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Monday, May 17, 2021

Digital Manure

     There is a Facebook meme that claims that back in 2019 Vice President Kamala Harris said Joe Biden was "trash to me." Is that true? 
     The international news organization Reuters employs around 2,500 journalists and 600 photojournalists in about 200 locations worldwide and is one of the largest news agencies in the world. They investigated the claim made in the meme and did not find any instances of Harris saying this about Biden online. 
     Facebook and other social media sites are notorious for spreading false and misleading claims that are intended to sow division. Why are so many vulnerable to misinformation? 
     With social media, there are no editors reviewing what's published and there is no confirmation. When something is published or re-published many people accept it as fact. especially if it is something that falls in line with their biases. 
     It can be hard to spot fake news on social media because nowadays a surprisingly large number of Americans get their news from social media. According to a Pew Research Center report 55 percent of US adults now get their news from social media either often or sometimes. Americans seem to be getting more gullible as it becomes harder to trust what is or is not true on Facebook and other social media platforms. 
     A study from McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin found that social media isn't viewed as more trustworthy, but it is different than TV news or news websites because users do not choose the source of all the articles they see on social media. The report noted that on social media articles come from a wide variety of sources and this can include sponsored articles, which are really paid advertisements. 
     Often this (mis)information is readily shared with friends which simply means that fake news spreads easily. The study found that almost a quarter of social media users shared what turned out to be fake news. What's worse, 60 percent of users said that fake news leaves them confused about what to believe! 
     A lot of fake news comes from advertisements and social media users who create news for financial gain. Look at Yahoo headlines. At least a lot of what appears to be headlines of a news story carries the caveat that it's an ad. 
     The sharing of stories can actually boost the credibility with readers because people may think differently when using social media from how they might think when watching the evening news simply because the story is coming from a friend or family member. 
     One problem is that social media users are looking for pleasure or entertainment and that can make it easier to believe fake news. Research shows the hedonic mindset that comes into play when using social media makes it more difficult for us to think critically and we are less likely to fact-check the information we see.
     Detecting fake news on social media may not be as easy as spotting an outlandish headlines in the tabloids in the grocery store checkout, but it shouldn't be difficult either. The best way to avoid fake news is to not use social media as your primary news source and anything on social media sites should be checked out. Also, did you know that research has found that the mere exposure to headlines makes you believe them more? 
     Even if the headline seems to confirm something you already believe (confirmation bias) it is still advisable to research it. The best thing to avoid being duped is a large dose of skepticism.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Patent Leather

     It used to be that in the Marine Corps the standard for shoes and boots was the spit shine. To achieve the spit shine you needed a can of Kiwi shoe polish, a brush, spit (or water), a cloth (or small bottle) and a ton of elbow grease. Today patent leather has taken the place of the spit shine...sad. But wait! Patent leather is not new...it's history spans thousands of years! 
     Patent leather has its roots in rubber which was first used thousands of years ago in Mexico. In 1736, Charles Marie de La Condamine brought samples to France’s Scientific Society and eventually the knowledge of rubber began to spread around Europe and England. In 1770, Joseph Priestley in England observed that the material worked very well for rubbing pencil marks off of paper, hence the nickname of rubber. 
     Patent leather is is water resistant and has a high shine and some consider it "classy." It originated in the late 1700s when layers of oils were applied to dyed leather and dried. The resulting surface was durable and water resistant. Oils have since been replaced with synthetic materials and patent leather is commonly used in shoes, wallets, bags and accessories. 
     One of the first inventors to produce a leather that was waterproof also obtained a patent covering the method of production. Thus, because it was made through a patented process, it was commonly referred to as patent leather. 
     Patent leather is characterized by having a very clear, shiny, polished surface that is generally water resistant which helps provide durability by protecting the leather underneath. On the down side, the glossy surface is prone to scratches and must be cared for well. 
     Originally, patent leather was made from natural leather, but over time it has become much more common for it to be made from faux leather with synthetic coatings. The lower (read cheap) production costs of synthetic materials allowed patent leather to surge in popularity in the 1960s. 
     After World War II many advancements had been made in materials technology, and there was increased demand for consumer goods. On result was that patent leather quickly became popular. This included fake leather with its synthetic clear coatings that looked like real patent leather. This faux leather looks similar and is much less expensive which makes it popular. 
     Over the years, some materials have been produced that are similar in appearance and properties to patent leather...faux faux leather so to speak! One of the most popular was Corfam. 
     In 1963 at the Chicago Shoe Show, DuPont introduced a type of leather substitute. It’s goal was, to by 1984, have Corfam comprise about a quarter of the United States shoe market. While Corfam was shiny and water repellent, it was not breathable or as flexible as real leather. Nevertheless, the low cost and durability of PVC (plastic) leather made it appealing. By 1971, DuPont stopped selling Corfam because their hopes and goals for the product didn't materialize. 
     Due to the outer coating being plastic, it will degrade over years and it, so while it may look great, it's not extremely durable. The coating is usually a polyurethane or acrylic coating (plastic). They can be clear, result in a high shine, and remain flexible once dried. Pigment can also be added to the resin coatings to add color. Additionally, additives can be put into the coatings to increase desirable performance factors such as scratch resistance, abrasion resistance, and UV resistance. 
     Patent leather cracks because it is made of a plastic and over time the plastic begins to weaken and degrade. Due to the flexing the plastic will begin to crack over time. Also, due to the high-gloss finish, patent leather is very prone to scuffing. Additionally, patent leather is covered with a clear plastic layer that over time, as the plastic begins to degrade, it takes on a yellow tint.

     Bottom line: a spit shine on real leather beats the shiny fake-looking patent leather hands down.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Why do we have an appendix?

     Knowledge of the appendix dates back to the 1500s when anatomists identified it, but could only guess at its purpose. However, they did know that it could become inflamed and cause serious disease. 
     In 1735, Dr. Claudius Amyand performed the world’s first successful appendectomy, at St. George’s Hospital in London. The patient was an 11-year old boy whose appendix had become perforated by a pin he had swallowed. General anesthesia was not available until 1846, so it required a lot of assistants to restrain patients during what must have been very painful. 
     Surgical treatment for appendicitis began in earnest during the 1880s. However, doctors were not sure who should be operated on because some patients recovered without surgery. Even today the causes of acute appendicitis have not been identified and nobody knows why the appendix will rupture in some patients and others recover. 
     In 2007 researchers offered a compelling case for the function of the appendix (sort of)...it appears to play a role in both the digestive and immune systems by acting as a storehouse for good bacteria. These bacteria come into play when the gastrointestinal tract loses its beneficial gut flora. 
     Recently researchers are revisiting the question of whether antibiotics are just as effective as surgery. In the 1940s and 1950s, doctors in England began treating patients with antibiotics with excellent results. In the Navy men on submarines received antibiotics and patients reportedly did well. 
     What does the appendix do? Is it really redundant and useless, a remnant from eons ago that human development? Now, scientists know that your appendix actually has a purpose. 
     Many bacterial microorganisms are found in the stomach and intestines. These are good bacteria that help to break down food and stave off the growth of bad bacteria and the good bacteria also play a critical role in producing vitamins and hormones needed by the body. 
     Before modern medicine and public health, people suffered from cholera or dysentery. One of the symptoms is severe diarrhea in which literally everything, including the good bacteria, gets empties out of the gut. 
     The new theory (theory, not fact) is that the appendix acts as a safe haven for good bacteria. After intense diarrhea, the appendix repopulates the intestine with the good bacteria before harmful bacteria finds a home there. 
     When it comes to the appendix, we are not alone; humans aren't the only ones with an appendix...about 533 mammal species have one. 
     The theory is that in this hygienic society we live in immune system isn't constantly being challenged by parasites or disease-causing organisms. With no need to function regularly, the appendix may become blocked or overreact when it is required to function which causes it to become inflamed. Removing the appendix has no known negative effects, but without an appendix people may take longer to recover from an intestinal infection, but we have antibiotics. 
     Circumstantial evidence makes a strong case for the role of the appendix, but the bottom line is nobody REALLY knows what the purpose of the appendix is. 

Saturday, May 1, 2021

There Is A Chicken Shortage

     At first it sounded like an alarmist hoax, but upon further investigation, it is true. 
     Chicken is popular in the United States (though not with me) and the popularity of chicken sandwiches, chicken nuggets, chicken and waffles and chicken wings is fueling such demand that the country is starting to run short. Actually, it's not like we weren't warned...doomsayers predicted it months ago when they warned there was a massive chicken wing shortage on the horizon. 
     There are three reasons for the shortage: covid-19, a sandwich craze and huge appetite for wings. YUM Brands which owns Kentucky Fries Chicken has announced that the demand for their new chicken sandwich (described as a mouth-watering extra crispy filet with premium pickles, and mayo on a brioche-style bun) has been so strong that, coupled with general tightening in domestic chicken supply, it's hard for them to keep up with the demand. 
     Also, the price of wings is going up as some restaurant owners are having to shell out more than $3 per pound for wings, the consumption of which has been on the rise since 2020. For example, back in February of 2020, the huge demand for wings on Super Bowl Sunday coupled with devastation from the winter storms in Texas, caused a severe wing shortage. 
     Wing consumption causes something of a problem. Each chicken has only two of them and if people order a bucket with 20 wings, somebody has to eat the rest of those 10 chickens that supplied them. 
     Not everybody in the world goes for wings and breasts like we do in the US. Europeans pay a premium for the breasts, while the Chinese market has a greater demand for the feet. Russians prefer dark meat, and in India people particularly enjoy the leg. 
     The National Chicken Council says that the US consume 60 percent of the dark meat produced in the country and much of the rest gets shipped overseas. This exacerbates the problem by increasing the carbon footprint because shipping produces carbon and costs a lot of energy which impacts the environment. Shipping chicken requires it to be stored in temperature-controlled containers. While food is generally shipped by sea instead of by air, saving some emissions, maritime shipping accounts for nearly 3 percent of all carbon emissions, equal to the output of Germany. 
     According to the United Poultry Concerns the US production of the 8 billion chickens consumed each year produce nearly 86 million tons of manure which creates toxic environments for the chickens, but it also presents major disposal problems. Some chicken poop can be used for fertilizer, but much ends up in water runoff. Did you know that chickens contribute about 12 million pounds of nitrogen to the Chesapeake Bay each year? Probably not. As a result over 80 percent of the bay is at least partially damaged by toxic contaminants. Environmentalist, who oppose everything, warn that the chicken industry destroys wildlife and wildlife habitat. They complain, "It just ruins every place it opens for business."