that's lit at the top, like the wick at the top of a candle, descends down the inside of the tube to the bottom.
        • There, it ignites pellets of various chemicals, generally referred to as black powder. The resulting explosion propels the sleeve with the shell inside it into the air.

      Interior of an aerial shell, showing the initial fuse and the secondary charge that ignites the display of sparks
      (Diagram from Pyrouniverse)

          • As the shell rockets upwards, the second wick, or sometimes a blast charge, is ignited by the sparks from the first explosion. Ideally, the second wick will ignite when the shell has traveled as far into the sky as it needs to.
            • When the shell ignites, the chemicals packed inside explode, creating the colorful display.
        • Which chemicals that get packed into the shell will determine what sparks the firework makes when the shell explodes.
            • Blue -- copper
            • Green -- barium salts
            • Red -- strontium
            • Yellow -- sodium
            • Gold -- aluminum
            • White (the really flashy ones) -- magnesium
        • The arrangement of the particles will also affect what the explosion looks like ( has a very helpful diagram).
            • Larger particles will produce larger sparks; smaller particles will produce finer sparks.
            • If the particles are arranged in a circle around the wick, they will create a circular pattern in the sky.
            • The particles can also be layered within the shell so that one color explodes first, then a second, then a third, and so on.
            • A relatively recent development in firework manufacturing is the use of microchips embedded in the shell that direct the sparks into a particular shape. Fireworks that produce smiley-faces in the sky are so directed by microchips.

        Smiley-face firework, courtesy of a little bitty microchip that got burned up when this exploded
        (Photo by Eric in NY City)

        • Most fireworks displays of any size are coordinated by computer.
            • The tubes of fireworks are arranged in box-like clusters.
            • Each firework is then connected to a control board with lots of numbered knobs on it. Each number corresponds to a single firework.
            • Engineers plan the timing of when each firework is to be ignited. Sometimes the timing is also coordinated with a series of songs.
        • It's an extraordinarily painstaking process which is years in the making, but which is over in about twenty to forty minutes.

        San Diego's fireworks, here using red, white, and blue colors
        (Photo from

        Here are more of my paltry attempts at taking pictures of fireworks. These are the best of the bunch and they're not great. It's hard to convey just how huge these things were.

        (Photos by the Apple Lady)

        National Geographic Kids, How Fireworks are Made
        BBC News Round, How Do Fireworks Work?, October 21, 2005
        Holly Hartman, Factmonster, Facts on Fireworks, 2006, Bad Ideas, Background and Basic Chemistry of Fireworks