Sunday, September 30, 2007

Apple #269: Tuna Tartare

So I like to watch this show on Bravo, Top Chef. And in one episode, a chef-contestant made tuna tartare. In his evaluation, a judge complained that "everybody" serves tuna tartare, and that it's kind of old hat. He didn't actually use that phrase "old hat," of course, since he is far too cool to use such a dated figure of speech. But he and his fellow judges did generally indicate that they were tired of tuna tartare.

I, for one, have never eaten it, nor have I seen it in person.

An example of what tuna tartare can look like.
(Image from Flickr, sourced from My Life as a Reluctant Housewife)

I am compelled to ask, what is "tartare" anyway?

(By the way, I'm back from my trip. It was restful. There was pie and there was football. It was good.)

Various experts disagree about what tartare is exactly.
  • Some people say it's raw steak, some say raw beef, others say raw fish.
  • Some people say the protein has to be mixed with raw egg yolk plus spices.
  • Others say it only has to be chopped or minced.
  • Still others say that not only must it be raw, chopped, and mixed with egg yolk, it also has to be shaped into little cakes.

So, obviously, I had to look a little deeper. I did and I thought I had found the real story, which follows:
  • Tartare was first made from beef (or perhaps horsemeat). Way back in the Medieval times, the nomadic Mongolian and Turkish tribes needed to eat on the go. The meat they ate came from the wily Asian cattle that they herded, and the meat was usually tough. To make it more palatable, they stuck it under their saddles while they rode to tenderize it, and then they shredded it.

The Mongols, a.k.a Tartars, on horseback
Image from A Thousand Years of the Tartars, by E.H. Parker

  • When Europeans got introduced to this dish, they thought it was rather beneath them (no pun intended). They referred to the tribes who ate it as Tartars, meaning that they might as well be denizens of the Grecian mythological hell Tartarus. Though the Europeans didn't think much of these people, the Germans started preparing the dish and serving it to each other -- referring to it as a dish of the Tartars.
  • Over time, the Germans and the French started changing the way the dish was prepared. They added eggs, they added spices, they shaped it into little cakes to make it pretty. In other words, they gave it cachet.
  • Now it's served in very highbrow restaurants, and you are considered a very knowledgeable diner with a sophisticated palate if you enjoy tartare.

Steak tartare, with a quail's egg on top, served by the "trendy little bar" in the Museum of Modern Art in NY City
(Photo from We Eat Everything)

But then on digging still further, I found out that whole story about the Mongol tribes/Tartars is a big fat lie.

  • There were actually Mongol tribes, and they did put slabs of meat between their saddles and the horse's back, but they did it as a way to treat the horse's saddle sores, in much the same way Western folks used to put a beefsteak on a black eye. The Mongols never ate that saddle meat.
  • Also, nobody can say for certain that the steak tartare dish actually made the journey from the steppes into Germany, then into France, then to the United States. People who do their homework more assiduously have to shrug their shoulders and say, "We're not sure where it came from."
  • There is some veiled suggestion that perhaps the dish came into popularity in times of economic distress (big wars) when people had little else to eat besides horseflesh, and they ate it raw. Then the dish would fade from popularity when times got good again. But I can't substantiate this suggestion at all.
  • While various reputable sources cite the first documented appearance of steak tartare sometime around 1911, most say that the dish did not really become popular until post-World War II. The Rat Pack era, presumably.
  • There is also some debate about whether French restaurants consider the dish an American creation, or if filet americain is another dish entirely than steak tartare.

At this top restaurant, Harris' steakhouse in San Francisco (note the odd fresco behind this table), an appetizer of steak tartare will set you back $12. A steal, compared to the Kobe ribeye, which goes for a princely $75.
(Photo from Top Restaurants)

Regardless of its mysterious history, tuna tartare is raw fish, chopped up or sometimes only sliced. Put in it what you think would taste good. And, contrary to my hopes, the act of chopping or slicing does nothing to reduce the possibility that eating the raw fish might get you sick.

This tuna tartare is topped with wasabi ice cream.
(Photo & recipe from La Tartine Gourmande)

The Straight Dope, What do steak tartare, tartar sauce, and dental tartar have in common?
Food Timeline, history notes, steak tartare
This Wild Ride, The Raw History of Steak Tartare
At Home with Patricia Wells, Paris Cookbook, tartare
Compact Oxford English Dictionary, tartare
BBC Food Glossary, tartare, tartare
Ultralingua Online Dictionary, tartare
Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, tartare
Infoplease dictionary, tartare

Friday, September 28, 2007

Apples for Fall

(Photo from Sled Dog Music's blog about music and Winnipeg)

I'm going to be going out of town for a few days for a much-needed trip back to the Apple Lady homeland. Since we just crossed the autumnal equinox (i.e., it's now officially fall), I thought you might enjoy perusing through Daily Apples on these fall-ish topics:

Potted Mums (currently a very popular entry)

Apple Juice vs. Apple Cider

Monarch Butterflies

Brett Favre

(you know, you wear corduroy pants to school)

Fog vs. Dew

Days of November


Yom Kippur

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Apple #268: Zombies

Your very own Apple Lady might have the chance to be a zombie extra in a zombie movie. Some friends of a friend are supposedly making this movie, and it's one of those things that's so far-flung, I may never hear anything more about it again. But the other night, somebody asked me if I wanted to be an extra in a zombie movie, and I said, immediately, "Yes."

Zombies from Shaun of the Dead
(Image posted by Reeling Reviews

Part of the reason I want to do this is that certain zombie movies freak me out completely. Not the body-parts-falling-off kind of zombies, but the ones where you don't really know who's a zombie and who's not. I'm talking mainly about the Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake with Donald Sutherland. That movie scares the crap out of me, largely because I've had nightmares -- far worse than any movie -- that involve hard-to-identify zombies who are taking over people's souls.

My nightmares involve trying really hard not to stand out and thus avoid setting off this type of alarm. Oof, terrible.
(Photo from Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978
posted by creature from the blog lagoon)

Enough revelations about your Apple Lady's psyche. Let's find out about zombies.

  • Zombies are re-animated human corpses. They have been brought back to semi-life through some sort of curse, or by some scientifically complex interaction, usually involving nuclear waste. They're usually very stupid.
  • Zombie movie aficionados will claim that the nearly-dead do not qualify as zombies. Though they may be operating in a befogged, near-mindless state due to some form of possession or illness, they have not died and so they are technically not zombies.
  • Philosophers and folks who study human consciousness disagree. The zombies they believe in are only the nearly-dead. In fact, the word "zombie" became a part of Western theoretical discourse in 1974 when a philosopher, Robert Kirk, described creatures looking very much like human beings but lacking consciousness, and applied the term "zombies."

Robert Kirk, now an Emeritus Professor at the University of Nottingham in England, recently published a book about zombies, called Zombies and Consciousness.
(Photo from U of Nottingham)

  • The concept of zombies has existed, however, for far longer than that. Haitian voodoo, which is rooted in West African traditions, says that a sorceror, or bokor, can turn someone into a zombie. A law in Haiti condemning zombie creation was enacted in 1835, so lots of people must have been aware of and not liking the zombie thing as long ago as that.
  • Most people's ideas about Haitian voodoo and zombies comes from a movie, The Serpent and the Rainbow, which was based on a book of the same title written by then-doctoral student Wade Davis.
      • Davis went to Haiti to investigate a reported case of zombification and said he discovered that the bokor had given people a powder that was a combination of puffer fish, poisonous toad, jimson weed, and other toxins. The toxins paralyzed people until they appeared to be dead, the people were buried, and when the toxins wore off, the bokor dug them up, and the people believed they had been turned into zombies.
      • However, other researchers, from anthropologists to pharmacologists, have scrutinized Davis' research and called it bunk. One of the main flaws in his research -- though not the only one -- is that the amount of paralyzing toxin present in the powder he brought back for analysis is too small to have the effect he claimed.
      • Regardless of opinions to the contrary, Davis is to this day a respected ethnobotanologist who works for National Geographic Explorer and also gives motivational speeches.

Wade Davis, anthropologist and lecturer-at-large
(Photo from UC Santa Barbara)

Enough of the high-level thought about zombies. In the movies, zombies are generally:
  • Slow-moving
  • Clumsy
  • Expressionless
  • Moaning
  • In search of living human flesh or brains to eat
  • Seen traveling in large groups
  • In various states of decay
  • Contagious; can turn healthy humans into zombies
  • Difficult to kill, except by decapitating or otherwise destroying the brain, usually in a violent or pyrotechnic manner -- which is kind of strange if you think about it because zombies apparently have very little of the brain at their disposal.
Exceptions to these generalities do exist, of course.

In this game, Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse, you play the zombie.
(Photo from V's Recommended Games Wiki)

Now here are some notable zombie movies -- notable primarily in the sense that I've seen them, and other people refer to them a lot.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1956
  • In black and white, this original movie tells the story of a doctor who struggles to keep his fellow small town residents from being turned into zombies. Mysterious pods arrive and in the pods grow a duplicate of the person who is to be overtaken. Soon, pods are being shipped in to the town by the truckload. The whole thing is a symbol for the McCarthyistic paranoia about Communism.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1978
  • This remake uses the whole duplication-by-pod mechanism, but the zombification has more to do with mindless consumerism and the pervasive sense that the post-Watergate United States of the 1970s is bankrupt of emotion and morals.

Night of the Living Dead, 1968
  • George Romero's classic established a lot of the rules for zombie behavior that most zombie-movie makers followed afterwards. These zombies are created when a NASA satellite, covered in radiation, comes back from Venus.

The Evil Dead, 1981
  • Fully utilizing the friends-stuck-in-the-woods ploy and picking people off one by one, this zombie movie is notable for its herky-jerky special effects and its tongue-in-cheek attitude. The friends find the Book of the Dead in the basement, and reading the book unleashes demons that possess the friends one by one. To protect themselves, they must destroy their zombified friends.
  • Director Sam Raimi made this into a trilogy, including Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness. I can't remember whether it's in the first Evil Dead or the second that the hero cuts off his zombified hand and attaches a chainsaw to his stump and uses that the fight the evil.

Apparently it's in Evil Dead II that his hand becomes zombified and tries to kill him in increasingly wicked and taunting ways.
(Image from Rifftrax forum)

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, 2003
  • A rare breed: a zombie movie that's also a crowd pleaser with a romantic storyline. The pirate-zombies have been made undead by their unrelenting quest for gold, and only those who pursue their true love with unwavering devotion can escape the pirate-zombie curse. Mercifully cutting the Hollywood shlock is Johnny Depp as the rogue pirate Jack Sparrow. In some ways, he is more in limbo than anyone else in the movie -- and we are grateful to him for it.

Shaun of the Dead, 2004
  • The zombie movie that asks, what happens when a couple of British slackers have to fend off a hoard of zombies? The people who survive the zombies in this film are the ones who know the true value of friendship. Lots of references to classic zombie movies.

Grindhouse, 2007
  • The first part of this double feature is an unapologetic zombie extravaganza. Way over the top and aware of it, this movie employs everything -- chainsaws, motorcycles, sawed-off shotguns, syringes that inject paralyzing substances, radiation, vats of chili, and the government. I'm not sure what the zombies represent in this movie. Maybe just plain directorial glee.

And of course, right now the latest Resident Evil is playing at a movie theater near you.

(Image from Random Musings)

Movies you wouldn't normally think of as zombie movies but which technically could be include:
  • The Monkey's Paw
  • The Terminator
  • The Hills Have Eyes
  • End of Days
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street

Here are some lesser-known zombie movies with titles that I especially enjoy:
  • Hey You've Got Zombies in Your Backyard
  • Better Off Undead: A Zombie Musical
  • Guinea Pig: Android of Notre Dame
  • Attack of the Mutated Killer Chickens
  • Dusk of the Recently Living
  • Resident Evil Without Jill
  • Botched Surgery
  • Breakfast
By the way, some of these are shorts that can be found on YouTube.

If you want a bigger list of zombie movies, check out the Zombie Movie Database.

Monstrous, Zombies Central
Tom Polger, Duke University, Zombies
Brains: On Mind and Related Matter, Kirk Takes Zombies Back, June 25, 2006
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Zombies
Howstuffworks, How Zombies Work
Robert Lawless, review of Wade Davis'
The Serpent and the Rainbow, Latin American Anthropology Review, 1989.
Leslie Desmangles, Zombie powder, March 21, 2001

Monday, September 17, 2007

Apple #267: Yom Kippur

I see by my calendar that Yom Kippur is coming up this Saturday. I know that it's a Jewish religious holiday, but I don't know much more about it than that.

  • The words "Yom Kippur" mean "Day of Atonement."
  • It is considered the most sacred of Jewish holy days, the "Sabbath of Sabbaths." People who don't usually attend services the rest of the year often attend services on Yom Kippur.
  • Supposedly on this day, the books of judgment are sealed. Actually, 10 days earlier on Rosh Hashanah, the names of the chosen are written in the Book of Life. On Yom Kippur, that book gets sealed for the year. So this day is your last chance to do all you can to try to get your name entered in the Book of Life.
  • To make this happen, you must atone for sins between you and God. That is essentially what the services on Yom Kippur are all about.
  • If you want to atone for sins committed between you and another person, you must seek out that person before Yom Kippur, reconcile your differences, and right the wrongs in whatever manner is appropriate. The 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are especially reserved for this type of reconciliation.

Mushka (age 4) and Rochel Goldman (age 2) help their mother light candles in preparation for Yom Kippur. It is also customary to light candles and bless the challah (traditional bread) the night before Yom Kippur.
(Photo from

  • Atonement happens on this day in particular to commemorate the time, back in the day, when Moses yelled at the Israelites for worshiping the golden calf and threw the Ten Commandment tablets to the ground, breaking them. After Moses went up the mountain and sought and gained God's forgiveness, Moses came back to the Israelites with a list of things they should do to atone for their sins. And they had to do these things "for all time."

Moses loses it.
(sourced from Graham Phillips)

  • The main thing on Moses' list is to keep a full fast for 25 hours, from sunset the evening before, until nightfall on Yom Kippur.
  • Not only are you to abstain from eating or drinking, you should also refrain from
      • working
      • washing and bathing
      • anointing your body -- no perfumes, lotions, oils, deodorant, etc.
      • wearing leather shoes (presumably because an animal had to die for them)
      • any sexual relations
  • Current Jewish law has added a couple of exceptions. For health reasons, children under 9 years old and pregnant women are not allowed to fast. Also, if you're especially sick or if you've just had a baby, you could be granted an exception.
  • In addition to keeping to Moses' list, it is also customary to wear white to symbolize purity of the soul, and to spend most of the day in the synagogue.
  • Yom Kippur services generally include a group confession and displaying the holy scrolls of the Torah. Because the scrolls are sacred, out of respect, worshipers stand through the entire service, which is quite lengthy.
  • The majority of the service is characterized by repentance and heartfelt prayers for forgiveness.
  • The service ends with a very long blast of the shofar, which is a kind of trumpet supposed to be made from a ram's horn. After the shofar blast, the people respond: "Next year in Jerusalem!"

Blowing the shofar at the end of Yom Kippur services
(Photo from

As I type this, there are five days left until Yom Kippur. . . .

Judaism 101, Yom Kippur, The Jewish Holiday of Yom Kippur
Howstuffworks, Yom Kippur

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Apple #266: Three Sheets to the Wind

Some of you may have noticed an erroneous post here. I maintain another blog elsewhere, and I accidentally posted an entry I meant to go there onto the Daily Apple. It was, not coincidentally, about being drunk -- on Bell's Two Hearted Ale, by the way, which is my beer of choice when I can find it.

(Ben at, where this photo comes from,
agrees with my opinion of this way-tasty beer.)

Someone alerted me to blogging my error this morning, and in my reply thanking him, I said, "that's what happens when you're sheets to the wind."

Then, of course, Apple Lady me wondered where that phrase, "three sheets to the wind," comes from.

  • It is a nautical term, dating back roughly to the 1820s. Contrary to what I had always thought, "sheets" are not sails but the ropes that secure the sails.
  • If the sheets (ropes) are to the wind, they are flapping loose, and so are the sails.
  • One or two loose ropes is not great but it is not chaotic either. But three ropes flapping in the wind, that's out of control.
  • The ropes and/or sails and/or ship that's out of control is a metaphor for a really drunk person.
  • And in fact, the phrase reflects a ratings system that sailors used to use to quantify the level of drunkenness.
      • One sheet = tipsy
      • Two sheets = sloppy drunk
      • Three sheets = reeling drunk
      • Four sheets = unconscious

On a ship this complicated, if the majority of its sheets were not under control, it would be complete chaos on board.
(Diagram from Power Moby-Dick)

So that's the short answer. But the Apple Lady who likes specifics and who likes to understand things as completely as possible wants to know, is it the ship that's out of control, or is it the sails? I mean, are we meant to see the drunk person as the ship, or the sails? And in what way is the ship out of control -- rolling and pitching? Listing too much to one side? Blown about in any direction whatsoever? I want to know because I want to know how we're meant to see the drunk person: staggering? Wobbling about? Weaving side to side?
  • Various sources have offered all of the above and more as the true definition of the phrase. But the answer, I think, will lie in understanding how the ropes (sheets) and sails work on a ship.
  • Sheets are not just any ropes, but they are lines used to pull the sails taut (trimmed) or eased to give them slack.
  • A boat or ship of small size has two primary sails: the mainsail (pronounced mainsuhl) and the jib (or sometimes the Genoa). The mainsail has one sheet that controls it, and the jib has two sheets that control it.

This diagram shows only one jib sheet on this small craft. But there is another jib sheet on the other side of the boat.
(Diagram from Building Sailing Skills)

  • And, by the way, the original saying was "three sheets in the wind." Which actually makes more sense, now that I'm learning more about sails and wind and such. But let's press on.
  • If the sails are not trimmed or slackened appropriately depending on the wind condition, they will luff.
  • Sometimes luffing is okay, and it's unavoidable for a bit when the wind changes direction or with a change in boat speed. But the vigilant sailor will adjust the sails, usually by tightening the sheets, when luff occurs, thus keeping the sails in a position to make the most of the available wind.

Luffing, or flapping, means the sails are not making the most efficient use of the wind. See how, in the diagram above, the lines of the sail are wobbly, as opposed to the tight, clean, brisk lines of the sail shown in the diagram below of sailing across the wind, with the sails trimmed appropriately.

(Drawings from MacGregor's How to Sail)

  • If luffing continues, or if multiple sails are luffing, that essentially means you're not steering the boat.
  • And "to the wind" or "in the wind" suggests to me that not only are the sheets loose, but they are completely untied and flapping in the wind.
  • If one sheet is united, that's not good but probably correctable. Two sheets, it's getting dicey. Three sheets -- which would probably be the mainsail sheet and both jib sheets -- sounds like bad news. This means that the mainsail and jib have absolutely nothing guiding them at all and they are at the complete fancy of the wind.
  • So I'm picturing the sails completely slack or sagging, now and then rippled or flopping in a gust of wind. And because the boat is barely moving, it's not skimming over the waves, but it's getting slapped by them and pitching and tossing willy-nilly.
  • So a three-sheets-in-the-wind drunk person is still up and about, but he or she is moving almost at random, rolling and pitching, swerving in a way that makes very little sense. Bad news, way-gone drunk.

Looks like this guy and his friends are working on untying their third sheet.
(Photo from The Drunken Blog)

  • On a larger ship or a spinnaker, there is a fourth sail, called the spinnaker. It, too, has its own sheet to control it. So, on a larger ship, which is probably what most sailors back in the day were sailing, if all four sails are under zero control, the ship is going to be dead in the water. Not moving. And in drunken terms, this would be unconscious, passed-out. Zip.

For the record, I was not at three sheets. More like two.

This is what sailing is supposed to look like. Whoo, that looks good, doesn't it?
(Photo from Macgregor's Photo Gallery)

Word Detective, Lemmings Ahoy!
World Wide Words, Three sheets in the wind
The Phrase Finder, Three sheets to the wind
.NET Hobbyist Programmer, Nautical Terminology: Three Sheets to the Wind, The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition, three sheets to the wind
Ask Yahoo! How did the phrase three sheets to the wind come to refer to being drunk?
Wikipedia, Sheet (sailing)
IdiomSite, Three Sheets to the Wind, What Do You Call the "Ropes" In a Sailboat?
Roger MacGregor, How to Sail
UK-Halsey's Encyclopedia of Sails, Mainsail Trim and Genoa Trim
wikiHow, How to Sail a Boat

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Apple #265: Muscle Twitches

I broke my toe about a week and a half ago (right foot, pinky toe) and I've been walking gimpy to keep from putting weight on it or bending it. It's been sore and when I'm sitting, it often feels like the blood is rushing to my foot, so I've had to change my position a lot and find a way to put my foot up off the floor. The past day or two it hasn't hurt as much or as often, though.

I'm not sure whose toe this is, but it's pretty close to what mine looked like about 10 days ago. Best thing to do for a broken toe, by the way, is tape it to the toe next to it.

I looked up how long it takes a broken bone to heal, and the best estimate I found, specifically for toes, was three weeks.

So that's not my question. My question springs from something related to the broken toe. Usually when I have my foot propped up or when I'm lying in bed trying to fall asleep, various muscles in my foot twitch like crazy. Sometimes for as long as ten minutes.

I've been getting muscle twitches elsewhere too, like in the back of my hand where it's all bony and you don't even really think about muscles being there, or another time in some strange tissue deep under my skin, or in my eyelid, or another time, right next to my ear. Little flutters happen in all sorts of places, one after another. It feels almost like tiny little fireworks are going off all over the place under my skin.

Like these, except much, much smaller.
(Photo from a July 4, 2007 entry of The Big Picture)

The muscle twitching has been happening often enough, I'm curious to know, what makes your muscles twitch?

  • Some muscle twitching -- especially if it's severe and prolonged -- can be related to neurological problems, or diseases like Parkinson's or Huntington's disease. Thinking of the recent interviews with Michael J. Fox, whose Parkinson's has progressed alarmingly, I know the kind of twitches I'm talking about are nowhere near this league.
  • Also, some facial twitching can be accompanied by severe facial pain. This can be a symptom of facial neuralgia. Again, I'm not talking about anything like this.
  • I'm also not referring to tics. Tics are brief, rapid, and repetitive involuntary movements, usually involving the face or mouth. Most people think of Tourette's syndrome in conjunction with tics, but people -- primarily children -- can develop tics under many other circumstances. While anxiety can increase the frequency of tics, the true cause or set of causes is unknown.

Still of a person with Tourette's syndrome, from a documentary about Tourette's, called Twitch and Shout

  • No, what I'm talking about are low-level, everyday kinds of twitches. Little muscular flutters that can happen in various and sometimes odd little places around the body. If you point them out one of these twitches to other people, most of the time, they can't see it.
  • The medical term for these twitches, by the way, is muscle fasciculation.

Sometimes the muscles that twitch are "deep muscles" like the ones indicated here.
(Image from

  • Occasional, involuntary muscle twitches are most often responses to too much stress. Most commonly, it happens because your nervous system is overwrought by anxiety or lack of sleep, or you have over-exercised and your nervous system is trying to unload its built-up impulses.
  • (I think in my case, stress and anxiety are definitely a factor at the moment, and probably since I'm using my foot in weird ways when I walk, odd exercise might be contributing especially to the twitches in my foot.)
  • The place where people most commonly experience muscle twitching is around the eye.

(Image from Michelle Miller's marketing blog)

  • Usually the twitching occurs during periods of rest, when the body is no longer being required to respond to immediate stress.
  • Another thing that can give you the twitches is too much caffeine. By stimulating your system, caffeine can trick your body into thinking it's operating under fight-or-flight / high-stress circumstances. If your body is forced to perform under those circumstances for too long, or at very high levels, your nervous system and muscles will simply get tired and start twitching on you.
  • If you get dehydrated, your muscles can twitch as a response. Things that can make you dehydrated include exercise and caffeine.

Too much caffeine can make you twitchy.
(Image from Sovrana Coffee Trading Corporation)

  • Other drugs may also have this effect, including estrogens and corticosteroids. Cortisone and Prednisone are two types of corticosteroids. Other types of corticosteroids may be used in inhalants that treat asthma.
      • What I find interesting here is that when your body is under stress, your pituitary gland releases the body's own version of these drugs, cortisol. When the stress goes away, the cortisol leaves your system. So maybe if you're taking a corticosteroid which mimics cortisol, your body thinks it's under stress and sets the muscles twitching? That's just my guess.
  • Sometimes deficiencies in various minerals or vitamins may be the cause. It's hard to know exactly which mineral or vitamin may be in short supply, though. Taking a supplement or eating foods that include the following components may help:
      • Potassium (bananas) and magnesium (nuts) help to control muscles and the nerves that live in them. This is why Gatorade and other sports drinks contain potassium.
      • Calcium (dairy, figs) is also necessary for muscle control, and it is important for muscle growth, something that happens as a result of exercise.
      • Vitamin B12 (meat, dairy, fish) helps to calm the nervous system and, in my experience, can help to set a lot of things back in balance. Doctors often give B12 to people who are malnourished, or who have lately overdone it with the alcohol.

Eating these foods may help you fight off the shakes.
(Image from Medline Plus)

So it sounds like the best thing to do when my muscles are twitching like a pack of otters under my skin is try to relax and drink a lot of water. And maybe eat a few pieces of cheese for good measure.

By the way, my favorite quote from that Michael J. Fox interview (see above link) is this:

Everything is a slippery slope. Getting up in the morning is a slippery slope.

Diagnose Me, Muscle Cramps / Twitching
Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia, Muscle twitching
Health Scout, Muscle cramps
Carol & Richard Eustice, The Facts of Corticosteroids,, May 26, 2006
Encyclopedia of Medical Disorders, Tic disorders
Georgetown University Hospital, Magnesium in diet
BCHealthFiles, Food Sources of Calcium and Vitamin D
Health for the earth, Healthful Calcium Sources
NutriStrategy, Vitamin B12 - Sources and Functions

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Apple #264: Rubber Duckies

Some pretty unpleasant things have been happening in my personal life lately. Unlike other bloggers, I don't want to go into details here. Suffice to say, it's sad.

Some time has passed and I'm able to contemplate making more Daily Apples. But it's been hard to come up with an idea. So I tried to think of a topic that is the exact opposite of sad. First thing that came to mind: rubber duckies.

(Image from Wikimedia)

I mean, how much more innocuous does it get?

Maybe part of the reason this came to mind so quickly is that my previous entry was something from Sesame Street. Regardless, the first thing to say about rubber duckies is that they were Ernie's favorite toy and the subject of another hit Sesame Street song. (It's just a little too cutesy for me to post here. But if you want to watch him sing his song, here it is on YouTube.)

Then I found this other little tidbit about some rogue rubber duckies that have been traveling the world's oceans since 1992:
  • A cargo ship departing from China lost its container of 29,000 bath toys -- plastic yellow ducks, blue turtles, red beavers (I know), and green frogs -- in January 1992. The toys have been bobbing in the ocean ever since.
  • Because they are so much easier to spot than the current-tracking floats scientists typically use, people are more likely to report seeing them, and thus scientists have collected some especially interesting data about currents thanks to the floating rubber duckies.
  • In fact, they had been in the ocean so long and sightings of them had become so valuable that by 2003, the US company that had them made, The First Years Inc., was offering a $100 US savings bond reward to anyone who found them. (That offer ended in December of 2003)
  • By June 2007, the toys had traveled an estimated 17,000 miles. Here are some of the highlights of their journey:

(Diagram from the Daily Mail)

      • January 1992 - shipwrecked in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of China
      • November 1992 - half had drifted north to the Bering Sea and Alaska; the other half went south to Indonesia and Australia
      • 1995 to 2000 - spent five years in the Arctic ice floes, slowly working their way through the glaciers
      • 2001 - the duckies bobbed over the place where the Titanic had sunk
      • 2003 - they were predicted to begin washing up onshore in New England, but only one was spotted in Maine
      • 2007 - a couple duckies and frogs were found on the beaches of Scotland and southwest England.

This is Curt Ebbesmeyer, who's been tracking the bath toys since they busted loose in 1992.
Photo by W. James Ingraham of NOAA, sourced from The Lede)

  • In all, roughly 125 of the toys have been found, nearly all in Alaska. Though some were a bit mangled, most were only sun- and salt-bleached.
  • If you think you've found one of the world-traveling rubber duckies, look for the words "The First Years" stamped on it. If it doesn't say that, it's not one of this lot.

Now here are some general facts about rubber duckies:

  • Rubber ducks are believed to have been made sometime in the early 1800s. They did not squeak, and they were made of actual rubber, which made them less than flexible and would probably hurt if you threw one at another kid's head.
  • Rubber ducks today are made of vinyl plastic that looks like rubber, but is more flexible and durable (the world-traveling rubber duckies being a good demonstration of their durability).
  • Rubber ducky races are held frequently as a means of raising money for charity.

The launch of a Derby Duck Race in 2006 for Montgomery Hospice in Rockville, Maryland.
(Photo from Montgomery

      • People will purchase the right to race one of 20,000 rubber duckies across Kiwanis Lake.
      • The person whose duck reaches the other side first will win four round-trip tickets anywhere in the United States from US Airways.
      • Proceeds will benefit the Make-a-Wish Foundation which helps children with life-threatening medical conditions.
      • So if you're going to be in Tempe, Arizona on September 15, go race a duck!

If you want to play some wacky online rubber ducky games, try Rubber Duck I especially recommend the Pin the Beak on the Ducky game -- but be sure to move the beak to all sorts of places and very fast to experience the true cacophony.

Ben Clerkin, "Thousands of rubber ducks to land on British shores after 15 year journey,"
Daily Mail, June 27, 2007
Simon de Bruxelles, Plastic duck armada is heading for Britain after 15-year global voyage," Times Online, June 28, 2007
"Rubber Duckies Map the World," CBS Evening News, July 31, 2003
Peter Ford, "Drifting rubber duckies chart oceans of plastic," The Christian Science Monitor, July 31, 2003
Seabean, Plastic Duckies aka Rubber Duckies
Rubaduck, Rubber Ducks Circumnavigate the Globe, August 21, 2007