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Friday, April 27, 2018

Been there. Done that.


There was a reason we got a baloney sandwich and an apple in a brown paper bag for chow...

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Hartford Circus Fire of 1944

   Thursday, July 6, 1944 was hot and sunny. Six to eight thousand circus fans made their way to Barbour Street in Hartford, Connecticut to see the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus.   PHOTOS of the fire.
     One Hundred sixty-seven never went home that horrible day and more than 400 were injured. Sources differ on how many people were killed and injured and the 168 figure is usually based on tallies that included a collection of body parts. 
     Back in those days most circuses traveled from town to town by train, performing under a huge canvas tent commonly called a "big top" and The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus was the largest circus in the country. Its big top could seat 9,000 spectators around its three rings; the tent's canvas had been coated with 1,800 pounds of paraffin wax dissolved in 6,000 gallons of gasoline! That was a common waterproofing method of the time. 
     The circus had been experiencing shortages of personnel and equipment as a result of World War II and delays and assorted problems had become commonplace. In August of 1942, a fire had broken out in the menagerie, killing a number of animals. 
     When the circus arrived in Hartford, Connecticut, on July 5, 1944, the trains were so late that one of the two shows scheduled for that day had been canceled although the evening show ran as planned. The next day the crowd at the afternoon performance consisted mostly of women and children. 
     The fire began as a small flame after the lions performed while the Great Wallendas were performing. Circus bandleader Merle Evans was said to have been the first to spot the flames, and immediately directed the band to play "The Stars and Stripes Forever", the tune that traditionally signaled distress to circus personnel. Ringmaster Fred Bradna urged the audience not to panic and to leave in an orderly fashion, but the power failed and he could not be heard. Bradna and the ushers unsuccessfully tried to maintain some order as the panicked crowd tried to flee. 
     The only animals in the big top at the time were the big cats that had just finished performing when the fire started and most were unharmed with just a few receiving minor burns. 
     It is commonly believed that the number of fatalities is higher due to poorly kept records in rural towns and the fact that some smaller remains were never identified or claimed. It is also believed that the intense heat from the fire combined with the accelerants, the paraffin and gasoline, could have incinerated people completely, as in cremation, leaving no substantial physical evidence behind. 
     The cause of the fire remains unresolved, but investigators at the time believed it was caused by a carelessly flicked cigarette; however, others suspected an arsonist. Several years later, while being investigated on other arson charges, Robert Dale Segee (1929–1997), who was an adolescent at the time, confessed to starting the blaze. He was never tried for the crime and later recanted his confession. 
     Because of the waterproofing of the tent, the flames spread rapidly and many people were badly burned by the melting paraffin and the which was on fire collapsed in about eight minutes, rapping hundreds of spectators beneath it. Many people were caught up in the hysteria and some simply ran around in circles trying to find their loved ones, rather than trying to escape from the burning tent. Some escaped but ran back inside to look for family members. Others stayed in their seats until it was too late, assuming that the fire would be put out promptly. 
     At least two of the exits were blocked by the chutes used to bring the show's big cats in and out of the tent so people trying to escape could not get around them them. Some died from injuries sustained after leaping from the tops of the bleachers. Others died after being trampled by spectators and some asphyxiating underneath the piles of people who fell over each other. 
     Most of the dead were found in piles, some three bodies deep, at the most congested exits. A small number of people were found alive at the bottoms of the piles, protected by the bodies on top of them. 
     The next day charges of involuntary manslaughter were filed against five officials and employees of the circus. Within days the circus reached an agreement to accept full financial responsibility and pay whatever amount the city requested in damages. This resulted in the circus paying out almost five million dollars to the 600 victims and families. It took until 1954 for all claims to be paid as all profits from the time of the fire until then had been set aside to pay off the claims. 
     Of the five men charged and brought to trial in late 1944 four were convicted. Although they were given prison terms, the four men found guilty were allowed to continue with the circus to their next stop, in Sarasota, Florida, to help the company set itself up again after the disaster. Shortly after their convictions, they were pardoned entirely. One of the men, James A. Haley, went on to serve in the US. House of Representatives for twenty-four years.
     In 1950, Robert Dale Segee of Circleville, Ohio claimed he was responsible for setting the circus fire. Segee, a roustabout for the show from June 30 to July 14, 1944, when he was about 14 years old, said he had a nightmare in which an Indian riding on a "flaming horse" told him to set fires. He further claimed that after this nightmare his mind went blank, and that he did not come out of this state until the circus fire had already been set. Segee knew intimate details of the incident. For example, circus had two smaller fires prior to the tragedy. Segee admitted setting both of them. In November 1950, Segee was convicted in Ohio of unrelated arson charges and sentenced to 44 years of prison time. 
     Hartford investigators raised doubts over his confession, as he had a history of mental illness, and it could not be proven he was anywhere in Connecticut when the fire occurred. Segee died in 1997 and denied setting the fire as late as 1994 during an interview. Many believe the true arsonist was never found. 
     The best-known victim of the circus fire was a young blonde girl wearing a white dress known only as "Little Miss 1565", named after the number assigned to her body at the city's makeshift morgue. Her true identity has been a topic of debate since the fire occurred. She was buried without a name in Hartford's Northwood cemetery, where a victims' memorial also stands. 
     In 1991, the body was declared to be that of Eleanor Emily Cook, despite the fact that her aunt and uncle had examined the body and it did not fit the description they provided. The Connecticut State Police forensics unit compared hair samples and determined they were probably from the same person. The body was exhumed in 1991 and buried next to her brother, Edward, who had also died in the fire. 
     In 1987, someone left a note on her graves reading Sarah Graham is her Name! 7-6-38 DOB, 6 years, Twin. Notes on nearby gravestones indicated that her twin brother and other relatives were buried close by. 
     In 1991, arson investigator Rick Davey claimed the girl was Eleanor Emily Cook and from Massachusetts. Davey also contends that there was a conspiracy within the judicial system to convict the Ringling defendants, and that Segee was the arsonist. 
     Eleanor's brother Donald Cook had contacted authorities in 1955 insisting that the girl was his sister, but nothing came of it and he later worked with Davey to establish her identity. Donald believes that family members were shown the wrong body in the confusion at the morgue. Eleanor's mother stated that this was not her daughter and firmly maintained that stance until her death in 1997, age 91. Badly injured in the fire, Mrs. Cook had been unable to claim her two dead children, and was too emotionally traumatized to pursue it later. She believed that Eleanor was one of two children who had been burnt beyond recognition and remain unidentified. 
     It's possible that another family mistakenly claimed the little girl's body and buried it thinking it was their own child. Even with the questions over the girl's true identity, the body was eventually exhumed and buried in Southampton, Massachusetts, next to the body of Edward Cook. 
     Frieda Pushnik, who performed with the circus as the "Armless and Legless Wonder", was rescued by a minstrel show performer who rushed on stage, picked up her chair, and carried her to safety. Pushnik continued to perform with the circus until 1955. She died at the age of 77 in 2001. 
     Carol Tillman Parrish, who was six at the time, said that "until this day, I can smell the stench of human flesh" as the blaze consumed its victims. Judith Shapiro [Cohen] survived the fire. She was about 7 years old attending with her neighbors. They exited up higher into the stands and survived by jumping off; Judith refused to jump and was pushed. 
     In 2002, the Hartford Circus Fire Memorial Foundation was established to erect a permanent memorial to the people killed in the fire. Ground was broken for the monument on July 6, 2004, at the site where the fire occurred. 
     Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey visited Hartford during its final tour, performing on April 30, 2017.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

What Does Uranus Smell Like?

     Readers for whom English is not a first language probably will not appreciate the pun here. In English, Uranus is pronounced the same as "your anus," the anus being the opening at the end of the alimentary canal through which solid waste matter leaves the body. The opening also has other more crass names. Hence, when a few headlines read "Uranus Smells Like Rotten Eggs" it evoked a chuckle. 
     A study by lead author Patrick Irwin, of Oxford University in England, concluded that the clouds in Uranus' upper atmosphere are composed largely of hydrogen sulfide, the molecule that makes rotten eggs so stinky. 
     Let me remind you that flatus (aka farts) is composed of about 59 percent nitrogen, 21 percent hydrogen, 9 percent carbon dioxide, 7 percent methane and 4 percent oxygen. About one percent of a contains hydrogen sulfide gas and mercaptans, which contain sulfur, and the sulfur is what makes for the stink. 
     Hydrogen sulfide gas causes a wide range of health effects. One is primarily exposed to hydrogen sulfide by breathing it. The effects depend on how much hydrogen sulfide you breathe and for how long. 
     Exposure to very high concentrations can quickly lead to death. Some people who breathed in levels of hydrogen sulfide high enough to become unconscious continue to have headaches and poor attention span, memory, and motor function after waking up. The effect called knockdown (rapid unconsciousness) often results in falls that can seriously injure the worker. 
     Problems with the cardiovascular system have also been reported at high exposures. People who have asthma may be more sensitive to hydrogen sulfide exposure. That is, they may have difficulty breathing at levels lower than people without asthma. 
     Hydrogen sulfide is a highly flammable, explosive gas; the explosive range of hydrogen sulfide in air is 4.5 to 45.5 percent. In addition, hydrogen sulfide gas burns and produces other toxic vapors and gases, such as sulfur dioxide. 

     In addition to exposure to hydrogen sulfide in the air, exposure to liquid hydrogen sulfide can cause "blue skin" or frostbite. If clothing becomes wet, avoid ignition sources, remove the clothing and isolate it in a safe area to allow it to evaporate. 
     Irwin states that if a person descended through Uranus' clouds, they would be met with very unpleasant and foul smelling conditions. The clouds in Uranus' upper atmosphere are composed largely of hydrogen sulfide, the molecule that makes rotten eggs so stinky. 
     But wait! There's more! Exposure to the minus 328 degree Fahrenheit atmosphere (negative 200 degrees Celsius) wold kill you long before the gases in the atmosphere suffocated you. 
     The composition of the clouds high up in Uranus' sky has proved elusive, because it's tough to make observations with the required detail because Uranus is so far away...1.6 billion miles (2.6 billion kilometers) at the closest. The closest we ever got to it was a brief flyby by NASA's Voyager 2 probe in January 1986. 
     Irwin and his colleagues studied Uranus' air using the Near-Infrared Integral Field Spectrometer (NIFS), an instrument on the 26-foot (8 meters) Gemini North telescope in Hawaii and spotted the signature of hydrogen sulfide. Above the clouds only a tiny amount remains and that is why it is so challenging to capture the signature. It is he superior capabilities of the Gemini telescope finally gave them the capability to make their observations.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Playing the Bodhran and Harmonica

     

     The bodhran is an Irish frame drum ranging from 10–26 inches in diameter with most drums measuring 14–18 iches. The sides of the drum are 3.5–8 inches deep. A goatskin head is tacked to one side. The other side is open-ended for one hand to be placed against the inside of the drum head to control the pitch and timbre. 
     The drum is struck either with the bare hand or with a lathe-turned piece of wood called a bone, tipper, beater, or cipin. One or two crossbars, sometimes removable, may be inside the frame, but this is rare on modern instruments. 
     Some professional modern bodhrans have a mechanical tuning system similar to those used on drums that can be tightened or loosened depending on the atmospheric conditions.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Camponotus, the Exploding Ants

     Camponotus saundersi is a species of ant found in Malaysia and Brunei, belonging to the genus of Carpenter ants. Workers can explode as an ultimate act of defense. Autothysis is the term coined to describe their behavior. 
     Exploding like a suicide bomber is an effective defense and allows one smaller defender to take out a larger invader. The exploding ants of Borneo were first described by Ulrich Maschwitz in 1974. These amazing ants have a hair trigger...even when receiving a light touch with a pair of forceps exploded! When they exploded the body ruptured and a sticky yellow goo oozed out and glued their body to the forceps. 
     Recent investigations have determined that the mandibular gland, commonly used for digestive enzymes in most ants, is much larger in the exploding ants. The glands are abnormally large and extend into the abdomen. Other than their size and function, the glands are not unusual. Two oversized, poison-filled mandibular glands run the entire length of the ant's body. 
     When combat takes a turn for the worse, the worker ant violently contracts its abdominal muscles to rupture its gaster at the intersegmental fold, which also bursts the mandibular glands, thereby spraying a sticky secretion in all directions from the anterior region of its head. The glue, which also has corrosive properties and functions as a chemical irritant, can entangle and immobilize all nearby victims. 
     These ants are territorial and defend their nests from invaders of other ant species. Their territory hundreds of meters from the nest. 
     When exposed to ordinary ants in the laboratory, they would grasp the invader by the leg or antenna, press its body to the head of the invader and squeeze its abdomen until the abdomen exploded spilling their gluey guts over the eyes and mouth of the invader.
     Secretions range from bright white at the end of the wet season to cream or pale yellow in the dry season and start of the wet season. These variations in coloration represent a shift in internal pH, likely due to seasonal changes in diet.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Somehow this doesn't seem right.

     Of the 2,864 army personnel tried for desertion for the period January 1942 through June 1948, 49 were convicted and the sentence of all but Edward Slovik were voided by higher authority. 
     Edward Donald "Eddie" Slovik (February 18, 1920 – January 31, 1945) was a US Army soldier during World War II and the only American soldier to be executed for desertion since the Civil War. 
     Slovik was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1920 to a Polish-American family. As a minor, he was a troublemaker and had contact with the police frequently. He was first arrested at 12 years old when he and some friends broke into a foundry to steal brass. Between 1932 and 1937, he was arrested several times for offenses which included petty theft, breaking and entering, and disturbing the peace. 
     In October 1937 he was sent to prison, but was paroled in September 1938. After stealing and crashing a car with two friends while drunk, he was sent back to prison in January 1939. Paroled again in 1942 he got a job at a plumbing and heating company in Dearborn, Michigan. There he met the woman who became his wife, Antoinette Wisniewski; they married on November 7, 1942 and lived with her parents.
     Slovik's criminal record made him classified as morally unfit for duty in the military but, shortly after the couple's first wedding anniversary, he was reclassified as fit for duty and subsequently drafted by the Army. After completing basic training, in August, 1944, he was sent to join the fighting in France. 
     While en route to his assigned unit, Slovik and Private John Tankey, a friend he met during basic training, took cover during an artillery attack and became separated from their replacement detachment. This was the point at which Slovik later stated he found he wasn't cut out for combat. 
     The next morning, the two found a Canadian military police unit and remained with them for the next six weeks. Tankey wrote to their regiment to explain their absence before the pair reported to their unit for duty on October 7, 1944. The Army's rapid advance through France had caused many replacement soldiers to have trouble finding their assigned units, and so no charges were filed against them. 
     The following day, October 8, Slovik informed his company commander that he was too scared to serve in a front-line company and asked to be reassigned to a rear area unit. He also advised his company commander that he would run away if he were assigned to a rifle unit and asked if that would constitute desertion. His CC advised him it would, refused his request and sent him to a rifle platoon. 
     The next day Slovik deserted and his friend John Tankey caught up with him, but couldn't convince him to stay. Slovik walked several miles to the rear and approached a cook at a headquarters detachment, presenting him with a note which stated: 

I, Pvt. Eddie D. Slovik, 36896415, confess to the desertion of the United States Army. At the time of my desertion we were in Albuff in France. I came to Albuff as a replacement. They were shelling the town and we were told to dig in for the night. The following morning they were shelling us again. I was so scared, nerves and trembling, that at the time the other replacements moved out, I couldn’t move. I stayed there in my fox hole till it was quiet and I was able to move. I then walked into town. Not seeing any of our troops, so I stayed over night at a French hospital. The next morning I turned myself over to the Canadian Provost Corp. After being with them six weeks I was turned over to American M.P. They turned me loose. I told my commanding officer my story. I said that if I had to go out there again I'd run away. He said there was nothing he could do for me so I ran away again AND I'LL RUN AWAY AGAIN IF I HAVE TO GO OUT THERE. — Signed Pvt. Eddie D. Slovik A.S.N. 36896415 

     The cook summoned his company commander and a military policeman, who read the note and urged Slovik to destroy it before he was taken into custody, which Slovik refused. He was brought before Lieutenant Colonel Ross Henbest, who again offered him the opportunity to tear up the note, return to his unit, and face no further charges. Slovik again refused, so he was ordered to write another note on the back of the first one stating that he fully understood the consequences of incriminating himself, and it would be used as evidence against him in a court martial. 
     The divisional judge advocate offered Slovik a third opportunity to rejoin his unit in exchange for the charges against him being dropped. He also offered to transfer Slovik to a different infantry regiment in the division where no one would know of his past and he could start with a clean slate. Slovik opted for the court martial thinking he would face only jail time. 
     Charged with desertion to avoid hazardous duty, he was tried on November 11, 1944. Slovik was tried by staff officers because all combat officers were fighting on the front lines. The nine officers of the court found Slovik guilty and sentenced him to death. The official sentence was : to be shot to death with musketry. The sentence was reviewed and approved by Major General Norman Cota who said if he hadn't approved it he could have gone up to the front line and looked a good soldier in the face. 
     On December 9, Slovik wrote a letter to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, but by then desertion had become a systemic problem in France. Eisenhower confirmed the execution order on December 23, noting that it was necessary to discourage further desertions. Slovik was shocked as he had been expecting a dishonorable discharge and a prison term, the same punishment he had seen meted out to other deserters. As an ex-convict, a dishonorable discharge would have made little further impact on his civilian life as a common laborer, and military prison terms for discipline offenses were widely expected to be commuted once the war was over. 
     Slovik was shot by a 12-man firing squad in eastern France in January of 1945. None of the rifleman so much as flinched, believing Slovik had gotten what he deserved. The execution was carried out at 10:04 am on January 31, 1945, near the village of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines. 
     The unrepentant Slovik said to the soldiers whose duty it was to prepare him for the firing squad before they led him to the place of execution: They're not shooting me for deserting the United States Army, thousands of guys have done that. They just need to make an example out of somebody and I'm it because I'm an ex-con. I used to steal things when I was a kid, and that's what they are shooting me for. They're shooting me for the bread and chewing gum I stole when I was 12 years old. 
     Slovik, wearing a uniform stripped of all insignia with a GI blanket across his shoulders against the cold, was led into the courtyard of a house chosen for the execution because it had a high masonry wall. The commanders did not want the local French civilians to witness the proceedings. Soldiers stood him against a six inch by six inch post and strapped him to it with web belts. Just before a black hood over his head, the attending chaplain said, "Eddie, when you get up there, say a little prayer for me." Slovik answered, "Okay, Father. I'll pray that you don't follow me too soon." Those were his last words. 
     Twelve picked soldiers used standard issue M1 rifles with one bullet for each rifle. One rifle was loaded with a blank. On the command of "Fire", Slovik was hit by eleven bullets, at least four of them being fatal. The wounds ranged from high in the neck region out to the left shoulder, over the left chest, and under the heart. One bullet was in the left upper arm. An Army physician quickly determined Slovik had not been immediately killed. Just as the firing squad's rifles were being reloaded in preparation for another volley, Slovik died. 
     He was 24 years old and his execution took 15 minutes. Slovik was buried in the American Cemetery and Memorial in Fère-en-Tardenois, alongside 95 American soldiers executed for rape and/or murder. Their grave markers are hidden from view by shrubbery and bear sequential numbers instead of names, making it impossible to identify them individually without knowing the key. 
     His wife unsuccessfully petitioned the Army for his remains and his pension until her death in 1979. Altogether she petitioned seven US presidents: Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter. 
Graves of Slovik and his wife in Detroit

     Slovik's case was taken up in 1981 by former Macomb County Commissioner Bernard V. Calka, a Polish-American World War II veteran, who continued to petition the Army to return Slovik's remains to the United States. In 1987, he persuaded President Ronald Reagan to order their return where he was buried net to his wife in Detroit's Woodmere Cemetery. 
     I am unsure of the meaning of the inscription Honor and Justice Prevailed. For whom? The Army or Slovik? 

     Here is my personal feeling. Nobody wants to serve in combat...it's dangerous and terrifying. But, millions do it. If a man admits he can't, send him to rear where he can be useful doing something. 
     In the Bible when Gideon had too many men he was first instructed that whoever was afraid and trembling could leave and he lost 22,000 people out of 32,000. And, when King David's men complained about dividing the spoils of war, David told them, “We share and share alike, those who go to battle and those who guard the equipment." Slovik was not cut out for combat, so assign him to something he can do. And, why single out one man when hundreds, if not thousands, were just as guilty, but not executed?

Monday, April 9, 2018

Woodpeckers


     
     There are over 180 species of woodpeckers. They are known for pecking on tree trunks in order to find insects living in crevices in the bark and to excavate nest cavities. However, they can also become fixated on pecking on anything. A couple of years ago one decided to hammer away at the metal vent pipe on my roof and before that, one pecked quarter-sized holes spaced about a foot apart down the corner of my neighbor's house. Once they become fixated like that, that are very hard to shoo away. The next door neighbor set a plastic owl out on his patio. It worked...sort of. The woodpecker moved to the front of the house. In my case, it finally gave up and moved on.

      Damage to wooden buildings may take one of several forms. Holes may be drilled into wood siding, eaves, window frames, and trim boards. Woodpeckers prefer cedar and redwood siding, but will damage pine, fir, cypress, and others if their favorites aren't available. Natural or stained wood surfaces are preferred over painted wood, and newer houses in an area are often primary targets. Particularly vulnerable to damage are rustic-appearing, channeled plywoods with cedar or redwood veneers. Imperfections in the intercore plywood layers exposed by the vertical grooves may harbor insects. The woodpeckers often break out these core gaps, leaving a narrow horizontal damage patterns in their search for insects. If a suitable cavity results from woodpecker activities, it may also be used for roosting or nesting.

      The cost of their damage can be considerable. From 1981 to 1982 the Central Missouri Electric Cooperative replaced 2,114 woodpecker-damaged poles in their system at an estimated cost of $560,000.

      Woodpeckers can be found in wooded areas all over the world, except in Australia. The ivory-billed woodpecker was rediscovered in Arkansas in 2006. According to scientists, there may be a second population in the cypress forests of Florida’s panhandle. The red-cockaded woodpecker can be found through the southeast of the United States from Texas to the Atlantic Coast and north to Virginia.

      Woodpeckers have bristle-like feathers over their nostrils help to keep wood particles from being inhaled. Their strong, pointed beak acts as both a chisel and a crowbar to remove bark and find hiding insects. It has a very long tongue, up to four inches in some species, with a glue-like substance on the tip for catching insects. But, insects are not all they eat. In 2015, an ornithologist filmed a desert woodpecker as it pecked through the skulls of mourning dove chicks to eat their baby brains!

      Most birds have one toe pointing back and three pointing forward on each foot, woodpeckers have two sharply clawed toes pointing in each direction (called zygodactal feet) to help them grasp the sides of trees and balance. Many woodpecker species also have stiffened tail feathers which they press against a tree surface to help support their weight.

Woodpeckers live in wooded areas and forests, where they tap on tree trunks an estimated 8,000-12,000 times a day in order to find insects in crevices in the bark and to excavate nest cavities

      Some species require very specific conditions for their home. For example, the red-cockaded woodpecker can only live in mature pine forests in the southeastern United States. Some species drum on trees to communicate to other woodpeckers and as a part of their courtship behavior.

      Male and female woodpeckers work together to excavate a cavity in a tree that is used as a nest and to incubate eggs for about two weeks. When a woodpecker hatches, it is blind and does not have any feathers. One parent brings food to the nest while the other parent stays with the young. The young generally leave the nest after 25-30 days.

      Their head travels at 15 miles an hour and 20 times a second and they peck all the live long day without head damage. In 2016, an engineering professor at MIT demonstrated that a woodpecker's small brain make them resilient against deceleration. Human thrill-seekers on amusement park rides experience, at most, an acceleration that is about six times that of the force of gravity, or 6 Gs. Concussions occur at 90 to 100 G. A woodpecker’s head, when it connects with a tree trunk, decelerates by as much as 1,200 G.

      How do they do it? Theories have included: super powerful muscles, a special injury-preventing drilling technique, or a protective placement around the brain, but no one has analyzed the mechanics of a woodpecker's skull in as much detail as Fan Yubo at the Key Laboratory for Biomechanics and Mechanobiology at Beihang University in China.

Yubo and his team found that woodpeckers have developed a nanofabrication and have self assembly capabilities in their cranial bone structure. The woodpecker's cranial bone is strong and has a "plate-like spongy bone" in the cranium, which makes it resistant to deformation. It has a large volume of structures called trabeculae, which are tiny spaces, spaced very close together, in the bone that form a mesh filled with bone marrow. This helps diffuse impact.

      A new report on woodpecker brains suggests that they do suffer some damage; they have protein accumulations in their brains that resemble those found in athletes with head trauma. A protein called tau, a normal protein in nerve cells, after an injury will clump up in toxic aggregations. Researchers have found tau in injured humans as well as bears, mice, squirrels and other animals.

      In humans this condition is referred to as “punch drunk syndrome” and is characterized by aggression, memory loss, confusion and depression, and it can progress to dementia. Autopsies of football players show “overwhelming evidence” that “prolonged exposure to repetitive head impacts” is associated with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, as it is technically called. Tau aggregations are linked to other neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s. However, tau itself is only indicative of something not being right and it also accumulates with age.

      According to the report 8 of the 10 woodpeckers, including a juvenile, contained tau, but so far that seems to be normal and it does not affects the bird's behavior like it does in humans.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Hell's Kitchen


    This is another one of those fake reality shows that features people who range from short order cooks, personal chefs and sous chefs who compete in hopes of landing a job paying $250,000 a year as executive chef of one of Gordon Ramsay's restaurants. 
     An executive chef is in charge of everything that goes out of the kitchen and maintains full control of the kitchen staff at all times. Right off I am suspicious because according to a salary survey that I read, in New York City the average salary for an executive chef ranges from $55,000 to $93,000 per year. 
   Throw in Ramsey's profanity laced screaming at chefs who can't cook risotto or scallops properly and it only adds to the suspicion. Of all the restaurants I have been too I have never heard screaming, yelling and profanity coming out of the kitchen and it's been a very rare instance when I sent something back because it was raw. So, when kitchens at chains like Red Lobster, Ruby Tuesday and Appleby's seem to run so smoothly, it makes me wonder about Hell's Kitchen. 
     There must be some measure of reality though because what you don't see is that Ramsay has bodyguards all over the place to prevent any physical altercations. Still, chefs are pushed to their limits physically. Sleepless nights, being constantly screamed at and having their every movement recorded by cameras and microphones has driven some contestants to cigarettes and alcohol. During Season 2 one producer noted that the competition began with only four smokers, but by the end of the season, that number had shot up to ten. Rumor has it that there is a lot of sex going on. Cameras show a lot of flirtation, but of course, no action. Former contestants report that they wear a microphone at all times, even to bed.
     Each year, the promised job title is "executive chef," but it's often something like "senior chef" or "head chef," not the coveted title of "executive chef." Season one winner was Michael Wray who worked with Ramsay in London but later declined to become head chef at the exclusive Standard hotel in Los Angeles. He subsequently moved to Arizona where he runs a knife company and teaches cooking.
     Christina Machamer won season four, but was downgraded from executive to senior chef. She has worked mostly in California. Likewise, season five winner, Danny Veltri was downgraded and he took up a position as a sous chef at the Fornelletto in the Borgata Hotel Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. After leaving there, he began his own ctering company and worked at a bar and grill in Florida.
     Holli Ugalde, the Season 7 winner, won an executive chef position at the Savoy Grill in London, but she didn't get the job because of work visa issues. She claimed that despite constant follow-ups she was given the runaround and ultimately got an undisclosed amount of cash. However, she did manage to use Hell's Kitchen to become a celebrity chef and has had television appearances and guest appearances. She now manages her own organic garden and has her own line of cookware and perfume. 
     Many of the contestants did end up working for Ramsey though even if they did not stay long and moved on to other positions.
    What one finds curious is that there are a few items that are on the menu every season: risotto, beef Wellington and scallops. Yet somehow these dishes are repeatedly undercooked or overcooked. The contestants frequently try to serve raw chicken, too. It makes you start to wonder. According to a former contestant the producers would often switch ingredients on the sly to create drama and give Ramsay something to swear up about.

     Who are the diners you see eating in the restaurant?  The diners are friends or family members of someone connected to Fox or they are minor celebrities. And, being as the “restaurant” is actually a studio with an open bar, it doesn't have one all-important feature legitimate restaurants have...bathrooms. If you have to pee, you leave and use one of the trailers outside the set.
     Sometimes things in the kitchen get so bad that Ramsey kicks the whole team out. When that happens there is a backup plan. They backup chefs ready to complete a service.
     Like all reality shows, most of it is fake, so why watch? As I said about American Pickers, murder mysteries are fake because people don't really get killed, but we watch them. Watching the credits of a movie recently where a dog was killed, I noticed a disclaimer that no animals were harmed. Even though the dog wasn't really killed, I still felt bad just like I sometimes feel bad for the chefs on Hells Kitchen.  It's entertainment.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Just Crack An Egg

     You should never stop learning and today I learned that you can cook eggs in a microwave and it takes much less time to cook them in a microwave than it does on a stove. However, it's not a good idea to microwave eggs that are still inside their shell because pressure can quickly build-up and they will explode. 
     I discovered this method of cooking eggs by chance. The other day at the supermarket we saw a new product called Just Crack An Egg and decided to take a gamble and spend $2.49 on one. In less than two minutes Just Crack an Egg gives you a hot, fluffy breakfast scramble bowl. It's billed as “the first product on the market that offers a hot, savory egg scramble in under two minutes, just by adding a fresh egg.” 
     Each individual serving cup contains a combination of diced vegetables, Oscar Mayer breakfast meat, Kraft Natural Cheese shreds and Ore-Ida potatoes. 

The choices are: 
Denver Scramble - Potatoes, milded cheddar cheese, green peppers, onions and smoked ham 
All American Scramble – Potatoes, sharp cheddar cheese and uncured bacon 
Ultimate Scramble – Potatoes, mild cheddar cheese, green and red peppers, onions and pork sausage 
Rustic Scramble – Potatoes, mozzarella cheese, red peppers, onions, turkey sausage (yuk!) and mushrooms (double yuk!) 

     The product comes in a small plastic bowl with the ingredients in small plastic packages. You empty the ingredients into the bowl, add an egg and stir. Microwave for 40 seconds, stir and microwave another 30 seconds. The result is a fluffy scramble egg resembling an omelet. 
     This product is probably a gamble on the company's part because consumers may not accept the idea, but personally I expect to be a customer. 
     Surprise...it tasted like a scrambled egg omelet. It was fast and not near as messy as fixing one on the stove and I can see having one for quick breakfast or a mid-morning snack at work. All-in-all a good product worth trying.

Outhouses

     For anyone who has ever used an outhouse, especially in the summertime, it’s hard to shake that unforgettable stench. But, they have an interesting history and there are people who have actually studied and even restored outhouses. 
    Known by many other names, an outhouse is a small structure, separate from a main building, which covers one or more toilets.  Typically they are what is known as a pit latrine, meaning they have a long drop or they can be a bucket toilet or even take other forms. The term “outhouse” may also be used to denote the toilet itself, not just the superstructure. 
     As early as 15 centuries before Christ, the Old Testament (in Deuteronomy 23:12-13) instructions for relieving oneself were given: “Designate a place outside the camp where you can go to relieve yourself. As part of your encampment, have something to dig with, and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover your excrement.” 
     Eventually, communities brought about the need for greater privacy. In the Neolithic Scottish settlement of Skara Brae, some Stone Age huts had stone seats with a hole in them and drainage to the outside. Ancient Egypt had similar structures with the rich having seats of limestone; wood for the poor. However, China probably gets credit for the first outhouses. Around 4500 B.C., the first collection system for human excrement was constructed by the Romans, who were among the first to build sewers underneath street level to collect both rain water and sewage. A sponge on a stick being used in lieu of toilet paper. 
     In Medieval times, “garderobes” were often incorporated into castle walls – toilets that discharged directly into the moat below, creating a open cesspool. Warning cries of “gardez l’eau” (Watch out for the water”) would be shouted by those using the toilets and “L’eau” eventually became the source of today’s reference to a toilet as “the loo.” Here's an interesting, and somewhat disgusting tidbit: Garderobe is the French word for “wardrobe” and clothing was sometimes stored in the toilets because the stench kept moths away.
Gong Farmers
     Medieval city slickers relied on chamber pots which were dumped into the streets...a practice that was good for spreading of diseases like cholera and typhoid fever. In the American Colonies, wealthy colonists referred to the outhouse as their their “necessaries.” Some were quite elaborate in design and included a door into the lower level of the structure to allow the pit contents to be removed periodically. Those whose profession was disposing of outhouse contents were known as gong farmers.  Gong farmers generally operated in pairs, with one using a shovel to transfer the contents of the cesspool underneath an outhouse into a tub and the other hoisting the tub to ground level and emptying the contents into a cart. Rotting vegetables were often added to the waste and used as fertilizer. Being a gong farmer was not only an unpleasant job, it also had physical risks: illness, suffocation and the possibility of temporary blindness, intestinal worms, notably hookworms and lot of them were alcoholics. 
     In the US outhouse doors were commonly marked with either a crescent moon or a circle-star design. If you have ever wondered why, the answer is the crescent moon, symbol for the Roman moon goddess, Luna, indicated a ladies’ outhouse. The circle or star was symbolic of the sun and the Greeks’ male sun god, Apollo was for the men. For some mysterious reason historians have noted that many more female than male outhouses have survived to the present day. At least that's the theory though some have disputed it. One purpose of the hole is for venting and light and there were a wide variety of shapes and placements employed.
     City outhouses were typically multi-doored and located in alleys behind the apartment buildings they served. Public health concerns over filthy outhouses led to the demise of urban outhouses. In more rural areas, the outhouse was typically located out of sight of the dwelling it served and away from water sources to avoid contaminating them. On farms, there was sometimes an additional privy attached to the barn to save steps during the working day. 
     The majority of outhouses were constructed of wood, which was light enough for easy relocation as necessary. Though usually made of wood, wealthy families were made of brick and often had fancy gingerbread trim. 
     Ever wonder how deep the pit was? Of course you have. It was an open pit 3 to 6 feet deep with the structure measuring 3 by 4 feet and about 7 feet tall. The number of holes depended on the number of family members, as well as their ages. Generally there were one to three holes of varying sizes. Small holes kept children from falling in. There was usually a hinged cover over the hole when not in use. 
     First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt got into outhouses. During the Depression under the Work Projects Administration,during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency, three-man WPA work teams replaced old outhouses in rural areas. They could build one in 20 hours at a cost of $5 that included concrete floors and screened ventilation. Over 2 million such outhouses were built by the WPA. During that time outhouses were often referred to as Eleanors and the White House. 
Early toilet paper
    Because toilet paper was not commonly used until the 1920s the Sears and Roebuck catalog was often used a toilet paper. Toilet paper was a luxury and Sears used to mail out catalogs that were two or three inches thick with black-and-white grainy paper. One outhouse sign of advised users to limit themselves to no more than four pages per visit.
     Outhouses were often used for the disposal of old bottles, crockery and dishes, so they can yield historic pieces of value to privy diggers as they are called. Sometimes they strike gold by finding fossilized feces (coprolites) which can yield much information about diet and health. In some cases if they survived outhouses have been converted to garden sheds. 
     As mentioned in the introduction, not all outhouses were pits. The bucket toilet consisted of a seat and a bucket. The buckets were emptied into composting piles or collected by contractors for larger-scale disposal. In some national parks and wilderness areas drums were used. Some parks mandate a "pack it in, pack it out" rule. Many reports document the use of containers for the removal of excrement, which must be packed in and packed out on Mount Everest. Also known as "expedition barrels" or "bog barrels", the cans are weighed to make sure that groups do not dump them along the way. In some cases "Toilet tents" have been erected. California’s Mount Whitney summit once had the highest outhouse in the continental United States, but in 2007, they started requiring climbers to carry their own.
     Outhouse design, placement, and maintenance has long been recognized as being important to the public health. Houseflies are attracted and use the contents for food for their offspring and lay eggs in it. In the United States outhouses often had a bucket of powdered lime with a scoop so lime could be sprinkled into the holes to cover the waste as to suppress the odor.

Fun Facts: 
1. Outhouses in the past often had more than one story: High-rise outhouses actually existed, like the preserved two-story “skys-crapper” that still stands in Gays, Illinois. From the upper floor waste from above would fall down a shaft behind the first floor wall. In the Missouri History Museum archives, they have photos of a three story outhouse. 

2. There’s an outhouse capital of the world, Elk Falls, Kansas. On the Friday and Saturday before Thanksgiving, they hold outhouse tours. 
3. There is an outhouse museum in Liverpool, Nova Scotia filled with collectibles, photos, artifacts, and more. It’s one room and there is an actual outhouse in it and they sell outhouse key chains, outhouse posters, outhouse coffee mugs. 
4. There are outhouse races. In Trenary, Michigan they’ve been racing them for more than 20 years. Contestants construct outrageously-themed outhouses then push them across the snow. 
5. People steal outhouses: It may seem impossible, but in 2013, there were multiple outhouse thefts across Canada. Alberta’s Randy Nemirsky made headlines when his new outhouse was swiped from his farm near Edmonton. Later that year, a man from New Brunswick’s Charlotte County had his custom-made outhouse stolen from his hunting camp in Clarence Ridge.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Sensationalizing the Weather

     Is it just our local news stations or is it happening everywhere? I'm talking about weather forecasters, much like the rest of the news and media, who sensationalize the weather and try to scare us with their constant warnings of potentially damaging weather.
     It seems like they don't do simple weather reports anymore. Instead of simply reporting the possibility of a tornado, wind, heavy rain, flooding or heavy snow, now we are bombarded with live storm tracks and warned about potential severe and devastating weather threats for even the most routine events. Even more annoying are those stupid talking heads that come on and shout like used car salesmen, “Snow tonight!!! I'll tell you how much to expect at six!” When six gets here you find out it's a dusting. It's really becoming annoying.
    
    There's a real danger here. Years ago when I had a pilot's license and someone wanted to make a short trip they would call the flight service station and get a weather report for both going and returning. If there was a chance of thunderstorms that's what they said. Somewhere somebody got caught in a thunderstorm, crashed and was killed. The result was a lawsuit claiming the FSS didn't give an adequate warning. The result was that if there was even a slim chance that a thunderstorm might pop up over your route the FSS added the disclaimer that visual flight was not recommended. We got so many of those that people tended to disregard the warnings. 
    Of course, people need to be warned of bad weather coming, but if they keep making alarming claims for every storm, people will do like we pilots did with the FSS warnings. They will stop listening. 
    Unfortunately, sensational weather reporting has become a grab for ratings. One of the worst of these is The Weather Channel which seems to pander fear with elevated threats. Ever since TWC was acquired by NBC/Universal seven years ago it seems like they have ramped up the hype. Now they even name snowstorms. The National Weather Service doesn't name them, only TWC. Apparently if a storm has a name it sounds more menacing and they can send out reporters to the scene and bombard us with minute details of the calamity. 
    In times gone by no one really knew a storm was coming and people got caught. For example, in the Schoolchildren's Blizzard of 1888 residents of what is now South Dakota and the northwestern Great Plains had no warning of a January snowstorm that plunged temperatures 80 degrees. Children on long walks home (no school buses in those days) and farmers were caught outside with their animals. An estimated 235 people died and many more had frostbitten extremities amputated because they had no advance notice of the storm.  

    In this neck of the woods during this past winter they issued warnings that resulted in travel bans and schools and businesses closing for snow that never came.  A couple of years ago a weatherman in New Jersey opined that when he was a kid people had more faith in weather forecasters. He went on to say it has nothing to do with technology. Before the age of 24/7 news coverage people sat down and watched the 6pm or 11pm news which also included an honest forecast with no hype. There was no, in his words, “media unleashed" and “team coverage" on the streets to talk about the impending inch of snow. He called them "antics."
     We've become a society fascinated by sensationalism in every aspect of our lives. What I would like to see is reliable, hype-free and an accurate forecast as possible.  I will decide if I should be scared.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Corn Huskers Lotion...a Man's Hand Lotion

     The name isn't very glamorous and the appearance of the bottle and its slimy feel doesn't do it any favors, but don't be fooled...it's good stuff. It's not well known because they don't advertise, but it's one of the best hand lotions (and more) available. It makes no exaggerated promises to defy the laws of nature and keep you youthful forever.
     This multipurpose product is a must for any medicine cabinet and at about three dollars a bottle, it's far cheaper than most products that don't work as well. 
     It's thick and non-greasy and is designed for protecting skin that dries out from work or over-use of hand washing, it delivers results in little time thanks to its 11 ingredients in addition to water and fragrance. If it has a downside, it's the the scent which has been described as "lemony," "feminine" and "perfumey" by some who consider it too cloying. 
     It has two pH balancers, fumaric acid and triethanolamine which keep it from being too acidic or alkaline and the fumaric acid can also be used to treat psoriasis. Sodium calcium alginate, guar gum, calcium chloride and calcium sulfate all make it thick and the sodium calcium alginate serves as a fragrance. 
    It also contains something called humectants which moisturize the skin while emollients soften and smooth the skin, making it appear younger and healthier. There are two such agents: glycerin and SD alcohol 40.  An organic compound, SD alcohol 40 can be a humectant or emollient with cleansing properties. Glycerin can be natural or synthetic and is present in all natural fats. 
     Boric acid is a antimicrobial that will kill or hinder the growth of microorganisms such as fungi and bacteria.  Methylparaben is a preservative that keeps the lotion from spoiling, making it last longer. It also inhibits the growth of bacteria, mold and fungi. It causes less irritation to the skin because it is a preservative that does not release formaldehyde. 
     Oleoyl Sarcosine is a modified fatty acid found in many personal care products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved it as an indirect food additive. On skin it works by making water mix better with dirt and oil to wash it away. 
     Corn Huskers Lotion was originally developed in 1919 specifically for farmers who, you guessed it, husked corn. Their hands were frequently exposed to cold, dry air and brittle husks, so their hands took a beating. Rough, dry hands were impossible to treat with basic moisturizers, but this oil-free formula did the trick. 
     Touted by some as a wonder treatment for a variety of skin conditions, it's not just for your hands. Many individuals have reported that their eczema symptoms have minimized, if not eradicated, with regular use. People suffering from psoriasis often experience difficulty finding moisturizers that are non-irritating, yet many ind Corn Huskers provides relief.
     If you have severely dry hands, even with bleeding, cracks and sores, Corn Huskers has been proven to make a world of difference by providing non-greasy moisture that penetrates quickly. Some men even use it as an after shave balm.