Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Apple #320: Tim Russert

[Update Note: it is now 2 1/2 weeks after I originally wrote this entry, and I have just learned that Tim Russert had a heart attack in the studio and died today (June 13). He was 58 years old.

He was so looking forward to this upcoming election. He said that, finally, we have two candidates who are very different on policy issues and that the public has a distinct choice. He was excited about that and looking forward to interviewing both of them.

He was also very excited by the fact that the Democrats had all but nominated the first African American candidate for President. He said that if he had to choose something else to do besides cover the election campaigns, he would love to be teaching history in an inner city school on such an historic occasion. He teared up with a kind of joy when he said this.

What a blow. I keep looking at other news stories because I want it to be not true. But they're all saying that it is true, that he's gone. I didn't know him, but I will miss him. Thanks for all your good work, Tim.]

First let me say that I try to keep politics out of the Daily Apple. I think that, in general, the topic runs contrary to the purpose of the Daily Apple which is to be informative, yet also delightful in some way. I do not find politics to be delightful. I am, however, impressed by Tim Russert's interviewing skills. Where other people dig on Charlie Rose -- and I do see the appeal there -- I dig on Tim Russert.

(Image from Media Bistro's Fishbowl NY)

My affinity for Mr. Russert is a newly-blooming thing. Until this year, I never watched any of those shows with people yakking at each other about what they think might happen tomorrow or next week, and then shouting about how the other guy was wrong and an idiot, etc., etc. Blech. But this year, I've been watching a lot of the political debates. And when I watched the Democratic debate in Ohio, in my opinion, it was Tim Russert who won that debate.

A few nights previously, the candidates had debated in Texas, and they kind of ran the show all over Campbell Brown (CNN) and a couple of other guys. Then at the debate in Ohio, Brian Williams (NBC) was asking some pretty fluffball questions at the outset, and the two candidates were talking on and on and on about healthcare, saying the same things back and forth we'd all heard 100 times already and not really making any progress.

Then Tim Russert took over the questioning. On one topic after another -- important policy issues such as NAFTA, the export economy, a timetable for Iraq -- he nailed them down and got them to give specific answers. Or, he got them to be as specific as any political candidate is going to give during a debate. He presented them with pertinent, concise facts or quotes from the candidates themselves that sometimes directly conflicted with the candidates' stated positions and then asked them direct questions about those contradictions.

And, what I think was a coup that nobody has really talked much about since, he got Hillary to say -- using all sorts of qualifications but she said it nonetheless -- that she wished she could take back her vote authorizing the war in Iraq.

To be fair, I think Hillary scored a couple of points on Obama during that debate. She knew a lot more details about Medvedev, for example, and she got Obama to say he would reject and denounce the support of Louis Farrakhan. But overall -- and I said this out loud when the debate was over -- I thought Tim Russert won that one.

And ever since, I've paid closer attention when I see him on TV, either speaking as an analyst on days when election returns come in, or when segments of his show Meet the Press are aired later. (I don't actually watch that show; there is no way I am going to watch a TV show about politics on a Sunday morning. Just ain't going to happen.)

Time and again, I see him presenting specific and often difficult details that you know are making the guy (or the woman) in the other chair squirm just listening to them. Then he doesn't let his interviewee off the hook, but he asks specific, direct questions about those details. And often, he gets an actual answer. Or sometimes a lot of stammering, which is an answer of its own kind. Not easy to do when you're talking to people who are well-schooled in the arts of rhetoric, redirection, and qualification.

Tim Russert, at work interviewing somebody
(Photo from the Daily Galaxy)

If Tim Russert were running for any sort of office, I would vote for him. But actually, I'm glad he's not. We need people like him to stay outside of politics and make those slippery candidates sit still for a second and actually give us some answers.

In fact, here's what he said about how he views his job:
I believe very deeply, particularly about someone running for president, that if you can't answer tough questions then you can't make tough decisions. And so I apply that standard to all candidates from all parties.

Thanks, Tim!

  • His weekly interview show Meet the Press, which airs on Sunday mornings on NBC, is said to be the most quoted television news program in the world.
  • NBC also claims that, since it is in its 60th year, Meet the Press is the longest-running program, bar none, in the history of television. Russert has been its moderator since 1991.
  • Just one of Russert's job titles would be a feather in anyone's cap. His current positions include:
      • Moderator, Meet the Press
      • Political analyst, NBC Nightly News
      • Political analyst, Today show
      • Anchor, MSNBC
      • Senior Vice President and Washington Bureau Chief, NBC News
  • Has covered and analyzed Presidential elections since 1984.
  • Has interviewed countless leading political figures, many of them on multiple occasions. As of 2005, Russert had interviewed Vice President Dick Cheney 10 times. Based on those interviews he was asked to testify in the case against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby about who knew what when, and Russert's testimony played a key role in the results of Libby's trial.
  • He is credited by The Washington Post as being the person who coined the terms "red state" and "blue state" to refer to Republican-voting and Democratic-voting blocks. (I can't say I'm all that pleased about this item.)
  • Negotiated and supervised the live televised appearances of Pope John Paul II, who also said a private Mass, on the Today show in 1985.
As the Vicar of Christ approached me, you heard this tough, no-nonsense hard-hitting Moderator of Meet the Press begin our conversation by saying, "Bless me Father!" He took my arm and whispered -- "You are the one called Timothy" -- I said yes, "the man from NBC" -- "Yes, yes that's me." "They tell me you are a very important man." Somewhat taken aback, I said, "Your Holiness, with all due respect, there are only two of us in this room, and I am certainly a distant second."

  • Covered influential international events such as the six summit meetings between the USSR and the US between 1986 and 1991.
  • Won an Emmy for his coverage of Ronald Reagan's funeral.
  • Was listed as on the Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World" of 2008.
  • Has 43 honorary doctorate degrees from colleges and universities across the United States.
  • Has won numerous awards recognizing outstanding accomplishments in journalism.
  • Has produced two "Day in the Life" documentaries about the Bush Sr. and Clinton White Houses.

Russert with his son, Luke, on Luke's first birthday
(Photo from the Big Russ and Me Photo Album)

  • Appeared in an episode of Homicide (Life on the Street) called "The Old and the Dead" in 1995.
  • Was born in Buffalo in 1950 and went to Canisius High School.
  • Is still an avid Buffalo Bills fan, by the way, and ends his Meet the Press broadcasts during football season by saying, "Go, Bills!" He took the staff of his show to the Superbowl when the Bills played (and lost to) the Cowboys.
  • Earned his law degree from the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.
  • He says he supported himself through law school by booking a Bruce Springsteen concert in 1974.
  • Got his early introduction to politics by working as special counsel (attorney) to the US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and then to the New York State Governor Mario Cuomo's office in the late 1970s to early 1980s.

Russert and soon-to-be-Senator Patrick Moynihan, 1976
(Photo from the Big Russ and Me Photo Album)

  • It was shortly following his position in the Governor's office that he went to work as an analyst for NBC.
  • His wife is Maureen Orth, who writes for Vanity Fair. Together, they have a son, Luke.

Tim with his dad and his son.
(Photo from the Big Russ and Me Photo Album)

Sources, About Meet the Press with Tim Russert
Film Reference, Tim Russert biography
Yahoo! TV, Tim Russert Biography
Gilbert Cruz, "10 Questions for Tim Russert," Time, February 14, 2008
IMDB, Biography for Tim Russert
Commencement address, Niagara University, May 21, 2000

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Apple #319: Memorial Day Potpourri

Memorial Day is this Monday, as most people probably know. And most people -- like me -- probably have the day off and will be doing something vacation-ish.

Here's the real story about Memorial Day:

Photo from the Democracy Cell Project

  • It was originally intended to honor those soldiers who had died during the Civil War.
  • Back in the 1860s it was called Decoration Day. Lots of towns sprinkled across the United States had various Decoration Days.
  • On May 5, 1868, General Logan (Union) placed flowers on the graves of Union soldiers, and that was supposed to be the beginning of a Memorial Day that everybody in the country celebrated on the same day. Specifically, here's what he proclaimed:
      • The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.
  • It took a while even for the other Northern states to catch on, but by 1890 most of the Northern states were celebrating Memorial Day each May 30.
  • The Southern states, however, did not want to have their Memorial Day on May 30, so the various states kept on celebrating their various days of remembrance on whatever day had become their custom.
  • After World War I, the holiday was expanded to include remembrance of those soldiers who had died in The Great War, as it was called then. The date was also changed to the last Monday in May. And the Southern states signed on to celebrate their Memorial Day on the last Monday in May, too.
  • However, many Southern states continue to have an additional, separate day for remembering the Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War.
So the upshot is, you're supposed to celebrate Memorial Day, not by barbecuing and drinking beer with your friends, but by putting flags and flowers on the graves of war veterans.

But I'm thinking, there's nothing that says you can't put flowers on the graves and then go barbecue.

With that in mind, I'm going to give you some tidbits that are a little bit more upbeat. Because I'm going out of town for a few days, and I want you to be able to see something a little more lively in addition to the somber remembrance stuff. So here are some odd facts I've gathered here and there lately:


Photo from Purdue

  • To choose a good turnip, select ones that are no larger than 3 inches in diameter. The smaller, the tastier they'll be.
  • Choose the ones that are firm and heavy for their size.
  • If the greens are still attached, the leaves should be crisp and green.
  • You don't want turnips that are soft, spongy, scarred, bruised, wrinkled, or with tiny growth cuts on the outside. If a turnip sits in the bin too long, it'll get pulpy and fibrous and be no fun to eat. The good ones will have a crisp, snappy flavor.
  • Turnips will be best when they're in season, which is October through March.


You can get these 1950s vintage saddle shoes and other saddle shoes made more recently from Muffy's in Oregon.

  • Saddle shoes were born in the early 1900s when men and boys wore them as athletic shoes.
  • In the 1930s when people weren't exactly tripping the light fantastic, girls and women wanted shoes that were serviceable and roomy, so shoe manufacturers began making saddle shoes for them.
  • The fact that they were designed with comfort in mind also made them suitable for dancing. So you might notice that in a lot of pictures of the kids from the 1940s doing those wacky swing dances, the guys and gals are wearing their saddle shoes.
  • Technically, you could call them the two-toned Oxford, but the leather across the top of the shoe, which is of a different color than the body of the shoe, looks like the shoes have a saddle across the top, so saddle shoes it was.

Have a good Memorial Day weekend! I'll see you next week when I get back.

Sources, The History of Memorial Day
David Merchant, Memorial Day History
Infoplease, America's Wars: U.S. Casualties and Veterans
US Census Bureau, Population 1790 to 1990
Kentucky Proud Fruit and Vegetable Information About Turnips and Rutabagas
Vegan Coach, How to Cook a Turnip, The History of Foot Trouble
History of Clothing, Saddle Shoes: Conventions

Monday, May 19, 2008

Apple #318: Bleach

I was doing laundry this past weekend, and I was pouring some color-safe bleach into the washer and I thought, as I often have, "Isn't that phrase, color-safe bleach, a contradiction in terms? How is that possible?" Then just now, I was cleaning my bathroom with cleanser that had bleach added to it, and I was thinking about how handy bleach is. Then I realized, that's it, I have got to find out about this substance called bleach.

Your basic bleach
(Photo from Dr. Tony Kettle's page about research he's doing with bleach-related enzymes)

  • Etymologically speaking, the word comes from an Old English verb that means "to wash" or "to whiten or make pale."
  • Today, the word "bleach" refers to any combination of chemicals that is used to whiten fabrics.
  • That whitening happens by a process of oxidation; that is, the chemical adds oxygen to the stain molecules, the oxygen breaks up the stain molecules, and the stain goes away. The same thing happens to germs or other unpleasant things that could live in the fabric or whatever it is you're bleaching.
  • Some compounds do a better job of bleaching than others.
      • Soda ash, which was made from burned seaweed, worked pretty well at around 300 B.C. and is still used in some industries.

Soda ash, sold commercially and by the looks of it, more recently than 300 B.C. Har har.
(Image from the old Caveman Chemistry site)

      • The Dutch used to soak their fabrics in alkaline solutions and then laid them out in the sun to finish off the bleaching. They then dunked the fabrics in sour milk to get rid of the alkalines. The problem was, the whole thing took weeks.
      • Lye is another bleaching agent. People used to make it by mixing wood ashes with water, or else urine and water, but now lye is made with sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide. It is extremely caustic and it can burn you if you touch it. (The word "lye" comes from Old English and Germanic words that mean "to wash.")

Apparently, this woman who works at Dollywood is demonstrating the old-time way of making lye soap. I hope she's got great health insurance.
(Photo from Dollywood)

What modern-day lye looks like
(Photo from Home Brew Biodiesel Genset, about how to convert a diesel generator to run on biodiesel)

      • Ammonia, borax, and plain lemon juice + sunlight are some other substances that can also bleach things for you.
  • Chlorine is another bleaching agent. When you buy a jug of bleach from the grocery store, you're buying chlorine bleach.
      • Chlorine bleach is actually derived from lye (a.k.a. caustic soda or sodium hydroxide).
      • Chlorine bleach is very cheap to manufacture, it removes stains and disinfects fabrics.
      • People also use it to sanitize food service equipment. And folks who are strapped for cash and are unfortunately hooked on intravenous drugs are encouraged to sterilize their needles with bleach.
      • It can also be helpful in killing mold or at the very least, reducing the allergenic properties of most molds.
      • Overall, it's potent stuff.

5-gallon bucket of concentrated chlorine bleach. This is sold to health care facilities. Strong stuff.
(Photo from Sani-Wash)

      • The problem with chlorine bleach is that sometimes it's too potent. Regular, grocery-store bleach not only strips out the color from fabrics in an instant, but it also weakens the fibers. This is why, if you bleach your jeans, they fall apart pretty quickly afterwards.

Oxo Brite and several other oxy- or oxo- cleaners are made of sodium percarbonate, which is soda ash plus oxygen.
(Image from VitaSalus)

  • Another type of bleach is peroxide bleach. This is what's marketed as the color-safe bleach.

Color-safe bleach or peroxide bleach actually contains this: hydrogen peroxide.
(Image from Arista Surgical)

      • Peroxide bleach is not as strong as chlorine bleach, which also means it's not as damaging as chlorine.
      • Because it needs a little extra help to be effective, color-safe bleach (peroxide) works best at removing stains at higher temperatures.
      • It won't strip the color (dye) from your fabrics, but it also won't kill germs or disinfect anything either.
      • All those tooth whiteners use various compounds that essentially release hydrogen peroxide, and that's what is whitening your teeth.
So when people say, "It's got bleach in it," they're actually saying an inaccuracy. Actually some substance causes a bleaching, or whitening effect.

  • I'm sure most of you know this, but please, please do not mix chlorine bleach and ammonia. It will not make a super-powered cleaning formula, it will make straight-up, in your face, war-weapon chlorine gas.
      • When inhaled, first you'll feel it searing your nose and throat -- this is the massive damage happening to the cells lining your nasal passages.
      • Then you'll start to see white spots in your vision. This is the effect of your brain being deprived of oxygen.
      • Then you'll get woozy and pass out, and if your body is not removed from the scene, continued inhalation of chlorine gas can shred your lungs and result in a very painful death.
      • If you have done this, open the windows, get away from the vat of badness you have just mixed, call 911 if necessary.
Okay! So, bleach can be strong stuff. Treat it with respect, and it will be your friend, not your enemy.

Oh, and by the way, here's one last tidbit, just for fun: an obsolete definition of bleach derives from the word black, and means "to blacken."

My copy of the Oxford English Dictionary
How Products are Made, Bleach
Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, bleaching, lye
Lace and Linen Classics, A Guide to Laundry Additives
American Chemistry Council, A Sanitary History of Household Bleach
Science Toys, Ingredients, Bleach
Miranda Hitti, "Study: Bleach Cuts Allergy Triggers in Mold," WebMD Medical News
BBC, The Dangers of Mixing Bleach and Ammonia
Xomba, Tell Me Why Can't I Mix Bleach and Ammonia?, How to Treat Chlorine Gas Exposure

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Apple #317: Peru

I had Peru on my mind because of that last entry on quinoa. Now, I know that quinoa was mainly grown in Bolivia, so by rights I should do an entry on Bolivia. But I really like the word "Peru." I like the sound of it. And they have llamas there. So, Peru it is.

Peru is a country in South America, shown above. In this map, Peru is in purple, on the west coast. The huge lumps in the middle of the country are the Andes Mountains. You can see how those mountains extend along almost the entire coastline of South America.
(Map from Kelly's Travelogue about the Galapagos Islands)

  • The name "Peru" means "land of abundance" in the language of the Incas.
  • Peru has two national languages: Quechua, which was the language of the Incas, and Spanish. The Incan capital was in Cusco, but the Spaniards made their capital in Lima. Lima remains the capital today.

The Plaza de Armas in Lima.
(Photo by June Robinson)

  • And yes, Lima beans are named after Lima (pronounced lee-mah), Peru. Though lima beans probably originated in Brazil, Europeans first discovered them when they were in Lima.
      • (Lima beans, by the way, contain a compound that is the source of the poison cyanide. But if you eat Lima beans, you won't get poisoned. Nearly every place that grows Lima beans grows a variety that's low in that compound. If you're eating any kind of commercially-sold Lima beans, they've also been rinsed well, which is enough to lower the compound still further. And I love Lima beans. There, I've admitted it!)

Lima beans, getting rinsed.
(Photo from Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center)

  • Peru is a republic as of 1980. In 2001, Peruvians elected their first elected president of Native ancestry. Another guy, Alan Garcia, is president again now, though.
  • Peru grows the second-greatest amount of the coca leaf -- the source of cocaine -- in the world. Peru's neighbor Columbia is the world's foremost producer of that dubious crop.
  • The trade in cocaine makes some parts of Peru pretty dangerous, especially along its border with Columbia. So watch out for those drug traffickers, and also try to stay out of the way of The Shining Path (Maoist guerrilla fighters), some of whom are still running around out there, too.
  • Some of Peru's other primary crops include coffee, sugarcane, rice, potatoes, plantains -- those sorts of staples. Some slightly more exotic products are asparagus, guinea pigs, and fish.
  • Peru is also an up-and-coming wine-producing region.
  • A densely forested mountain slope in the northeast quadrant of the country is the source of the Amazon River. This entire area, even the region's capital city, is accessible only by air or by boating up the Amazon.

This map of Peru shows the general climate regions within Peru. Places of special interest to travelers are indicated with i's in circles.
(Map from Class Adventure Travel, which has more information about those special-interest spots)

  • Other fantastic stuff in Peru:
      • The Andes Mountains are the longest mountain range in the world. This range begins in Venezuela and stretches all the way down the western edge of South America through Peru to Argentina. They are the second-highest, behind only the Himalayas. Though they're snowy, they're not great for skiing. Mountain climbing is the much more popular sport.
      • Macchu Picchu, the remnants of an Incan city 8,000 feet up in the Andes Mountains. It's one of those ancient structures built from stones so large and from so far away, people today can't figure out how the people then got the stones up there, let alone set them without stones or mortar. Check out the in-the-round photo from Destination 360, and I bet you'll feel the vertigo.

A young llama overseeing things at what appears to be Macchu Picchu
(Photo from Peru Mission Trip)

These llamas are hanging out at what is definitely Macchu Picchu. They look like they're being tourists, except this is the sort of terrain they love best. Elevation here is 6,700 feet.
(Photo from George's Photo Weblog)

      • Lago (lake) Titicaca is also in the Andes. It's divided almost in half by the border between Bolivia and Peru. This lake has the highest elevation in the world: 12,500 feet. It's fed by rainwater and snow melting off the mountains, so the water is very cold and calm.

Lake Titicaca, as seen from Bolivia. The Incas called this lake Collasuyu and the island in the middle they called Titicaca which means "rock of lead." They believed that the creator Viracocha emerged from this lake with the first people in the world, and from here he also created the sun and the moon.
(Photo from the Adventure Learning Foundation)

      • Colca Canyon, which is cut by the Colca River near Arequipa, was terraced long ago by the Incas to try to prevent additional soil erosion. Even so, the canyon is now twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in Arizona. It's also home to the Andean condor, an enormous bird that was revered by the Incas.

Bottom of the Colca Canyon. Depending on the season, this area might be lush and green.
(Photo by June Robinson, who has many fine photos)

A young girl and her llama, near the Colca Canyon.
(Photo by June Robinson)

The Andean Condor, which lives in Colca Canyon, can have a wing span of 10 to 12 feet.
(Photo by Becky and Don at Planet Red Lodge)

One of those enormous sand-drawings that can only be seen in their entirety from the air, this one is of the Andean condor. It's part of a series of similar mile-long drawings known as the Nazca Lines, made by the Nazca Indians. The most famous of these drawings is probably the spider. It's believed that the Nazcas made small-scale drawings first and reproduced them in the desert at multiple times the scale size.
(Photo from Our Wild Ride Trip to Peru)

      • Multiple volcanoes, many of them near Arequipa, which is 7,740 feet above sea level.

Llamas near the ruins at Cusco
(Photo by Annette Solyst)

Native woman with her llama in Cusco. Apparently llamas in Peru like to wear tassels on their ears.
(Photo by Karen Corby, who has tons of great pictures on her blog scorbs)

  • Peru has 13 television stations and 54 airports.
  • But this country of just over 29 million people owns roughly 8.5 million cell phones -- and that was as of two years ago. 6.1 million Peruvians can surf the internet.
  • People in Peru love football (soccer to us Americans) and bullfighting. The oldest bullring in the Americas is still operating in Lima, and seats 14,000 spectators. Peruvians also like to play basketball, volleyball, tennis, and golf.
  • Residents and visitors both love the beaches, too, the best of which are north of Lima. Surfing and even more extreme sports like hangliding and paragliding are very popular.

You can paraglide into Cusco, which is a three-hour adventure, for $195 plus tips, with Go South Adventures. Though I'm not sure I'd want to paraglide for an entire three hours.

  • The two kinds of Peruvian beer that many people say they like the best are Cusquena and Cristal.

Cusquena, as enjoyed from a pub is Cusco.
(Photo by someone who I think refers to herself as Flaming Raisins, though I'm not certain since she does not identify herself on this page.)

After seeing all these pictures of people hiking up the trail to Macchu Picchu and going everywhere with their llamas and seeing all this dramatic and beautiful scenery, I want to go to Peru. Obviously, the llamas love it there.

(Photo from Venture Out)

CIA World Factbook, Peru
Destination 360, Peru (you have got to check out these 360-degree photos)
National Geographic, People and Places, Peru
Geographica, Peru
Lonely Planet, Peru
Travour, Sports in Peru
Illinois Institute of Technology, Lima Bean
Viracocha and the Coming of the Incas from History of the Incas, 1907.
Omniglot, Quechua -- see an example of the Quechuan alphabet and some sample text.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Apple #316: Quinoa

Q is the only other letter besides X which doesn't begin a Daily Apple topic. So I've decided to write an entry about quinoa.

  • First of all, it can be pronounced one of two ways: kin-oh-wah, or keen-wah.
  • It looks like a grain, and many cooks use it in recipes the same way you'd use rice or some other type of grain, but actually quinoa are the seeds of a leafy-green plant called goosefoot. Other plants in this family include chard, spinach, and beets.

One variety of quinoa plant. The seeds are in the bunchy clusters.
(Photo from CCBol Group)

  • There are 120 species of quinoa, so the seeds can be any one of several colors, ranging from ivory to pink, brown, and black.

Here's another variety of quinoa, this one with red seeds
(Photo from CCBol Group)

  • Quinoa has been cultivated in South American countries such as Peru, Chile, and Bolivia for thousands of years. It was a sacred food for the Incas, who used to live in the Andes in South America. For them, quinoa was the "mother seed."
  • Quinoa was so central to the Incan culture that the Spanish conquistadors made it against the law for the Incans to grow quinoa, and anyone caught growing it could face punishments as extreme as death.
  • So the cultivation of quinoa nearly disappeared from the planet. It might have disappeared completely but for a few secret patches high in the mountains where the Incas grew small amounts of quinoa. Some native peoples in North America were growing it too, but very few and far between.
  • In the 1980s, two Americans who were students of a Bolivian spiritual leader began cultivating it in Boulder, Colorado. Since then, more and more people have sought it out as a tasty, wholesome food.
  • The conditions under which quinoa thrives do make it seem like it is a magical plant: it prefers 10,000 foot-plus altitudes, drought, and sandy, alkaline soil. It does well in the hot sun and it also carries on in the face of below-freezing temperatures. One pound of seeds, or four cups, can yield an acre of plants, enough to feed ten people for a year. The United Nations has declared it a "super crop."

The pink quinoa in this picture looks pretty fantastic -- but it's real, and you can eat it!
(Photo from the Benson Agriculture & Food Institute)

  • Vegetarians love it because it 12 - 18% of each grain is protein -- and that protein is complete. No need to pair it with beans or some other protein source.
  • It's low in gluten so some people with celiac disease or gluten allergies can tolerate quinoa.
  • Quinoa has lots of magnesium, which means it could be helpful in combating migraines, or getting those annoying muscle twitches to stop, or reducing hypertension or other cardiovascular woes.
  • As with any food, though, don't expect it to cure something all by itself. Eat it in moderation, and make sure your diet has a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and other good stuff.

Light and dark-colored quinoa seeds
(Photo from Organic Jar)

  • To prepare quinoa, even if you buy it commercially packaged, it's a good idea to put the seeds in a fine strainer and give them a good, thorough rinse with cold water. The seeds have a soapy, bitter residue, and some extra rinsing will help get rid of that soapiness. The best way to know if you've rinsed enough is to taste some of the seeds. If they still taste bitter, rinse some more.
  • If you want to cook it like rice, the ratio to follow is one part quinoa, two parts liquid. You could use water or broth or water with soy sauce or whatever you like. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer about 15 minutes. When the seeds have been cooked long enough, they will be translucent and the germ will have partially detached, looking like a curly tail. That little tail will stay crunchy though the body of the seed will soften.

Here's a close-up of the cooked quinoa. I had to shrink the image so it would fit, but hopefully you can see the little curly tails.
(Photo from The Cooker, who also has more nice photos and recipes)

  • You can also dry-roast it, the way you might toast sliced almonds, which will bring out more of its nutty flavor.
  • Quinoa can also be ground into flour to make tortillas or pasta.
  • You can also use it in other flour-based items like cookies or muffins. But on its own it doesn't rise, so you'd have to combine it with at least some wheat flour.
  • It can also be fermented to make a type of beer called chicha. Most people make chicha from corn, but apparently quinoa chicha also is available.

Cooked quinoa in a bowl with asparagus, potatoes, walnuts, and onions. Looks a lot like rice, doesn't it?
(Photo and recipe by Heidi, posted at 101 Cookbooks)

  • There are tons of recipes out there that use quinoa, but here are a few good-looking ones:
  • If you want to grow your own, you can sprout the seeds sort of like alfalfa sprouts. Put about 1/3 cup of seeds in a jar of water and let them soak for 4 hours or so, then drain them and rinse them. Do this twice a day for 2 to 4 days. The seeds will sprout, and when those sprouts are about 1 inch long, put them near a window so the sun can help them develop a bright green color.
  • And finally, quinoa is also a really good word to know for Scrabble.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, quinoa
Encarta World English Dictionary, North American edition, quinoa
Whole Foods, Quinoa
Vegetarians in Paradise, Quinoa, Soul Food of the Andes
Chet Day's Health & Beyond, Quinoa from the Andes by Karen Railey
Nicole Spiridakis, NPR, Quinoa: A Sacred, Super Crop

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Apple #315: Xiphoid Process

I realized yesterday that I don't have any entries about topics that begin with the letter "x". So I decided to find out about the xiphoid process.

  • The xiphoid process is the little knob that sticks out at the bottom of the sternum, in between the two halves of your ribcage. Technically, it is part of your sternum, the lowest-third, and smallest part.

In this diagram, the xiphoid process is #6. Numbers 1, 2, and 6 are collectively the sternum.
(Image from

  • The word xiphoid comes from the Greek xiphos, which means sword-shaped.
  • The word "process" is there for its lesser-used meaning of the word: "a prominent or projecting part of an organic structure."
  • So, putting the two meanings together, "xiphoid process" essentially means a sword-shaped bone that sticks out.
  • People who want to get all fancy with it may also call it the xiphisternum, which refers to the fact that the bone is part of the sternum.
  • When you are born, the xiphoid process is made of cartilage. As you get older, the places where it attaches to the rest of the sternum slowly harden, so by the time you are roughly 25 years old, they have turned to bone (ossified).
  • In some people, the entire thing will turn to bone by the time they are 40 or 50, but in other people, it stays partly made of cartilage. It doesn't mean anything one way or the other, it's just one genetic variation.
  • When performing CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and doing those chest compressions, instructions say to "find the xiphoid process." What that means is to feel the upper abdomen for the place where the fleshy part of the stomach comes up in between where the rib cage comes together (a.k.a. "substernal notch" or "epigastric fossa").
  • If you probe slightly into that triangle of softness, you can feel some firmness beneath. It's not as hard as bone, but it's definitely firmer than plain flesh and muscle. That's where the xiphoid process is.

If you're going to give someone chest compressions, go up about two fingers' width above the xiphoid process. It will feel like the last firm place before the chest cavity opens up.
(Photo from the Merck Health Handbook)

  • The reason they want you to find the xiphoid process is so that you will avoid it when doing the compressions. The whole purpose of doing those CPR compressions is to apply enough pressure to re-start the person's heart and get a pulse going. If you put pressure on the xiphoid process, you could snap it off and plunge it into the lungs or heart tissue and thus kill your patient.
  • So you want to make sure your compression hands are located in the center of the chest, not over the xiphoid process.

The correct way to apply CPR compressions to anyone over the age of 8. Use the heel of your hand and your body weight, not your arm muscles. Push at a rate of about 100 compressions per minute, or more than one per second. Do not rock back and forth or bounce up and down, but apply consistent pressure. If the person is a child, use only one hand, not two.
(Diagram from Frontier Lifeline)

For more on CPR see the Mayo Clinic's instructions for performing CPR.

  • The xiphoid process is a landmark for another, though less urgent, procedure. Fitness people who measure their body fat -- and are kind of obsessed with that whole body fat ratio business -- take measurements using calipers in various places around the body. One place where they take that measurement is at the axilla (a.k.a armpit).
  • Find the axilla by drawing a line beginning at the xiphoid process and around the torso to the side of the body, and keep one finger there. Then with another finger, find the very middle of the armpit on that side and bring it down to intersect with the line you drew from the xiphoid process. That's the axilla.

Photo of someone finding the axilla where they will take a body fat measurement. People who are really into this will call it the midaxillary skinfold site.
(Diagram from Lipsified)

  • That's the place to pinch the skin and apply those calipers. Experts recommend taking two measurements for accuracy.
  • Except measuring body fat only at the axilla won't tell you much. You need to take similar measurements at seven total sites, then use a formula to calculate total body fat percent. Detailed instructions and mathematical calculations are provided at The Build Muscle & Gain Weight Fast Guide.
  • Or you could just get a body fat scale.

Amazon has this Omron Body Fat Monitor and Scale available for about $35.

I'm not getting a body fat monitor or calipers or anything like that. But I am glad to know where that xiphoid process is. I'm also glad I got to type a word that starts with the letter "x" several times.

Philip M. Parker, Webster's Online Dictionary, Definition: Sternum
Philip M. Parker, Webster's Online Dictionary, Definition: Xiphoid
Britannica Student Encyclopedia, process
How to Perform CPR - Rescue Breathing - Heimlich Maneuver
Department of Social and Health Services, Washington State, CPR pdf
Global Fitness, The Physiology of Football and Fitness Tests
Topendsports, Fitness Testing, Skinfold sites, Axilla

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Apple #314: Silence

Last night, I went to see a ballet. I wish the choreography had been a little more demanding, but on the whole, it was a very stirring performance.

Ballets are like an operas in the sense that the story can be quite dramatic, with people falling deeply in love, and sometimes there are sword fights or other violent moments, and there's often a good dose of fantasy. But in ballets, the whole story is told without words. No speaking, no singing. There's the music and the dancing, and that's it. The movements and gestures and facial expressions of the dancers do most of the work in conveying not just the plot but the emotion. The ballet I went to see happened to be Romeo and Juliet, so you can bet there was a lot of emotion. Two pas de deux (dance for two people) in particular were absolutely beautiful.

I left with that stunned sense you get when an experience has tapped some emotional well. And because none of the dancers had spoken during the entire performance, I had no desire to break that spell by speaking. I have spoken since then -- talked on the phone briefly to my mother, asked for an Italian soda at the coffee shop -- but not very much. And I've felt the same desire to continue in this pool of quiet. Just to be still.

So I'm thinking about silence.

  • Some people take vows of silence in protest for political purposes.
      • Each year on April 18, high school and college students across the United States take a vow of silence to protest the bullying that happens in their schools against other students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. It is also supposed to let the school administrators know that the students don't like this behavior, and they want their principals and deans to take steps to stop the bullying.
      • Each October 24, students across high schools and colleges take a similar, collective vow of silence to protest abortion.
      • Just recently, students at San Jose State University took a vow of silence, covering their mouths with handkerchiefs, to protest the university's decision to stop funding the Educational Opportunity Program, which assists low-income and disadvantaged students. After the school board agreed to re-instate the program, one of the protesters pushed down the handkerchief and said, "Thank you."

Dr. John Francis, Planetwalker and silence-keeper
(Photo sourced from Verde, a blog about sustainability)

      • One environmental activist, John Francis, decided to stop using all forms of motorized transport after two oil tankers collided in 1971, spilling crude oil all across San Francisco Bay. People were giving him grief about walking everywhere, so then he decided to stop talking. At first, he was only going to stop talking for one day, but he kept extending his vow of silence again and again, and it lasted 17 years. Remarkably, during that 17 years, he walked across the country, earned college and graduate degrees in science and environmental studies, taught classes, and even dated, all without speaking. On Earth Day (April 22) 1990, he decided to speak again. "After 17 years of not speaking, to hear my voice, I didn't recognize it." Now he is a traveling lecturer, speaking to people about what he learned on his walking tour, and he has published a book called Planetwalker: 22 Years of Walking. 17 Years of Silence.

Planetwalker sells on Amazon for about $17.

      • Various sports figures have taken vows of silence to protest the way the media has portrayed the reasons behind their actions, or inactions.
  • Vows of silence taken to protest something don't seem to me to be very silent, in the end. The purpose is to communicate something, get your message heard, and to propel someone else to take action.
  • Perhaps what I'm more familiar with are vows of silence taken for religious reasons.
      • Trappist monks and nuns, whom most people believe take a vow of silence, actually do speak. They just limit their spoken communication to occasions when they have to explain something to do their work, to have a spiritual exchange with their superiors, or to have spontaneous conversation on special occasions. Frequently refraining from speaking helps the monks and nuns to discover that "speaking is not always the best form of communication. In fact it is frequently used as a coverup."

Thomas Merton, perhaps the most famous Trappist monk, certainly did not refrain from speaking. Among other achievements, he met and conversed with leaders of several religions, including the Dalai Lama of Tibet, as seen here.
(Photo from Spiritual Stars of the Millennium - Thomas Merton)

      • Most monasteries and convents do allow their members to speak, but they also encourage silence as a path to reflection and prayer.
      • Monks at one Cistercian monastery in Spain recently agreed to break their order's 905 years of silence specifically to begin selling the wine the monks have been making for years, in order to raise funds necessary for them to continue. Though they talk to people who may purchase their wine, the brothers on the whole keep silent, and they do not speak when they are in the wine cellars.
  • Perhaps surprisingly, there are some movies that eschew speaking, or are about silence.
      • Into Great Silence is about the monks who live in the Grand Chartreuse Carthusian monastery in France. The monks take a vow of silence upon entering, and though they may speak to each other on walks they take each week, they are otherwise silent. The movie documents that silence, giving a glimpse of what it is like to live without speech.
      • A trilogy of films, Koyaanisqatsi (the Hopi word for Life out of Balance), Powaqqatsi (Hopi for Life's Sorcerer), and Naqoyqatsi (Hopi for War as a Way of Life), are about the influence of technology on various aspects of our lives. There is music, composed by Philip Glass, but there is no speaking, no narration. The films use only images and music to convey a wide-reaching narrative. The images are vivid, rich with color, and they don't just flicker across the screen but the camera lingers on them: people crossing an intersection, baboons bathing in an alpine spring, baby chicks moving on an assembly line. You are given time to absorb what you are seeing, time to think about it in context of the other images you have seen and the music you are hearing. The result is a meditative and yet compelling experience. I'm going to do the movie trailer thing and give you adjectives that people used to describe it: spellbinding, mesmerizing, an audiovisual rush, hauntingly evocative, one of the greatest films of all time.

Koyaanisqatsi - Life Out of Balance is available from Amazon for $10.99. Amazon also has a deal on the whole trilogy, but the set was out of stock when I made this page.


  • French researchers have discovered that when people are told to listen for a noise that will occur shortly, the auditory cortex of their brains is just as active as when they are actually listening to a sound. In other words, listening with expectation of a sound produces the same level of brain activity as listening to the sound itself. They also discovered that the brain activity in the expectation phase was similar to that of people with Attention Deficit Disorder. Which bears out things that ADHD people report, which is that all noises attract their attention at the same level of importance, and everything seems so noisy they can't concentrate.
  • With the development of all sorts of communication technologies, cell phones, home theaters, video games, appliances, and the typical next-door-dog-barking, some people are seeking places where they can find silence.
      • Owens Corning, the company that makes the pink insulation, has developed sealants and other insulators that you can use to insulate your home and reduce noise by 85%. They also recommend acoustic floor mats -- which I would love to give to my neighbor who enjoys stomping around on her hardwood floors in her high heels every morning and evening.
      • You can also get noise-canceling headphones, which use internal microphones to generate another set of white noise sounds that will drown out the ambient noise around you. That white noise isn't loud enough to cancel out really penetrating sounds like someone snoring in the seat next to you, or a screaming baby, or an ambulance siren. But it will block out the humming of a refrigerator, traffic passing by, wind, rain. As far as I'm concerned, these headphones block out the wrong stuff.
      • Isolation tanks, where you lay down in a dark soundproof tank with skin-temperate salt water, or isolation chambers, which are small rooms that are also dark and soundproof, have both been used as a way to help people achieve peaceful, meditative states. However, if people are left in them too long, they begin to hallucinate and then they experience anxiety, antisocial behavior, and their brains stop learning new things. Here is one person's experience -- with pictures! -- of being in a sensory deprivation tank for an hour, which was not so much time that it became a negative experience.
      • There are also rooms called anechoic chambers. These rooms are lined with cone-shaped insulation and are designed to reduce the echoes created by something moving within the chamber. The result is a "dead"-sounding room.

Artist Jacob Kirkegaard is using an anechoic chamber to help him listen to and record the sounds generated within his own ears. He calls his project Labyrinthitis.
(Photo sourced from Nordic Sound Art)

  • John Cage, the well-known avant-garde musician whose works of music often include passages of silence, says there is no such thing as silence. He says that in music, silence refers to all those sounds that are not intended.
    • One of John Cage's most notable pieces, 4'33" (4 minutes 33 seconds), was inspired by a visit to an anechoic chamber at Harvard University, which was promised to have the ability to block all sound. Cage was delighted to discover that what he heard was his own heartbeat, the pulse of his blood, and even the whistling of the nerves in his ears.

That's my kind of silence.

Then of course there are people who do not have a choice but to listen to silence. One blog, Hear Again, describes the "voyages of a cochlear implantee," meaning someone who was hearing impaired but with the aid of an implant, now has improved hearing. The blog appears to be dead, but there's a lot of really good information here. On this particular page, Ivan C describes what it's like to be deaf.

"Silence promotes gay awareness,"
The Enquirer, April 16, 2004
"Rajastan teacher's vow of silence angers students," India eNews, January 24, 2008
"Protest yield support for student equality,"
Spartan Daily, April 24, 2008
Random House, Inc. Planetwalker: 22 Years of Walking. 17 Years of Silence.
"Environmentalist starts talking after 17 years,"
The Sydney Morning Herald, April 6, 2007
"Students at Hundreds of Campuses to Join Day of Silence Against Abortion Oct. 24,", October 6, 2006
"Mark Johnston takes vow of silence,"
Telegraph, February 8, 2007
"Hibs players take vow of silence," BBC Sport, August 4, 2005
"13-year-old boy breaks vow of silence after 10 years,"
Daily Mail, June 14, 2007
Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance (Trappists), Frequently Asked Questions
"Swapping a vow of silence for almighty fine wine,"
The Age, July 17, 2003
PTF: Sound Advice: Insulating against modern noise,
Builder News Magazine, January 2008
"Can we hear the sound of silence?" BBC News, January 9, 2006
Wikipedia, Sensory Deprivation
V. Bracha, Isolation chamber for eyeblink conditioning in the rabbit
Pass the Popcorn, Into Great Silence: And At Great Length, Too, March 30, 2007
Music, Noise, Silence, and Sound, which looks like somebody's paper for a class, but I have no idea who or for what class
Peter Gutmann, The Sounds of Silence, Classical Notes, 1999