Wednesday, April 25, 2007

forget the frogs and canaries

Apparently bees are disappearing all over the world. (New York Times, may require registration.)
More than a quarter of the country’s 2.4 million bee colonies have been lost — tens of billions of bees, according to an estimate from the Apiary Inspectors of America, a national group that tracks beekeeping. So far, no one can say what is causing the bees to become disoriented and fail to return to their hives.

...About 60 researchers from North America sifted the possibilities at the meeting today. Some expressed concern about the speed at which adult bees are disappearing from their hives; some colonies have collapsed in as little as two days. Others noted that countries in Europe, as well as Guatemala and parts of Brazil, are also struggling for answers.

The researchers have collected samples in several states and have begun doing bee autopsies and genetic analysis. ...So far, known enemies of the bee world, like the varroa mite, on their own at least, do not appear to be responsible for the unusually high losses.

Genetic testing at Columbia University has revealed the presence of multiple micro-organisms in bees from hives or colonies that are in decline, suggesting that something is weakening their immune system. The researchers have found some fungi in the affected bees that are found in humans whose immune systems have been suppressed by the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or cancer.

Meanwhile, samples were sent to an Agriculture Department laboratory in North Carolina this month to screen for 117 chemicals. Particular suspicion falls on a pesticide that France banned out of concern that it may have been decimating bee colonies.

Friday, April 20, 2007

in which the last two posts achieve gestalt under the heading, "big money owns your brain"

I've been reading much about food the last couple of days: natural foods versus the over-processed junk that makes money for a few fat cats and is more poison than nutrients. Of course I already knew a lot of it, but recently I ran into some new examples that turned my stomach.

First, the grocer where I frequently bought meat has started injecting all its beef with "up to 12% of a flavor-enhancing solution." Excuse me? You're charging me $8.99/lb. for saline solution? I knew they already did it to the pork and the chicken, but I bought organic whenever I could. There is no alternative for the beef in that store. And I'm not buying it. I don't want to eat it and I'm not going to pay for it.

Second, the raw-milk fracas that I stumbled across. I had no idea what kinds of chemical changes milk goes through when it's Pasteurized. I like milk and I think Pasteurization is generally a good thing, but then when I read how that catch-safe allows the farmers to degrade the care and treatment of their cows, thereby letting God-knows-what kinds of hyperbacteria to flourish in your milk, it all seems.... well, wasteful seems a weak term. Dishonest? Slovenly? Low-minded? (Those used to be pretty strong words.) You could say, "Where's the harm?" but the fact is there's always harm when you cut corners in the name of profits. In this case, the harm is put on the cows and the human customers, both.

I've sensed myself becoming less tolerant of milk as I got older. I thought perhaps it was my age, and I've considered it might be the hormones in the milk. The raw-milk proponents claim it's because Pasteurization kills the lactase that helps you digest milk. So some Big Dairy companies make products with lactase added back in so lactose-intolerant people can eat them! Talk about doing things the hard way! (Incidentally, one happy side-effect of this outrage was my learning about kefir. It's a fermented milk product, basically drinkable yogurt, with some added fiber. Boy is it yummy! I can't wait to get it in a blender with some fruit.)

Advocates of raw milk claim that the Big Dairy people have bought off their politicians and terrified the public with the dangers of non-pasteurized milk. I believe it's illegal even to sell it in most states. I found contact information for a few farmers in my area who will allow you to "time-share" a cow, so you're not technically buying the milk from them, they're just storing and caring for the cow on your behalf. I haven't decided yet what to do about it; I just like knowing that the option is there. I certainly don't need the government to tell me what I can and cannot eat--if you want to regulate something, go tighten the leash on your dairy farmers.

Now, what does all this have to do with my difficulties exporting a PNG image? Well, I'll tell you. When I learned that I needed a raster-based program to build my images, my first thought was to brainstorm all the ways I might buy, borrow or steal a copy of PhotoShop. Then AJ very sensibly suggested I obtain an open-source program, which left me smacking my forehead in chagrin. I just installed that open-source WP a month ago, and that worked fine, so why didn't I think to try it again?

Because Microsoft doesn't want you to, honey. They (and Adobe, and Mac, et al) are so omnipresent that unless you've got backstage access to the programming world, you may never know that open-source software exists. I didn't--I'd heard the term but didn't know it came in flavors other than SameGame. That makes me a little sad, because I taught myself html a few years ago and enjoyed it; I wish I knew more about programming, but there are only so many hours in the day, and one can't be an expert in everything. Hey, I make my own clothes, I can cut up a chicken and start a sourdough, and I'm living in a house that we're remodelling ourselves, so climb out of my nose, okay?!?

Seriously, I've very grateful to the code-monkeys who think it's fun to sit on their asses and reverse-engineer programs all day, then have the grace to share their efforts with the public as their own little way of giving the finger to the Man. I'm equally grateful to the folks who take time to research the deviousness of food manufacturers and then share their findings.

These folks keep poking holes in the propaganda screen. It's up to the rest of us to walk up and put an eye to the hole.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

this may be premature, but...

I've been working on the tee-shirt issue. I have a design I like, the problem is getting it made. I looked into CafePress first, but Zazzle has more options for garments, particularly in dark colors.

Unfortunately, I'm a bit stymied by software. To get a true white-on-dark image, I have to create a transparent background for the image, and the Corel software to which I have access will not export the PNG's correctly. I'm looking into a source to get around that.

In the meantime, I managed to use Zazzle's default conversion method to get a passable mock-up of the shirts. The front looks okay, but the back may not be legible enough. We ordered one as a test sample. But if you want a preview...

You can, of course, go ahead and order one if you just can't wait (I know what that feels like, it's why I had to post). But I recommend waiting a couple of weeks until I (hopefully) get this transparency issue resolved.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

this is why no one understands the fat/carb dichotomy

.... Including me, really. Although this page discussing the structures of fats is certainly helpful.

Nobel Prize winner Paul Sabatier (1854-1941, at right) is considered the father of the hydrogenation process. He discovered in 1897 that the metal, nickel, catalyzes, or facilitates, the attachment of hydrogen to carbon compounds.

In the actual process, workers heat the oil to very high temperatures and bubble hydrogen gas through it in the presence of nickel or some other catalytic metal. Since the vegetable oils are unsaturated, they can take on a few more hydrogens.

When they do, the molecule stiffens, and the fat is now closer to a solid. They can control just how firm it gets by how long they pump the gas through. That's why you'll sometimes see the term 'partially hydrogenated' on ingredient labels.

Which is precisely why I quit eating margarine and Crisco six years ago. I always thought Parkay had a vaguely metallic taste to it....

If you're interested in natural foods, particularly dairy, I highly recommend reading the rest of the site. Of course I'm the choir behind the preacher, so you may not find it as amusing as I do.

Considering raw milk's role throughout history, it's simple to see that it's not a deadly food. If it were, all those dairy-loving primitive cultures would have died out long ago, leaving their vegetarian cousins to mind the store. At the very least, people would have dropped it from their diets entirely. And we haven't even gotten to germ theory yet...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

story idea, rubber science

I have this idea. It involves a particular assassin of our acquaintance taking a job on a space station, probably an asteroid-mining operation owned by a big evil mega-corporation.

Awhile back I was daydreaming about artificial gravity systems with my limited knowledge of astrophysics, and I thought, Hey, they've simulated black holes in labs in the last 5 years....what if the space station engineers created a "hypermass" artificial gravity system made from a sort of controlled super-heavy black hole at the center of the station (I guess some other authors have already considered this, but I don't read much hard SF so I don't know of any examples).

I cribbed the word "hypermass" for use in a story and never explored how the thing might work.

Today, I was daydreaming about what might happen if the thing went wrong, because as you know, Bob . . . Bad Things tend to happen in my stories.

So I'm envisioning Quinn being stuck in this mining station, which is gradually collapsing in the middle, trying to kill the guy she's been contracted to kill while trying to get out herself--kind of like the Poseidon Adventure. But the collapse would have to occur at a fairly steady or slowly accelerating rate (ideally), or the station would just cease to exist. I think it would create a great atmosphere of claustrophobia if it happened slowly, but I don't know if that's possible.

Thoughts? Any way I can make this work?

Monday, April 02, 2007

I'm too young to be this old

Remember when you're twenty and thirty seems like the edge of a cliff? Of course now Sheryl Crow has decreed that forty is the new thirty, so I have some reprive.

I'm thirty-three. As of yesterday. I went and saw the family, took my grandmother some flowers (her b-day is two days before mine). My mother gave me a stick. Ok, it was a little condiment spreader made of cherry wood. I love wooden kitchen utensils. There's something very tactilely pleasing about them.

My sweetie asked what I wanted for my birthday, and I said "clothes," so he graciously allowed me to drag him to a half-dozen stores over the weekend. I tried on a score of garments and bought nothing. This is not a good fashion season for me. Everything is high-wasted, blousy, droopy. I have a waist. I prefer to be tailored. I do not intend to have children, so why would I want to look pregnant?

Lately, I've had a yen for a 50's-style cocktail dress or sun dress; fitted bodice, full skirt. I was considering making one, but Trashy Diva has some lovely things. The trick is buying one to fit. My shoulders are rather broad from the tai chi training; my hips are a size or two smaller than my upper body. This means I have to take in every shirt and jacket that I buy, and forget about finding a dress off-the-rack.

I told the SP it didn't matter. I've gotten pretty much everything I ever wished for in the last year. When I make wishes now I just hope for things to stay as they are.

With less plaster dust, of course.

P.S.--We got all the drywall done this weekend. Sometime this week we're going to tape and mud. Hope the weather dries out a bit.