Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The dark side of strawberries

Each spring I take my granddaughters strawberry picking. Strawberries are, or at least used to be, a spring treat. But no more. Today strawberries are available year 'round. Most come from California.

A few years ago my wife and I motored through the strawberry fields of coastal California. They were immense. As we drove along I wondered about the downside to this vast monoculture of fruit. Today I came across an article answering a part of this question: California's strawberry industry is hooked on dangerous pesticides.

I believe this story may go a little heavy on the element of fear but at the article's core it is true. Dangerous chemicals are being used and not just in agriculture in California. In this case, the use is good for the strawberry growers but may not be good for the field workers, the people in nearby communities and even the world at large.

I have a friend who likes to start dinner with a prayer for those children going without enough food. Possibly he should also being praying for those children who have enough food but food that comes at a very high, but hidden, price. These children, or their descendants, may well find that they must pay the hidden costs as the payments can no longer be deferred.

Think Peru and the fields used to grow asparagus for year 'round consumption. When the ground water is exhausted, when the fields are again dry, dusty, desert land, how will the children of the region survive? Big agriculture will simply move on but the people, the people with deep historical roots in the area, will remain.

How Peru's wells are being sucked dry by British love of asparagus
Industrial-scale production risks water tragedy, charity warns

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The tripod grip: Really the ultimate pencil-gripping grasp?

Isla, only 17-months in this picture, is already using the tripod grip.

When my niece looked at my picture of granddaughter Isla working on her scribble art project, my niece exclaimed, "She's already using the tripod grip!" My niece, a physio-therapist, had been taught that this was an advanced pencil-gripping technique which many children don't master until the age of four or later.

I confess, I didn't know what my niece was talking about. When she left, I took to the Internet. I soon read that many folks believe the most efficient way to hold a pencil is the dynamic tripod grasp. In the dynamic tripod grasp, the pencil is held between the thumb and index finger, with the pencil resting on the middle finger.

Some parents worry so much about this grip that when a child fails to use it they go looking for a physiotherapist. Is this really necessary? The short answer is "Maybe not." I discovered in Physiotherapy for Children that there are a number of acceptable grasps. As long the grip is functional and does not cause muscle strain, parents should relax.

Why anyone would be immediately concerned with a variation in pen-holding technique amazes me. One of the finest students I every met did not use the tripod grasp. He gripped his pen with brutish practicality. His penmanship was atrocious, but he was quick and he could read his own writing even if no one else could. He never had a mark that wasn't in the 90s. He really didn't give a damn about penmanship.

For the last word on this read the conclusions reached in a paper found in the U.S. National Library of Medicine:

The dynamic tripod pencil grasp did not offer any advantage over the lateral tripod or the dynamic or lateral quadrupod pencil grasps in terms of quality of handwriting after a 10-minute copy task. These four pencil grasp patterns performed equivalently. Our findings question the practice of having students adopt the dynamic tripod pencil grasp.

My advice: Look at the results and not the technique. If the child can accomplish their goals using whatever grip they are using, leave 'em be.

One of Isla's finished scribble projects. She scribbles and I colour. We both like 'em.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Why kids should be vaccinated

The London Free Press had an article today looking at the rising numbers of parents who are refusing to have their children vaccinated. It was a good article but for a better one read: A Math Lesson in Vaccines and Infectious Disease

If you enjoyed the first link, here is another: True or False: There are more vaccinated pertussis cases than unvaccinated.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Jack Bruce, of Cream, dies at 71

There is also a version posted to You Tube from the 2005 Cream Reunion.

In the late '60s I was going to art school in Detroit. The Art School of the Society of Arts and Crafts was a cool place back then, filled with music: blues, Motown, jazz and more filled the rooms. The album Disraeli Gears by Cream would have been placed in the 'more' category along with other groups like Savoy Brown. Cream's unique sound has been described as psychedelic blues.

Cream, composed of Eric Clapton, bassist Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker on drums, was possibly the first of the so-called supergroups. Their debut album was Fresh Cream, followed by Disraeli Gears and then Wheels of Fire. Their last album before the break up was appropriately titled Goodbye. Bruce wrote and sang many of the songs in the Cream playbook.

With the passing of the oh-so-talented Jack Bruce, I find myself remembering all the fine music released by Cream and wondering why these songs are given so little airtime today. The Ultimate Classic Rock (UCR) site has posted what they claim to be the top ten Cream recordings. If you have the time, follow the link and give a listen.

  • Sunshine of Your Love
  • White Room
  • Crossroads
  • Strange Brew
  • Spoonful
  • Tales of Brave Ulysses
  • Badge
  • Born Under a Bad Sign
  • I Feel Free
  • I'm So Glad

If you haven't heard Badge, it only climbed to about number 60 on the top ten list of the time, check out Badge. The UCR site rates it number 7 in their top ten Cream list and I feature it at the top of this post. I drank a lot of beer while listening to Badge spinning at 33 and a third rpm's on my Dual turntable.

The BBC reports: Jack Bruce died at his home in Suffolk surrounded by his family. A statement was released saying: "It is with great sadness that we, Jack's family, announce the passing of our beloved Jack: husband, father and granddad and all-round legend.

"The world of music will be a poorer place without him, but he lives on in his music and forever in our hearts."

When I think of Cream and the late Jack Bruce, I think of folks from my past such as Andy Whipple and Rebekah Wilcher. Both Andy and Becky have also passed on. My world gets smaller and smaller with each passing day.

Andy Whipple used to throw the best parties at his parent's home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. And Becky used to take me to the best parties in Berkeley, California, back in the late '60s. Fine wine, good beer, great food and the best music was always to be found at these parties. Cream easily passed the muster.

Not being a musician, I wasn't aware of the rich mix of historic blues to be found on Cream albums. The other folk at these parties were far more sophisticated than I and they would sit on the floor, drinking wine and discussing the distant roots of some of the Cream music: I'm So Glad was an old Skip James song from the '30s, Spoonful was a cover of an earlier take by Howlin' Wolf and Crossroads recalls a 1936 recording by blues great Robert James. Sadly, I'd forgotten most of this and only today began remembering all as I read the many obits praising the late Cream bassist.

Jack Bruce had quite the musical pedigree. He was truly among the cream that rises to the top. He won a scholarship to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music, played in a group that featured drummer Charlie Watts, later of The Rolling Stones, and played with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers and Manfred Mann. Composer, singer, and one of rock's best bass players, Jack Bruce was talented. No argument.

Tonight I will pop the cap on a bottle of Steam Whistle and carefully play my Cream albums. Vinyl is has almost disappeared and sadly the artists that made vinyl worth having are slowing fading away too.


If you have ever wondered what inspired the album name Disraeli Gears, here is an answer I found posted on the Disraeli Gears website. A site dedicated to the derailleur gears used by bike manufacturers.

"You know how the title came about - Disraeli Gears - yeah? We had this Austin Westminster, and Mick Turner was one of the roadies who’d been with me a long time, and he was driving along and Eric (Clapton) was talking about getting a racing bicycle. Mick, driving, went ‘Oh yeah - Disraeli gears!’ meaning derailleur gears . . . We all just fell over . . . We said that’s got to be the album title."

Ginger Baker remembering 1967

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Ebola: technically not airborne but . . .

Ebola is NOT technically an airborne disease. Airborne diseases float in the air, suspended, carried by air currents. There is no evidence that Ebola is transmitted in this manner. According to Doctors Without Borders:
As long as a patient hasn’t developed symptoms, the risk of contagion is close to zero. Ebola is not an airborne virus like the flu.

For more on this read: Ebola virus may be spread by droplets, but not by an airborne route: what that means.

As long as an infected person is not symptomatic, they are essentially not contagious. Those riding in an airplane or a subway car with an infected, but not symptomatic person, are said to be at essentially no risk. Without the exchange of bodily fluids, there is absolutely no risk of infection.

Unfortunately, the word airborne has other meanings independent from the technical one. Airborne when used by the average person in day-to-day conversation may simply mean propelled through the air, as in: the car went airborne and hit an embankment. An airborne car can travel surprisingly far -- a hundred feet or more.

Most of us would consider big, Ebola-contaminated, droplets propelled through the air by a violently ill patient as being briefly airborne. One can become infected by the Ebola virus by coming in contact with these large, violently expelled droplets. For this reason, medical personnel need to be completely protected. No exposed skin, eyes protected by goggles. Face masks must meet strict standards. And no quibbling over the use of the word airborne.
The following Public Health Agency of Canada bulletin may have been removed from the Web and the posting changed because of the non-technical use of the word "airborne." Personally, I don't think health care workers and others working in close proximity to an Ebola patient want a lecture on the technical meaning of "airborne". They want protection.

If the word airborne adds confusion to a life and death situation, let's use caution when using it. Let's aim for clarity as well as accuracy. Lives depend up it.

"Airborne spread [of the Ebola virus] among humans is strongly suspected . . . "

The above quote is from a pathogen safety data sheet once available from the Public Health Agency of Canada. I understand the sheet has now been modified. I found the sheet containing the warning in the Wayback Machine Internet archives.

Ebola is deadly. Depending upon the strain and other factors it kills anywhere from 25 percent up to 90 percent of those infected. Front-line healthcare workers are at great risk. With two nurses in Texas having now having tested positive for Ebola, it appears the protocols in place in Texas were not up to the standard set by groups with experience fighting Ebola, such as Doctors Without Borders.

A Canadian expert is warning that healthcare personal, nurses for instance, are not being given adequate life-saving protection. Read the story in The London Free Press, the daily paper in London, Ontario, Canada. The experience in Texas seems to give credence to this expert's warning.


Today (Oct. 20th) the Associated Press is carrying a story reporting "revised guidance for health care workers treating Ebola patients. As of now, health care workers will be using protective gear "with no skin showing."

The article also makes clear hospital officials admit masks covering the nose and mouth were originally optional for nurses and others caring for Ebola patients. This may have been partially a result of a misunderstanding caused by the use of the word "airborne" in the warnings about the transmission routes taken by the disease.

Ebola is spread through direct contact with infected bodily fluids. The virus begins its attack by entering the body through broken skin or mucous membranes in, for example, the eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • blood or body fluids (including but not limited to urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen) of a person who is sick with Ebola.
Think about it: If the person sitting beside you began leaking bodily fluids, or even just sweating profusely, you'd move. If you worked in a hospital, you'd ask for gloves, a mask and other protective gear -- if it was available. Sadly, in West Africa, many hospitals don't have clean, disposable gloves in stock. Nor do they have adequate amounts of other oh-so-necessary medical supplies: Think one-use disposable needles.

Taking the subway in New York? Relax. You're not going to catch Ebola. It is healthcare workers and not subway riders who need to be on guard.

Test your Ebola knowledge. Follow the link.

The following was posted by the CDC but has been taken down for modification. The story was carried by Huffington Post.

This is the html version of the file http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/pdf/infections-spread-by-air-or-droplets.pdf.
Google automatically generates html versions of documents as we crawl the web.
Page 1
What’s the difference between infections
spread through the air or by droplets?
Airborne spread happens when a germ floats through the air after a
person talks, coughs, or sneezes. Germs may land in the eyes, mouth, or
nose of another person.
>If a germ is airborne, direct contact with the infected person is NOT
needed for someone else to get sick. Airborne spread diseases include:
chickenpox, tuberculosis.
Droplet spread happens when germs traveling inside droplets that are
coughed or sneezed from a sick person enter the eyes, nose, or mouth of
another person. Droplets travel short distances, less than 3 feet (1 meter)
from one person to another.
A person might also get infected by touching a surface or object that has
germs on it and then touching their mouth or nose.
Droplet spread diseases include: plague, Ebola.
How do I protect myself from getting sick?
Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are
not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Cover your cough! Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when
you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
Germs spread this way.
Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces like doorknobs,
faucet handles, and toys, since the Ebola virus may live on surfaces for
up to several hours.
Is Ebola airborne?
No. Ebola is not spread through the airborne route nor through water or food.
Is Ebola spread through droplets?
Yes. To get Ebola, you have to directly get body fluids (like pee, poop, spit, sweat, vomit, semen, breast milk) from
someone who has Ebola in your mouth, nose, eyes or through a break in your skin or through sexual contact.
Healthcare providers caring for Ebola patients and the family and friends in close contact with Ebola>
patients are at the highest risk of getting sick because they may come in contact with infected blood or
body fluids of sick patients.
Air, food, and water do not carry the Ebola germs.
CS252291-A 10.27.2014 07:54AM
Droplets can contaminate objects
>like doorknobs.
Ebola is spread through droplets.
>Germs like chickpox and TB are
spread through the air.





CS252291-A 10.27.2014 07:54AM
Droplets can contaminate objects
like doorknobs.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Most appear to support Justin Trudeau not Ezra Levant

Ezra Levant made a very nasty personal attack on Justin Trudeau. My local paper, The London Free Press, carried a Sun Media piece on the attack in which it admitted Levant may have hit below the belt. May have?

To the paper's credit, it published my Letter to the Editor under the headline "Levant the one who's out of line." The paper also published a letter with an opposing view, as if this added balance to the discussion.

I contend that with a story like this real balance is only achieved by running one comment supporting Levant and an almost limitless number of comments taking Levant to task. For instance, the following is a condensed listing of the comments in the Huffington Post.

Pro Levant:
  • It would be appropriate to ignore that particular reporter, and if any actual rules were broken that avenue should be pursued, but to punish hundreds of reporters who had no control over what was said does not bode well for someone with aspirations for the PMship.

Critical of Levant:

  • It's one of the few things that Trudeau's done that I respect; you don't go after someone's family. You don't call their parents "sluts" and expect them not to react. Frankly, I'm surprised Trudeau didn't hunt down Ezra Levant and beat the living hell out of him. God knows that's what I'd have done if some journalistic hack did that to me.
  • Levant needs to be censured or fired.
  • Trudeau is deserving of an apology . . . 
  • Sun Media is getting to be an embarrassment.
  • I applaud Trudeau for taking this action.
  • I would not give them the time of day either . . . call(ed) parents "sluts" . . .
  • It's about time . . . the media has gone so far off the rails . . .
  • The groom's father and the bride were totally offended by this little weasel..
  • I would be interested to see a poll on what Canadian's think about Justin's personal ban of Quebecor. My guess would be that the majority of Canadians side with Justin on this one. One reason -- because what Levant did was so distasteful and gross it is completely acceptable to expect an apology from the parent company for allowing it to be released to the public. Second reason - very few people really listen to what the Sun has to say about anything nor do they use it as a primary news source so we aren't missing anything with or without them. The media has a right to care about this issue however - there are lots of Sun "journalists" being punished for one mans actions. They want access to Justin and they want to be able to ask the hard hitting questions on the right side of the debate and I think that is great - however, they should think about how important that right is before they allow their "journalists" to abuse it. 
  • I absolutely agree with Trudeau. By boycotting Sun News, all he risks is not being exposed to the twenty or thirty people who watch Levant on a regular basis. I understand he - Levant - has a big family Neither Levant nor Sun News is a credible information source. They're junk. Refusing to talk with Levant or Sun News is akin to turning down an interview with the National Enquirer,
  • "Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's decision to boycott Sun Media over an "offensive" rant by one of its TV personalities is short-sighted, experts say, and may have Canadians questioning his open government stance." Oh shut up already. Anyone who can't empathize with Trudeau stance on this clearly hasn't had a national news organization call their dead or elderly parents "sluts". Honestly, if I were JT, Levant would get a slap in the face!

And my two personal favourites:

  • I think it would be nice if Trudeau's boycott stirred up a little rebellion among the editors and journalists in the dozens of smaller dailies that Sun owns.
  • If Fox News North doesn't fire Levant over this then everyone should boycott them.

The Globe and Mail carried an article looking at Levant's comments. The headline says it all: Justin Trudeau was right to block Sun for Ezra Levant’s attack.

The comments following the Globe article were as one sided in support of Trudeau as the comments following the Huffington Post article.

  • 207 Globe readers agreed with the person who commented, "Levant's remarks are a disgrace to journalism."
  • 143 readers agreed, "No fan of Trudeau... but insulting his mother and father is the stuff of teenagers and lunatics."
  • Another wrote, "Ezra Levant is a raging lunatic who is not a journalist . . . ." 

Lunatic seems to be a popular word when folk are describing the Sun Media personality.

Friday, September 19, 2014

A great game to play with your baby

Isla showed this piece to everyone she could find.

It's not art but it is fun. I have now played this game with two toddlers. Both were about 14 or 15 months old when introduced to this scribble-based fun. Anything involving scribbling is appealing to babies.

Isla, cap in hand, does her part and draws another scribble.
Put a newspaper or large magazine on the floor to protect it from the markers. Don't open the paper out to its full size. Folded is fine. If it is too large, it becomes something to slide on and to cause baby to fall.

Place a white sheet of computer paper on the newspaper and get out some coloured markers and brightly coloured crayons. Crayola washable markers are great. They wash out of clothing and wipe off wood floors without leaving a  mark or even a hint of a stain.

The game: Encourage your baby to take a coloured, washable marker and scribble on the computer paper. This will take very little encouragement. When baby is done, you fill one closed loop in the scribble using a brightly coloured crayon. Colour quickly. You do not want baby to lose interest but this may not be a problem. Isla can stick at this game for up to half an hour.

One of Isla's simpler scribble art pieces.
Now, encourage baby to scribble on the paper again. You and baby are going to take turns: baby scribbles and then you colour. Repeat until you have created what you or baby feels is a work of art or until baby loses interest.

This morning Isla, the baby in my life, came into my room, took a newspaper from a pile and grabbed a couple of sheets of white computer paper from below my printer. She dropped the newspaper to the floor, set the white paper on top and headed off for the bag of crayons and markers I keep on an antique wash stand. The stand is low and the stuff on top easily reached even by a baby.

With everything laid out, Isla headed off to get me. She took me by the hand and led me to where we were going to make art together. She pointed at the paper, stretched out on the floor and set to work.

Isla and Fiona, her sister, 5, worked on this together.
She scribbled, I coloured and we both laughed. It really was great fun. At a certain point, Isla felt the picture was done. She stood up, work of art in hand and ran off at the fastest gait a little toddler can muster. She found her grandmother and proudly showed grandma Judy what she and Gugga had created together.

As I said at the beginning, I've played this game with two babies: sisters Fiona and Isla. Both loved it. It doesn't overtax the toddler's motor skills but it does challenge them -- for instance, Isla loves to take the tops off the markers and then listen for the clicks when she slides the tops back on.

And babies enjoy the opportunity to make choices which this game offers. For instance, Isla likes to vary the colour of the Crayola felt tip marker she uses for the scribbles. She will rummage through the bag of markers and crayons in search of the perfect colour for her scribble. She can be very particular. Her sister, Fiona, when she was a toddler, liked to pick out the crayons I used to colour the loops and she could be very demanding.

Isla ran about the house showing this art to everyone.
Sometimes she likes to fill the page, activating all the space an artist might say, while at other times she prefers a more minimalist approach. Between choosing markers, scribbling and putting the tops back on the markers, this is a game for the baby flirting with independence.

I also believe children enjoy the sharing aspect of this activity. They are sharing an activity with an adult but in an unique manner. Here they are an equal partner. They know this and clearly appreciate it.

A piece by Fiona, Isla's sister. Fiona picked the crayon colours I used.

Since writing this I've been made aware of a number of Internet sites dedicated to children's art. Here are a couple of links:
Scribble Blog: Inspiring Creativity in Parents, Teachers and Kids! (Scribble Town! is interactive.)
Relative Marmalade: A design blog featuring the art of children
Scribble Art: check out the picture gallery

For me life is composed of two elements: art and craft. Art represents the creative side and craft is the skill used to translate creative ideas into concrete objects. Kids have lots of creativity but minimal skill. They are big on art but severely challenged when it comes to craft.

What happens when one combines art (creativity) with craft (skill) in adult amounts? Think Wassily Kandinsky and Color Study: Squares with Concentric Circles.