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Friday, May 27, 2016

Spelling and Grammar Checkers

     I saw a Facebook post the other day where you could download Grammerly that read: Sick of making grammatical and spelling mistakes? Perfect writing is a click away! There was also a download button, but I have an aversion to clicking on anything on Facebook.
     The question is, how good are available spelling and grammar checkers, really? Even if they aren't all THAT great, I wish more Facebook posters would type their stuff in Word and spell check it then copy and paste it into the post. Hastily typing something usually results in spelling and grammatical errors to be sure, but I am convinced many of my friends just can't spell or write proper English. That does NOT mean they are stupid or anything, but all the spelling and grammatical mistake make them LOOK that way. 
     Running spell check is very important, but it is not a foolproof means of making sure your documents are error free. It will let you know if there is a group of letters that doesn’t actually spell anything, but it won’t let you know if you have used the wrong word. So, it's a good idea to proofread your work yourself rather than rely completely on spell check. Also, if it is an important business document, it's a good idea to have someone else proofread it! Don’t take a chance on making a careless mistake just because you won’t take the time to proofread what you wrote.  It's easy to miss your own mistakes.
     I found a site that tested some of the "free" checkers with a block of text containing eight different errors and here is what they found. 

This one claims to be the "World’s Most Accurate Grammar Checker." It promises to identify over 150 text errors, offer synonym suggestions and to check for plagiarism. It's free to get your text checked, but the hook is you need to sign up for a seven day trial to see the details of the problem. You can pay $19.95 a month, $13.32 per month for a quarterly subscription or $7.95 per month for a yearly subscription...that's almost a hundred dollars for a year! In the test Grammarly found three spelling errors plus two other issues where it made suggestions for changing the wording of the text which actually was OK as written. Score: 3 out of 8 

It claims to be a do-it-all grammar and spellchecker. It can be downloaded and it's supposed to add proofreading functionality to Microsoft Word, Outlook, Powerpoint, Internet Explorer and Firefox. A small control bar appears whenever you’re actually using one of the applicationa. By clicking on the control bar it will check for any any spelling errors or grammatical errors and suggest corrections. It has a "hook", too. You can test a 600-character demo for free but the premium version costs $198, $132 for spelling and grammar correction only or you can subscribe for about $20 a month. The premium version also claims to have a text-to-speech function that enables you to hear your text read aloud in a digital voice. It also has a "learning" feature (you learn, not the software) that acts like a tutor to teach you not to make mistakes. Score: 3 out of 8 

Microsoft Word 
How did this one do? Score: 4 out of 8 

After The Deadline 
This one can be used with bbPress, Confluence and OpenOffice and linked to Firefox or Google Chrome browser and you can access it via a WordPress plugin. It also allows you to cut-and-paste the copy into a web page. That's with the download version. There is also an online version, but in the test, it only found one spelling error and didn’t spot any of the grammatical mistakes. When it was tested using the WordPress plugin it did better...it found all the misspelled words. Score: 4 out of 8 

A knowledgeable human using care is still the best, but while these tools can be useful for checking spelling and grammar thus preventing you from embarrassing yourself, Microsoft Word's (or, in my case, Libre Office's) built-in spell checker  provides better results for free.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Bowery Boys

Leo Gorcy
     The Bowery Boys were fictional New York City characters played by a repertory theater of New York-based actors, who were the subject of feature films released by Monogram Pictures from 1946 through 1958. 
     The Bowery Boys were successors of the "The East Side Kids," who had been the subject of films since 1940. The group originated as the "Dead End Kids", who originally appeared in the 1937 film "The Dead End Kids" originally appeared in the 1935 play Dead End. 
     When Samuel Goldwyn turned the play into a 1937 film, he recruited the original "kids" from the play, Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Bobby Jordan, Gabriel Dell, Billy Halop, and Bernard Punsly, to appear in the same roles in the film. This led to the making of six other films that shared the collective title "The Dead End Kids." 
     In 1938, Universal launched its own tough-kid series, "Little Tough Guys." Gradually, Universal recruited most of the original Dead End Kids, so the series ultimately featured "The Dead End Kids and Little Tough Guys." Universal made twelve feature films, and three 12-chapter serials with the gang. 
Huntz Hall
     When Warner Brothers released the remaining Dead End Kids from their contracts in 1939, producer Sam Katzman at Monogram immediately hired several of them, including Jordan and the Gorcey brothers, Leo and David, as well as some of the Little Tough Guys to star in a new series using the team name "The East Side Kids." These films also introduced 'Sunshine' Sammy Morrison, one of the original members of the Our Gang comedy team, as part of the gang. As a result, the original members of the "Dead End Kids" were working at several studios, so these films were made at the same time that Universal was making "The Dead End Kids" and "Little Tough Guys" series. A total of 21 films were made, with the final one, Come Out Fighting, released in 1945. 
     In 1945, when East Side Kids producer Katzman refused to grant Leo Gorcey's request to double his weekly salary, Gorcey quit the series, which then ended immediately. Bobby Jordan then suggested a meeting with his agent, Jan Grippo. Grippo, Gorcey, and Hall formed Jan Grippo Productions, revamped the format, and rechristened the series, The Bowery Boys. 
     Gorcey, who owned 40 percent of the company, starred, produced, and contributed to the scripts. The new series followed a more established formula than the prior incarnations of the team, with the gang usually hanging out at Louie's Sweet Shop (at 3rd & Canal St.- actually, there is no intersection of Canal and 3rd Street. They parallel each other about six blocks apart.) until an adventure came along. The Bowery is a street and neighborhood in the southern portion of the New York City borough of Manhattan. 
     The original main characters were Terrence Aloysius "Slip" Mahoney (Leo Gorcey), Horace Debussy "Sach" Jones (Huntz Hall), Bobby (Bobby Jordan), Whitey (Billy Benedict), and Chuck (David Gorcey, sometimes billed as David Condon). "Sunshine" Sammy Morrison, "Scruno" in the East Side Kids films, declined the invitation to rejoin the gang, later stating in an interview that he "didn't like the setup", possibly referring to the idea of Gorcey and Hall being in the forefront, and being paid much more than the other members.
     When Bobby Jordan quit the series for the same reason, his character was replaced by Butch Williams, with former East Side Kids Bennie Bartlett and Buddy Gorman alternating in the role. The proprietor of the malt shop where they hung out was Louie Dumbrowski (Bernard Gorcey, Leo's and David's real-life father). 
     The members went through a number of changes over the course of the series and thirteen actors were members of the team at one time or another. Bobby Jordan, an original Dead End Kid, appeared in the first eight films, but left after being injured in an elevator accident. Jordan was also unhappy with the direction of the series, which favored Gorcey and Hall, and limited the participation of the other gang members. 
     Gabriel Dell also appeared in some of the movies. He was just out of the Navy with a French war-bride in tow. He played a utility character, appearing as a private investigator, policeman, songwriter, reporter, Nazi spy to suit the story. Because money was apparently an object of concern for Gorcy, Dell appearances limited the casting budget. 
     The early films flirted with humor-laced crime dramas, but gradually shifted to all-out comedy, growing more slapstick and fantasy-oriented over the next decade. After 1950, the series began to resemble Abbott and Costello comedies and the gang's dingy basement club-house was replaced by an ice cream parlor. They also adopted a more adult look, exchanging their sloppy, juvenile wardrobe for suits. 
     The team started to fade when Huntz Hall was elevated to co-star status to showcase his comedic skills and the stories began to focus entirely on Slip (the self-proclaimed leader of the bunch) and his sidekick, Sach, with the diminished three or four "boys" receding into the background with little to do. Time and again the plot revolved around Sach accidentally acquiring some strange power or ability (a psychic, champion wrestler, crooner, etc.) that he tries to exploit. In most of the films, the gang pursued get rich quick schemes or got mixed up with neighborhood thugs. 
     Gorcey and Hall became a comedy duo that increased the popularity of the series and in 1953 a new producer and director who had previously worked with The Three Stooges, transformed the series into profitable kiddie-matinee material. Gorcey and Hall re-enacted gags borrowed from the Stooges.  Slip was famous for his Brooklyn-accented malaprops like "I depreciate it!" ("I appreciate it!"), and "I regurgitate" ("I reiterate"). 
     In the 1940s, Abbott and Costello appeared in four "service comedies", one for each branch of the military which the Bowery Boys duplicated in the 1950s.The  Bowery Boys, also like Abbott and Costello before them, became detectives when they opened up a detective agency. They also released other copies of Abbott and Costello story lines. 
Louie Dumbrowski (Bernard Gorcy)
     After filming a movie in1955, Leo's father, Bernard Gorcey, was killed in an automobile accident, which left Leo devastated.   He started drinking heavily and it visibly affected his performance in his next film, which would be his last. During filming, he became violently unhinged, trashing the set and destroying every prop in sight. At a subsequent meeting Gorcey demanded an increase of the 40 percent interest he held in the series which was denied and after a heated exchange, he quit the series and stormed off the studio lot. 
     Gorcey was replaced by Stanley Clements, a former tough-teen actor who had been in a few East Side Kids movies and they were now billed as "Huntz Hall and The Bowery Boys."
     The series was renewed for the 1957 season and four more films were made. In all, there were 48 Bowery Boys films, making it the longest feature-film series of American origin in motion picture history and only Huntz Hall and David Gorcey had remained with the series since 1946. 
     The Bowery Boys and East Side Kids were repackaged and syndicated for television in the 1960s and 1970s. They became a staple for independent stations and were often used to fill up the early-afternoon time-slots on weekends. 
     In 1967, The Beatles paid homage by selecting pictures of Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall for the cover of their Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album. The Gorcey photo was removed, however, after Gorcey's agent demanded a $400 payment for use of his image. You Tube has a number of episodes you can watch HERE.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Warning to Parents About Kids and Imodium

     I've been somewhat baffled lately by advertisements on television about a condition I never knew existed...opioid induced constipation. It seems that if you need an opioid to manage your chronic pain you can get constipated. 
     According to the U.S. Pain Foundation nearly 8 million people, and maybe more, who are on opioids suffer from constipation and they often try to treat it with over-the-counter remedies. Also, not all doctors are on top of opioid constipation so the commercials are there to tell people how to treat it and that it's probably a good idea to educate their doctor on this scourge. That's supposedly necessary because both patients and doctors may fail to connect their pain medication with their constipation. 
     What are opioids? They are medications that relieve pain by reducing the intensity of pain signals reaching the brain and affect areas of the brain controlling emotion, which diminishes the effects of a painful stimulus. Medications that fall within this class include Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, codeine, and related drugs. 
     Hydrocodone products are the most commonly prescribed for a variety of painful conditions, including dental and injury-related pain. Morphine is often used before and after surgical procedures to alleviate severe pain. Codeine is often prescribed for mild pain. In addition, some of these drugs can be used to relieve coughs and severe diarrhea. 
     Opioids act by attaching to proteins called opioid receptors which are found in the brain, spinal cord, gastrointestinal tract, and other organs in the body. When these drugs attach to the receptors, they reduce the perception of pain. Opioids can also produce drowsiness, mental confusion, nausea, constipation, and can depress respiration. 
     Some people experience a euphoric response to opioid medications because these drugs also affect the brain regions involved in reward. Those who abuse opioids, OxyContin for example, may snort or inject it which increases their risk for serious medical complications, including overdose. Opioid addicts are turning to a common over-the-counter medication to address withdrawal symptoms with dangerous and even fatal consequences. 
     Imodium is great stuff. As advertised, Imodium products provide FAST relief of diarrhea, often is as little as one dose. But... 
     Imodium has seen a surge of popularity among opioid users for their withdrawal symptoms PLUS a lot of people, including kids, are using it as a recreational drug. 
     According to a recent CBS News report some people are taking dangerous doses of Imodium. The anti-diarrhea medication has growing appeal with substance abusers because it's cheap and readily available. 
     Loperamide, its main ingredient, causes intestinal slow-down, which helps stop diarrhea. But in very high doses, it can have other effects as well as some serious risks. A person has to take an enormous dose to get high and addicts pop anywhere from 50 to 300 pills per day.  According to the study, in large doses Imodium works the same way as heroin, morphine, and oxycodone. However, Imodium is a cheap alternative, as stores sell 400 tablets, which should control a LOT of diarrhea, for less than $10. 
     The National Poison Center data recorded a 71 percent increase in calls related to loperamide usage from 2011 to 2014. Many are kids who are not addicted to anything...they just know popping a ton of Imodium is a cheap high. Overdose symptoms may include dizziness, drowsiness, urinating less than usual, severe stomach cramps or bloating, and vomiting. Excessive doses of Imodium can lead to heart problems, kidney and liver failure, and even death.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Yard Moss: Nasty and Obstinate

     There are thousands of species of moss, a very simple plant that lacks the a leaf, shoot, root, and seed-forming systems. Unfortunately, at least if the stuff is growing in your lawn, moss is one of the hardiest living organisms on the planet! The stuff reproduces either sexually (spores) or asexually (breaking off into smaller pieces that divide and multiply).
    Regular grass cutting won't do anything to get rid of it. There are several underlying conditions that allows moss to come out ahead of regular lawn grasses. These conditions most frequently are some combination of: 

1) poorly drained, persistently wet soils
2) acidic soil conditions
3) medium to dense shade
4) repeated “scalping” of turf on uneven terrain
5) compacted soils 

The stuff thrives in these conditions! Lawn grass doesn't! 

     Another factor that helps moss is lack of sunlight because many species of moss prefer moist soil in the shaded areas. Removing trees though can be unacceptable, not to mention expensive. Tree pruning can help though. 
     If moss occurs in sunny spots, mower “scalp”(cutting the grass too short...don't do it!) may be the cause of the problem. Scalping severely weakens lawn grass and allows moss to thrive.
     Compacted soil is another cause and using a core aeration machine (either rent one or have a lawn care service do it) can also help. I can attest that physically removing moss with a rake is essentially impossible because you simply can't get rid of every single piece and since there are millions of spores already in the soil it will just continue to grow. The best thing to do is remove as much vegetation as possible then reseed. 
     Sprays, etc may help, but the stuff won't work on many kinds of moss and often when it does, it leaves very ugly yellow or brown spots when the moss dies. 
     One irritating thing is that if you don't fix the above 5 problems, the moss will come right back. You see, the moss is not killing the grass, but rather failure of the grass to thrive allows the moss to do so.  As one article stated, if the conditions are right for moss then significant renovation may be required to get the grass to thrive, but...there are no guarantees. 
     Moss growing in the yard is an indication of less than ideal conditions for growing grass. The potential causes behind the problem are: 

Low soil pH Lack of necessary nutrients in the soil 
Poor drainage 
Excessive shade 

So, just removing the moss is only the first step. THEN you have to some detective work to determine why the moss is growing to begin. If you can't determine the cause then the moss will simply return. It's recommended that you have the soil analyzed. Some local cooperative extensions will do it for you. so that they can test it for you. Let them know that you need to find out what the soil pH is and whether or not your soil contains the necessary nutrients for growing a healthy lawn. This way you can discover the root cause of the problem. 
     Your grass may need a more alkaline soil to compete effectively against moss. If this is the case, you will need to apply lime. If the ground lacks the nutrients, you will have to fertilize the lawn on a regular basis. 
     Bad drainage is another problem because if the lawn does not drain very well and retains excessive moisture, this condition is good for moss to grow. Soil with a high clay content is a red flag. Water tends to percolate slowly through overly clay soils and that can lead to puddling. Happily, there is a very simple test you can conduct to determine what type of soil you have. If you see standing water on your lawn after a rain then you have drainage issues. If clay is the source of the problem then something like humus has to added to the dirt. If the whole lawn is poorly drained then that may be a whole other issue! Good luck!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Paint Shop Pro V. 4.14

Created with PSP

     I have been using this FREE painting program for years and HIGHLY recommend it. Even though it was released way back in 1997, it's powerful yet simple to use and everything is intuitive so it won't take forever to learn how to draw and edit photos. 
    Unfortunately the sites where you can download it are full of all kinds of unwanted junk, so I am making it available for download from Dropbox. 

It's possible that you could get a message "Failed to update the system regristry. Please try using REGEDIT."   If you do get such a message, just click OK and the program will launch.

Free Diagram and Flowchart Program

If you need to put together diagrams and flowcharts this is an excellent program. Use it to create network diagrams, table plans, work or study plans, project outlines, and just about anything else. It's a 63 MB download and is free and malware-free according to VirusTotal and Web of Trust. You can also test-drive the yEd Graph Editor online! Just click the Launch yEd button to start the application right from your browser. Recommended. Visit SITE

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Submarine Crush Depth

     What happens when a submarine reaches its crush depth? There are actually two crush depths. The depth at which engineers have determined it wouldn't be safe to dive below and the depth at which it actually crushes. 
     WW2 submarines were rated at a maximum depth, but it was impossible to know for sure just how deep they could really go. Some went well below their rated crush depth and managed surface with or without damage; some, well, they never surfaced. 
     At the true crush depth the outer hull finally gives in along with the fuel and air tanks and then the inner hull. Submarines have a light  outer, non-watertight hull that provides a hydrodynamically efficient shape. Then there is the pressure hull which is the inner hull; it maintains the difference between outside and inside pressure.
    At crush depth the sub just crumples like a tin can. As a sub approaches its crush depth the crew would hear piping and fittings giving way then the ship’s hull creaking and groaning until it finally implodes, killing everyone in a matter of seconds. The water doesn't leak in, it pours in and the air inside either forms a bubble at either end of the boat or tremendous heat is generated as the water rushes in and the boat implodes killing everyone instantly. Debris, including body parts, and fuel oil float to the surface. Very terrifying.
     WW2 German U-boats generally had crush depths in the range of 660 to 920 feet. Modern nuclear attack submarines are estimated to have a test depth of 1,600 ft which means the estimated depth at which they would actually implode is about 2,400 ft. However, there are some specialized military subs that can go as deep as 4,200 ft. 
     Submarines had many openings in their hulls to accommodate torpedo tubes, diesel engine exhausts and air intakes, periscope, the prop shaft, etc. A submerged submarine is very delicately balanced as to buoyancy and so it takes very little flooding to overwhelm it. WW2 subs also had very little power available on their electric motors for running underwater. That meant that in the event of flooding they had very little possibility to use their hydroplanes to "fly" the submarine towards the surface. 
     The bathyscape Trieste, made it to 35,813 feet in the Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench, a few hundred miles east of the Philippines. The ocean is 36,200 ft. deep there. The water pressure at that depth is over 1000 atmospheres. The Trieste was 6.5 ft. in diameter with steel walls 5 inches. 

The USS Thresher
     At 9:18 am on April 10, 1963, sonar operators aboard the US Navy submarine rescue ship Skylark, which was accompanying the nuclear attack submarine Thresher, heard a sound like air rushing into an air tank when the Thresher went down in 8,400 ft. of water on its deep-dive trials southeast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, killing all 129 men aboard. 
     Five minutes prior to the implosion, Thresher had radioed that it was having minor problems then there were several fragmentary, garbled messages, followed by silence. Moments later the sounds of the Thresher breaking apart and imploding were heard.
     According to US military reviews of the accident, the most likely explanation is that a piping joint in a sea water system in the engine room gave way with the spray shorting out electronics that in turn forced an automatic shutdown of the nuclear reactor. 
     When the accident occurred, Thresher was near its maximum test depth which was classified, but probably around 1,300 ft. Normally, a submarine would be able to survive depths 20 to 35 percent greater than its maximum test depth, but without the reactor and any power, the Thresher could not stop itself from sinking.  Thresher Memorial

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Can You Eat a Platypus?

     Platypuses, also known as the duck-billed platypus, are weird and unique animals. So much so that the first scientists to examine a specimen believed they were victims of a hoax. 
     Looking at the animal is like looking at a combination of a duck (bill and webbed feet), a beaver (tail), and otter (body and fur). When the animal was first encountered by Europeans in 1798 a pelt and sketch were sent back to Great Britain by Captain John Hunter, the second Governor of New South Wales and British scientists' initially thought it was a hoax. Examining a dried specimen, George Shaw, who first described the platypus in the Naturalist's Miscellany in 1799, stated it was impossible not to entertain doubts as to its genuine nature. Another scientist, Robert Knox, believed it might have been produced by Asian taxidermist. Somebody had sewn a duck's beak onto the body of a beaver-like animal. Shaw even took a pair of scissors to the dried skin to check for stitches. Early settlers called it by many names, such as "watermole", "duckbill", and "duckmole".  
     Until the early 20th century, it was hunted for its fur, but it is now protected. Captive breeding programs have had only limited success and in the wild the platypus is vulnerable to the effects of pollution. 
     Platypuses are unique because males are venomous. They have sharp stingers on the heels of their rear feet and can use them to deliver a strong toxic blow. The venom (most is secreted during mating season) is not life threatening to humans, but it is powerful enough to kill smaller animals such as dogs. The pain is so excruciating that the victim may be incapacitated. Swelling rapidly develops around the wound and gradually spreads throughout the affected limb. A byproduct of this is the development of hyperalgesia which is a heightened sensitivity to pain that persists for days or even months. 
     While the venom is used against predators if threatened (the platypus would actually rather run than fight), it is primarily used against other male platypuses during mating season. They fight to show dominance and scare away potential mating rivals. They have been heard to emit a low growl when disturbed and a range of other sounds have been reported in captive specimens.
     They are indigenous to freshwater rivers and lakes in eastern Australia and Tasmania and are roughly the size of a house cat.  They are covered in thick, dark brown hair over most their bodies. The thick hair is waterproof and helps keep the platypus keep warm and dry when in the water, where it spends most of its time. 
     Platypuses hunt underwater where they swim by paddling with their front webbed feet and steering with their hind feet and beaver-like tail. Folds of skin cover their eyes and ears to prevent water from entering and the nostrils close with a watertight seal. They can remain submerged for a minute or two and employ their sensitive bill to find food. The platypus needs to eat about 20 percent of its own weight each day which requires it to spend an average of 12 hours daily looking for food. 
     Bottom feeders, they scoop up insects, larvae, shellfish, and worms in their bill along with bits of gravel and mud and all this material is stored in cheek pouches. At the surface it's all mashed for consumption. Like the rest of the animal, their bills are unique, containing both electrical and pressure receptors. The platypus can determine the direction of an electric source, perhaps by comparing differences in signal strength across the electro-receptors. This would explain the characteristic side-to-side motion of the animal's head while hunting. The platypus uses the difference between arrival times of the signals to sense distance. When it digs with its bill, its electro-receptors detect tiny electric currents generated by muscular contractions of its prey, enabling it to distinguish between animate and inanimate objects which also stimulate its mechano-receptors.
     The babies have a few teeth which they lose before or just after leaving the burrow and the develop pads in their place. These pads are used to crush and grind their food with help of small stones they have picked up along with their food. As one would expect, the platypus jaw is constructed differently from that of other mammals and the opening muscle is different. 
     The platypus has extra bones in the shoulder area which is not found in other mammals and their bones are extra dense which helps to provide ballast in the water. On land they walk like an alligator because their legs are on the sides of the body, rather than underneath. This causes it to knuckle-walk on its front feet. The nails and feet are also handy when they construct their burrows at the water's edge.
     Platypuses are also unique in that they are only one of two mammals that lays eggs. Bet you don't know what the other one is. It's the echidna, also known as the spiny anteater.
     Females seal themselves inside a burrow chamber to lay their lizard-like eggs, usually one or two, and keeps them warm by holding them between her body and her tail. The eggs hatch in about ten days and the babies are the size of Lima beans and totally helpless. Females nurse their young for three to four months until the babies can swim on their own. The males have nothing to do with the eggs or the blind and hairless newborns. 
     As you might expect, it also has eyes that are different. They are similar to those of Pacific hagfish or Northern Hemisphere lampreys. They also contain double cones, which most mammals do not have. Its eyes are small and not used under water. In some ways the eyes are similar to those of an otter and sea-lions. They have binocular vision, but poor visual acuity Studies of their eyes indicate that they are adapted to an aquatic and nocturnal lifestyle although they are also active during the day, particularly when the sky is overcast. 
     In captivity, platypuses have survived up to 17 years. Natural predators include snakes, water rats, goannas, hawks, owls, and eagles and crocodiles. 
     I know you're dying to know if they are edible!
     There are some foods that are banned in most restaurants either because they come from highly poisonous animals or it must be cooked exactly as specified if you want to avoid killing yourself. Of course this doesn’t some people from playing Russian Roulette. 
     For example, in certain Asian countries the Puffer Fish as an exquisite delicacy. Their meat is perfectly edible because the poison is concentrated in the eyes, skin and the internal organs. The problem is, one wrong move by the chef and you'll be in paralytic coma that will kill you within a few minutes. It only takes a few milligrams (one drop of water is about 50 milligrams) of their poison to kill a full grown man. The fish is so poisonous that in order to be allowed to prepare it in Japan you have to train for two to three years and then pass a test. What's the test? You have to eat the meat yourself. 
     Australia has a lot of weird animals, some of which are edible and some are not. They exported kangaroo meat as early as 1959, but it was not legalized for human consumption in most Australian states until 1993. I am told most Australian supermarkets carry various cuts of kangaroo – fillets, steaks, minced meat and sausages. So, it's quite edible. 
     Koala bears look cuddly and adorable, but they have razor-sharp claws and are highly unsociable animals. They are listed as vulnerable in the Australian Endangered Species List so you are not allowed to eat them. It is illegal to keep a Koala as a pet anywhere in the world. 
     Emus are farmed for their meat, oil and leather. Their meat is low in fat and high in protein and as such it's as a healthy alternative to beef. It's similar to beef, but more gamey.
     Wombats are also on the protected list and it is illegal to kill them.  Some species of wombat are even on the endangered list. 
     Quokka. These adorable macropods are much like a small kangaroo. It is illegal to even touch a quokka so they are not used as food. 
     The Kookaburra is a carnivorous bird known for eating their young. They are crafty birds, hard to catch and they are not eaten. 
     A dingo is a wild dog and is classified as a subspecies of the grey wolf and are listed as vulnerable to extinction due to interbreeding with domestic dogs. Dog meat is not generally considered edible, so nobody eats dingos. 
    That brings us to the Echidna (not edible) mentioned previously and platypuses. The platypus is poisonous so it's not edible. What about the eggs? They are only 11mm in diameter (less than half an inch) so it would take a lot of them to make a meal, but I was unable to find a source that even mentioned platypus eggs as a source of food for humans.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Medical Quackery and Snake Oil

    In the age of quick fixes and assembly line cosmetic surgeries, Bob McCoy urged folks to beware of the quack: the doctor who may not be a doctor and who purports to have a cure for just about anything.  Their advertisements are all over the place today, more sophisticated, but still plentiful – just swallow a pill and lose weight while you sleep; eat this stuff and flush your arteries clean, etc. 
     McCoy was the founder of the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices in St. Anthony Main in Minneapolis. The museum was the nation's largest display of quack medical devices and was founded in 1987. McCoy retired and closed the museum in 2002, donating his devices to the Science Museum of Minnesota, which still displays a number of items in their Collections Gallery. 
     This fun site features all of the items McCoy had on display, many of which are also featured in his book: Quack!: Tales of Medical Fraud from the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices
     A few things: Vibratory Chair, Bloodletting Devices, Electropathy, Foot Operated Breast Enlarger, McGregor Rejuvenator, Natural Eye Sight System, Prostate Cures, Phrenology, Radium Ore Revigator, the1904 Price List for electrical devices with NO electricity, Dr. Bell's Electro Appliance...especially for men, Crazy Crystals - horse salts eliminate the need for crutches, Electrovita - water to revitalize, LaMercey relieves "periodic" distress...and lots more!   Visit the site

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Rat Meat

     My favorite food guru Andrew Zimmern says he's eaten a lot of rats and they are “pretty darn tasty.” Of course I've seen Mr. Zimmern eating stuff he has described as having a “poopy” taste and he thought it was delicious, too. 
     Zimmern says that the United States (and probably a lot of other countries) is obsessed with the belief that rat meat is bad, diseased and unclean. He adds that in the US (and probably a lot of other countries) that’s mostly true, but it's not the case in some parts of the world. For example, the 20-pound forest rat in the jungles of South America feed mostly on fallen date palms and other fruit and have the succulent sweet flavor that that tastes like pork. Read more...
     In the book Unmentionable Cuisine author Calvin W. Schwabe says that North Americans should be using many forms of protein which are routinely consumed in other parts of the world. He says, "Brown rats and roof rats were eaten openly on a large scale in Paris when the city was under siege during the Franco-Prussian War. Observers likened their taste to both partridges and pork.” Supposedly in France rats inhabiting wine cellars were skinned and eviscerated, brushed with a thick sauce of olive oil and crushed shallots, and grilled over a fire of broken wine barrels. Schwabe also adds that in West Africa the cane rat, the common house mouse and other species of rats and mice are all eaten. 
     According to a United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization report, rats now comprise of over 50 percent of the locally produced meat eaten in some parts of Ghana. Between December 1968 and June 1970, 258,206 pounds of cane-rat meat alone were sold in one market in Accra. 

Here are a couple of recipes: 

Stewed Cane Rat 
Skin and eviscerate the rat and split it lengthwise. Fry until brown in a mixture of butter and peanut oil. Cover with water, add tomatoes or tomato purée, hot red peppers, and salt. Simmer the rat until tender and serve with rice. 
Roasted Field Mice (Raton de campo asado) 
Skin and eviscerate field mice. Skewer them and roast over an open fire or coals. These are great as hors d'oeuvres with margaritas or "salty dogs."

Or, if you want to get really snooty: 
Mice in Cream (Souris à la crème) 
Skin, gut and wash some fat mice without removing their heads. Cover them in a pot with ethyl alcohol and marinate 2 hours. Cut a piece of salt pork or sowbelly into small dice and cook it slowly to extract the fat. Drain the mice, dredge them thoroughly in a mixture of flour, pepper, and salt, and fry slowly in the rendered fat for about 5 minutes. Add a cup of alcohol and 6 to 8 cloves, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Prepare a cream sauce, transfer the sautéed mice to it, and warm them in it for about 10 minutes before serving. 

     One Internet story claimed that in China the Ministry of Public Security announced that the police had arrested 63 traders accused of buying rat, fox, and mink meat and then selling the meat as mutton. Apparently, the crime ring had been mixing the meat with gelatin, red dye, and nitrates before selling it in Shanghai and neighboring Jiangsu province. 
     According to North Carolina-based artist Laura Ginn, who once put together a rat-themed five-course dinner in New York rat tastes delicious when brushed with a glaze and barbecued. Smoked rat jerky served on brioche French toast is pretty good, too.  She adds that rats are most commonly eaten in Asia because of the rice crop. In areas where rats feed off rice paddies rather than garbage, they are considered safe to eat. Not so of the sewer-dwelling, garbage-eating rats. Rats are disease carriers, so when she organized her meal she ordered the rats from a company that supplies specially raised, grain-fed rodents to zoos. Here are some hints on how to know if what you are eating might be rat meat:

1. It smells like rat. Rats secrete an oil onto their skin that gives them an odor that makes them smell, well, like rats. Something like a warm tortilla...I will probably have to get that out of my head next time I have one of my favorites...Mexican food! Other people said rat meat smells like urine. Apparently, even after skinning and cooking, the smell never completely goes away. 
2. It tastes like rat. The oil rats secrete gives them a distinctive taste...pungent and gamey… somewhat akin to raccoon or rabbit. That's why it's sometimes blended with other meats. 
3. It looks like lamb. When it’s raw rat looks very much like lamb...kind of pinkish red. But, when ground up with other meat it just looks like generic ground meat. When cooked, a big rat looks sort of like a like rabbit. 
I am not sure where in the US you can actually purchase rats suitable for cooking, but if you do find a place this site has some recipes:  Gourmet Rat Recipes

Also, if you are interested in exotic meats, then there is a place called Exotic Meat Markets in California (where else?!) that sells everything from alligator and alpaca meat to zebra meat. Happy dining!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


     If you live under a bridge or don't own a television, you probably don't know what an informercial is. An infomercial is a form of television commercial, which generally includes a phone number or website. Most often used as a form of direct response television, long-form infomercials are typically 28:30 or 58:30 minutes in length. Like many other things, because the term “infomerical” has negative connotations in some people's minds, sponsors like to call them “paid programming”, of if you live in Europe “teleshopping.” 
     In the United States, back in the old days, they were usually shown between 2:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m., but by 2009 most infomercials were being shown during the early morning, daytime and evening hours. If you subscribe to cable TV there are entire channels devoted to nothing else. Infomercials often resemble standard television programs or talk shows. Sometimes the products are sold in retail stores while other items are advertised as "not sold in stores." Sometimes though drug stores have a “As Seen on TV” section that sells the product, but you won't get two products or for the price of one nor do they throw in any extra “free” products. Of course you don't have yo “just pay the shipping” charge either which more that enough to pay for the extra junk. 
     Many traditional infomercial producers make use of flashy catchphrases, repeat basic ideas, or employ scientist-like characters or celebrities as hosts in their ad and frequently offers are for a limited time and the claim is that if you don't buy NOW, you'll miss out. If you do, don't worry though; they will repeat the same ad after a brief time interval. 
     During the early days of television, many television shows were specifically created by sponsors with the main goal of selling their product, the entertainment angle being a hook to hold audience attention; this is how soap operas got their name. It is claimed that the first infomercial appeared in 1949 or 1950, for a blender. Accounts vary on whether this was for a VitaMix blender as claimed by Vitamix or from Waring Blenders as claimed in various online sources. 
     Eventually, limits imposed by the Federal Communications Commission on the amount of advertising that could appear during an hour of television forced sponsors to curtail their use. Infomercials proliferated like rabbits after 1984 when the FCC eliminated regulations that were established in the 1950s and 1960s to govern the commercial content of television. They exploded in the mid-1990s with motivational and personal development products, and get-rich-quick schemes which claimed you could quickly become wealthy by either selling anything through classified ads or through real estate sales. Don Lapre, a salesman notorious for his get-rich-quick schemes, committed an apparent suicide while in federal custody awaiting a trial for several dozen counts of fraud. 
     Some religious snake oil salesmen have also jumped on the bandwagon and began hawking their “religion” by buying time from infomercial brokers. In fact, the vast majority of religious programming in the United States is distributed through paid infomercial time. The fees that televangelists pay are a major revenue stream for both the stations and the televangelists who tell folks, “Send me your money and God will make you rich.” Because infomercials often make outlandish claims, most stations run disclaimers stating that the program is a paid advertisement and they are not responsible for viewers getting fleeced. I wish they would do the same for televangelists. Political candidates are not adverse to purchasing prime-time slots for their own take on infomercials either. Like all infomercials they content is often full of outlandish claims. Children's programs also are disguised infomercials where kids are targeted in an attempt to get them to pester parents to but products. Infomercials sometimes appear as talk shows that target stay-at-home female audiences and try to entice them to buy products, services, stuff related to health issues, etc.
     So, what are the best selling infomercials ever? I remember early TV programming that promised you could get rich raising chinchillas in you garage. See my post Raising Chinchillas for Fun and Profit. And, of course, who can forget Wham-O toys and Ron Popiel's amazing products?
     The best-selling infomercial products aren't any of that stuff. It appears to be the best sellers are products that will get you fit with a great looking body in only minutes a day. So, what are they? Here's the list of the top ten: 

1. Proactiv — Annual Revenue: $1 billion. This stuff gets rid of pimples. The celebrities who endorse this stuff are reportedly paid $2 million-plus. I'd do it for half that! 
2. P90X — Annual Revenue: $400 million. This contraption is a body builder...mostly for your abs, I think. 
3. Total Gym — Total Sales: $1 billion. Chuck Norris and Christie Brinkley really love theirs. The price is steep, but the company offers an easy payment plan and if it doesn't make you look like Chuck or Christie, they have a money back guarantee. 
4. George Foreman Grill — Annual Revenue: $202 million. Former heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman invented this. Seriously, I doubt that...I think he let them use his name. OK, I admit it...I have one. It works pretty good, too, except with all the grease draining off as things cooked it left stuff dry as a bone.  Healthy, but not much taste. It got hidden away in a kitchen cabinet somewhere. At least I think it's still there. 
5. Bowflex — Annual Revenue: $193.9 million. This thing has been around since 1986 so 2.5 million Americans have one sitting in their basements or garages. There are no statistics on how many of those 2.5 million people actually use theirs. 
6. Showtime Rotisserie — Total Sales: $1.2 billion. This item roasts chickens and other meats for a perfect, delicious and healthy meal. They allow all the fat to drain off or something. Probably purchased by the same health nuts who bought a Bowflex or, possibly, by those who upgraded from a George Foreman.
7. Ped Egg — Total Sales: Approximately $450 million. 40 million people bought this foot grinder which is something like a cheese grater that scrapes the dead skin off of your feet. 
8. Snuggie — Total Sales: Approximately $400 million. This is a body bag that keeps you warm while watching infomercials on TV. At our house we just use a blanket that stays folded up on the back of the couch. 
9. Sweatin’ to the Oldies — Total Sales: Approximately $200 million. Richard Simmons sold 20 million copies of this aerobics program “Sweatin’ to the Oldies.” 
10. ThighMaster — Total Sales: $100 million. Marketed by tobacco fortune heir Joshua Reynolds this product's infomercials featured Suzanne Somers and was a real marvel. You could tone your hips, thighs, butt, arms, and chest by squeezing this thing between your knees, elbows, etc. all while watching television.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

What Do Animals See In a Mirror?

     I got to thinking about this because there are two floor length mirrors in our bedroom and when the cat walks by she ignores the image of herself. As an experiment I held her up to the bathroom mirror...no response; she was more interested in examining the light fixture. 
     Back when she was a kitten she was sitting on my lap while I was watching Animal Planet. When a scene involving lions walking towards the camera appeared, she took an interest and ran to the TV, studied it intently, and when the lions got close she started batting at the screen. When the lions didn't respond she quickly lost interest and to this day she ignores animals when they appear on the television. 
     In psychology the mirror test is considered an important evaluation as a sign of the normal development of cognitive skills in children. Humans are typically 18 months old before they are able to recognize themselves in the mirror. But what about animals? Studies have shown (yes, people actually experiment with this stuff) that only higher primates, dolphins, orcas, elephants and European magpies are known to recognize that what they see in a mirror is a reflection of themselves. Here is an odd fact...pigs show no sign of recognizing their reflections in a mirror but they are able to identify the location of food placed behind them. Why is that? Evidently only animals that rely on vision as their primary sense are impressed with mirrors. 
     When a kitten or puppy first sees his image in a mirror they often react as if it is a strange animal. But, cats and dogs both check new things out by sniffing them. So the theory is that when cats or dogs see themselves in a mirror there is nothing to smell, so they aren't interested. 
     A controversial test was designed to see if animals could recognize themselves in mirrors. Gordon Gallup, Jr., a professor at Tulane University, showed chimpanzees their reflection.  He isolated two chimps in cages and placed a mirror in each cage for eight hours at a time over 10 days and observed their behavior. At first they treated the reflection like it was another chimp, but over time they started using it to explore their own bodies. They used the mirror to look at the inside of their mouths, to make faces and to inspect their genitals and even to remove mucous from the corner of their eyes. 
     Gallup was not completely sure that the chimps recognized themselves in the mirror though so, under anesthesia, he painted one eyebrow ridge and the opposite ear tip with a red dye that they would not be able to feel or smell. The idea was that if they really did recognize themselves then they would inspect the new marks and that's exactly what they did. 
     Next he tested monkeys, which are different than chimpanzees. The monkeys did not react the same. The conclusion was that the ability to recognize one’s reflection is not a matter of learning abilities but one of higher intellectual capacity. Charles Darwin had shown mirrors to orangutans, but they didn’t respond and in 1889 a German researcher named Wilhelm Preyer claimed there was a connection between mirror self-recognition and an inner sense of self in people, but that's a whole other area. 
     In the early 1990s two bottlenose dolphins at an aquarium were exposed to a mirror. Like the chimpanzees, the dolphins learned to use the mirror in a variety of ways that suggested they recognized themselves. To test the theory they used a modified “mark test” by marking black ink on various parts of their bodies and the dolphins went through a lot of contortions trying to examine the marks. 
     What was controversial about these experiments was that one researcher became convinced that the mirror test indicated that there is at least some level of self-awareness on the part of the animals and that made it unethical to keep them in captivity. As a result she set up the Nonhuman Rights Project which is attempting to gain legal rights for animals with higher-order cognitive abilities by getting courts to recognize them as “legal persons.” Their belief is some animals are, like humans, self-aware and so can also suffer mental anguish because of their captivity.  But all that is another matter.
     The point is that while some animals recognize themselves in a mirror, most of the ones we are associated with, cats and dogs, don't. They may, as mentioned, treat their image as another animal the first time, but they quickly lose interest. And, as mentioned, for humans recognizing you own image in a mirror is a major mental feat because it requires self-awareness, which is one of the most sophisticated aspects of consciousness. And, we are not born with the ability to recognize ourselves in mirrors. Young infants may be fascinated by their reflection, however they view this as social interaction with what appears to be another baby. Somewhere between the age of 18 and 24 months babies begin to understand that they are looking at themselves. Interestingly, a baby recognizing itself in a mirror was tested using nearly the same “spot test” that was used on animals. 
     However, one researcher concluded that dogs do have some sense of self-awareness as well as a sense of what's his and what belongs to someone else...like his territory, his toys and his sleeping place, but they fail the mirror test because there is no smell. In the dog's mind (or a cat's) the reflection isn't important enough to warrant attention if it has no smell.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Political Mud Wrestling

     All politicians lie, it's just a matter of how much. They can get away with telling some big ones because most people interested in politics, especially now with the US presidential primary's going on, are not fact-checkers, preferring to take at face value whatever the media, or worse yet, SOCIAL media, tells them. Even if there was such a thing as a “Truth-O-Meter” veteran politicians would probably not score badly though because they are veteran liars and are apt choose their words with great care. Of course, it's not possible to check absolutely everything a candidate says, but it's a good idea to ask what's the source and is something being taken out of context. 
     The waters are muddied by the fact that the news media are often nothing more than a public relations outlet for certain candidates and are willing to mislead, slant, and falsely report on national and international events. This is propaganda, not news. Add to that the fact that many political ads and debates do not focus on issues, but on mudslinging and calling their opponents everything they can think of from outright liars to racists. 
     It's long been known that if you tell a lie big enough, loud enough, often enough, and do it with authority, people will believe it. Just read the story about the time Upton Sinclair ran for governor of California! Smithsonian article.
     About the only decent political election the U.S. had was the one that was won by George Washington, but after that one, candidates emphasized the shortcomings, real or made up, of their opponent and the campaigns, to use one writer's apt expression, resembled something between a carnival and a bar fight. Some examples: 

In the 1796 the Boston Independent Chronicle alleged that during the Revolution John Adams had publicly supported Washington but secretly attempted to have him cashiered out of the Army. There was such an attempt, but it was Sam Adams, a second cousin, who was behind it. Adams’s opponent was the highly revered Thomas Jefferson; at least he's highly revered today. But at election time he was portrayed as being the son of a half-breed Indian and a mulatto father and it was claimed that if elected President, there would be a civil war and a national orgy of rape, incest, and adultery. 

Ol' Hickory, Andrew Jackson, was portrayed as a bloodthirsty wild man, a brawler, the son of a prostitute and a black man and it was said his older brother had been sold as a slave and Jackson put to death soldiers who had offended him. Throw in the fact that Jackson and his wife were, technically speaking, adulterers and you have to wonder who would ever have voted for him. What happened was Jackson's wife, Rachael, had married him before her first husband divorced her. Opponents screamed that an adulteress and her paramour husband should never be President “of this free and Christian land.” Rachael died of a heart attack before they could move into the White House. It was said of Jackson he was a gambler, a cock fighter, a slave trader and the husband of a really fat wife. 

Back in 1839 Martin Van Buren was accused of being too close to the Pope. Actually he had official correspondence, as most all Presidents have, with the Vatican as part of his job as Secretary of State under Andrew Jackson. Opponents spread the word that there was some kind of Popish plot going on. 

During the James K. Polk versus Henry Clay race of 1844 the Ithaca, New York, Chronicle ran a fake report that someone named Baron Roorback (a fake name) had personally witnessed Polk purchase 43 slaves. Opponents accused Clay of gambling, dueling, womanizing and swearing. 

Abe Lincoln was called about every name you can think of: ape, ghoul and traitor. During the Civil War his wife was accused of collaborating with Confederates. That was considered so serious a charge that on his own Lincoln appeared before a Senate committee that was secretly examining the allegations and swore that Mary Todd Lincoln was innocent. 

In 1884 the Buffalo Evening Telegraph accused Grover Cleveland of fathering an illegitimate son in 1874 in Buffalo. That one may have been true. Cleveland, a bachelor, had dated the kid's mother, but so had a lot other men, so there was no way of knowing for sure who's son he was. It was kind of suspicious though that Cleveland had provided for the kid. The result was that his opponents took up the slogan: “Ma! Ma! Where’s my pa? Gone to the White House, ha! ha! ha!” Cleveland’s opponent, James G. Blaine, was not exactly a saint either.  Blaine was involved in a business scandal when a railroad had permitted him to sell bonds for a generous commission in return for a land grant. Blaine, in a cover-up attempt, had ordered the evidence burned, but he couldn't get away from the damage. “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, the continental liar from the State of Maine” became the slogan used by his opponents. 

I could go on, but what's the point? It would be funny if it wasn't so serious.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Fish Oil

     I was once asked, “You do take fish oil, don't you?” The way the question was put made me feel a little guilty because I didn't, so I started taking it, but not for long. The reason? You'll see, keep reading. 
     The use of fish oil started being hyped in the 1970s when scientists started speculating that the Eskimos of Greenland had lower rates of heart attacks than their neighbors in Denmark because their diet was rich in whale blubber and seal meat. 
     Fish oil is sometimes used after heart transplant surgery to prevent high blood pressure and kidney damage that can be caused by the surgery itself or by drugs used to reduce the chances that the body will reject the new heart. Fish oil is also sometimes used after coronary artery bypass surgery. It seems to help keep the blood vessel that has been rerouted from closing up. 
     When it comes to eating fish way the fish is prepared makes a difference. Broiled or baked fish is good. Fried fish or fish sandwiches may actually increase heart disease risk. 
      Some reasons people eat a lot of fish (or take fish oil) are: depression, psychosis, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, dry eyes, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration diabetes, asthma, developmental coordination disorders, movement disorders, dyslexia, obesity kidney disease, osteoporosis, psoriasis and preventing weight loss caused by some cancer drugs. Women sometimes take fish oil to prevent painful periods; breast pain; and complications associated with pregnancy such as miscarriage, high blood pressure late in pregnancy, and early delivery.  That's just to name a few.
     Today scientists are still studying the fats found in fish and the research over the last two decades has focused on people who already had heart disease or multiple risk factors. The benefits appeared to be a decrease in blood clotting, lowering of triglyceride levels, and anti-arrhythmic and anti-inflammation qualities, all of which appear to be beneficial in the prevention of heart disease stroke, and possibly, some forms of cancer. 
     The scientific evidence suggests that fish oil really does lower high triglycerides and it also may help prevent heart disease and stroke when taken in the recommended amounts. Ironically, taking too much fish oil can actually increase the risk of stroke
     Another downside: a study by scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington linked eating a lot of oily fish or taking potent fish oil supplements to a 43% increased risk for prostate cancer overall, and a 71% increased risk for aggressive prostate cancer. If you are a male that should be enough to make you want to avoid fish oil right there. They came to this conclusion by looking at blood samples of men taking part in the study found that selenium supplements did nothing to prevent prostate cancer and vitamin E supplements slightly increased prostate cancer risk. 
     Fish oil can be obtained from eating fish or by taking supplements. Fish that are especially rich in the oils known as omega-3 fatty acids are mackerel, tuna, salmon, sturgeon, mullet, bluefish, anchovy, sardines, herring, trout, and menhaden. Fish oil supplements are usually made from mackerel, herring, tuna, halibut, salmon, cod liver, whale blubber, or seal blubber. 
     Fish oil supplements often contain small amounts of vitamin E to prevent spoilage. They might also be other vitamins and minerals. 
     One must be aware that high doses of fish oil might possibly affect the immune system and so reduce the body’s ability to fight infection. It also has some adverse side effects such as belching, bad breath, heartburn, nausea, loose stools, rash, and nosebleeds. 
     The fact is taking large amounts of fish oil from some dietary supplements can be unsafe. People with liver disease have an increased risk of bleeding, people who are allergic to seafood might also be allergic to the supplements. In the case of bipolar disorder fish oil might increase some of the symptoms and it can increase the symptoms of depression. There is some concern that taking high doses of fish oil might make the control of blood sugar more difficult in people with diabetes. For people on blood pressure medication it is possible that it may cause an unsafe drop in blood pressure. HIV/AIDS and other conditions in which the immune system response is lowered the body’s immune system response can be made worse. Fish oil might increase the risk of irregular heartbeat in patients with an implanted defibrillator. Birth control pills interact with fish oil. 
     Another reason not to take fish oil... fish oil capsules are frequently rancid. Researchers at New Zealand’s Crop and Food Research Institute tested capsules from many different brands from countries all over the world and discovered that a majority of the capsules they tested had begun to go bad.  Rancid fish oil does not benefit those who take it and may actually cause harm. Health risks associated with rancid fish oil include increased risk of hardening of the arteries and increased blood clotting.  Is taking fish oil supplements really worth the risks?

Friday, March 4, 2016

Uncle Dave Macon

     Uncle Dave Macon (October 7, 1870 – March 22, 1952), born David Harrison Macon—also known as "The Dixie Dewdrop"—was an old-time banjo player, singer, songwriter, and comedian. Known for his chin whiskers, plug hat, gold teeth, and gates-ajar collar, he gained regional fame as a vaudeville performer in the early 1920s before becoming the first star of the Grand Ole Opry in the latter half of the decade. Macon was the grandfather of country music. 
    Macon was born in Smartt Station, Tennessee, the son of Confederate Army Captain. In 1884, when Macon was 13 years old, his family moved to Nashville, Tennessee to run the Old Broadway Hotel, which they had purchased. The hotel became a center for Macon and was frequented by artists and troupers traveling along vaudeville circuit and circus acts. In 1885, he learned to play the banjo from a circus comedian. Macon's father was murdered outside the hotel in 1886 and his mother sold the hotel and the family moved to Readyville, Tennessee where his mother ran a stagecoach inn. 
     Macon began entertaining passengers at the rest stop, playing a banjo on a homemade stage. In 1889, Macon married Matilda Richardson and moved to a farm near Kittrell, Tennessee, where they raised six sons and around 1900 Macon opened a freight line between Murfreesboro and Woodbury, Tennessee. It was called The Macon Midway Mule and Mitchell Wagon Transportation Company. When Macon was driving his mules he would entertain people by singing and playing the banjo at various stops along the way. In time, his sons became part of the company as they grew up. But the arrival of an automobile-based competitor forced him to close down in 1920. 
     His first professional performance was in 1921 in Morrison, Tennessee during a Methodist church benefit. In 1923, during a performance for the Shriners in Nashville, Macon was seen by Marcus Loew of Loews Theatres, who offered him fifteen dollars if he would perform at a theater in Alabama. Macon accepted the offer and went to Alabama. After the show he was approached by the manager of Loews Theatres in Birmingham, who wanted to hire him to perform there. Macon's salary was several hundred dollars a week. This led to offers from other theaters in the Loew's Vaudeville circuit. At age fifty Macon was suddenly a professional entertainer. 
     In 1923 he began a tour of the southeastern United States, joined by a fiddler and five other acts. A record distributor noticed Macon and realized his potential as a recording artist. On July 8, 1924, Macon and the fiddle player, Sid Harkreader, made their first recordings and in 1925 they added "Dancing Bob" Bradford, a buck dancer to their act, Their tours included comedy, buck dancing and old time music. In late 1925, Macon and Harkreader performed at the Ryman Auditorium, the future home of the Grand Ole Opry in a benefit for the Nashville police force just three weeks before the WSM Grand Ole Opry was founded.
     Macon was one of the first performers at the new WSM radio station. His career with WSM lasted twenty-six years, but as he continued touring, he wasn't a regular performer in the years of the Grand Ole Opry. In 1927, Macon formed the Fruit Jar Drinkers who performed traditional songs and fiddle numbers, but they occasionally recorded Gospel songs under the name of the Dixie Sacred Singers 
     Between 1930 and 1952 Macon was often accompanied by his son Dorris who played the guitar. In 1940 Macon together with Opry founder George D. Hay, Roy Acuff, and Dorris received an invitation to take part in the Republic Pictures movie Grand Ole Opry. The film contains rare footage of Macon performing, including a memorable duet of "Take Me Back to My Carolina Home" with Dorris in which the 69-year-old Macon jumped out of his seat and danced throughout the second half of the song. While playing, Macon often kicked and stomped, whoop and holler. Macon delivered showmanship, humor, not always “politically correct” political commentary and a lot of energy. 
     Although Macon toured with Bill Monroe in the late 1940s, he was neither impressed by the new bluegrass style nor by the banjo picking of Earl Scruggs. Contemporary musicians didn't consider Macon a particularly skillful banjo player, but modern musicologists have identified at least 19 picking styles on his recordings. 
     Macon continued to perform until March 1, 1952. He died three weeks later on March 22, 1952 at Rutherford County Hospital in Murfreesboro. He was buried at Coleman Cemetery near Murfreesboro and his funeral was visited by more than five thousand people. He was inducted posthumously into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1966. A monument was erected near Woodbury. 
     His son Dorris and several band members made occasional appearances on the Grand Ole Opry as the Fruit Jar Drinkers until the early 1980s. During the second full weekend in July the city of Murfreesboro celebrates "Uncle Dave Macon Days" which hosts the national competitions for clogging, buck dancing and old time banjo picking.