Archive for July, 2010

Some good clean fun at the farmers market – how to make soap.

| July 31, 2010 | 1 Reply
Some good clean fun at the farmers market – how to make soap.

The Tower Grove Farmer’s Market in South St. Louis was busy this morning, as it usually is. img_3494A lot of people were purchasing organic produce because they believe that it is important to put only wholesome ingredients into their mouths.

Stephanie and Bryan Shaner run a small family business called Ravenscroft. They sell produce, but they also make and sell their own soaps. I had the opportunity to discuss soap-making with them this morning. I learned that the process is fairly straightforward, based upon a family recipe described by Stephanie. It involves melting oils (they tend to use coconut, canola, olive oil or palm oil), and mixing them with lye (Bryan mentions that lye, also known as “sodium hydroxide” or “caustic soda” was traditionally made by pouring water through wood ash).

img_3506As the mixture starts to thicken (“saponify”), they add the essential oils (the various natural ingredients that constitute the scents, such as lavender, mint or juniper). With homemade soap, one can be assured that the bar is free of petrochemicals. Here’s some more background on the ways that soaps are manufactured. Stephanie estimated that her soap has a shelf life of about one year. By using homemade soaps, one can avoid all of the potentially harmful additives that one finds in petroleum-based (glycerin) commercial soaps.

I was surprised to hear that the main ingredient in homemade soap is plant oil. After all, if I spilled some plant oil on my hands, wouldn’t it be logical that I would reach for a bar of soap, made largely of plant oil, to clean up the oil on my fingers? Stephanie indicates that it does seem counterintuitive, but that mixing and heating a bit of lye with the oil effects a dramatic transformation in the oil, allowing the oil to be transformed into soap. Again, here’s more on that process.

Stephanie and Bryan Shaner - Image by Erich Vieth

Stephanie urged that not only should we care about what we eat, but we should also care about what we put on our skin. Because homemade soap is free of the many additives of commercial soaps, some of her customers have found that rashes and other skin problems clear up simply by switching to homemade soap.

Stephanie indicates that she and Bryan are planning some workshops to teach others how to make soap. This is obviously more than just a money-making opportunity for her. She tells her customers, “There is nothing on this table we wouldn’t help you to make yourself.”

I bought a few bars, and my family and I will be trying them out. The going rate at this market was three bars of soap for $10. After I try them out, I’ll report back in the comments. I’m interested in these natural ingredient soaps for the same reason that I’ve switched over to homemade shampoo (BTW, that “no poo” experiment has been wildly successful for me. I am perfectly happy with baking soda shampoo and apple cider vinegar conditioner).

Some might think that making these sorts of changes are trivial. I would respond by saying that we can clean up our environment one thing at a time, and there are hundreds of things each of us can do to live healthier and more sustainable lives. (See the recently released report by the President’s Cancer Panel and see here. Figure, too, that even little changes can make a huge difference when tens of millions of people follow suit.

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My daughter is growing up so quickly

| July 31, 2010 | 1 Reply
My daughter is growing up so quickly

My wife and I have two daughters. My older daughter, JuJu, is 11 years old, but she’s growing up quickly. In fact, just today she received her application to join AARP:

img_3521

I figure that AARP is assembling an extremely powerful voting blog to the extent that they are successful signing up people as young as eleven.

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Beware taking videos of on-duty police officers

| July 30, 2010 | 10 Replies
Beware taking videos of on-duty police officers

Here’s what might happen if you try to take a video of a police officer, at least in Sweden.

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Civilian deaths and bloody hands

| July 30, 2010 | 9 Replies
Civilian deaths and bloody hands

I was reading this story about Bradley Manning, alleged whistleblower, and my hypocrisy meter was set off so strongly that I fear it may never work again.

Top Pentagon officials slammed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as having “blood … on his hands” for releasing the sensitive documents, which appeared to include the names of Afghans enlisted as classified U.S. military informants.

“Mr. Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said.

Mr. Assange *might* have blood on his hands, the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family. This, coming from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, leader of the US Military which has been raining death on Afghanistan for almost 9 years now.

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How to walk on water

| July 30, 2010 | 2 Replies
How to walk on water

These guys are walking (running) on water better than I thought possible.


Correre sull’acqua
Uploaded by remylecrow. – Click for more funny videos.

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Cheap and easy to build websites for those who don’t know html

| July 29, 2010 | Reply
Cheap and easy to build websites for those who don’t know html

I’ve started to play the guitar and sing around town. It’s loads of fun. Friends and acquaintances are were starting to ask me how to tell where and when I would next be performing. The obvious solution was that I needed a website, but I barely know any html, yet I wanted to create a pleasant looking site. And I didn’t want to pay much. Google’s free website design software looked too rudimentary, and it didn’t allow me to use my own domain. I read some complaints about Go Daddy’s website building service, and thus shied away, though it might be fine for a static site like the one I wanted. [Note: I do much of the website admin work at DI, which uses a Wordpress platform, which is terrific, but doesn't really fit my needs for my personal site].

There are various other companies out there offering free or cheap websites. I looked at some of these, but not many, so don’t take this as any sort of deeply knowledgeable survey. I ended up choosing Intuit’s Homestead program, and I’m happy with it. Homestead offers various packages, but I only needed the basic level. I will be paying less than $150 for two years, which gets me a access to Homestead’s easy-to-use website-building program, up to five pages, 25 MB of storage and 5 GB/month of bandwidth. This price (which ends up being about $6/month) also provides me with a domain (I picked erichvieth.net — I already owned erichvieth.com ) and the option of a blog. They have other packages too. As you might expect, they will urge you to buy their more expensive packages, which have more bells and whistles. Homestead’s base price includes unlimited live and knowledgeable phone assistance. For instance, they walked me through the process of linking the domain I already owned with my new website. I took advantage of Homestead’s live help several times while building my site; pleasant people tutored me on how to do some of a few other things that were not quite obvious (until I did them once). You can train up on this software in an hour. The design-making software is so well considered that it is hard to get things wrong while making your new site. Once you put together one site, you’ll be tempted to help family and friends slap together their new sites.

Within a few hours, I had put together my own personal website, which gets the job done quite well (though I’m still tweaking it). I used two of the pages to provide information about my music. Since I had the right to create five pages, I used the other three to provide information about my photography, writing (I’m an avid blogger . . . ) and a general bio.

I’m posting on the way I built my new site in case anyone reading this is in the same position as I was, looking for a good combination of low cost website, relatively low-volume bandwidth, and easy to design. If anyone else is happy with any comparable service, feel free to mention it in the comments. Remember the parameters: low cost and design-it-yourself website building for people who don’t know any html.

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A centenarian explains why we can’t spell

| July 29, 2010 | 1 Reply
A centenarian explains why we can’t spell

In this two-minute video, a man who is purportedly 102 years old uses a simple flip chart to demonstrate why Americans have such trouble spelling.

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Forbidden love and the Westermarck effect, illustrated

| July 29, 2010 | Reply
Forbidden love and the Westermarck effect, illustrated

The linked video is an example of a father (John) having a romantic relationship with his own daughter (Jenny) and having children with her. The documentary also introduces viewers to a romantically involved half-brother and half-sister.

But doesn’t nature rig close relatives so that they are sexually repulsed from each other? Yes, but only if they live in close proximity during a critical early developmental window. This potential desensitization to sexual attraction is referred to as the Westermarck Effect. In the case of John and Jenny, the daughter had essentially no contact with her father for the first three decades of her life. Same situation with the half-siblings. Without the Westermarck effect to pull back on the reins, “genetic sexual attraction” kicks in to supercharge the romance.

Notice how the moralistic and legalistic discussion in this documentary runs orthogonally to the biological research. Not once is the Westermarck Effect discussed, even though it sheds substantial light on these situations. It often occurs to me that we’d be better off analyzing social situations in terms of evolution and ecology in addition to legality and morality, but that would deprive us of so many opportunities to engage in angry finger-pointing and judgmental barking.

To consider the science would admittedly require some effort, something that many of today’s self-assured people are unwilling to do. If people did take the time to think things through more rigorously, however, they would likely see that this “father” and this “daughter” are dramatically unlike prototypical fathers and daughters in dramatic ways that correlate to solid biological and psychological research. If they took the time to understand this situation using (easily available) science rather than simply folk-morality, even the harshest critics of these couples might have the following thought: If I had been in that situation, these same sorts of powerful attractions might have overwhelmed me too. A perspective infused with even a bit of science would have set a different tone for this entire documentary. A bit of scientifically-informed self-critical thinking might even open the door for a more empathetic perspective.

It’s a new multidisciplinary world out there with regard to “morality,” as psychologist Jonathan Haidt eloquently explains at Edge.

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Do you think that sunscreen really protects you from skin cancer?

| July 29, 2010 | 5 Replies
Do you think that sunscreen really protects you from skin cancer?

If you think that sunscreens really protect you from cancer, think again. Read this detailed information from the Environmental Working Group and you’ll be astounded. How can so much false and unsupported information can be freely plastered on bottles of sunscreen? Why isn’t the federal government clamping down on sunscreens? Who do our img_3219representatives represent? Apparently, their greatest loyalty is to companies that make money by misrepresenting their products. Can you believe that sunscreens are not regulated to make sure that they do what they claim to do?

The best approaches to protecting your family: Wear clothes and stay in the shade. Any product that claims protection greater than SPF 50 is misleading. Note that most people put on only a 1/4 to 2/3rds enough sunscreen to actually reach the product’s SPF rating. Check out the oftentimes toxic ingredients at EWG.

Check out EWG’s Hall of Shame.

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