Sunday, April 30, 2006

Early onset dementia??

I was in a concert last night and one of my friends who came handed me a $20 to cover the cost of her ticket when I saw her after the show. Not even 30 minutes later, I was helping to clean up... I pulled everything out of my pockets and tossed it into a garbage bag. It wasn't until about an hour later that I realized that I probably threw out twenty bucks. And since the tickets were actually only $15, I owe this friend $5 - so I'm out $25 now.

Then today I completely forgot about a social event I was supposed to go to - and was looking forward to - and I have no idea why. It's not even like I was caught up in doing something important...

What is happening to my brain cells???

Saturday, April 29, 2006

What? - I agree with Wente??

This almost never happens. Margaret Wente is a columnist at the Globe and Mail who usually gets me all riled up with her Saturday columns. But today... I find myself agreeing with her.

She wrote about Wendy Mesley's recent TV show - where Wendy, a breast cancer survivor, talked about how there's a cancer epidemic and blamed it entirely on all the chemicals we are exposed to through products we buy or industrial emissions. I saw the show and it made me mad too.

The problem was, she really misrepresented the facts. Sure, the absolute numbers of cancer cases are going up in Canada - quite a bit. But so is the number of older people. And cancer usually happens to older people. If you look at cancer rates over the past years - they have actually been pretty stable, and some of the rates for specific cancers have actually decreased.

I'm willing to buy the argument that being exposed to more chemicals and mixtures of chemicals probably doesn't exactly benefit our health. But many chemicals we worry about are also produced in nature. How can we avoid those? And some of the doses we're exposed to are so very small - they are unlikely to pose much risk.

In any case, it is certainly not possible to say that most cancer cases today are due to environmental exposures. Some clear risk factors for cancer (like smoking, and even eating enough vegetables and getting exercise) are a result of personal choices that people make.

We all take risks on a daily basis - and we are so often much more willing to accept even a high risk if we percieve it as having been our choice. So - while it is often worthwhile to try and reduce risks that are beyond our control, in this case it was out of proportion to blame "cancer in today's world" entirely on environmental exposures.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Chinese Chests

Apparently the average cup size in China is increasing. It used to be that most bras sold in China were cup size A or B - but now manufacturers are making more of the bigger cup sizes.

On Inkycircus, where I found this, they think that the "explanation" provided by the Shanghai Daily - that Chinese women are becoming bigger-breasted due to increases in nutritious eating and participation in physical activity - is a load of hooey. They propose that increases in McDonald's consumption might be the real culprit. Some of the commentary from the peanut gallery suggests that it might actually be related to more hormonal birth control intake.

To me, either of the latter two explanations sounds plausible... but either way, I bet the Chinese MEN aren't complaining... ha!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Green bricks?

Apparently someone has figured out how to take fly ash - which is produced as a pollutant byproduct by coal-fired power plants - and turn it into bricks.

This sounds great becuase normally fly ash has to be disposed of in special landfills. Not only that - but the technique uses a high-pressure system that doesn't cause the air pollutant emissions you typically get with "traditionl brick" - making techniques.

(Oooh, I can just see it: the brick-people-association, or whoever represents brick-makers, will be getting upset if this idea gains momentum)

My only question: fly ash contains mercury, lead and other toxic chemicals. I'd want to be pretty sure that my exposure was going to be verrry low if these bricks were going to be a part of any building where I spend a lot of time...

Monday, April 24, 2006

Graduate research I'm glad isn't mine

I already find that scheduling meetings with graduate supervisors and committee members can be tedious - especially if you're trying to gather more than one of them at a time! Sometimes it feels like it's holding up my progress (although I'm actually pretty sure that my progress is mostly hampered by my own procrastination).

But thank goodness my research doesn't depend on NASA launching a satellite! Apparently some grad students at Hampton Univeristy are doing research that is all about corroborating the findings of CALIPSO, an earth-observing satellite.

Whose launch has been canceled repeatedly for over a year! Ouch. That would be so frustrating!

Apparently the advisors on this type of research usually have an alternative research project ideas lined up for their students though... juist in case they can't wait on NASA any longer!!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

I am woman, hear me ROAR!


I know that nowadays, in Canada anyway, women can pretty much do whatever they want... but we can all identify what the stereotypical female idea was (dainty, claen and well-groomed, good good, great housekeeper) and probably would still identify traits such as being more emotional, more interested in clothing and baby animals and generally physically less strong as being more (generally) "female" than "male".

So maybe it's not so surprising that doing any of the things that fit into the traditional female stereotype well makes me feel merely competent, whereas doing anything more physically demanding or that required tools makes me feel tough.

I just came back from a run in the rain. I got absolutely soaked, looked more like drowned rat than dainty housekeeper... but I felt (still feel) great. Strong. Tough.


Maybe I'll go lift some heavy stuff and turn on some power tools now.

Saturday, April 22, 2006


Well, my tough-girl no-nonsense side thinks this sort of stuff is silly. Yes, that's definitely it. A waste of good, potentially productive time. Completely frivolous.

But... these guys are so good at what they do.

You'll just have to click on the link to find out what has reduced my entire vocabulary to one word - "Awwwwwwwwwwwwww" - for extended periods of time.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Mulroney? Really?!

Last night former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was declared the "greenest" Prime Ministed that Canada has ever had. The award was voted on by environmentalists and a few others including former Liberal environment minister Sheila Copps, was handed out by an environmental magazine called Corporate Knights.

Wierd. I never would have predicted Mulroney for this award, but admit I haven't a clue about what most governments in recent years have actually done about the environment ... and although I do know that Muroney was in on Meech Lake and Free Trade, I was still in my early teens when he was in office and probably not paying much attention to anything that wasn't big news.

I do know that Canada used to be percieved internationally as a leader in environmental action - now, according to the David Suzuki Foundation, we are ranked 28th out of 30 OEDC nations on our environmental record. Which I find shocking.

Apparently none of the prime ministers since Mulroney (there have been four: Kim Campbell, Jean Chretien, Paul Martin, and Stephen Harper) got even a single vote.

Maybe it's time for Canada to be a leader again.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Etiquette I never learned

I was at one of those social gatherings yesterday where everyone stands around chatting, there are hors d'oeuvres circulating, and platters of fruit and veggies, crackers and cheese...

I can NEVER figure out how you're supposed to manage it: I'm chatting, drink in hand, and someone comes around with a tray of spring rolls and sushi. Yum. So I take the proffered napkin. NOW what am I supposed to do - how to pick up the food - since both hands are now occupied? And then, even more complicated, how do you eat it? I can sort of manage this if I only pick up one item, by mashing the napkin against my glass while I pick up the food (yesterday, this resulted in a soggy napkin since I was having a cold drink and the glass was "sweating").

It's even worse if I stop at a table and load up my napkin with a selection of things and then pick up my drink and move away from the table.

Hmmm. Maybe you're not really supposed to "load up your napkin". Ah well, I'm not exactly the rep for "Dainty R Us".


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A taxing endeavour

I've just realized that I should do my taxes. I know that this should have been obvious from the time I got my first 2005 T4 in the mail, but the end of April has somehow snuck up on me.

Every year I'm amazed that the general public is (in theory) supposed to be able to figure out this tax thing themselves. I guess the tax software that's available now does simplify things, but anyone who has ever perused the tax guide and navigated the forms by hand knows that they are anything but straightforward. It seems like no matter which page you start with, you're supposed to have filled out some other schedule or form already. It's a never-ending circle of form-filling hell.

Tax software and online filing makes everything much simpler - but still - every year it seems like someone publishes a comparison of the return you'd get if you, your tax software, or an accountant does your return. And every year, the best way to go is with the accountant.

It hardly seems reasonable that in most cases, only a professional can really do your taxes properly, since every Canadian is required to submit them every year.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Viva Las Vegas

So this weekend I went to Paris, Venice, and New York, stopped overnight in the Middle East, visited the pyramids and oh, yeah, saw a medieval castle and a pirate ship.

Yep, I was in Las Vegas, Nevada. On "the strip", you can visit almost any fantasy world you want. Including the fantasy of winning a million.

Heading to Las Vegas over Easter weekend is sort of like creating a collision of worship: resurrection versus acquisition. (Although in Vegas, the desire to acquire can lead to quite the opposite effect - depletion. Or should I say donation - to the Gods of the corporate world).

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Rice is nice

Apparently for every one degree increase (Celcius) in ambient temperature, rice yields decline by about 15%.

Pretty scary when you consider that the globe is supposedly warming due to climate change and that about three billion people on this here warm globe rely on rice to feed themselves.

Luckily, the folks at the IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) are on it. They're trying to develop rice that can handle flooding, drought, and with high temperatures. They've had some successes before - having developed a high-yield rice back in th '60s - so there is hope.
They're also trying to develop rice that's enriched with Vatamin A. By implanting two genes from a daffodil and one from a bacterium into a variety of rice called japonica rice.

Sounds wierd to me, but hey - whatever works.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Hurrah for raw sewage

In Oslo, they've started using raw sewage to heat their homes. Heat is extracted from the sewage and transferred to hot water pipes - which then send hot water back to homes around the city. The technology is basically the same thing that makes a fridge work, and the city is suddenly able to heat the equivalent of about 9000 apartments per year - and save about 6000 tonnes of oil that would have otherwise been burned..

It sounds as though the technology could be used all over the place, which is way cool. So far the only problem in Oslo seems to be the irregular water flows. As in, there's not much raw sewage available early on Monday mornings (4-6 AM) because most people go to bed early on Sunday night.
Tangentially, my favorite quote from the whole article is this:

"In Oslo, untreated sewer flows -- from toilets, bathtubs, sinks and rainwater from the streets -- runs into the system past a filter that keeps out big objects such as dead rats."
There's just something grisly about the "big objects such as dead rats" bit.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Reconciling Punk with what is corporate and superficial

I have always thought of people who are into the "punk" look as being rebellious, anti-establishment types. Yesterday I was walking up Yonge street behind a guy whose hair was carefully styled in a prickle of 2-inch spikes. His jeans were ripped acid wash, andI'd be willing to bet that metal studs featured somewhere in his attire, although I couldn't see any from behind.

The guy was carrying shopping bags from about three or four different stores that feature prominantly at the Eaton Centre. Huh? This guy shops at a mall that dilineates the centre of Toronto's corporate merchandising universe?

Also. It must have taken ages for him to style his hair, and really, achieving that punk look must actually take a bit of effort and require a very fashion-conscious approach to getting dressed. Which means... that what is superficial becomes important. Again..Huh?

Friday, April 07, 2006

The one time when fuzzy and sticky go together...

Remember when Canadian x-country skier Sara Renner snapped her pole during her Olympic race and a Norwegian coach handed her his pole from the sidelines? She went on to win a silver medal while the Norwegians finished fourth.

Yep, it was a great Olympic story. Apparently Canadians have been feeling all warm and fuzzy about it pretty much ever since.

Michael Page, of Montreal, started "Project Maple Syrup", asking Canadians to donate money for, or cans of, maple syrup for the Norwegians. When I read that more than 7000 cans, or 5.2 tonnes of the stuff was sent last week, I nearly fell off my chair. Who could ever get through so many pancakes. Or waffles. Or... or what else do you really eat with maple syrup?

(Is Canada secretly trying to destroy Norway's 2010 Olympic chances by inducing carb and sugar comas in their athletes?)

Thank goodness there are actually just a whole lot of people who contribute to sending a national team to the Olympics - the Canadian embassy is going to pass it out to a whole bunch of people, including the Norwegian Olympic committee and the Norwegian athletes, as well as volunteers and friends.

Bring on the pancakes.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


Yesterday I started working on a calculation assignment for a class I'm taking. It's the sort of thing I haven't done in ages and I found myself trying to remember how to get started. It felt so odd to sit down with just a piece of paper, a pencil and a calculator and begin by listing all the variables at the top of the page.

The keyboard that sits in the middle of the desk kept getting in my way, and I didn't have a functioning calculator around so I had to use the one on the computer.

Eventually I ended up typing out the whole calcuation assignment, which seems odd since it's kind of a pain to insert a bunch of equations into a Word document... but at the same time, the idea of handing in anything written out by hand seems... archaic.

The technology takeover of my life is apparently complete.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Care to discuss global warming?

Global warming - is it happening or not? Considering the winter Toronto just had, with little or no snow and warm temperatures throughout January and February, it's not hard to feel a little concerned about the weather.

There is lots of evidence to suggest that us humans are affecting the climate of the earth, and there are also several coherent expressions of skepticism out there - like Bjorn Lomborg's book, The Skeptical Environmentalist.

Scientific American is promoting a bit more discussion. They have a blogger, George Musser, on the job, answering queries from skeptics about climate change.

Although you have to click through a few screens to get to the good stuff, it's an interesting read.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Maybe this shouldn't bug me, but it does

Apparently the Royal Canadian Mint, in co-operation with the Breast Cancer Foundation of Canada, is releasing a pink-ribbon quarter.

It is truly fantastic that there is so much awareness and fundraising about breast cancer - there were those 'target" T-shirts, there's the weekend to end breast cancer, and there are all sorts of pink ribbon-driven cooking, yard-sale, and craft-related fundraisers.

Whoever's running the Breast Cancer fundraising program is a genius.

It also gives me the feeling of being a slick, corporate, marketing machine. And I'm wary of that.

With respect to the quarter... there are other chronic diseases that should be important to Canadians that we rarely hear about: heart disease, for example... and all of the other cancers. Or what about diseases that are not commonly thought of as killers, but which have a profound effect on the lives of many Canadians: asthma and COPD, diabetes.
See this graph? It's mortality rate vs. year for Canadians of all ages. I made it using public data online at Health Canada.

Starting from the top:
  • Turquoise: Circulatory Disease
  • Purple: Ischeamic Heart Disease
  • Green: Lung Cancer
  • Red: Colorectal Cancer
  • Blue: Breast Cancer
  • Dark Green: Asthma
So I'm curious as to when we'll be seeing the heart, the bloodstream, the lungs, and the gastrointestinal tract on our quarters.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Symbolizing an intersection of worlds

World #1:

Any world created in literature, through clever and skilful use of words and phraseology. Literature is a way to express themes and make arguments through use of metaphor, and simile, and above all, requires creation of a damn good story...

World #2:

The outdoors - the kind involving wilderness and self-propelled adventure, escaping from roads and man-made structures and boundaries, testing your own limits, and seeing the beauty of nature while in it.

So what actually happened is that yesterday I was at Mountain Equipment Co-op... and so was Margaret Atwood, grand dame of Canadian literature.