Wednesday, 15 June 2005
Cockroaches and Human Fertility
Topic: In the News
So, it appears that the lowly cockroach, that detested insect pest, shares more with us ladies than just our kitchens. Biologists at Manchester University, who are undertaking research into increased fertility problems in women who put off having children until they are older, now believe that cockroaches hold the key to the mysteries of women's fertility
They are particularly interested in the mating behaviour of the dusky roach (Nauphoet cinera). The female cockroach is unusual as she bears live young and also experiences reproductive cycles and becomes less fertile with age. If breeding is delayed, the cockroaches lose reproductive potential apparently due to a biochemical reaction which may be similar to that of human beings
. Now, I ask myself, why do scientists spend so much time and so many resources on human fertility when half of the world population is starving?
If we believe what we are told, it is possible that in another fifty to sixty years scientists will have conquered ageing
, that inevitable process which causes the human cell to divide and reproduce a finite number of times with increasing errors. If that happens, my great, great grandchildren may be able to look forward to living to be 150 years old but - in what sort of world?
We have problems today with a growing percentage of pensioners compared to the working population. So, shouldn't a curb be put on human reproduction instead of trying to prolong human fertility? Do we really want to see women of sixty or seventy still bearing children? Do we really want to have to carry on working until we are ninety? Is the ultimate fate of mankind to live packed like sardines in mile-high tenements? In such a world, I envisage most people having to work from home because public transport and road systems can no longer cope. A nightmarish future where there are so many people that 'shifts' have to be imposed for recreational purposes or for shopping.
Learning all we can about the human genome is a good thing. But I wonder if scientists are considering all the consequences for humanity when they dream about prolonging human fertility.
Monday, 13 June 2005
World's Best Character Actor
Topic: In the News
Do you think that this man could be mistaken for 15 year old boy? Well, he was and more than once it seems! He is Frederic Bourdin, a Frenchman nicknamed the 'Chameleon
'. He is a balding 31-year-old but he still managed to fool French social workers and fellow pupils at a school in Pau into believing that he was a teenage orphan. Can you believe that he actually spent a month in a children's home and at the school without raising suspicion! He was only found out because a teacher happened to watch a television documentary about his previous exploits and recognised him.
Apparently, "he dyed his greying hair blond, meticulously shaved his beard, applied facial hair remover and covered his bald patch with a baseball cap to achieve the desired effect
". [see Telegraph
]. He changed his voice and also fooled all his classmates with his perfect mastery of teenage gestures and slang! How on earth can somebody live a deception like that for several weeks without making a mistake!
He is obviously a born actor and, under different circumstances, would probably have been nominated for an Oscar for his performances. Instead, the disturbed imposter turned his talent to criminal impersonations of at least 36 imaginary teenagers plus taking on the identities of three missing boys!
I was telling myself about 18 months ago that I needed to replace my Toshiba Laptop. Then, in April 2004, I crashed my computer and got it back with a new 20 GB hard disk. The old one was just 6.4 GB - yes, that's right, 6.4 billion bytes! No wonder I had been running out of memory. I decided to wait a bit longer. After all, they bring out new, more advanced models all the time.
Well, I can't wait very much longer. This old machine is moribund and one day, sooner rather than later, it will go to that great network up in the sky. It often hangs on start up and then I get a message to tell me that the Angel Microsoft has 'restored a good registry'. It is incredibly slow, even after defragging. I can't play games like the Scrabble game my husband bought because the Video RAM is, wait for it, 2.5 MB! And now, to add to my woes, I have managed to break my DVD drive!
My problem is which make and model of Notebook to go for - I suppose I am a typical female who can't make up her mind! But it is a confusing world. What is the difference between Intel Pentium M Centrino and Intel Pentium 4 for a start? Well, what do I know that I want? I haven't got much space so a Laptop is ideal - a desktop replacement with a lot of internal memory and the biggest hard disk I can get. I want a DVD/CD burner and a good video memory. I would like to add a Blue Tooth whatever to my HP printer so that I don't have to be within two feet of it! And I would like wireless capability so that I can sit in the garden with my laptop or anywhere in the house. I would like to go Broadband. However, I still want to be able to connect to my 'phone line for the time being as I probably won't be able to set everything up at once. Oh, yes, I must have a mouse - can't get on with things like the Accupoint control this machine has.
I've looked at Toshiba and Sony and Hewlett Packard and Dell and IBM. I was briefly tempted by the Qosmio but I don't really need a computer that is also a television. Now I am looking at the Acer Notebooks - at least that is a British firm. I was warned not to buy from the usual high street outlets (i.e., PC World, etc.) as, although models might be 'good value', they are likely to have sub-standard chassis, or whatever you call them. Also, because they are put together in some remote Asiatic land, you can't get spare parts easily.
I might go for the Acer TravelMate 8104WLMi - it has an impressive 100 GB hard disk and 1024 MB of RAM installed. It doesn't appear to have a parallel port but it does have Bluetooth and Ethernet, and four USB Ports. Is there a modem jack? What is SPDIF In and Out? Perhaps I had better look around a bit more. I bought a couple of magazines on Sunday morning, 'Computer Buyer' and 'What Laptop'. Better get reading.
Saturday, 11 June 2005
Food for Thought
Topic: Recipes and Food
Have you ever tried tapioca pudding
? My mother used to prepare lots of rice puddings and tapioca puddings when I was small but I haven't eaten one for years. Recently, I read how tapioca is made. It actually comes from the tuberous root of Cassava or Manioc, a shrubby plant originating in South America and now one of the world's most important food crops. Manioc was probably first cultivated by the Maya Indians but it has a serious disadvantage - the starchy root actually contains a poisonous compound called linamarin which can produce cyanide if eaten raw. So the root has to be washed and peeled, shredded or grated and then soaked for several days to allow the plant's natural enzymes to convert the toxic linamarin to sugar and cyanide gas - the gas then dispersing harmlessly. When the shredded root is soaked in clean water and left, starch settles. The water is then poured off and the process is repeated four or five times. Finally, the starch is collected and cooked and stirred until little balls or pearls of tapioca are formed.
The South American Indians
used to squeeze the manioc pulp in a special basket called a 'tipiti' to remove any toxic juice before washing and then they roasted the remains. The result was a coarse meal or flour known as 'farinha de mandioca'. Starch settling out from the extracted juice was then heated on a flat surface, causing individual starch grains to pop open and clump together into small, round granules (tapioca). The remaining juice was boiled down to destroy any poison and used as a sauce called 'tucupi'. Now all that is really quite amazing. How did anyone ever discover that a poisonous tuberous root could be shredded and pummelled and washed and cooked to make it edible?
The evolution of cooking (if that is the right term!) is extremely intriguing. Today, human beings cultivate and eat a huge variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and seeds
but, in the distant past, those food sources were far from abundant and difficult to find. Also, many plants, such as grains, were spindly prototypes of today's plump cultivated varieties. So, how did our hunter gatherer ancestors learn what they could eat and how to prepare it? Some mammals can eat plants which are poisonous to human beings so how many early humans died through experimenting with alternative food sources they had observed other creatures eating? For that matter, how many died from eating unprocessed manioc? Hunger must have been a very powerful driving force to make people experiment with ways of preparing something they knew could make them very ill or even kill them.Homo Erectus
and other early hominids would have hunted for meat but they would also have eaten every seed they could find. Anything bean-like or pea-like would have been stripped off the bushes, together with wild berries or nuts and the stems or roots of starchy plants. But how did early man ever think of grinding millet or other grains into flour and then mixing it with water to make a dough? Perhaps they started by grinding nuts and seeds when their teeth began to wear down! Certainly, many nuts and seeds are more nutritious when broken down by grinding as that releases more of the protein. (One good reason to chew food well). So, was it an accidental soaking of ground up seeds that forced them to try to 'dry' it over a fire?
Actually, it is easy to understand how early man thought of roasting nuts or burning off seed husks or roasting meat - it would have just needed a forest fire to flash through their hunting grounds for the concept of cooking to take hold. Although many foods, including fish and meat, can be eaten raw, they are undoubtedly less of a strain on the digestive system, and probably more tasty as well, if they are eaten cooked. One reason is that many seeds contain substances like tannins which are destroyed or greatly reduced by cooking, thereby making them more nutritious and much easier to digest and people would have been quick to notice the advantages and to learn how to harness the power of fire.
It seems that everywhere that early humans went, they found some new foodstuff to eat. I think that we owe a great deal to the resourcefulness of so called 'primitive man' who was actually very clever and extremely knowledgeable about his environment. They knew what to eat and how to prepare it and they also knew what plants and herbs could cure various ailments - something which today's scientists are still learning about from old 'folk medicine
Today, human beings worldwide eat and enjoy a huge variety of foodstuffs. We, in the Western World, are particularly fortunate when it comes to food. We just take a trip to the supermarket and load up our trolleys with whatever we fancy or can afford. Yorkshire puddings, meat pies, rhubarb crumble, Indian curry, Chinese sweet and sour pork - you name it, it's in a cabinet somewhere. Everything is prepared for us from lamb chops to fish fingers. We can enjoy any vegetable out of season from the frozen food cabinet or buy exotic fruit flown in from all over the world. We can buy packets of 'freshly prepared' vegetables all sliced up and ready to cook, even peeled potatoes ready for boiling! So much so that some young people, (like the girl who served me once in Marks and Spencers), have no idea what peas, broad beans or runner beans look like before podding or slicing. Our great grand-parents, who had to bottle and preserve, would be utterly amazed.
Wednesday, 8 June 2005
Here are a couple of 'funnies' that my husband heard on BBC Radio Two's, "Wake up with Wogan", this morning between 8 and 9 am. Purportedly, both true stories.
A man goes into a newsagents and asked the girl, "Do you sell first class stamps?" "Yes, sir", she replied. "Oh, good. I'll have a dozen, please." "Oh, I'm sorry, sir. We only sell them in books of twelve".
A gentleman boards an aeroplane at Dublin carrying a packet of fresh edible crabs. He asked the Air Hostess if she would be kind enough to store them in the refrigerator in the galley. "Certainly, sir. No problem". Relieved, he made his way to his seat. On landing, the tannoy comes on. The Air Hostess had an announcement. "Would the gentleman who gave me the crabs at Dublin please come and identify himself".
World Ocean Day
Topic: Special Days
World Ocean Day was created at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and is celebrated annually on the 8th June. At the moment, the organisers are campaigning to have this day recognised and officially designated by the United Nations. They need 10,000 signatures. If you care about our oceans, why not sign this petition. You can do it online HERE
One of the most damaging of ocean activities is the practice of deep-sea trawling
. Everything, edible or not, is scooped up in the heavy nets. Coral is destroyed and fragile ecosytems are gone forever. The ocean floor is left a barren desert, with no shelter or food for the myriad of tiny fish fry. This practise should be banned as a matter of urgency. The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition has just released a white paper highlighting this problem, Six Good Reasons for a time-out on high seas bottom trawling
. If something is not done soon, many fish will become extinct. Cod is already endangered and it is a fact that the mature breeding population is virtually non-existent. This means that immature fish are now breeding much earlier than normal. What effect this will have on the fish stock is unknown.
I can remember my Dad telling me that the sea was a wonderful source of food for mankind which would never run out. But it is running out. Also, the seas act as the lungs for our world and provide vast amounts of oxygen. However, if we turn the oceans into dank, polluted water deserts, what will happen then?
Do you want to have to explain to your grandchildren or great grandchildren what Fish 'n Chips tasted like? I certainly don't. Now is the time for our generation to do something before it is too late. One way is to support the campaign for the preservation of our beautiful oceans and their diverse marine life. We must do this for our descendants' sakes before it is too late and that point of no return is looming closer day by day. Go on, sign that petition now - I have.
Monday, 6 June 2005
Daft as a Brush (or Two)
Did anyone notice my deliberate mistake this morning?! There it was - the little notice I put at the top of the page for all and sundry to see. You didn't notice! Oh well... I had only put '1944: 60th
Anniversary of D-Day"! Seems I am living a year in the past.
I even mentioned it to my husband on Sunday: "I must amend my notices to say it is the 60th Anniversary on the 6th June". "Yes", he agreed. Now, of course, he says he was thinking of the 60th Anniversary of the end of the war! Are we both going senile?
Men in white coats coming....
Saturday, 4 June 2005
Douglas Jennings, RAF Evader During World War II
?Jump or Die? - A Personal Recollection from 1939-1945
Topic: My Web Pages
If any of you have visited my web site, you will know that my aunt, Marthe Janssen-Leyder
was a member of the Belgian Secret Army during World War II. I met her once when I was four years and ten months old. She came over to London in 1946 to see my father and stayed with us for a couple of days. She was planning to arrange a meeting with some of the airmen who had been helped by her group but it was not to be. A few days later, she died from a stroke - the strain of the war years had taken its toll. I had some papers my father had kept, some 'stories
' she had typed out for us and some family memories. Then, a couple of years' ago, I was contacted by a Canadian Historian, Michael Moores LeBlanc, who told me how to get a copy of her 'Award File' from the US Archives in Washington DC. I now had some names - three Airmen she had helped, one USAAF and two RAF. I found one of them, Douglas Jennings
, living about twenty miles away from my home. He was the same airman pictured in the Belgian Newspaper
cutting I had.
At the time, Doug gave me a copy of his unpublished manuscript, "Jump or Die". It describes his two years of training with the RAF as an "Air Bomber", the initial 'crewing up' process and the crew's eventual posting to No. 57 Squadron at East Kirkby, Lincolnshire in April 1944 after a final two months at No. 5 Lancaster Finishing School. It tells how, on the night of 21st June 1944, (the crew's 18th operation), Lancaster III, LM580 DX-L, took off to bomb an oil plant in Wesseling, German. On the outbound journey, the bomber was shot by FLAK and went down in flames. All the crew
, except for Pilot Gwylin 'Ginger' Guy, who sadly went down with his aeroplane, bailed out. Doug was lucky not to be arrested by the Gestapo. He successfully evaded through Belgium and returned to England in September 1944. One of the first things he did was to visit my father's office to give him news of his sister! After "Survivors' Leave", Doug was posted to an Operational Training Unit at Abingdon - not what he wanted! After some 'drastic action' on his part, Doug finally succeeded in getting another posting to No 9 Squadron where he flew a further eight operations dropping the famous Tallboy Bombs.
I was enthralled with his book. So, I am absolutely delighted to announce that it has just been published through Tucann Books. The book is an A5 sized paperback of 141 pages and well illustrated throughout. Purchase price is #10 + #1.50 post and packing. Copies may be obtained from Doug (who will be pleased to sign them) or from the Publisher, full details here
Lord of the Rings
Topic: Films and TV
We finally got round to watching the video recording of "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring". It is such a long film, I prepared our Friday supper, my version of "Cod Provençal", earlier than usual to give us a longer evening to fit it all in!
I had actually recorded it on 30th April but it was worth the wait! What a brilliant film! Ian McKellen was excellent as Gandalf and the trick photography making the Hobbits smaller was very clever and really impressive. Elijah Wood was very, very good as Frodo Baggins - the only minor distraction was noticing his chewed fingernails!
We are both looking forward to the next two films in the trilogy. Might have to get the DVD as it will probably be a while before anything appears on terrestrial TV!
Friday, 3 June 2005
Driving Me Mad!
Is my driving getting worse? Twice recently, I have had people wag their finger at me when I have been at the wheel. Now, I happen to think that doing that is extremely rude, demeaning and insulting, especially when I hadn't done anything particularly wrong or dangerous.
The first time was a week ago; I was in Tesco's car park looking for an empty space. Near the store entrance, there is a 'pedestrian walkway' with white stripes, similar to a Zebra Crossing. My eyes moved left to an elderly lady who had just crossed and then, I spotted the young woman on my right waiting to cross. I admit I stopped a bit sharply but I was clear of the 'crossing' - so why did she wag her finger at me! I felt quite miffed!
The second occasion was yesterday and, this time, I was really furious with 'steam coming out of my ears'! We look after the grandchildren every Thursday and usually collect them from school at ten past three. But this week is half-term week so we had to get to my son-in-law's house by half-past two so that he could leave for work. Well, we were a little late partly because our neighbour for many years was moving and the giant removal van had been parked across our driveway since ten past eight. "Won't be a minute", the driver called out but it was a bit more than that!
I turned briskly into the little cul-de-sac road in Westergate. There was a parked car about thirty yards in front and a car coming towards me. I stopped, again a bit sharply. I had not cut the corner and I was stopped entirely in my lane but the sneering, puerile nitwit at the wheel of the on-coming car just had to wag his finger at me! He mouthed something, too, and drew up beside me. I wound down the window. "You came round that corner a bit fast, didn't you", said Mr Superior Driver. "You could have bumped into me!" Bumped into him
! I had stopped a good few feet from the parked car before he was even level with it. I never think of the right thing to say. "Well, I didn't and I stopped, didn't I", I glared at him. He didn't move, just sat there with an inane grin on his face. My husband, dear soul that he is, kept very quiet. "I am
in a hurry", I said a bit peevishly. So what does Mr Superior Driver do? Well, the asshole goes into reverse and stops level with the parked car smirking at me like a stupid schoolboy!
Well, I can quite understand how road rage incidents happen! I was really mad! What did I do? The only thing I could think of... I leant on my horn! After about 30 seconds, he decided to move off but not before giving me two fingers up and a verbal insult on the way. I probably shouldn't have - but I retaliated with similar. I only wish I had thought to take his number because I would definitely have reported him!
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