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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dormant or dead?

Dying? Dead? Or just dormant?

Recently I started thinking that Stephen Colbert was onto something with his newly minted word: "truthiness". Someone suggested to me that the widely reported story of lawn grasses going dormant during a drought may be more truthiness rather than truth. They were right.

When newspapers and other media outlets tell you "grass goes dormant during dry periods" and proceed to encourage you to refrain from watering, you see yourself as green, if not your lawn. Unfortunately, follow this advice too rigidly and you will not be green and your lawn will be dead — permanently dormant.

Surprisingly, the lack of truth in the advice is not in the claim of dormancy, grass does go dormant during a drought. It is the belief that dormant grass needs no water where the error creeps in. Dormant grass is living grass and so it should come as no surprise that it still requires a little water.

So, what is the greenest response to lawn care during a drought? Based on information gleaned from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and from Ohio State University:
  • Water turf once every two weeks with about half an inch or 1.27 cm of water. This will supply enough moisture to keep crowns, rhizomes and roots of your lawn grass hydrated and alive. This amount of water will not regreen a dormant lawn, however, it will help to insure good recovery with the return of rainfall. (If your soil is very sandy and does not hold water well, your lawn may require watering more often —  say, once a week.)
  • Use water gauges to measure the depth of water applied. A lawn water gauge can be as simple as several empty straight-sided cans, such as tuna and salmon containers, placed in the sprinkler's watering pattern.
  • If possible, cycle irrigation to allow water penetration and avoid water runoff. Dry soils may not absorb even 1.27 cm of water in one application.
  • Water turf in the early morning to reduce water loss from evaporation.
  • Never allow sprinklers to water pavement, driveways or sidewalks. This wastes water.
  • Never trim lawns shorter than two and a half inches or 6.35 cm. Taller grass develops a deeper, more extensive root system. Keep mower blades sharp to avoid tearing rather than cleanly cutting the grass. A healthy lawn is better positioned to survive a drought.
If the drought is serious and a total ban on lawn watering is in force, face reality; Your lawn may be toast.

Monday, July 25, 2011

What does it have to do with me?

Mel Goodale is director of the centre focused on the "three pounds of wet matter" between our ears.
When research centres hold press conferences to make important announcements there is a tendency for the average person to have the response, if they have a response at all, of: "So what? What does all this have to do with me?"

The Centre for Brain and Mind at The University of Western Ontario held such a press conference today. It was announced that The Centre will begin training post-doctoral fellows from University of Cambridge, King's College London and University College London (three of the top institutions in the United Kingdom). Similarly, Western will be sending three post-doctoral fellows to each of the three U.K. institutions for four-month training periods.

Stephen Williams, King's College, U.K.
This was big news — it had to be — as research scientists from the United Kingdom made the long flight across the pond to speak at the press conference.

Still, you can be forgiven for wondering, "What does any of this have to do with me?" Research like that done by The Centre can sound esoteric and its concerns remote, unless it involves you or a loved one.

Years ago, while still working for the local paper, I covered the installation of a special, 3 Tesla MRI unit at The Robarts Research Institute.

Kim Krueger, an MRI technologist, shows scans during tour.
I was told the huge scanner being carefully lowered by a giant crane slowly into the Robarts Centre was 10 to 15 times the strength of low field or open MRI scanners then in common use.

Interesting, impressive, but so what?

Then, a few months ago I found myself inside that high-field MRI as part of an ongoing research study.

The clarity of those images revealed what been hidden from specialists right across the continent, from London to Winnipeg to San Francisco; The 3T MRI showed that the right side of my heart is being converted from muscle to fat and scar tissue causing the right side to weaken and expand. A valve is leaking.

DNA testing confirmed that this was an ongoing problem with a genetic cause. I have ARVC.

Videographer Craig Glover films 7T MRI from a safe distance.
When I heard The Centre for Brain and Mind at the University of Western Ontario in the Natural Sciences building works closely with both University Hospital and the Robarts Research Institute, I knew this was a press conference I did not want to miss.

I learned the Robarts people have an even more powerful scanner than the one used to diagnose my heart problem; They have a 7 Tesla MRI — one of only three 7Ts in the world developed specifically for neurological use. According to Siemens, MRIs don't come any more powerful for human applications. Wow!

The research scientists with The Centre will be using this incredible and very rare machine. There are less than four dozen of these in use in the entire world. There are clear reasons why The Centre is widely recognized as a global leader in many branches of neuroscience research.

So what diseases may be forced to reveal their secrets by Western's pioneering scientists? Think Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, MS, schizophrenia, epilepsy, stroke, a myriad of psychiatric disorders . . . Sadly, I am sure something in that list hit all too close to home. What is being done here is not remote, ivory tower research but work advancing our knowledge about, and our ability to deal with, everyday medical tragedies.

And now you know the answer to the question: What does an announcement of the grand opening of The Centre for Brain and Mind have to do with me? In a word: "Lots!"

To read more about The Centre's research which is being conducted by approximately 20 principal scientists and many others across many disciplines at both Western and the Robarts Research Institute, check out the following links:

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The village paper

The London noise bylaw brought an end to the Bruce Cockburn outdoor performance.
According to The London Free Press, London "is a village masquerading as a big city." Why? Because a London noise bylaw prevents outdoor concerts from being "played too loud* after 11 p.m." In truth, if London were a village, it would be much easier to hold loud music festivals. The bigger the city, the more people who must be appeased.

Last year in Montreal, the second largest city in Canada, music festivals like the Osheaga music festival and a Pop Montreal showcase held at Parc des Ameriques were the focus of efforts by the City of Montreal to deal with noise pollution. The Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal initiated Project Noise and began handing out fines of up to $12,000.

When the Concordia student union planned on bringing international star K’naan onto campus for a performance, the city insisted the volume must be kept under under 80 decibels. The orientation headliner was moved to Loyola Campus when the city would not relent and the concert could not find another venue anywhere in downtown Montreal.

Loud music is a problem that all cities face but many do not realize the full extent of the problem. Loud music causes hearing loss and hearing loss is not a joke. In 2008, V-Fest in Toronto was promoted with catchphrase: "If it's too loud, you're too old." A more accurate statement might have been, "If it's too loud, you may be going deaf."

I suffer from tinnitus. The only sound I hear from my left ear is generated within the ear itself. Other than that constant background noise, I hear almost nothing with my left ear. Why? I trace the loss back to my youth and hours spent listening to outlandishly loud rock concerts. What finally did my ear in was an April Wine concert held at the old London Gardens. My left ear was pointed at a massive bank of speakers all night long. When that night was done the ringing in that ear never left.

When I was young, and immature, (rather than my present old and immature), I took in some fine, loud rock concerts. One of the most memorable was that of Detroit's Amboy Dukes at the former Terrace Bowling Lanes in Windsor, Ontario. The Dukes were fronted by guitarist Ted Nugent and Nugent knew a thing or two about loud.

Writing this I began to wonder how is Ted Nugent doing today? Is he as deaf as I am all from a silly drive for high decibels and truly ear-splitting volume? The answer in a word: Yes!

Musicians with tinnitus:
  • Ted Nugent - "My left ear is pretty much whacked."
  • Pete Townshend - "I have severe hearing damage. . . . It hurts, it's painful, and it's frustrating."
  • John Entwhistle - According to Who scholar Andy Neill, Entwhistle was pretty deaf, and tended to rely on lip-reading.
  • Jeff Beck - "It's in my left ear. It's excruciating . . . " You can ask, "Why is a guy scratching at a window with his nails such a horrible sound — I couldn't put up with that! This is worse!" 
  • Phil Collins - The former Genesis drummer and vocalist announced he will perform live only occasionally to avoid further hearing loss on his "hearing damaged left ear."
  • Danny Elfman - Oingo Boingo, film scores/composer. Touring took a major toll on his hearing. "My instincts were telling me I was doing myself a lot of harm — and I was right. I really should have gotten out sooner . . . I'm paying the price for it now."
  • Steve Lukather - The guitarist/song writer for Toto says, "Yes, I have tinnitus, what a drag. . . . My hearing is damaged . . . I always have to say, "What?" Be careful guys, this could happen to you!"
Free Press editorial writers beware that attempting to diminish your hometown, the city and its people with childish remarks doesn't actually diminish London; It does diminish you.

* played too loud - Shouldn't this be the adverb loudly modifying the verb "played" instead of the adjective loud as used?

This is an honest question. I make a lot of grammatical errors. I am slowly correcting many thanks to the suggestions I receive from former editors. I'd really like to know: Is it loud or loudly?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Truthiness is hot in the media

Going jogging? Have a cup of coffee first.
Nothing brings out truthiness like extreme weather. As hot weather records in Ontario tumbled Thursday, at least three hot weather myths were repeated in the media ad nauseam.

The Weather Network online forecast it would feel like 49°C.
Linda Stobo, of the Middlesex London Health Unit, talking with The London Free Press, managed to repeat two of the most common myths in one interview.

She told the paper: One should drink plenty of water . . . even if one doesn't feel thirsty and one should avoid caffeinated drinks because they will make you more thirsty.

False and false. Both are myths that have been repeated so often they have entered the realm of truthiness.

Stephen Colbert, the host of The Colbert Report on Comedy Central, had this to say about truthiness.

I'm sure the word-police, the "wordanistas" at Websters, are gonna say: Hey, truthiness is not a word! Well, anybody who knows me knows that I'm no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They're elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn't true, what did or didn't happen . . .

Cobert doesn't trust books. They're all fact, no heart, he says . . . we are divided into those who think with their heads, and those who know with their hearts . . .

According to some folk who think with their heads at the University of California, Berkeley, and publish the university's Wellness Letter: "You don’t end up with a net loss of water from drinking moderate amounts of caffeinated beverages. In other words, they don’t dehydrate you."

In a study from the University of Nebraska Medical Center a decade ago, healthy adults showed the same "hydration status" (as determined from urine analysis and other tests) when they drank caffeinated colas and/or coffee as when they drank only water and/or fruit drinks.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM), which advises the government about health issues, including dietary intakes, concluded "caffeinated beverages appear to contribute to the daily total water intake similar to that contributed by non-caffeinated beverages."

One report, by a scientist at the University of Connecticut who reviewed 10 previous studies, discovered fluid retention was essentially the same for both water or a caffeinated beverage.

So, feeling thirsty? Have a Tim's, if you like. Many authorities agree that the average person can enjoy from three to four cups of coffees over the course of a day — even a day that's a scorcher.

And have that Tim's when you're feeling thirsty, unless you're an old geezer like me, then drink early. Again, from the Wellness Letter: People normally get enough fluids by drinking when they’re thirsty — only older people should drink water before they get thirsty. Thirst is a less reliable indicator as we age.

This may seem like nitpicking and unimportant but if you're ever in Africa and in need of a drink, coffee made from boiled water is a healthier choice than cold water. Even bottled water can be suspect in some regions of the world.

I know a fellow who, while traveling in the Sahara Desert, drank so much bottled water at the encouragement of his guide that he made himself quite ill. That night he had a severe headache, suffered from fatigue, nausea, vomiting and had to urinate frequently. He was up all night. He munched on potato chips in an attempt to boost his low levels of sodium. Come morning he ate a couple of bananas for the potassium. The water, consumed despite not being thirsty, appeared to have seriously diluted his body's electrolyte.

Long distance runners have been known to force themselves to drink despite not feeling thirsty and a very small number have died as a result. It's rare but it happens.

Yes, it can get hot enough to fry an egg!
Oh, and about the phrase "hot-enough-to-fry-and-egg", it is often reported that this is a myth — an impossible feat. Can't be done, we're told.

Well, it can be done but it is a bit of a magic trick. You've got to know how to pull this one off. It is not as easy as simply breaking an egg on a hot surface. The hot surface will quickly cool and the egg itself will supply the insulation needed to keep the surface from regaining its original temperature.

The Alberta Egg Producers say that egg whites begins to ease into an opaque state at 62°C (144°F). Yolks needs a bit higher temperature: 65°C.

If you want to pull this off, have a chat with a high school physics teacher to get pointed in the right direction.

Once, I fried an egg in a frying pan placed on the hood of a black car. My neighbours were amazed. One hint: you've got to keep the performer's spiel going and keep attention diverted. It's only magic if no one can see the science behind the trick.

There is one group of folk who can't rehydrate with a Tim's. And these folk cannot tell you if they are feeling thirsty, either. I'm talking about babies.

Well-meaning caregivers may believe a baby needs plain water on a hot day; They don't. With such small bodies babies can quickly ingest too much water. Water poisoning is one of the leading causes of seizures in otherwise healthy babies, according to Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

Keep babies lightly dressed, keep them in air conditioned environments, if they are drinking formula, do not over dilute the mix. If they must go outside to play, encourage them to splash about in a small pool set up in the shade.

The advice — drink plenty of water . . . even if you don't feel thirsty — is poor advice in many cases. Who knows, maybe even Stephen Colbert would agree.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The benefits of using a tripod

I've been very disappointed in a lot of the videos shot by newspaper reporters and photographers. Frankly, all too often the videos posted on newspaper web sites have an amateur quality imparted by the shaky camera.

To see what a difference a tripod can make, watch this little video documenting an abandoned amusement park in Wichita, Kansas.

No Joy from Mike Petty on Vimeo.

Canon 7D
Note: This little clip was not shot with a true, video-purposed camera but with a Canon 7D. When I enlarge some of the newspaper videos to full screen, they begin falling apart, jaggies appear, unlike this little video which enlarges beautifully.

Now, I'm going to get ready to attend PhotoCamp London 2011.

Addendum: At PhotoCamp I learned there's a lot of experimenting being done with Canon DSLRs being used for shooting video. For instance, a season final of House was shot using a Canon 5D Mark II. Amazing!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Yes, this is a London, Ontario suburb!

It may be city land but adjacent landowners maintain the wide trail.

London was a small, compact community when I first moved here almost four decades ago. London never fell for the ring-road concept and so the city grew mainly around its edges with no ring-road attracting development even farther away from the core.

I live in a London suburb: Byron. It is a classic subdivision plan with lots of crescents and courts. It takes fifteen minutes to drive approximately 10 kilometres from my driveway to the downtown core. It takes about the same amount of time to walk to the supermarket, the drugstore, the bank or a number of other businesses.

The nicest thing about walking to the store is that there are short-cuts. One doesn't have to walk along the street but can take pathways that cut between and behind area homes. These pathways link streets and courts. The walks are very pleasant in the non-winter months. As they are not maintained during the winter, they may be blocked by snow in mid-February.

I love the colours and textures encountered walking to the store.

Of course, in mid-February the pathways may be in use by others, such as kids with sleds and families with toboggans.

My point here is that London suburbs are not all dull, boring, stale places to live. They are not places to escape from as some of the writers at the local paper seem to believe.

I love my neighbourhood, my now grown children love the area and my 3-year-old granddaughter enjoys it, especially the pathways to adventure.