Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Is louder safer?

On my way home last night, I needed to stop to get some gas for my scooter. I only had $3 on me but that was enough to get the tank about 3/4 full. Another fellow was there with his Honda motorcycle and we got to talking. He was very enthusiastic about having bought his used bike cheap. It needed a lot of work but he had fixed it up and it looked great. One of the things he liked so much about his motorcycle was that the motor ran smoothly and quietly.

It got me thinking about noisy motorcycles. Our town has always had a touchy relationship with noisy motorcycles. The businesses in our town depend a lot on vacationers and a lot of those come here on motorcycles. People on vacation seem to think they can do things that they wouldn't do in their regular life and a lot of the motorcycles go roaring along the roads here. That's led to a lot of complaints about the noise and some noise-limiting laws were passed (or maybe the town is just talking about passing some laws - I'm not sure). But many motorcyclists claim that they purposely make their bikes noisy so car and truck drivers will notice them. So, the arguments go back and forth. Can the town ban something that is a safety issue?

So, as I was pulling out of the gas station last night I wondered - Has a study ever been done comparing the number of traffic accidents for people with quieter motorcycles with the number of traffic accidents for people with noisier motor cycles? I'm going to look into this (since my Honda motor scooter is very quiet) and if I find anything, I'll write about it. In the meantime, I agree with the Honda motorcycle guy. I like having a quiet ride. For one thing, I don't like bothering other people. And another reason is that I don't want to lose my hearing any time soon by riding something that makes a lot of noise. But the biggest reason, to me, is that having a quieter ride lets me hear other cars approaching and lets me hear horns, sirens and people yelling at me better.

When I started to ride my scooter, I was already used to riding my bicycle a lot and needing to stay aware of what cars, trucks and even pedestrians were doing so I could stay out of their way. On a bicycle, you've got to learn to look ahead for trouble and stay away from it. People in big cars can just blast through assuming other people will get out of their way. And, if you're in a big car, even if you get in an accident, you'll be safe. People on bicycles, motorcycles and scooters can't make that assumption. Safety for these smaller vehicles is more in the rider's ability to see trouble coming and stay away from it. And that means seeing and hearing where trouble may be coming from. To me, quieter is safer.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Goodnight, Irene

[This post was scheduled to be published on August 29 but something went wrong at Blogger. So, I'm republishing it with the date of Aug 29]

Cumulative Wind History - Hurricane Irene -
So, Hurricane Irene is gone and we were very fortunate. I am sorry for the people of North Carolina, New Jersey, New York and Vermont who seem to have been hit the hardest by this storm. Our worst problem was that we lost power for about six hours. It gave us time to talk and play some old board games we hadn't played in a while.

The title of this post is a reference to the folk song, Goodnight Irene. The chorus goes

Irene good night Irene good night
Good night Irene Good night Irene
I'll see you in my dreams

From what I can find, it was written and performed by Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter around 1908 but he probably got some of the lyrics, or at least the idea, from older folk songs. It was most famously performed and recorded by The Weavers. They would end their show with the song. It's a sad song with some hard-to-take lyrics but it ends with
Quit your rambling quit your gambling
Stop staying out late at night
Stay home with your wife and family
And stay by the fireside of right
That's good advice and being without power during a hurricane helps reinforce that. Nothing is cozier and better for the family than gathering around a flashlight or candle and playing a game together.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Saturday morning surprise

So, it's Saturday morning and I'm trying to find something on television that isn't about the approaching Hurricane Irene (which is still over 500 miles away - it's just hitting the coast of North Carolina for goodness sake). I happen to find a movie in progress called Zero Hour! and as I watch it, it starts to look familiar. The more I watch it, the more sure I am that I've seen it before. I even start to anticipate what the characters are going to say before they actually deliver the lines. It's really creepy.

The synopsis of the story is that a long distance passenger airplane flight is struck by an outbreak of food poisoning. Both the pilot and co-pilot get sick along with many of the passengers. One of the passengers flew fighter planes during World War II (this film is from 1957 so he wasn't too old) but has no experience with large commercial planes. They get in radio contact with an airport control tower and an experienced pilot is brought in to talk the "pilot" down. It turns out they know each other from the war and don't like each other. Also, the "pilot" is on the flight with his wife who is wanting to end the relationship.

OK. Does this sound familiar to you, too? If you haven't guessed yet, here are a couple more clues. Here are quotes from Zero Hour! and I think you'll guess which movie I saw that made me think I'd seen Zero Hour! before. The first quote is from the doctor on board the plane, Dr. Baird, who diagnoses the illness of the crew as food poisoning and tells a stewardess their situation.

Our survival hinges on one thing - finding someone who not only can fly this plane, but didn't have fish for dinner.
Fish was the source of the food poisoning. The second clue is a conversation between the pilot and a small boy who was brought up to see the cockpit.

Capt. Bill Wilson, Pilot: Come on, move up here, you can see better. [takes out a toy DC-4] 
Capt. Bill Wilson, Pilot: Joey, here's something we give our special visitors. Would you like to have it? 
Joey: Thank you! Thanks a lot!
Capt. Bill Wilson, Pilot: You ever been in a cockpit before? 
Joey: No, sir! I've never been up in a plane before!
Now, you have to know that the movie that sounds suspiciously like the movie I saw is Airplane! and yes, it has an exclamation point in it's title, too. The producers of Airplane! actually bought the rights to Zero Hour! to produce a remake of that film but they made a parody instead. That's why they were able to use so much of the story and dialog and so many of the same characters. So, it's not an amazing coincidence that these two movies are so similar. Seeing the original movie makes me appreciate Airplane! even more (even though it has always been one of my favorite comedies). It is interesting how the exact quote from a drama can become hilarious when used in a slightly different situation. Here is a seven-minute clip showing the similarities.

Another funny aspect to this is that the screenwriter for Zero Hour! was Arthur Hailey - the writer of the novel Airport and the screenplay for the movie of the novel. He was a pilot in World War II (in Britain's Royal Air Force) and prefaced writing the screenplay of Zero Hour! by writing a teleplay with a similar story, Flight Into Danger, for Canadian TV in 1956. And one more funny aspect to all this is that the star in the 1956 TV movie was James Doohan who also played Chief Engineer Scott on the original Star Trek series. There, Scotty was famous to shouting that there wasn't enough time to do what he needed to do.
If I push these impulse engines too hard in the condition they're in they'll blow apart!
That is from The Doomsday Machine episode of Star Trek. I can just imagine his lines in Flight Into Danger. I'll have to see if we can see that one, too.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Good news from science

I like reading articles from a variety of sources. But I've often thought that if you really want to feel hopeful about things, there are two good sources of reading. The first is the Bible which gives us the wonderful news that we are forgiven. No matter how badly we've messed up in life, we can be saved by grace. The other source of hopeful news is reading about advances in science. Yes, often science and the Bible seem to work against each other but that doesn't have to be the case. They are two completely different things. Science is the study of how the Universe works. The Bible explains that the Universe is God's creation and how he created us to be his companions in his universe.

OK, back to the good news from science. I enjoy reading the news at ScienceDaily. Each day you find that we are making progress in discovering how the Earth is made. Each day progress is made in making new materials. Each day we learn how different types of animals and plants live and grow. Every day new proofs are made in mathematics enabling us to use computers more efficiently or to find information where we didn't know it existed. It's amazing how many new things are being learned every day.

Today we learn that medical researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago have found the underlying cause of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease). I lost a cousin to ALS a few years ago. It is a terrible disease that has eluded treatment for a long time. But now, the researchers at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern have found that all forms of ALS have a common cause. You can read the article for more information but to put it simply, ALS occurs when nerve cells fail to recycle waste proteins correctly. The no-longer-useful proteins build up and the nerve cells become damaged. This discovery leads to the possibility of discovering a treatment. And, in other good news, this may also lead to discovering how Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease can be treated because they may have the same mechanism for damaging nerve cells.

As I said, this is wonderful, hopeful news. And, as someone once put it, the answer was always there. We just needed to find it. It takes time and money to find these things and if we were less obsessed with having the softest toilet paper or buying tobacco products or getting a new car every few years, we'd have more money to spend on important research.

I'm adding ScienceDaily to my list of links on the right side of this blog.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Changes in Motorcycle Row

Our office has a designated area to park motorcycles and scooters. It's not marked - it's just an understanding between the company and motorcycle owners. There are about six people who own motorcycles in our office but only three or four ever ride them in on the same day. The Harley in the right of the top picture is gone now. It was traded in for the bright red Harley on the left in the bottom picture. I told the owner that he was just jealous of my nice red scooter and tried to match it with his new bike. He just laughed.
Once in a while, people who drive cars will park in this area. As I said, the space isn't marked so it's not surprising. Maybe car owners like this space because it's close to the building. There are places to park that are even closer to the building but in this area, there are no lines to park between and I think some folks like the luxury of allowing more space between their car and the one next to them. The marked spaces are pretty tightly packed. One day when cars filled the area for motorcycles, I parked my scooter in one of the marked spaces. Someone remarked about how I was taking up a whole space so I won't do that again. Why does there always need to be a problem?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Why am I like this?

As I was walking through one of the laboratories in our office and headed for the door, I noticed that one of the guys who works in the lab was walking toward the same door with his hands full. I was part of the way out the door but I saw him out of the corner of my eye and was able to turn around and hold the door for him. He thanked me and commented on what good peripheral vision I had. That made me think about the term, "seeing something out of the corner of your eye," and mentioned to him that a friend of mine had come up with a saying, when he overheard something quiet that he might have missed under different conditions, that he, "heard that out of the corner of my ear." The lab guy laughed and said that was a good saying and we parted ways.

The problem is that I was the one who came up with the "corner of my ear" saying. Why did I say someone else had come up with it? Was I just being modest? Or was I afraid he wouldn't like it? By denying I'd come up with it, if he said, "That's a stupid thing to say," I wouldn't feel so bad. After all, a "friend" came up with the saying. No, I don't think it is either of those things. I just have a hard time taking credit for clever things I do. I guess it is a form of modesty or humility. I was always taught not to be boastful. Doing something to make yourself stand out was frowned upon in the schools I went to up through high school. I don't think it was school policy as much as it was the policy of the people I hung out with. We all tried to not draw attention to ourselves. We took a lot of effort to try to blend in. Not that it worked very well.

Anyway, here I am at 60 years old and I'm still afraid to take credit for good things that I do but I must be getting a little better. I'm writing about it here for all the world to see. All 5 of you!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Spaghetti story

When I was in college, I would sometimes take special classes during times when the school was officially shut down. Being officially shut down just meant that they could charge you again for staying in your dorm room and could charge for using the cafeteria because your meal plan was no longer in effect. Since I needed to live somewhere and housing was in short supply, I'd pay for the dorm room but I'd try to eat cheaply by cooking for myself or sharing the cooking with others. Since I was a novice cook, I was delighted during one of these extra classes that my best friend, Nick, and his girl friend, Andrea, (they married after graduating) offered to share cooking with me. What this meant was that Andrea would be teaching me to cook.

One of the easy things I learned to cook was spaghetti. We just used bottled sauce so all I had to worry about was dumping the spaghetti into a pot of water, adding a bit of salt and heating the pot to boiling. Then, of course, I had to keep my eye on the pot and test the noodles once in a while to see if they were done. When they weren't too hard or too soft, I drained the spaghetti in a colander until it was dry enough. We heated the sauce separately in another pot and poured it on the spaghetti once it was on the plates. Easy as pie. My friends were very nice to me and made a big fuss over the results making me feel like a great chef. But as you can see from my description, I did nothing fancy. But it made me feel good and helped me get the confidence to move on to more ambitious meals - like pancakes!

Well, during one of these times, we were all going to see Nick's parents. We were going for a couple of days and they would be feeding us. During one of the evening meals, my Andrea was telling Nick's mother about how we'd been sharing the cooking at school. Nick's mother chuckled, "So, that probably means you've been doing all the cooking, right Andrea?" "No," she said, "The boys do quite a bit of the cooking." "As a matter of fact," she said, "Jim (that's me) is quite a cook. You should taste his spaghetti. He does such a great job!" As I blushed, I realized she was just being nice. She went on a little longer making it sound like I made the best spaghetti in the world. Nick's mother's tone changed a little, though. While she said, "Oh, isn't that good," she didn't sound like her usual jovial self.

As you've probably guessed, when the time came to eat and we asked what we were having, Nick's mom said, "We're having spaghetti. I hope it's up to Jim's standards." I felt so bad and I could see Andrea squirming. How could she make Nick's mother feel comfortable while not going back on her praise for me? I could see she didn't want to make me feel bad. So, she made some comments about how she was sure it would be a fine meal etc. When we did sit down to dinner, though, it was obvious there was no comparison in the two spaghetti "masters" cooking. Nick's mother was a terrific cook and the sauce was her own recipe. It was delicious and my my spaghetti was only a small step above canned spaghetti in comparison.

I learned a great cooking lesson that night, too. Even an easy-to-make dish can be made to taste wonderful. I also learned a lesson about praise. Don't take it too much to heart. Sometimes someone is just trying to make you feel good.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Here's why it's been so long since my last post

Charlie bed bound
I can't believe it's been so long since I last posted to my blog. A number of things have kept me from getting to it but the biggest reason was that our dog, Charlie, was really sick. Or at least he acted very sick. Just so you don't worry through this post, he is better now. The pictures here are older pictures but they illustrate the point. The top picture shows him on his bed where he stayed for about three days - not wanting to move. The bottom picture showed him after we'd taken him to the vet and he'd taken his medicine (good boy, Charlie!).

Feisty Charlie barking at me to go for a walk
I won't go into what started Charlie's problems (you might be eating you dinner while reading this) but the scary part was that after a few days, he started limping around with his tail between his legs. He would just lie on his bed whimpering and not wanting to get up or do anything. When he was able to lay down and sleep, his breathing was heavy. The only good news was that his nose stayed wet (is that really an indication of a dog's health?) and he never lost his appetite

The vet wasn't sure what was wrong but since Charlie has arthritis, he thought that perhaps he hadn't been absorbing the Chondroitin and Glucosamine from his "old dog" dog food which generally helps his joints stay limber. Here's a link discussing the effectiveness of these additives - for humans. I've seen its good results in Charlie and I'm convinced it is good for dogs. So, besides pills for the original problem (which we won't discuss here), the vet gave Charlie some Chondroitin and Glucosamine supplements to jump-start their re-absorption. The vet also had us put him on a bland diet and took some blood to check if anything else was wrong.

After a couple of days, Charlie was obviously on the mend. The blood work came back telling of no other problems so we're greatly relieved that the old dog is going to be fine. He is anxious to go on his walks again and is peppy and happy, too. Our pets look to us for help and when we don't know what is wrong, it is frustrating. Once again, the veterinarian has earned my respect. I think human doctors should have to do a few rotations in vet school to learn how you treat a patient who can't tell you what is wrong and who has a great capacity to suppress pain.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

The return of the flying crayfish

Back in 2008, I saw a strange, flying object. I wrote about it in a post titled What is that thing? I had to do a lot of searching to find out what it was. I thought it was a hummingbird at first. But its abdomen and tail looked like a crayfish! It couldn't be a moth or butterfly could it? The wings moved so fast and butterflies and moths always seemed to flap slowly and move in a jerky, haphazard path. This thing could hover like a hummingbird or a dragonfly.

I finally found out that it was a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth. I put a couple of links to sites about these fascinating insects and I won't repeat them here. But here is another page that goes directly to information about the Hummingbird Clearwing. I hardly saw any of these moths over the next two summers, though. I was afraid that 2008 was just an anomaly and that they were going to remain a rare find on my walks.

Well, they're back! I see scores of them every time I go for a walk at lunch this year. They don't stay long at any one flower making them difficult to photograph. In fact, if there weren't so many of them, I probably wouldn't have any pictures to show. But since they are so plentiful, I manage to luck into a picture now and then. I'm showing my best pictures taken over the last week or so. I hope you enjoy them.

Better yet, I hope you get to see them in the wild. They really like the thistles in our area but I've seen them near a variety of flowers. So, if you think you see a hummingbird in an open field or if you think you see a crayfish hovering at a flower, take a second look. It may be a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth.

As always, just click on the pictures to see a larger version. And also, as always, you're welcome to use any of my pictures as you see fit. I don't copyright them.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Gene patents

I saw an article in New Scientist today that stated that a patent on the gene making people more susceptible to breast cancer has been reinstated. Apparently, you can patent genes and the company (Myriad Genetics, Inc, press release here) that discovered the gene sequence making people more susceptible to breast cancer had tried to patent it before but it had been declared invalid because you can't patent something that occurs in nature because they are not inventions. But because the patent doesn't include parts of the gene sequence that aren't actually used by the gene, they don't occur in nature. They only occur in the human body. There are large sections of our DNA that actually are not used - or at least scientists don't know what they are used for. How about if I try to patent Mount Washington but I don't include the parts where you can't walk? Does that count?

Well, I don't agree that genes should be patentable. Whether the company doesn't include non-working parts of the gene or not, they should not be able to patent a part of the human body that they had no part in designing or making. Just because the company went to a lot of time and expense discovering the gene sequence, it doesn't follow that they should get exclusive use of that information. I figure there is one quick way to take care of this. Anyone who is diagnosed with breast cancer from now on should sue the company. If they want to "own" that gene, let them take responsibility for it.