Friday, September 22, 2017

Going with the Grain

We had been eating brown rice for over a decade because of its putative health benefits but switched back to white when Consumer Reports warned against the higher arsenic content of brown rice in 2012.

Our consumption has diminished because of heightened attention to carbohydrates, but each year we still buy 1-2 50-lb. bags of Calrose from Costco for $20 a bag. Rice goes well with hundreds of main dishes and is an ideal emergency provision because it can be stored for over a year in a dry container.

And it's always nice to have a quantity around to dry one's cellphone in a hurry...

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Expectations Upended

Not Mr. Ohara
A friend waxed enthusiastic about a landscaper by the name of O'Hara. An Irish gardener--why not?

After repeated calls I finally made contact with the man's wife, who had a Japanese accent. Oh, oh, Ohara.

In her email my friend used both the apostrophe and the capital H in the spelling of O'Hara. My expectations were easily set, and I did find their upending amusing.

Related: in modern English apostrophes inhabit a wacky world.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Different From Most People

Magic Island, Ala Moana Beach Park, in August
With apologies to Bishop Berkeley:

if Dad walks for 30 minutes, but the Apple Watch doesn't record it, does it count as exercise?

My father has been faithfully recording his daily walks using electronic tracking devices. He upgraded to--and was very pleased with--the Apple Watch when it was introduced in 2015. Last month it stopped recording his exercise minutes.

During my trip to Hawaii we spent nearly every day working on the problem. I deleted various health apps, reset both the watch and iPhone to factory settings, and met with a Genius from the Ala Moana Center Apple Store. No luck. The watch works in every other respect--when I talked to him tonight it still gave him only a 3 minute "credit" for 30 minutes of exercise (yes, I turned off the pause feature so that exercise minutes accumulate even when he stops to rest).

Given the mixed reviews of the new Series 3 Watch (WSJ: "Untethered... and Unreliable") most people might choose to wait for the next model.

Dad, 92, has a different perspective on time from most people. Subjective idealist George Berkeley would understand.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

First World Problem

Expensive visits to the vet are part of the package.
Pets improve owners' physical and mental wellbeing by lowering blood pressure, cholesterol, stress, and depression.

The corollary is that having a sick pet can negatively affect owners' health. [bold added]
New research suggests that when people care for ill pets, they have more depression, anxiety and caregiving distress: symptoms that are similar to how people report feeling when caring for sick relatives, the study authors say...

Depression was an especially pronounced problem for these pet owners. Depressive symptoms were even worse for people who belonged to pet disease social media groups, which the researchers say could indicate the members were seeking support for their distress.

The people in the study were mostly white, female, highly educated and in a relatively high socioeconomic class.
After having nursed several generations of guinea pigs through sickness and health, I can vouch for the happiness they bring to a household. However, the burden near the end of life can be heavy (unless one is an euthanthusiast). Just know what you're getting into.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Work Hard, Sleep Hard

A question that plagued me throughout my career: why did I always get tired in the afternoon? (One could have surmised that the excitement of accounting work would have kept me awake.)

(Image from healthylife)
According to current scientific thinking [bold added]
Humans are biologically programmed to sleep at night, and to take a nap in the midafternoon, though scientists aren’t sure why. “There is no melatonin triggering the sleep, it just seems to be this harmonic phenomenon,” [Univ. of Pennsylvania Dr. David] Dinges says. The consensus among his colleagues, he says, is that human civilization evolved mostly in equatorial climates, where it got very hot later in the day, and napping during the extreme heat optimized work performance.
Modern workers shouldn't fight to stay awake; they can say "I was optimizing my work performance" or "the harmonic phenomena were overwhelming."

I was born 40 years too soon.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Treatable at Low Expense

The biggest impediments to longevity are smoking and obesity. Data analysis has discovered a third factor: loneliness. [bold added]
Social isolation, loneliness and living alone all have a significant effect on risk of early death—and the risk is equal to or greater than major health problems such as obesity, according to one of two meta-analyses of data from multiple studies that Dr. Holt-Lunstad presented in August at an American Psychological Association convention. The second, which looked at data from 148 studies, found that having greater social connections is associated with a 50% reduced risk of premature death...

About 44 million adults age 45 and older experience chronic loneliness, according to a 2010 survey by AARP.
Most people I know are continually connected to multiple groups through multiple modes of communication. Most people, including myself, yearn for life uninterrupted. Be careful what you wish for; the quiet of social isolation may arrive quickly and is difficult to reverse.

The good news is that, unlike most health conditions, loneliness is treatable by charitable strangers at low expense. Just make time to visit an elderly shut-in--friend, relative, or stranger--for a few minutes and make her day.

We visited a nearby elder-care facility during Christmas.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

With Life There is Hope

We've been following developments in Alzheimer's Disease research and treatment not only because close friends and relatives have succumbed, but also because we ourselves may have a genetic susceptibility to the condition. From two years ago:
One leading theory postulates that Alzheimer's is caused by the buildup of "plaques" or "tangles" that block signals between brain cells. However, not everyone who displays symptoms has plaques, nor is the presence of plaques a surefire indicator of Alzheimer's. Like cancer, Alzheimer's appears to have multiple causes.
(WSJ image)
The improvement in imaging and chemical-analysis technologies has shifted Alzheimer's diagnosis toward objective "biomarkers" such as amyloid plaques and away from symptoms like memory loss and speech problems, which may have other causes. However, we're not there yet. A positive brain scan could needlessly alarm many people who won't get Alzheimer's. [bold added]
The likelihood that someone with a positive scan is going to progress to having clinical symptoms—called the positive predictive value—within the next few years is only about 40%, according to Duke’s Dr. Doraiswamy, who conducted one of the first studies on one of the brain-imaging tracers, florbetapir.
The advice from two years ago still holds: hang on for dear life. "The trick for us is to stay alive long enough to let the technology catch up."

Friday, September 15, 2017

Happy Trade-Off

It was a mild 72 degrees at Ryan Park this morning

WalletHub ranks Foster City as the sixth-best California city (out of 252) in which to retire.

Though we're in the bottom 10% for "activities" (museums, art galleries), Foster City has the third lowest property crime rate, a component of "quality of life".

That's a trade-off I'm happy to make.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

More Than Ironic

Some artificial sweeteners(CBS Pittsburgh photo)
For about 20 years I swilled diet instead of regular soda. Diet drinks always tasted slightly chemical-ly and/or metallic, but lousy taste was the sacrifice one made to avoid putting on pounds.

A few years ago popular health literature began warning that artificial sweeteners are not only ineffective but can also be deleterious to health. I switched to sparkling water, which I should have done before anyway, and when I absolutely had to have soda partook of the sugared version.

Yale cardiologist Harlan Krumholz looks at the current literature, which confirms that artificial sweeteners "do not seem to help people keep weight off." Worse, researchers [bold added]
found that people who consumed these sweeteners were more likely to have increases in weight and waistline, and a higher incidence of obesity, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular events.
One theory is that chemical sweeteners "showed an impact on hormone secretion, cognitive processes and gut microbiota".

We thought that we were sacrificing taste for health but wound up with neither.

Again Dr. Krumholz: "it would be more than ironic. It would be tragic."

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Sound That Didn't Last

Ampex sign, next to  Stanford's new Outpatient Center.
As a teen visiting the Bay Area circa 1970, I recognized only a few company names on the signs dotting Highway 101. One of them was Ampex, which built the best reel-to-reel tape machines. My high school had a generous audio-visual budget, and as a member of the A-V club (nerd alert!) I got to play with equipment that I could never personally afford.

Ampex continued to be a leader in high-end audio equipment until the advent of the digital era, about 20 years later. Today the company is all but forgotten, its once-gleaming sign a weather-beaten curiosity.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Easy to Overlook

Two years ago we paid $10 each to credit agencies Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion to "freeze" information about our data, which will make it more difficult for identity thieves to take out credit in our names. Last week's heavily publicized data breach at Equifax has made us glad we took that precaution.

Everyone's hypersensitivity to Internet security is being exploited by other crooks. On Sunday we received an email purportedly from the "Apple Store" (right). Of course, it wasn't from Apple; there are dead giveaways in the content of the email, the to and from addresses, and the grammar--foreign scammers have difficult with the proper usage of articles "the", "a", and "an".

One has to be vigilant about passwords for not only one's bank and loan accounts but also other websites, like Apple's iTunes and Amazon, that are linked to credit cards. The Internet has made our lives much easier, but the costs are easy to overlook.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Non-Power of Words

(Jeff Koterba)
Has it really been 16 years after the worst terrorist attack in American history?

A few months after 9/11 President Bush introduced the Axis of Evil formulation in his 2002 State of the Union address:
"States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.”
By 2006 the nation had already become weary of the lack of progress. WaPo:
“Nearly five years after President Bush introduced the concept of an ‘axis of evil’ comprising Iraq, Iran and North Korea, the administration has reached a crisis point with each nation: North Korea has claimed it conducted its first nuclear test, Iran refuses to halt its uranium-enrichment program, and Iraq appears to be tipping into a civil war 3 1/2 years after the U.S.-led invasion.”
Today prospects for peace are in a worse position than ever vis-à-vis Iran and North Korea, and moderately better in war-torn Iraq.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Ear of the Listener

Sacrifice of Isaac, 1527 (Cleveland Museum)
Eid al-Adha (9/1/2017) is one of Islam's great religious festivals.
Eid al-Adha commemorates the Koranic tale of the Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God. Before he could carry out the sacrifice, God provided a ram as an offering.

In the Christian and Jewish version of the story, Abraham is ordered to kill another son, Isaac.
The Economist ruminates on the differences of each faith's interpretation of the story: [bold added]
the Islamic tradition generally holds that it was not Isaac but Ismail, Ibrahim’s son by the maidservant Hagar. Muslim commentaries on the story often stress that Ismail as well as his father clearly consented to the act of sacrifice; it was not an unpleasant surprise for anybody. These interpreters also emphasise that it was never conceivable that God would want Ibrahim’s son to be killed. Indeed part of the story’s point is to denounce the whole idea of (involuntary) human sacrifice....

Early Christian commentators invariably see the story as a foreshadowing of the death and self-sacrifice of Jesus. This is seen as an act of disinterested service to humanity by both God the Father (who offered up his offspring) and God the Son (who offered his own life). Abraham’s kindling wood is seen as hinting at the wooden cross on which Jesus would die. It is an important aspect of the Christian story that Jesus could have avoided being crucified, but nonetheless freely chose to undergo death so as to break death’s power. In the Genesis narrative, Isaac does not seem to have had much say in his fate....

Many Jewish commentators, like Muslim ones, have seen the story as a tirade against human sacrifice, which had been a feature of many pre-Abrahamic religions. Some Jewish interpreters see the most important words in the story as Abraham’s response to God—“here I am” or in Hebrew “hineni”—an expression which is held up as a model of obedient and attentive listening.
If one's goal is to grasp a 30-second version of the story, the three interpretations are distinctions without a difference. But if one is at all interested in the notions of free will, obedience to the divine, and the meaning of sacrifice, then there is something to learn from each faith's perspective.

(The Genesis passage is below the fold.)

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Bourgeois, C'est Moi

I chewed very slowly
A few specifics on that overpriced dinner last Saturday: your humble blogger ordered a 100-day Dry-Aged Burger for $28(!) because at that price it had to be pretty special, right?

While both the texture and the flavor were excellent, I've tasted similar excellence in burgers a third that price. Well, the problem could be me---I'm also unable to tell the difference between $15 and $50 cabernets.

There's a certain je ne sais quoi about not only affording to live in Marin County but also genuinely preferring what Marinites consume (eco-friendly, sustainable, exclusive, expensive). I cannot escape the truth: bourgeois, c'est moi.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Problem Over-hyped

(janibryson photo)
The violence in Charlottesville last month does not show that America is becoming more racist under Donald Trump, according to The Economist. Racist behaviour is declining in America: [bold added]
Donald Trump’s election victory did not make participants more xenophobic—but it did make those who were already xenophobic more comfortable about expressing their views without the shield of anonymity. The Charlottesville protest matches that result: racists were willing to march in public, but there weren’t very many racists.
Whether or not you believe in unrestricted free speech, dear reader, it is better that you know the racists whom you are dealing with, n'est–ce pas?

More of them are speaking, but there are not more of them.