Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Get creamed

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

This may not be a new product, but it was new to me. And what an idea! That guy who said “the next big thing will not be invented here”? Ha. Try this on for size, pal:

It comes from Ohio, and if you don’t think spraying alcohol-infused whipped cream “direct from the can!” down your throat isn’t a good idea, well mister I just have two words: sex toy.

Is it just a coincidence that these cans look as if they belong on the shelves near the condoms? Of course it is. Still, if playing with whipped cream is a turn-on — and I hear some people consider it to be — flavored whipped cream with alcohol has sales potential written all over it. Three-day weekend coming, people: Stock up.

Say ‘aah’

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

One of the things I take for granted about my body is that I can swallow when I want, pretty much without thinking about it.

Only once has it failed me: 30-odd years ago I came down with strep throat. Since I didn’t know it was strep, my initial inclination was to tough it out (a quality I still have and that loved ones still find exasperating). I thought I’d fight fire with fire and eat scratchy things. Potato chips, to be exact.

Predictably, that failed. Plan B was medical advice, which was far more successful: Drugs and rest cured me.

Last weekend, it happened again: sore throat, voice fading to a croak, every swallow extremely painful. I’d forgotten how often I swallow in my sleep until I woke up in pain time after time. So I skipped the potato chip regimen and went to my doctor as soon as I could. No strep this time, just some kind of upper respiratory infection that was draining paint stripper down my throat.

Prescription? Rest, decongestants, ibuprofen and Chloraseptic. And a “just-in-case” prescription for antibiotics. It’s getting better, and I went back to work today after three days of sleeping and staring at things.

Chloraseptic used to be green and nasty. Now it’s “cherry-flavored” and equally nasty. If they were honest, they’d call it cherry-colored: The flavor is as chemical as I remember it from the green days, it’s just red now. It does numb my throat a bit, but at the expense of numbing my tongue a lot. Still, I can swallow without whimpering, which is welcome.

Where did I get it? I wondered if riding in the rainstorm last Friday was a cause. I inhaled a lot of rain, but I’ve done that before without ailing. Maybe the storm sucked up a bunch of medical waste or caustic solvents before I rode through it. But I can still see OK, and nothing ate away my skin. So odds are the storm had nothing to do with it.

Office bug, public transit bug, restaurant bug — it came, it saw, it conquered for a while and now it’s waning. Time for dinner!


Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Products for the new decade:

Righteous Ruffles — low-fat, low-sodium and now without ridges!

Natural Twinkies — now 100% organic and GMO-free!

Cheetos Italiano — that familiar crunch with genuine parmiggiano-reggiano cheese!

PeaNo M&Ms –– same chocolatey/peanutty taste, now hypo-allergenic!

Grappaccino — your favorite Starbucks espresso with a high-octane eye-opener!

Pringles Factory Seconds — no two alike!

Not just a con, a NeoCon

Monday, June 14th, 2010

On my way to pick up some cat food at Petco today, I had to walk past the Merchandise Mart. I’d forgotton NeoCon is in town. That’s when 40,000 people come here to pose the question, “Wow, when’s the last time you guys got some new office furniture?” Aptly, when you call up the group’s Web site, the header is “Home Page – NeoCon WTF.” Hackers? Or an inside job? Google “NeoCon 2010” and you’ll get the same thing. Maybe it’s a form of advertising for Lagunitas’ “Wilco Tango Foxtrot” beer.

Since I was walking by at lunchtime, a lot of attendees were outside, turning the nearby stretch of Wells Street into Smoker’s Alley. Not far away, I overheard an attendee on his cell: “I don’t want to diss you or disrespect you in any way, but I got stuck…” I hear you. Lots of people with maps and vacant looks wandering around River North.

Anyway, cat food. We have a few more mouths to feed, thanks to taking in a female (Mrs. Scraggles, who has 3 kittens and originally showed up in the company of a cat we called Scraggles because the poor guy had a hurt leg, burrs and looked disheveled) and one of her three kittens. We took Mrs. S to the Lurie Clinic in Little Village to be spayed, and she was recovering in our basement till late today, when we let her back out. She was ready!

The kitten, a tabby with a pronounced black “M” on its forehead, is in a cat carrier in a large shower stall on our third floor. It’s a shower stall that has housed six kittens before her. All three junior Scraggles were born in a little house (it’s called a “feral cat villa”) in our yard. Mrs. S later moved them into the yard of the board-up next door, then across the alley into a neighbor’s back yard. We saw them playing there just a few days ago, so it’s worrisome we’ve only caught one. A couple of hours after we set Mrs. S free, she showed up in the yard with one of the kittens, who checked the food on our back porch before we could get another trap set.

Obsessive? Maybe, but there are a lot of cats out there. Neutering them is a good idea. So is finding homes for the little ones. In the waiting room at the Lurie Clinic with us were two women with six kittens. They said they’d brought 200 cats in to be neutered over the years.


It’s easy to think cats are not too bright (this morning, a black cat was inside the trap for the third time!), but they’re canny. Mrs. S was grooming the two “missing” kittens on the back steps of the house across the alley this morning, and they all look fine. Meanwhile, the kitten we’re calling M is eating well and has a very sweet disposition. The woman who’s adopting her is coming over Sunday to pick her up.

And let’s give the black cat some credit, too. It got a square meal and a safe place to snooze. It’ll be back.

Thanks, Google

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

(Nute-a: Setteeng prefferences veell nut vurk iff yuoo hefe-a deesebled cuukeees in yuoor brooser. Hurty flurty schnipp schnipp!)

(Note: Settin’ likes an’ dislikes won’t work if ye’ve disabled cookies in yer browser.)

(Note: Setting pwefewences will not wowk if you have disabwed cookies in youw bwosew.)

Spare some climate change?

Friday, September 26th, 2008

Thursday the 18th was a beautiful day here in Chicago, clear sky, lots of sun, temperature about 70. The city couldn’t have picked a better day to unveil its Climate Action Plan, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by the year 2020. The New York Times called the plan “perhaps the most aggressive by any major city.”

The press conference to announce the plan was held on a plaza outside the Shedd Aquarium, with a dandy view of the skyline. As the chairs, podium and backdrop were being set up, groundskeepers cleared the paths of grass clippings and leaves with gas-powered leaf blowers. Nearby, a truck idled as equipment was unloaded.

Later, the mayor, the head of the Shedd and other notaries addressed the crowd over the steady drone of the generator that provided electricity for the PA system.

I’m all for the Climate Action Plan, but the truck, the leaf blowers and the generator are evidence there’s more to be done — and especially, more thinking to be done about the actions we can take to make a difference.

Drill, baby, drill

Thursday, September 4th, 2008


I thought the Burning Man festival was over for the year, but apparently I was wrong. At least judging by the number of straw men Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin piled up Wednesday night at the Republican convention. Should make for quite a bonfire.

Left media? Washington pundits? Permanent political establishment? I think the Republicans need to be careful running against Washington when their man has been there since 1982.

And speaking of bonfires, if more drilling is part of the solution, shouldn’t trees be, too? They’re closer to hand than oil, and cheaper to harvest. Plenty of biomass, and there are trees everywhere you look. Why, there’s one right outside my window. With our stockpile of trees — and they’re renewable! — it’ll be years before the place looks like Haiti, and by then we’ll have invented and innovated ourselves out of trouble. But not before having driven up newsprint prices for those pesky left media papers. Oops! My bad!

Not that I’m looking for a job in a McCain-Palin Energy Department, but think outside the energy box and pretty soon you realize the box is biomass and you can toss it on the fire, too.

If the box is too heavy, maybe the same guys who hustled the protesters out of the convention — were they the ones who finally got the crowd to stop chanting “USA”? — will give you a hand.

‘I don’t like the way you’re walking’

Friday, May 30th, 2008

On Tuesday I took a stress test, but I think I cheated. I rode my bike to St. Joseph Hospital for the thing. Not only did the ride turn out to be a nine-mile grind into a stiff north wind, I had a flat near McCormick Place (a bit of glass punctured the rear tire) and I had to stop and fix it.

If that sounds like two stress tests in one, that’s what it felt like, too. Maybe it doesn’t qualify as cheating, but I was thoroughly pre-stressed before medical science came near me.

Before the test, my principal symptom was the worried look on my wife’s face when she told me a friend of a friend had died suddenly of a heart attack. He had a heart murmur. I have a heart murmur. My wife thought I ought to get a stress test.

When I put those symptoms to my doctor, she had to be a bit creative in getting the insurance company to cover the test. So the referral to the hospital mentioned chest pains. To be fair, I do actually have things to worry about: I’m older than the guy who died, I have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, weigh more than I should, and have what could best be called a cavalier attitude toward diet and exercise (yes, I’m obsessive about bike-riding, but that pretty much sums up my exercise program). And I have family history against me: My dad had heart surgery a few years ago, and my grandfather died of a heart attack.

All in all, getting a stress test was a good idea. The hospital staff warned me ahead of time that the test could take as much as four hours, which sounded grueling, but it turned out to be less than that, and I spent most of my time sitting in waiting rooms. The actual work part of it lasted 12 minutes.

After I registered, a nurse put an IV tube into my left arm so a radioactive liquid called Myoview could be injected. The Myoview makes blood vessels appear more clearly on images. The idea is that by taking pictures of the heart at rest and then after being stressed, the radioactively glowing vessels will show if there are any blockages or other anomalies that would require me being hauled off to the expensive ward.

Another spell in the waiting room, during which time a woman about my age who had had a loud set-to with the automatic faucet in the washroom decided to sit next to me under the TV set. “You’ve got the best seat in the place, I can’t watch TV, I’m going to vote for Obama because I know the white race don’t want him,” she said, all in one breath. Then she got up, walked to a seat across the room talking to herself, and drew a conversational bead on another patient who was probably as grateful as I was that a nurse came by and escorted her to whatever test she was in for. I don’t think Obama’s been courting the crazy white person vote, but if this woman makes it to November, well, a vote’s a vote.

Next stop was a large, chilly room with a machine that looked like a cross between a torpedo tube and a pants presser. I lay down on a flat tray that rolled into the tube until my chest was between the jaws of the press. Then I held still (“breathe normally”) while the jaws slowly rotated around my chest, taking pictures of my heart every 30 seconds for what felt like a long time but was probably no more than 10 minutes.

Back to the waiting room. Then a technician led me to a room with a treadmill, an EKG machine and blood pressure monitor, where he attached EKG leads to my chest, a process that required him to shave an odd pattern on me. So the things would stick well, he explained. He seemed too responsible to be shaving his initials, or a tic-tac-toe pattern. A doctor and two nurses arrived, took my blood pressure and started me off on the treadmill.

“I don’t like the way you’re walking,” was practically the first thing the doctor said. “You don’t do treadmills, do you.” True enough. He gave me some advice, and soon I was walking less like Groucho Marx and more like an ordinary person.

Every three minutes, they sped the thing up, raised the angle and took my blood pressure. The doctor made small talk, but I think the purpose was to see if I could walk and talk at the same time. I think I passed.

After reaching the point where I couldn’t walk any faster (“don’t run,” the doctor warned), they gave me another injection of Myoview and ran out the last seconds of the clock (12 minutes, like I said). “Quite respectable,” the doctor said, and I choose to believe him.

I sat for a few minutes to catch my breath and so they could watch the monitor to see how I recovered, then it was off to the pants presser for a second round of photos. Another nurse took off the EKG leads (which were quite successfully stuck) and my test was over.

Two days later, my doctor’s office called with the results. Normal. Cheating or not, I’ll take normal.

Let’s go boating

Friday, April 18th, 2008

Well, a week later I’ve already blown deadlines. Self-imposed deadlines, but still. I’d blame the pressure of work but there’s been very little of it. Freelance editing resembles newspaper editing in that no matter when the copy is supposed to arrive, it arrives later, while the editing deadline stays the same.

Meanwhile, we had some lovely weather to get out on the lakefront and see what the Park District’s been up to.

Surprise No. 1: There’s a building going up just south of the river and east of the lakefront path. The sign identifies it as the DuSable Harbor Building, and lists the Park District’s Web site, though anyone thinking that’s an invitation to find out more by logging on is in for a disappointment. And a lot of scrolling through unhelpful pages. The illustration on the sign is more than you’ll get online.

Nice looking building. I look forward to using it when it’s done, whatever it’s for. Non-boaters welcome? Public toilets? Store? Can’t wait to find out.

Surprise No. 2: There’s going to be a tunnel under Solidarity Drive just south of the Aquarium. This will be a good thing, since that intersection can be a nightmare. Dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians, frustrating for motorists. One of the rationales for building it, though, is the traffic generated by the concert pavilion on Northerly Island. That’s the temporary pavilion, right?

Speaking of Northerly Island, there are signs up indicating an expansion of the wildflower plantings. More good news. The island’s a bit brown these days, but when the wildflowers are in bloom it’s a riot of color. Go there later this year. You won’t regret it. One of the best views of the city and about as uncrowded as any park can get.

Power to the people

With the demise of the modernistic Futuregen coal plant in Downstate Mattoon, what’s the next step in carbon power? Put aside for a minute your suspicions that the Mattoon site was killed because the losing site was in Texas. Republican Texas. As opposed to Democratic Illinois. Power affects everybody; how could politics play a role?

Entrepreneur Hardy Harman has proposed extracting energy from the most concentrated form of carbon there is: diamonds.

“Think of it,” Harman said. “If coal is the squashed product of decaying matter, and diamonds are the super-super-squashed version of coal, there’s enough energy locked up in a diamond to run, oh, you name it. It’s there.”

A spokesman for the Energy Department said the government was intrigued by Harman’s proposal, particularly with the way he intends to extract the energy. “Harman’s theory is that if we put a diamond in deep space, the vacuum will suck the energy out of the stone. For additional extraction power, we can move the diamond near a black hole, pulling it away as it starts to give off energy. Kind of like when you hold a marshmallow near a flame to roast it.”

The proposal has its critics. Astrophysicist Dr. Arthur Stargood called it “Star Wars all over again. Shoot anything into space and it suddenly has magical powers. Well, it just isn’t so. Send all the diamonds you want up there, all you’ll have at the end of it is a big rocket fuel bill.”

Harmon dismissed Stargood with a shrug. “I’m glad he mentioned ‘Star Wars,’ though,” he said. “We’ve seen things like this on ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Dr. Who,’ and people say, ‘Well, it’s science fiction.’ Yes, but they’re just looking at the fiction part. What about the science? What about that? That’s the genius of our proposal. We’re looking at the science, and it’s pretty exciting, let me tell you.”

The Energy Department spokesman said the government was aware of Stargood’s opinions — as well as similar criticisms from academics and other scientists — but insisted that the Bush administration was committed to exploring all means of reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil. Or Illinois coal.

Asked if Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman was in fact the superhero BodMan, the spokesman paused and replied, “Who am I speaking to again?”

Save the Earth by sitting down

One of the dirty secrets of our globe’s ecology is what human exercise does to the environment.

Scientists have only begun to measure the harmful effects of the raised body temperatures of thousands of joggers, cyclists and jazzercisers worldwide, but the evidence in photographs taken from space is incontrovertible. The heat signatures of gyms stand out, as do the snakelike patterns of marathons in New York, Boston and Chicago.

“Add in the energy it takes to pick up all those Gu wrappers and Gatorade cups and we’re talking serious carbon footprint,” said activist Hope Green. “I’m all for people being healthy, but let’s give the Earth a break and sit down.”

Freudian slip?

As companies continue to cut staff during what almost everyone agrees is, well, if not a recession, then at least something that would resemble a recession if it were happening somewhere else, there’s new evidence of corporate reluctance to pay any of us to do anything.

In Kansas City Southern’s annual report, a pie chart on Page 6 lays out the company’s 2007 operating expenses. The biggest slice, 29 percent, is labeled “Compensation & Benefififits.” If they can barely bring themselves to say it, woe is us.


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