Thursday, November 29, 2007

This could be addictive

Free Rice

Playing a word definition game at results in food being donated to the needy.

 is the creation of 49-year-old American computer programmer John Breen, and is the sister site of, launched in January 2007 with a counter showing one person dying of hunger every 3.5 seconds. Breen is no stranger to such programs, having created The Hunger Site in June 1999.

As to who foots the bill for the food being donated, the site says: "The rice is paid for by the advertisers whose names you see on the bottom of your vocabulary screen." As more people play the game, the site racks up more advertising revenue, which in turn is converted into food donations for the hungry.

On 7 October 2007, the first day of the site's operations, only 830 grains were donated. As of 17 November 2007, the number of grains of rice given away amounts to 2,457,120,420

The rice is distributed by the United Nations' World Food Programme an organization that in 2006 reached 87.8 million people in 78 countries.

Monday, November 26, 2007

November is National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month

November is National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month

[A friend, who has memory problems -- as many of us do -- sent me this post.]

While on a road trip, an elderly couple stopped at a roadside restaurant for lunch.

After finishing their meal, they left the restaurant and resumed their trip.

When leaving, the elderly woman unknowingly left her glasses on the table and she didn't miss them until they had been driving about twenty minutes.

By then, to add to the aggravation, they had to travel quite a distance before they could find a place to turn around -- in order to return to the restaurant to retrieve her glasses.

All the way back, the elderly husband became the classic grouchy old man. He fussed and complained and scolded his wife relentlessly during the entire return drive.The more he chided her -- the more agitated he became.

He just wouldn't let up one minute.

To her relief, they finally arrived at the restaurant. As the woman got out of the car and hurried inside to retrieve her glasses, the old geezer yelled to her, "While you're in there, you might as well get my hat and the credit card."

Radon Gas: Homeowners Reminded To Check For Lurking Danger

Radon Gas: Homeowners Reminded To Check For Lurking Danger
By Kristian Foden-Vencil

Most homeowners know to check for lead in their houses -- and mold.

But another potentially dangerous element lurks unseen in many Oregon homes -- radon gas.

The clear, odorless gas rises up from certain soils and is the second largest cause of lung cancer -- albeit well behind cigarette smoke.

Oregon lawmakers will consider a bill in the 2009 session to ‘radon-proof’ all new buildings. But as Kristian Foden-Vencil reports, for now, the old adage applies: buyer beware.

One year ago Javier Mena and Luann Deautremont were looking around Portland for a home. They found a 1925 bungalow in Irvington, which had been torn down to the studs and completely rebuilt. That way, says Luann holding her new baby, they could be sure they wouldn’t have trouble with asbestos, mold, or any of the other afflictions that can plague an old house.

Luann Deautremont: "We thought about lead, because that's more out there, you can pick up pamphlets at the pediatricians office on lead. So we were pretty happy with this house, because it was finished, but radon never really crossed my mind."

Kristian: "So when did radon reach your radar screen?"

Luann Deautremont: "I was doing some research on the internet about lead and I got on the EPA website and found some information about radon there."

The web page advised her to buy a $25 home test kit.

[Radon Measurement Companies]

Luann Deautremont: "I didn't really think anything was going to come of it. I didn't think it would be a problem. I just thought that would be one more thing to check of my list of things to worry about."

But after placing the test kit in their basement for a coupe of days, things turned out differently.

Luann Deautremont: "They said that our radon levels were high. It was a 12 when a 4 is considered acceptable by the EPA."

Krsitian: "What was your reaction?"

Luann Deautremont: "Obviously I was worried and scared and didn't know, hadn't really done the research as to what the effects where. And having small children, that was my biggest worry."

She went back to the EPA website.

Luann Deautremont: "There was only a couple of names on there of people that were certified to do radon mitigation work in Portland. So I just called everyone on the list, pretty much the same day, because I was planning to have a baby and we were planning a home birth, so I didn't want my son to be born in a radon environment."

The same day her baby Marcos was born, the $1700 mitigation system was finished. It involved digging a small pit in the basement, filling it with larger rocks -- so gas could accumulate there -- and then laying a pipe from the pit, up to the roof -- so the gas could escape.

Deautremont and Mena say the house doesn’t smell or look any different, but they’re pleased to have the peace of mind that goes with knowing their son isn’t being enveloped in a radioactive gas. They’re also a little angry.

Javier Deautremont: "Every homeowner normally gets a home inspection before they purchase a home. I wish the inspector did something about it, or at least notified us that there could be a test done to verify if we have high levels of radon."

Kristian: "Now if you'd have found out that you had levels of radon averaging 12, when 4 is the EPA standard. Would you have bought this property?"

Javier Deautremont: "I would probably have tried to find out what are the proactive steps to reduce those levels..."

Kristian: "Maybe it would have been a negotiating tactic and something that would need to be fixed before you bought the place."

Javier Deautremont: "Definitely, before I bought the property I would have had the system installed -- not at my expense."

Oregon, like the rest of the West Coast, isn't as badly affected by radon as the East Coast. But it turns out, part of what used to be the east coast now lies underneath towns like Hood River, Vancouver, Portland and Salem delivered by the massive Missoula Floods 15,000 years ago.

Contractor and home designer, Steve Tucker, specializes in radon mitigation.

Steve Tucker: "There are actually room-sized boulders almost 400 feet above sea level in the Willamette Valley that are from the Missoula Floods. The floods were that strong and that much volume. One of the most infamous areas and one of the most talk about when someone talks about radon is Alameda Ridge, and Alameda Ridge is actually a gravel bar imported by those floods that is a shadow if you will tailed behind Rocky Butte."

Think of a shell on the beach on a windy day. It grows a tail of sand behind it. That Tucker says, is how Alameda Ridge formed. But high levels of radon can be found in many Oregon towns.

A simple crack in a home's foundation allows it to float up and fill a basement. To complicate matters, the house next door might have no problems at all.

Terry Lindsey, of Oregon Public Health Division radiation protection service, says a simple test kit, costing between $10 and $30 dollars, can set a homeowner's mind at rest.

Terry Lindsey: "What you want to be careful of is that the test kit includes the laboratory analysis. Some do and some don't and some you have to pay extra for the laboratory analysis."

Lindsey says currently there's no state law that requires a radon test when a home changes hands, but many states, especially on the East Coast, do have such laws.

Oregon state senator, Laurie Monnes-Anderson, says Washington State just passed a bill that would require that all new construction be radon-proofed and something similar is being discussed in Oregon.

Laurie Monnes-Anderson: "I've actually got some names of people who are willing to come down from Washington to testify in front of the committees here in Oregon. And I think that we really need some information on it, because if it truly is a problem here in the state of Oregon. Then we definitely want to make sure that we provide an environment that is safer for our residents."

Another State Senator, Margaret Carter, feels the same way.

Indeed Whitaker Middle School in her North Portland district had to be bulldozed because of high levels of radon gas and mold. But many listeners may doubt the threat.

After all, people have been living with radon forever. Doctor Rachel Sanborn, specializes in lung cancer at OHSU.

Rachel Sanborn: "It has been linked and been shown to produce a higher risk of particular cancers, particularly lung cancer."

So has she tested her own home?

Yes, and it now has a remediation system installed.

My Dream

"My Dream"
by Ogden Nash,
from The Best of Ogden Nash.
© Ivan R. Dee, 2007.

My Dream

Here is a dream.
It is my dream—
My own dream—
I dreamt it.
I dreamt that my hair was kempt,
Then I dreamt that my true love
unkempt it.

From the Writer's Almanac

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Mitford Sisters' Letters Collected in New Book

Mitford Sisters' Letters Collected in New Book

Weekend Edition Saturday,

November 24, 2007 · The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters, looks at 80 years worth of letters written by the Mitford sisters, who were born into British aristrocracy.

The sisters' lives were bound up with the many of the great upheaval and leaders of the 20th century. Two of the sisters were close friends of Adolf Hitler, another was an ardent communist and another was a famous novelist.

The book is a collection of letters from sisters Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Jessica and Deborah Mitford.

The sisters and their one brother.

Scott Simon talks to the book's editor, Charlotte Mosley, and Deborah, the Duchess of Devonshire, who's the last surviving Mitford sister.

To listen to the 12 minute audio of this story: click here and then on "Listen now."

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Aiguille de Joshu aTree

This is a photo of a friend's son who was recently rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park. His is standing on top of Aiguille de Joshua Tree. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Stressed Opera Singers Turn to Drugs

Stressed Opera Singers Turn to Drugs

VIENNA, Austria —

Stripping away opera's glamour, singers are increasingly speaking out about a more sordid side of their world _ increased drug and alcohol use sparked by relentless pressure to perform often and well.

Most performers continue to avoid the pitfalls of substance abuse and no figures exist documenting the extent of such behavior. But insiders agree that heightened competition, unyielding sponsor demands and the weight of stardom are leading to excesses that invite comparisons of opera to sports tarnished by doping scandals.

Some attempts to stay on top are relatively harmless, like popping a beta blocker to soothe the butterflies before stepping on stage. But others are more alarming.

Singers often overuse steroids in the form of cortisone to control inflamed vocal cords _ sometimes in amounts that can permanently impair their abilities, say performers and their doctors. Others drink too much. Still others snort cocaine, according to insiders.

Inability to cope sometimes turns into tragedy _ as in the case of American tenor Jerry Hadley, who killed himself [in July 2007] after what friends said was a prolonged bout of depression and reported financial and drinking problems.

"It's become somewhat like a pop-star culture," the Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka said of the growing pressures to get to the top _ and stay there.

"People are already talking about a new Anna Netrebko and she's only in her mid-30s," Pieczonka told The Associated Press, referring to the superstar Russian soprano. "Now it's kind of like 'Anna's passe, let's get a new person.'"

Reflecting today's harsh environment, even Netrebko, who became Austria's darling when she took out citizenship last year, was scathingly criticized by Salzburg Festival officials when she recently canceled a performance because of throat problems.

Also missing this year from Salzburg, one of the world's premier opera events, were Rolando Villazon, Neil Shicoff and Elina Garanca _ an unusual number of stay-aways by big names and all linked in some way to job stresses.

Tenor Endrik Wottrich received harsh criticism for pulling out of a performance of the Wagner festival at Bayreuth, Germany, because of a cold.

Fuming, he lifted the curtain on the pressure and resulting abuses.

"We are faced with the choice of performing and being attacked because we sing one false note, or being attacked because we are taking care of ourselves," he told the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

To deal with the pressures, "soloists are taking beta blockers to control their angst, some tenors take cortisone to push their voice high, and alcohol is everywhere," he said. "The real pressure is no longer good old stage fright but comes from a new dimension that has penetrated opera _ it now lives from glamour, and normal human mistakes are a disruption in such an environment."

The mezzo Vesselina Kasarova spoke of colleagues who "are doing much too much ... and are not as robust as they think.

"They then turn to drugs to be able to cope with this kind of lifestyle," she told the German weekly Die Zeit.

It's not that singing opera was ever a piece of cake. The stresses of performing are probably as old as opera itself.

But the art has come a long way.

In the past 50 years, stages have grown in size, orchestral instruments accompanying singers have become stronger and opera seasons have lengthened. Adding to the pressure, singers get paid by the performance _ no money for no shows.

Good singers are now in demand all year round, globe-trotting from one hemisphere to another. And even those who avoid long-distance travel often have little time between the late spring end of the subscription season, the start of rehearsals for summer festivals, and tours promoting their own recordings.

Growing emphasis on appearance adds to the pressure.

Stars like Netrebko and Villazon are feted as much for their looks as for their voices, sometimes forcing others less photogenic to resort to drastic measures. After American soprano Deborah Voigt was fired from a London production of "Ariadne auf Naxos" because she couldn't fit into the costume, she underwent gastric bypass surgery, reportedly losing nearly 100 pounds.

The slower pace of earlier times also led to greater tolerance of cancellations, which sometimes even enhanced careers by becoming part of a diva's allure.

Montserrat Caballe is still in demand in her 70s, despite a history of bowing out at the last minute that gave rise to the apocryphal line, supposedly from one of her managers: "Mrs. Caballe is available for only an extremely limited number of cancellations this season."

"The interest in musical theater and opera has grown greatly just in the last few years," Austrian music critic Wilhelm Sinkowitz said. "Opera always was stressful and back then, if someone like (Maria) Callas canceled that was a catastrophe for those who paid to see her.

"But all of that has been amplified _ there are more and more performances and more and more pressure," Sinkowitz said. "And today, the public simply does not accept that a brand name like Netrebko or Villazon is not available. This is why the pressure on top performers is tremendous."

Still, physicians who treat singers urge them to resist the temptation to perform at any cost. Some, they say, overdose without knowing it, as they travel from gig to gig in one city after the another without keeping track of cortisone treatments that _ if overdone _ can destroy a voice.

Asked about cortisone overuse, Chicago otolaryngologist Robert Bastian, who counts many singers among his patients, said "a sense of vocal invincibility" _ the trademark of a good singer _ can backfire in an increasingly competitive performing world.

Pieczonka says she has tamped down the pressure by pacing herself _ she said she was taking a two-week vacation, something many others would never do out of fear of being off the circuit too long.

Still, she has no illusions.

"The word that comes to describe this lifestyle is 'hideous,'" she said.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

You'll someone like this at your table today

Word of the Day for Thursday, November 22, 2007

deipnosophist \dyp-NOS-uh-fist\
noun: Someone who is skilled in table talk.

Deipnosophist comes from the title of a work written by the Greek Athenaeus in about 228 AD, Deipnosophistai, in which a number of wise men sit at a dinner table and discuss a wide range of topics. It is derived from deipnon, "dinner" + sophistas, "a clever or wise man."

At the age of six his future as a deipnosophist seemed certain. Guzzling filched apples he loved to prattle. Hogging the pie he invariably piped up and rattled on. -- Ellis Sharp, "The Bloating of Nellcock"

Ellis Sharp: " 'The Bloating of Nellcock' (in The Aleppo Button) was an attack on Labour leader Neil Kinnock, who is now a marginal, unimportant, increasingly forgotten figure. But Nellcock has a life of his own as a grotesque fictional creation whose misadventures have a comic reality, long after the original inspiration has faded from view." Entry and Pronunciation for deipnosophist

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How to carve a turkey

Butcher’s Method Takes Carving Off the Table

Published: November 21, 2007

BEFORE breakfast on Thanksgiving, as the first Americans rise to preheat the oven, the question of who is going to carve the bird starts to ripple anxiously across the land.

By mealtime, many cooks will be tired of hovering over the turkey and ready to unload it, but just try to find a taker.

Click on image to enlarge.

To see video click here.

“One year my 13-year-old nephew, Josh, was the only one willing to take it on,” said Nissa Goldstein, a retired teacher in West Hartford, Conn. “Of course, everyone was shouting instructions at him, and he ended up locking himself in his room and refusing to come out.”

It is generally agreed that the art of carving is in sad decline. The definition of the “man of the house,” who would traditionally assume the job, is increasingly slippery. Family members recognize the risks involved in taking a knife to a relative’s hard work; guests often decline such a high-profile role. Add the inherent drowsiness of Thanksgiving, a cold day devoted to a single huge meal, consider the tendency in many families to start in on the house cocktail as soon as guests begin to trickle in, and the general unwillingness to put blade to bird becomes unsurprising.

“One year the turkey took a long time to cook and I went to carve it after about 13 beers,” said Maurice Landry, who lives near Lake Charles, La. “The way I remember it, I bore down to take off the leg and the whole thing went shooting off the platter and knocked over the centerpiece.”

All of these are good reasons to adopt the high-yield, low-profile carving method described here. It involves a radically untraditional step — often followed by professionals, but new to many home cooks — that makes carving easier, if less spectacular.

“I don’t cut like a chef, I cut like a butcher,” said Ray Venezia, the meat director for the four Fairway markets, a third-generation butcher and one of the biggest turkey purveyors in New York City.

Instead of slicing the meat from the roast at the table, Mr. Venezia’s carving protocol calls for the biggest pieces, the breasts and the thighs, to be removed whole, then boned and sliced on a cutting board. “Trying to carve from the carcass is like trying to cut it off a beach ball: it’s all curved surfaces and it moves around under the knife,” he said. “Give me a flat cutting board any time.”

Roger Bassett, the owner of the Original Turkey in Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, uses the same method for the 30 turkeys carved and served at his store every day. “Cutting a turkey the traditional way, where you leave the meat on the bird and cut down, you can’t cut across the grain,” he said. “The pieces you end up with are all stringy because the fibers are long instead of short.”

Mr. Venezia demonstrated the method to me twice last week; I then tested it on two roast chickens, and met with howling success.

It is important to start with a turkey that has rested for at least 20 minutes; 40 is even better, so that the meat has firmed enough to cut cleanly. Mr. Venezia does not use a carving fork. (“Why pierce the meat more than you have to and let the juices run out?”) Instead, he holds the bird in place with one hand and uses the other for cutting.

He counsels against using a large or unfamiliar knife, like a wedding set carving knife. Since most of the cutting is done with the first few inches of the blade, a small, sharp knife that you know how to wield is a wise choice. For our demonstration he used an eight-inch boning knife with a plastic handle that cost, by his estimate, $10. He used a larger knife only for slicing. The skin can be removed or left on the breast, as a matter of taste and aesthetics.

At the end there was almost nothing left on the carcass: a turkey that weighed 22 pounds raw was reduced to a denuded two-pound skeleton and a platter mounded with thick, clean slices of breast and thigh and a few whole pieces for those who like the bony bits.

“You’ll find that people eat a lot more of the dark meat when it’s carved this way,” Mr. Venezia said. Still, he advises ordering a pound of turkey for each person and five or six pounds extra, to make sure there is enough white meat for those who will not eat anything else.

Mr. Venezia said this method was easier on the carver and more satisfying at the table. “I look at a turkey as I would look at any primal cut of meat,” he said, referring to the sides of beef and rumps of lamb that butchers break down into retail cuts. “I want to get the most meat off that carcass, and I want the meat to come off in nice, thick pieces. Not shreds, not chunks, and no ragged edges.”

The only disadvantage of this method is that it eliminates the opportunity for showboating. It requires counter space and is probably best done in the kitchen (although a roomy sideboard with a cutting board on top would be fine), making it ideal for less-experienced carvers. Mr. Bassett, who is used to carving with an audience, said he preferred to present the turkey in its whole, golden-brown, burnished state, then retreat to the kitchen to carve it.

“If you want the Norman Rockwell moment, this is not the method for you,” said Michael Darre, professor of poultry science at the University of Connecticut. “However, you will get a lot of meat off the bird.”

Although modern domesticated birds do not do a lot of flying, he said, the largest muscle is still the pectoralis major, the breast, which has the heavy job of pushing down the wing during flight.

“These days the breast can be dry because the soft muscle doesn’t hold fat and hemoglobin as well as an exercised muscle would,” Dr. Darre said. “But the payoff is that nice, mild turkey flavor.”

Even for the experts, carving the turkey is the most intimidating part of the day. Their advice to the anxious: don’t panic or start hacking away, even if guests are baying for turkey and the meat is beginning to cool. “Piping hot gravy will take care of everything,” Mr. Venezia said. “That’s your endgame.”

Shack/Slum Dwellere International


For Release Thursday, November 22, 2007
Washington Post Writers Group

Call it, if you will, the unlikeliest marriage in the world -- high-flying capitalist dollars earned by multibillionaire Bill Gates flowing to a network of Asian, African and Latin American slum dwellers who are often obliged to struggle for shelter, fresh water, even access to a toilet.

But in a Thanksgiving Day announcement, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation made it official: it is making a $10 million operational and development grant to Shack/Slum Dwellers International.

The group, known by the initials SDI and formed in India in 1996, is a loose network of grassroots organizations of the urban poor. It’s grown to millions of members in 24 nations, cities spread from Manila to Cape Town, Mumbai to Sao Paulo. Typically, members are women ready to share their meager savings in collective efforts to upgrade their homes, secure titles to the land their houses sit on, build a latrine block, perhaps start a school.

Slum dwellers sit right across the table from local government authorities, designing projects and negotiating how they’ll be financed and carried out. It’s a far cry from aid programs conceived elsewhere and then imposed by the United Nations or World Bank, Jockin Arputham, the charismatic veteran leader of the National Slum Dwellers Federation of India and resident of Mumbai’s massive Dharavi slum, told me in a phone interview.

In fact, it’s the failure of the big international aid agencies to materially improve the condition of the world’s slum dwellers -- now estimated at 1 billion, and growing -- that’s drawn special attention to SDI.

SDI’s neighborhood organizations, notes Gates Foundation program officer Melanie Walker, “have an amazing track record. They have buy-in at the community level-- it’s not outsiders imposing some program. This comes from the heart of the community -- people who have ‘skin in the game.’ They’re vested in the work. They do it all themselves.”

Affordable housing expert David Smith defines the breakthrough in other words: “SDI has cracked the problem of creating bottom-up pressure that catalyzes the poor from inchoate mass into an effective, intelligent counterpart of government and the private sector.” Smith’s non-profit Affordable Housing Institute will help SDI implement the Gates grant.

Gates’ Walker acknowledges it was “a little bit scary” to contemplate granting $10 million to “people without a bank account.” But Gates watched SDI operations for some time and then decided to go ahead after meeting several members of its leadership team at a “Global Urban Summit” organized by the Rockefeller Foundation in Bellagio, Italy, last July.

There are some parallels in the Bill Gates and SDI stories, says Walker -- both entrepreneurial, both risk-taking. “We’re basically betting on their track record and integrity,” she notes, adding: “We expect our $10 million to be matched several times over by governments and previously unhelpful municipalities.”

Sheela Patel of Mumbai, SDI’s board chair, says that through the grant, the Gates Foundation “is also learning how the poor themselves can be serious actors in the development process” -- possibly a big breakthrough for global funders.

But until I contacted Joel Bolnick, an SDI director and founder from Cape Town, it wasn’t clear how critical the Gates money may, as Bolnick puts it, “be in the hands of people who are homeless and landless directly-- turning them from being beneficiaries into partners.”

Most often, he said, when local groups demand that government give land, housing or infrastructure for free, “they get none of it.” But, he notes, SDI affiliates “have resources, networks, capacity and savings they can put on the table.” And with the Gates money they’ll be even stronger than that, able to say in negotiations with a government in India or Cambodia, for example -- “If you can’t help us here, we’ll take the money and put it on the table for a deal in Zambia instead.”

If the idea of slum dwellers playing one country off against another surprises you, try this one: slum dwellers as venture capitalists.

As David Smith puts it, SDI five years ago was still getting its sea legs, not yet Internet-savvy, not yet organized with an effective secretariat office in Cape Town. It couldn’t have handled a Gates-sized grant. But it’s now matured, he asserts, with sufficient experience and savvy “to leverage the capital into ongoing partnerships and income streams.”

The very strength of the Gates grant, says Smith, is that it represents unconditional, true risk money. Of course that means some deals may fail, some of the money may be lost. But like private investors, SDI can learn from failures, gain from experience and start to build true equity. “It’s venture capital for self-taught, self-chosen, effective entrepreneurs.”

Connect that thought back to the wretched conditions, the perils of sickness, exposure, even early death that so many of the developing world’s slum dwellers face. Did someone say Thanksgiving Day miracle?

Mt. Hood 1:43 PM 11/20/07

Click on image to enlarge.

Mt. St. Helens 1:15 PM 11/20/07

Click on image to enlarge.

This is a static, near real-time image of Mount St. Helens, taken from the Johnston Ridge Observatory. The Observatory and VolcanoCam are located at an elevation of approximately 4,500 feet, about five miles from the volcano. You are looking approximately south-southeast across the North Fork Toutle River Valley. The VolcanoCam image automatically updates approximately every five minutes.

I Get Along Without You Very Well

Joseph Wood Krutch said, "Both the cockroach and the bird could get along very well without us, although the cockroach would miss us most."

From The Writer's Almanac

Words from the Front

"Words from the Front"
by Ron Padgett, from How to Be Perfect. © Coffee House Press, 2007.
From The Writer's Almanac

We don't look as young
as we used to
except in dim light
especially in
the soft warmth of candlelight

when we say
in all sincerity
You're so cute
You're my cutie.
two old people
behaving like this.
It's enough
to make you happy.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Galaxy Song and Dance frorm Australia

Click on Image to hear the song.

Spain in 2070

Spain: Landscapes in a changed climate

Greenpeace hopes to scare Spain into action with the book, which uses statistics from the UN panel on climate change and comparative photomontages prepared by Pedro Armestre and Mario Gómez to show the landscapes of a changed climate.

To see the photomontages click here.

Wildfire-Wildlife Photos

USGS Cameras Capture Dramatic Wildfire-Wildlife Images
Released: 11/7/2007 2:07:47 PM

Wildlife photos from a motion-triggered camera used in wildlife research in Orange County between Los Angeles and San Diego managed to survive the fire intact, along with some astonishing photos.

Dr. Erin Boydston and Lisa Lyren, USGS researchers who have conducted carnivore research using this and other cameras, said the photos show some before and after the fire pictures – including one of a coyote apparently fleeing from the fire. Possibly the same coyote triggered the camera again one and a half days later.

The pictures were acquired using a “camera trap,” a camera wired with motion sensors to automatically take photos when the sensors detect movement in the camera’s field of view. Camera traps, said Lyren, are widely used in carnivore research because they help document the behavior and distribution of these more elusive, often-nocturnal animals.

This camera trap is on the former El Toro Marine Base, an area that burned last week in the Orange County Santiago Fire. This particular area was the southernmost extension of the fire, where it crossed over a toll road into this small peninsula of habitat surrounded on the other three sides by urban development, small agricultural fields and the main part of the former Marine Base.

Boydston, Lyren and other colleagues at the U.S. Geological Survey have been studying bobcats and coyotes in Orange County since 2002 in collaboration with Dr. Kevin Crooks at Colorado State University.

Extensive camera data and data from GPS-collared animals from before the fire provide an understanding of how carnivores were already using this complex landscape of open spaces, roads and urban areas.

“We hope that we are able to do follow-up research to help discern where the displaced carnivores go, as the options are slim between urban areas or unburned areas that already have bobcats and coyotes present who will not welcome newcomers to their territories,” Boydston said. “If so, we will have the opportunity to understand how fires interact with patterns of carnivore behavior and ecology and what the implications are for conservation of these species, especially in habitat surrounded by urban areas.”

USGS-CSU collaborative research across Orange County has been funded by the Orange County Great Park Corporation, The Irvine Company, The Nature Conservancy, Transportation Corridor Agencies, and USGS.

NOTE FOR EDITORS: Time stamps on the images are in Pacific Standard Time. For high-resolution, copyright-free images of the images of wildlife captured by the movement-triggered camera, click on the thumbnail images below. Please credit photos to the USGS.

For more information on USGS wildfire work, click here:

Photo descriptions followed by photos:

A coyote walking in dry creek bed of streamside scrub vegetation dominated by the native plant, mule fat (Baccharis salidifolia), about 20 days before the fire. In their wildlife research, USGS scientists position camera traps along trails and dry creek beds, places that are likely to be travel routes for carnivores. From this particular location in Borrego Wash, the researchers have obtained 32 photos of bobcats and 7 of coyotes since March 16, 2007. Photo credit: USGS.

Movement triggers the camera, and moving vegetation can sometimes trigger a picture. At 09:45 a.m. PST on Oct. 21, 2007, the Santa Ana winds picked up and triggered a photo, followed by additional photos that morning of the windy conditions, including this one at 10:44 a.m. PST. Photo credit: USGS.

At 4:50 a.m. PST on Oct. 22, 2007, a coyote runs into the wash, presumably fleeing from the fires. Photo credit: USGS.

After the photo of the coyote on the run, the next photo on the camera shows high-intensity flames at 9:00 a.m. PST on Oct. 22, 2007. Photo credit: USGS.

At 09:01 a.m. PST, just one minute after the intense flames, the fire seems to have passed this particular point, leaving only the skeletons of the mule fat plant and other streamside shrubs that continue to burn. Photo credit: USGS.

The camera continued to take one photo per minute for 10 minutes after the fire, until this one at 09:10 a.m. PST on Oct. 22, 2007, showing smoke, burnt and smoldering vegetation and windy conditions. The remnants of some field research equipment are lying melted under a nearby tree. Photo credit: USGS.

The next photo on the camera at 11:12 p.m. PST on Oct. 23, 2007, shows a coyote walking out of the wash at night, a day and a half after the fire, heading back in the direction from which the coyote was running on the early morning of Oct. 22, 2007. Photo credit: USGS

Saturday, November 17, 2007

K, BWV, D: What do they mean?

This article will explain the "K" numbers, the "BWV" numbers and the "D" numbers that you see on concert programs and recordings.

Köchel catalogue

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Köchel-Verzeichnis is a complete, chronological catalogue of compositions by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart which was originally created by Ludwig von Köchel. It is abbreviated K or KV. For example, Mozart's Requiem in D minor was, according to Köchel's counting, the 626th piece Mozart composed. Thus, the piece is designated K. 626. Köchel catalog numbers not only attempt to establish chronology, but also give a helpful shorthand to refer to Mozart's works.

In the decades after Mozart's death there were several attempts to catalogue his compositions, but it was not until 1862 that Ludwig von Köchel succeeded. Köchel's 551-page catalogue was titled Chronologisch - thematisches Verzeichnis sämtlicher Tonwerke Wolfgang Amadé Mozarts (Chronological - Thematic Catalogue of the Complete Musical Works of Wolfgang Amadé Mozart). The catalogue included the opening bars of each piece, (an incipit).

Köchel attempted arranging the works in chronological order, but the compositions written before 1784 could only be estimated. Since Köchel's work, many more pieces have been found, re-attributed, and re-dated, requiring eight catalogue revisions. These editions, especially the third by Alfred Einstein (1937), and the sixth by Franz Giegling, Gerd Sievers, and Alexander Weinmann (1964), incorporated many corrections.

Even so, Köchel's numbers are a quick way to estimate when Mozart composed a particular work. For Kn > 100, one may divide it by 25, add 10, yielding an estimate of Mozart's age at time of composition; if one adds 1756, it estimates the year of composition. To maintain as much of the original K-numbering of the list, while re-ordering in the revised, chronological sequence, letters were added to the new numbers.

Ludwig Ritter von Köchel
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ludwig Alois Ferdinand Ritter von Köchel (IPA: [ˈkœçəl]) (January 14, 1800 – June 3, 1877) was a musicologist, writer, composer, botanist and publisher. He is best known for cataloguing the works of Mozart and originating the 'K-numbers' by which they are known (K for Köchel).

Born in the town of Stein, Lower Austria, he studied law in Vienna, and for fifteen years was tutor to the four sons of Archduke Charles of Austria. Köchel was rewarded with a knighthood and a generous financial settlement, permitting him to spend the rest of his life as a private scholar. Contemporary scientists were greatly impressed by his botanical researches in North Africa, the Iberian Peninsula, the United Kingdom, the North Cape, and Russia. Additional to botany, he was interested in geology and mineralogy, but also loved music, and was a member of the Mozarteum Salzburg.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (Bach Works Catalogue) is the numbering system identifying compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach. The prefix BWV, followed by the work's number now is the shorthand identification for Bach's compositions. The works are grouped thematically, not chronologically.

Wolfgang Schmieder assigned the BWV numbers in 1950, to indicate the work's placement in the Bach works catalogue titled Thematisch-systematisches Verzeichnis der musikalischen Werke von Johann Sebastian Bach. The BWV numbers are universally used and accepted as the standard numbering of Bach's works, for example Mass in B minor is BWV 232. Works believed incomplete or of doubtful authenticity at the time of cataloguing were listed in the BWV Anhang (BWV appendix), and are identified by BWV Anh number. The BWV catalogue is occasionally updated, with newly discovered works added at its end, though spurious works do not have their numbers removed.

The BWV numbers are occasionally found in older publications as, e.g. S. 232, and referred to as Schmieder Numbers, though Schmieder opposed this nomenclature and usage, not wishing his name overtly linked to the works (as a point of modesty).

Wolfgang Schmieder
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Wolfgang Schmieder (May 29, 1901 – November, 1990) was a German musicologist

Schmieder was born in Bromberg, Lower Austria. In 1950, he published the BWV, or Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis ("Bach Works Catalogue"), a catalog of musical works by Johann Sebastian Bach. The numbering system used in the BWV has since become a nearly universal standard, used by scholars and musicians around the world. Schmieder served as the Special Advisor for Music for the City and University library at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University of Frankfurt am Main from April 1942 until his retirement in 1963. He lived in Freiburg im Breisgau until his death in November 1990 at the age of 89.

The Listing of Franz Schubert's Works with "D" numbers.

The indication "D" or "D." refers to "Deutsch", that is Otto Erich Deutsch, who created a (more or less) chronological (by composition date) catalogue of Schubert's works. Note that this catalogue has been amended several times, leading to numbers followed by a letter, for example D.769a, formerly D.900 (because historical research led to a new probable date of composition).

The compositions of Schubert listed below are grouped generically, by type of composition. Not all thematic groups of Schubert works have a separate numbering that is generally accepted: for example the numbering of the piano sonatas proved particularly cumbersome, see below. Also for the symphonies the numbering from 1 to 10 is only "stable" insofar as no more new symphonies turn up. For most other groups of works there was no real attempt to number them, apart from the general numbering in the Deutsch catalogue.

Less than 100 of Schubert's compositions received an Opus number during Schubert's life: about half of the Opus numbers are posthumous, and give no indication at all regarding a chronological - or any other - order, except regarding the chronological order of publication. By the end of the 19th century no new opus numbers were added; for new publications the Deutsch number was used.

Otto Erich Deutsch
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Otto Erich Deutsch (September 5, 1883 – November 23, 1967) was a jewish musicologist. He is best known for his catalogue of the works of Franz Schubert (January 31, 1797 – November 19, 1828) - it is from this that the D numbers used to identify Schubert's pieces are drawn.

He also wrote many articles on Franz Schubert and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and compiled "documentary biographies" (collections of contemporary documents concerning the subject) on Schubert, Mozart and George Frideric Handel.

The Numbering of Schubert's Symphonies

Between 1813 and 1818 Schubert wrote six symphonies, now known as Nos.1-6. In 1818 he drafted a four-movement symphony in E (now No.7) in outline but only orchestrated the start of the first movement. In 1822 he composed and orchestrated two movements of a symphony in B minor (now No.8, the ‘Unfinished’) and drafted part of a third movement; whether or not he had drafted a finale remains moot. In 1825-26 he completed a large symphony in C major (now No.9, the ‘Great’). There are in addition numerous sketches and fragments for other symphonies, and in the 1970s it was realized that these included the nearly-complete draft of a three-movement Symphony in D from the summer and autumn of 1828. A performing version of this work was orchestrated by Brian Newbould as Symphony No.10.

The first Schubert Symphony to be performed was the ‘Great’: this was designated by Schubert’s brother Ferdinand as ‘No.7’ as early as the 1830s. In the 1840s the thematic catalogue of Schubert’s works prepared by Alois Fuchs accepted this numbering and also called the drafted E major symphony ‘No.8’. The two completed movements of the B minor symphony were not performed until 1865, and it was George Grove who decided that this symphony – the ‘Unfinished’ - should be No.8, with the E major dropping to No.7 and the Great C major becoming No.9. Though this has been the preferred numbering ever since, not least because it respects the chronological order of these works, the old numbering of the Great C major as No.7 has been remarkably persistent and is still sometimes encountered. In addition to this the revised Deutsch catalogue edited by Walter Dürr and Arnold Fell has proposed that the E major Symphony should have no number, that the ‘Unfinished’ should be called ‘No.7’ and the Great C major ‘No.8’: but this view, as well as being illogical – the E major Symphony is essentially an entire work, as various completions have shown – is unlikely to prevail over current practice.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The First Moments of Life

Help from the fruit fly.

A three-hour-old fruit fly embryo

Age-old question pushes scientists to step beyond their fields — into each other’s
By Chad Boutin

For the past five years, a quartet of Princeton researchers has [been] trying to resolve a tricky and timeworn issue about the first moments of life by examining the fruit fly.

Eric Wieschaus (top, left) brought his lifetime of experience with the embryo to the physics lab, where William Bialek’s (top, right) mathematical analysis and David Tank’s (bottom, left) imaging techniques proved invaluable in revealing how the embryo’s cells determine their ultimate function in the adult fly. By absorbing lessons from all three scientists, Thomas Gregor (bottom, right) was able to render the embryo’s cellular nuclei visible to microscopes and open to quantitative analysis — earning himself a Ph.D. in the process. Gregor is now a researcher at the University of Tokyo.

The information the team obtained is now public knowledge; it recently netted them an unusual two papers in the journal Cell — one for the discovery, and another detailing the techniques they used to obtain it.

To read about what they discovered and how, click here.

What was the name of that operation?

Is there a correlation between vasectomy and dementia?

Though even the idea of a scalpel nearing the upper inseam can make a guy shift uneasily in his seat, vasectomy is a very safe and effective means of minimizing unwanted procreation: complications are relatively rare and minor, and for obvious structural reasons it's way less invasive than the female analog, tubal ligation. But it's still surgery, which always entails some risk; if said risk might include future mental impairment, a little concern seems understandable.

What we're referring to here is a December 2006 study by a team from Northwestern University focusing on men with a fairly uncommon form of dementia called primary progressive aphasia. Unlike Alzheimer's, for instance, PPA doesn't result in memory loss but instead affects regions of the brain associated with language use — it typically shows up first as difficulty in thinking of the word you want (uh-oh, a lot of readers just said to themselves) but may ultimately lead to serious across-the-board problems with written or spoken communication.

It's also more common in men than in women (with memory-related dementia the reverse is true), and apparently it was a patient of lead researcher Sandra Weintraub who first wondered about a connection between his vasectomy surgery and the onset of PPA. Intrigued, Weintraub et al rounded up two groups of 55- to 80-year-old men, PPA patients and unimpaired volunteers, and compared their vasectomy rates. Results: members of the PPA group were more than twice as likely to have had a vasectomy than the non-PPAers; within the PPA group, on average the vasectomy recipients developed dementia earlier than their unsterilized peers.

Which, admittedly, is creepy. There are, though, some important reasons not to start freaking out just yet. First, the sample size for the study was quite small — just 47 guys with PPA, 57 without. Given that every year for decades now a half million men or more have undergone the procedure, clearly we've got lots of subjects we could be looking at (and, in so doing, not rely as heavily on those who've already developed PPA). So far, though, no one's reproduced the NU team's results.

And second, the researchers themselves can only guess at what might account for a vasectomy-PPA link. In order to keep the male body's autoimmune system from attacking its sperm cells, the testes are isolated from the flow of blood by something called (reasonably) the blood-testis barrier. But in testicular surgery this firewall is often breached, allowing contact between sperm and blood cells, and in fact one very common side effect of vasectomy is that the patient develops antibodies to his own sperm. Since other kinds of antibodies have been known to make their way into the brain and cause real trouble there, Weintraub speculates that the antisperm antibodies resulting from vasectomy may be doing something similar. (The study also proposes that women might develop such antibodies and thus a greater risk of PPA; if so, since the overall number of women exposed to sperm is pretty high, one might think PPA would be more common in females than it is.) .

The Northwestern docs stressed that further research was required before sounding the alarm, and let's remember that some earlier vasectomy-related fears turned out to be largely unfounded. At one point, for instance, many believed the procedure might increase the incidence of prostate or testicular cancer, but according to the National Cancer Institute, any connection is pretty weak.

A better-documented side effect is sometimes known as postvasectomy pain. Unlike the normal, typically minor pain that often follows surgery, PVP can occur years after the procedure, ranging in intensity from mild to excruciating and arising from a number of conditions: high-pressure sperm buildup (the surgery doesn't halt production of sperm, just keeps it out of the ejaculate), accumulated sperm granulomas (hard balls of tissue that form around stray sperm), kinked tubes, etc. Some sources say as many as a third of all patients experience PVP, but one Journal of Andrology survey suggests it's less than 10 percent. Vasectomy reversal can often stop the pain, though researchers aren't entirely sure why. Frankly, you kind of wish they were.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Remember This

Remember This

By Joshua Foer

There is a 41-year-old woman, an administrative assistant from California known in the medical literature only as "AJ," who remembers almost every day of her life since age 11. There is an 85-year-old man, a retired lab technician called "EP," who remembers only his most recent thought. She might have the best memory in the world. He could very well have the worst.

"My memory flows like a movie—nonstop and uncontrollable," says AJ. She remembers that at 12:34 p.m. on Sunday, August 3, 1986, a young man she had a crush on called her on the telephone. She remembers what happened on Murphy Brown on December 12, 1988. And she remembers that on March 28, 1992, she had lunch with her father at the Beverly Hills Hotel. She remembers world events and trips to the grocery store, the weather and her emotions. Virtually every day is there. She's not easily stumped.

There have been a handful of people over the years with uncommonly good memories. Kim Peek, the 56-year-old savant who inspired the movie Rain Man, is said to have memorized nearly 12,000 books (he reads a page in 8 to 10 seconds). "S," a Russian journalist studied for three decades by the Russian neuropsychologist Alexander Luria, could remember impossibly long strings of words, numbers, and nonsense syllables years after he'd first heard them. But AJ is unique. Her extraordinary memory is not for facts or figures, but for her own life. Indeed, her inexhaustible memory for autobiographical details is so unprecedented and so poorly understood that James McGaugh, Elizabeth Parker, and Larry Cahill, the neuroscientists at the University of California, Irvine who have been studying her for the past seven years, had to coin a new medical term to describe her condition: hyperthymestic syndrome.

EP is six-foot-two (1.9 meters), with perfectly parted white hair and unusually long ears. He's personable, friendly, gracious. He laughs a lot. He seems at first like your average genial grandfather. But 15 years ago, the herpes simplex virus chewed its way through his brain, coring it like an apple. By the time the virus had run its course, two walnut-size chunks of brain matter in the medial temporal lobes had disappeared, and with them most of EP's memory.

The virus struck with freakish precision. The medial temporal lobes—there's one on each side of the brain—include an arch-shaped structure called the hippocampus and several adjacent regions that together perform the magical feat of turning our perceptions into long-term memories. The memories aren't actually stored in the hippocampus—they reside elsewhere, in the brain's corrugated outer layers, the neocortex—but the hippocampal area is the part of the brain that makes them stick. EP's hippocampus was destroyed, and without it he is like a camcorder without a working tape head. He sees, but he doesn't record.

EP has two types of amnesia—anterograde, which means he can't form new memories, and retrograde, which means he can't remember old memories either, at least not since 1960. His childhood, his service in the merchant marine, World War II—all that is perfectly vivid. But as far as he knows, gas costs less than a dollar a gallon, and the moon landing never happened.

AJ and EP are extremes on the spectrum of human memory. And their cases say more than any brain scan about the extent to which our memories make us who we are. Though the rest of us are somewhere between those two poles of remembering everything and nothing, we've all experienced some small taste of the promise of AJ and dreaded the fate of EP. Those three pounds or so of wrinkled flesh balanced atop our spines can retain the most trivial details about childhood experiences for a lifetime but often can't hold on to even the most important telephone number for just two minutes. Memory is strange like that.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What's blooming in Portland

Click on photo to enlarge.


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