Archive for February, 2011
The Erie Canal, a waterway in New York State, is one of humankind’s most extensive and influential undertakings in water transportation. Its technological achievements are many. For one, the Erie Canal was undertaken at a time when the next-longest man-made waterway in the US was just 27 miles long. Eventually, however, the original vision of making 363 miles navigable was accomplished. Today, the Canal’s combination of locks, aqueducts, and gorges helps ships to travel 524 miles and rise and descend an astonishing 680 feet between Albany and Buffalo. Although it sees far fewer shipments than it did before the advent of trucking, the Erie Canal is now experiencing an upswing in traffic in response to rising diesel costs: after all, a barge on the Erie Canal can transport a short ton 514 miles with just one gallon of diesel – and that’s almost ten times more efficient than a truck. However, a number of sections along the original route have been converted into historic parks. Park examples include Old Erie Canal State Historic Park, Camillus Erie Canal Park, and the Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site. The old and new canal routes can also be observed from more than 300 bridges.
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Rubber cement is a versatile adhesive made from latex polymers mixed in acetone or other solvents. Paul Van Cleef invented the adhesive for use in the Van Cleef Brothers factory in Chicago, Illinois in the early 1900s. It is part of the class of drying adhesives: as the solvents quickly evaporate, the “rubber” portion remains behind, forming a strong yet flexible bond. Often a small percentage of alcohol is added to the mix. Alcohol does not pose a problem, but acetone – a solvent widely used in nail polish removers – does irreparable damage on polished surfaces and many plastics.
Most brands of rubber cement available for purchase today have the same basic formula, although many manufacturers made slight adjustments after learning that the benzene in rubber cement could be linked to the development of certain cancers. However, the solvents used in rubber cement still present many hazards, such as potential of abuse as inhalants and fire. For this reason, as with any adhesive, rubber cement should be used in an open area, and care needs be taken to avoid heat sources such as n-heptane and n-hexane are highly flammable.
Kids have known for ages that sniffing rubber cement can make you a little high, and it has the potential for abuse as an inhalant. When the fumes from rubber cement are inhaled on a regular basis, they produce effects that are similar to the result of alcohol consumption. However, the effects of huffing or sniffing this glue can include brain damage, cardiac arrest, dizziness, hallucinations, and serious heart or lung problems. It also kills a zillion brain cells.
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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which regulates cosmetics in the United States defines cosmetics as: “intended to be applied to the human body for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance without affecting the body’s structure or functions.” Interestingly, the definition of cosmetics really hasn’t changed much since its first usage in Egypt around 3500 BC, but (luckily) the ingredients certainly have.
Besides the Egyptians, the ancient Greeks and Romans also used cosmetics. The Romans and Ancient Egyptians used cosmetics containing poisonous mercury and often lead. The ancient kingdom of Israel was influenced by cosmetics as recorded in the Old Testament—2 Kings 9:30 where Jezebel painted her eyelids—approximately 840 BC. The Biblical book of Esther describes various beauty treatments as well. Women have used burnt matches to darken their eyes, berries to stain their lips and young boys’ urine to fade their freckles. They even swallowed ox blood in some misguided attempt to improve their complexions.
However, they have also put their health at risk with many of their homemade cosmetics. In some cultures, for example, women used arsenic, lead, mercury, and even leeches to give themselves the pale appearance deemed beautiful in the old days. A popular fad for women during the Middle Ages was to have a pale-skinned complexion, which was achieved through either applying pastes of lead, chalk, or flour, or by bloodletting. Women would also put white lead pigment that was known as “ceruse” on their faces to appear to have pale skin. Thankfully, we’ve come a long way from the days of using toxic and deadly mixtures to enhance our looks. But it makes you wonder if all of the products we slather on our faces on a daily basis are as benign as we think they are.
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About 85 years ago, the Indian culinary world was affected by a new cuisine. The first Indo Chinese restaurant Eau Chew opened in Kolkata. New restaurants mushroomed all over Kolkata, and legends like Fat Mama and Kim Fa were born, offering newer dishes with fancier combinations and names like August Moon Rolls and Fiery Dragon Chicken. Indian Chinese cuisine involves a different cooking style than traditional Chinese food. They use a lot of red and green chilies, coriander, peppercorn and garam masala. The end result has got to be spicier dish with a heavy flavor. Before you knew it ‘Indian Chinese’ had tickled the taste buds of folk in every small town and city across India. No small feat for a foreign cuisine.
Indian Chinese food is now readily available in major metropolitan areas of India such as Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore. It is also available in a number of towns and on dhabas (roadside stalls) adjacent to major Indian roads and highways. Many restaurants have a Chinese section in their menus, and some are even dedicated to serving Indian Chinese food. It can also be found in the mobile kitchen carts that ply the streets of cities, prepared in woks over a portable gas burner. Manchurian sauce, Szechwan sauce, soy sauce and Hakka noodles are available in many stores in cities across. National franchises like Yo! China, Mainland China, Hakka etc. are also making an entry into the more sanitized segment of the market.
So what is it that makes Chinese food so spectacularly popular? The answer lies with Indian food. Quick to figure out that Indians love spicy, oily preparations, the Chinese simply masala-fied and greased their cuisine into a glutinous, winning combination.
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Fondue. Watches. Chocolate. Army Knives. Ricola. Neutrality. Chocolate. Banking. Chocolate. This is pretty impressive for a tiny, landlocked country that is dwarfed by its larger and more densely populated neighbors. Despite these relative disadvantages, Switzerland has managed to become one of the world’s wealthiest countries, largely through its banking industry. This can partially be attributed to its central geographical position in Europe, as well as its unwavering position of studious neutrality, which has given it the access and political stability to inspire trust in the banking industry. However, there is another reason that Swiss banking has been so successful-namely, its strict adherence to bank secrecy for its account holders.
Swiss bank secrecy has had a long history in Switzerland, dating back over 300 years. It all started when French kings began to safeguard their loot by stashing it in nearby Switzerland. Unsurprisingly, these regents demanded absolute secrecy and possessed the volume of funds to request pretty much anything they wanted. Plus, kings could always afford to pay back their loans. Thus began Switzerland’s long reputation as a safe haven for funds for noblemen fleeing the Revolution and others seeking financial asylum.
The protections afforded under Swiss law are similar to confidentiality protections between doctors and patients or lawyers and their clients. But with secrecy comes abuse, and the country has come under fire for enabling dictators, tax evasion, criminals and money laundering, to name a few.
The most damning allegations stem from its actions towards Jewish account holders after World War II, and because the spoils that German Nazis plundered from defeated countries and their prisoners was held in Swiss banks. According to a report by Stuart Eizenstat on Nazi theft of Jewish assets, during WWII “between January 1939 and June 30, 1945, Germany transferred gold worth around $400 million ($3.9 billion in today’s values) to the Swiss National Bank in Bern.” It is believed that much of this gold was stolen from Jews and sent to Switzerland to be melted down and used to finance the war.
For better or for worse, a Swiss bank account no longer offers the ironclad protection it used to. Embarrassed by its image as the banker of choice for Third World tyrants and organized criminals, over the past decade Switzerland has introduced a raft of legislation designed to clean up its status as a financial haven, including anti-money-laundering laws that are among the toughest anywhere. Most recently, Switzerland put its money where its mouth is and froze all of Mubarak’s assets that were held in the country. Phew!
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“I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose.” ~Woody Allen
Why do we laugh when we think something is funny? And what exactly is laughter anyway? Despite it’s universality, laughter is actually really hard to define. Even the people at Merriam-Webster seem to have thrown in the towel, lamely defining “laughter” as:
1. the action of laughing or the sound resulting
2. an indication of amusement: with laughter in her eyes
3. Archaic a matter for or cause of laughter.
The element of surprise is crucial in eliciting laughter, as well as a sense of contrast. When the brain receives an appropriate stimulus, it sets laughter in motion. More than a hundred muscles are involved in laughing, from facial muscles to respiratory muscles, and is anatomically triggered by the epiglottis constricting the larynx.
It is also a primitive mechanism all humans are born with. Babies have the ability to laugh before they ever speak- researchers have even shown that infants as early as 17 days old have vocal laughing sounds or laughter. Even children who are born blind and deaf still retain the ability to laugh. It is a part of human behavior regulated by the brain, helping humans clarify their intentions in social interaction and providing an emotional context to conversations.
Laughter is sometimes seen as contagious, and the laughter of one person can itself provoke laughter from others as a positive feedback. In fact, the “contagious” factor accounts for the unfortunate popularity of laugh tracks amongst television sitcom producers, who will do just about anything to make their audience laugh.
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A zoonosis is any infectious disease that can be transmitted from non-human animals (both wild and domestic) to humans, or from humans to non-human animals (the latter is sometimes called reverse zoonosis or anthroponosis). Zoonotic diseases are anything but rare: of the 1415 pathogens known to affect humans, 61% are zoonotic, and have been with us since early historical times- there are biblical references to plague, a bacterial zoonosis mainly transmitted to humans by fleas; and some historians contend that a disease first described by Thucydides during the Plague of Athens (430–425 B.C.E.) was typhus, a louse-borne zoonosis.
In fact, many modern diseases, even epidemic diseases, started out as zoonotic diseases. It is hard to be certain which diseases jumped from other animals to humans, but there is good evidence that measles, smallpox, influenza, HIV, and diphtheria came to us this way. The common cold, and tuberculosis may also have started in other species. Other examples of zoonoses include rabies (a viral disease that can be transmitted to humans through an infected animal’s bite) and psittacosis (a chlamydial infection resembling influenza that is spread to humans by the droppings of infected birds).
The major factor contributing to the appearance of new zoonotic pathogens in human populations is increased contact between humans and wildlife. This can be caused either by encroachment of human activity into wilderness areas or by movement of wild animals into areas of human activity due to anthropological or environmental disturbances. Other risk factors may include: (1) alteration of the environment, affecting the size and distribution of certain animal species, vectors, and transmitters of infectious agents to humans; (2) industrialization of foods of animal origin—that is, changes in food processing and consumer nutritional habits; (3) increasing movements of people, as well as an increased trade in animals and animal products; and (4) decreasing surveillance and control of some of the major zoonoses.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but zoonotic diseases aren’t disappearing anytime soon. In fact, there has been a disturbing reemergence of previously recognized zoonoses that were believed to be under control. To make matters worse, a number of deadly new zoonotic diseases have emerged in recent history, most notably HIV/AIDS, which arose from nonhuman primates, and at some point “jumped” to humans. In fact, scientists agree that the greatest potential threat posed by zoonotic diseases is the hidden potential of what uber diseases might arise in the future.
Christ on Crutches! What disease could possibly be worse than the HIV/AIDS pandemic?!? My imagination fails me.
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