Wednesday, May 31, 2006

My precioussssss!

Yeurgh. It seems that although China's one-per-family babies should be awfully precious, there are a number of companies over there who are willing to risk the health of the country's next generation for profit. The most recent example has a company using plastic from discarded CDs to make baby bottles. According to the factory manager (in an article from China Daily),

"the factory used the reclaimed plastic because it was much cheaper than clean material"

It turns out that the bottles contain hydroxybenzene, a yucky chemical that leaches into warm milk and harms the kidneys and liver.

This company is not alone either: Reuters is reporting that two years ago, 13 babies died and more than 200 got sick after ingesting fake milk powder, and more recently, tests on children’s clothing have found that many containe a dye that can cause bladder and urethra cancer with chronic exposure. As in, the type of exposure you might get from wearing a piece of clothing a lot.

Ahhh, capitalism has come to China.

Maybe these examples are the exception; I hope so. Although it's hard to know how to value the health of the next generation, even in purely economic terms it's a poor trade for the financial gains these ethically-challenged companies are hoping for.

Besides. It's just so wrong.

Monday, May 29, 2006

In Celebration of Bike Week

It is Toronto Bike Week this week. And as it turns out I have an awesome, new, thematically appropriate (for this blog, anyway) cycling shirt with which to celebrate:

I love sushi. I love biking. I especially love biking when it replaces driving and reduces air pollution and gets me a workout. And completely concidentally, we've been invited out tomorrow - to visit a Japanese friend who is preparing food for us. Oo, this is good.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Left or Right?

Last night some guy wearing a "Green Party" button on his lapel was outside our local cafe having a smoke.

I don't get it:

Aren't green party people typically environmentalist, socialist, left-wing types? And aren't cigarette companies representative of everything corporate, and capitalist? I mean, Philip Morris owns Kraft - between the cigarettes, peanut butter and that unnaturally orange macaroni and cheese, they are making trillions of dollars. And I'm thinking that altrusim is not a major part of their investment portfolio.

Why is it that the stereotype of the artsy left-wing types so often includes smoking? It seems like such a contradction in values to me.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Holes in the upper atmosphere and beyond

Yesterday I was writing about how I hoped that our collective actions - and those of our governments - really have made a difference to the ozone layer, but that although a new model predicted that the hole will disappear by 2050, I wanted more data before I would really believe that the hole is truly shrinking.

Ask and ye shall receive, I guess!

Apparently there is other evidence out there that the loss of ozone is levelling off: data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), from NASA and from a global monitoring network have shown that chlorine (a major component of CFCs, which caused the hole in the ozone layer in the first place) has leveled off in the atmosphere, and now show that ozone loss is leveling off, too.

The paper, by Betsy Weatherhead of NOAA says that the improvements are due to the 1987 enaction of the Montreal protocol. So hopefully that shrinkage will start to happen soon.

How nice to have a Canadian association to an environmental success story (however remote). How frustrating that the current Canadian environmental agenda seems to have disappeared into a hole of a blacker variety.

Click here for NOAA's latest view of the hole in the ozone layer. I wanted to show you today's picture but it won't upload for some reason. Grrr.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Here's to shrinkage

Everyone always says, " look after the environment, don't pollute, we're wrecking this place and we all need to take action". And then it always feels like any action I might take is pretty tiny compared to the big 'ole problems we seem to be facing, and that geez, nobody else is taking that action along with me.

Today I read that the hole in the ozone layer might actually start shrinking - and that it could be gone by 2050. Of course this is based on a computer model developed by one research group - and as with all science there's a bit of disagreement about whether or not they're right - but the point is, we found out there was a problem (CFC emissions), we took some action (reducing CFC emissions, disallowing them in newer products) and we got a result.

Erm, well not yet actually. We definitely got reduced CFC emissions... however, according to these modellers, the hole has reached its maximum size. Which sort of implies to me that it hasn't actually started shrinking yet. I know a lot of equations and complicated stuff goes into those models but I'll be feeling a whole lot more confident once that hole in the ozone layer is for sure getting smaller again.

I feel famous

Today, I found out that my blog has independently been discovered by two really cool forces in my life - by someone I know - the director of my choir, Cantores Celestes - which I talked about in this post, and by my very favorite girl-nerd science blog, inkycircus, who picked up on my Rustle the Leaf post from a couple of days ago. Aw, I like Rustle too.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Second Cup and the mystery of the expanding coffee

Second Cup has decided to change all their coffee sizes. Except they haven't actually changed much about the cup size except to rename them. What I used to get when I ordered a medium is now called "small". What Pat used to get when he ordered a large is now called "medium". And so on.

I think the price per cup (for the medium aka small) has gone up by two pennies.

So what are they doing?

(a) hoping that multitudes of people will initially order the wrong size and so they'll get more coffee and pay more by accident thereby temporarily increasing profits for Second Cup

(b) planning to cash in on that extra two cents per cup (I soppose that two cents per cup times many many cups isn't insignificant) and hoping that people won't notice the price difference because they'll be too busy wondering what size they should order

(c) hoping that we'll all get used to drinking bigger cups of coffee because we'll start off ordering the wrong size by mistake - but will end up getting used to buying and paying for more java, thereby increasing profits for Second Cup

(d) Just messing with us so that someone can claim they've rebranded the company or some such nonsense. Which, presumably, would be aimed at increasing customers thereby increasing profits for Second Cup

Ya, really, who knows what they're up to.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The illusion of May 24th long weekend

Every year it happens. I look forward to the long weekend in May. May two-four. Yep, the unofficial beginning of summer.

Like lots of other Canadians, I percieve that this long weekend is the first time it's sensible to go hang out in the woods - or to be outdoors doing something at least vaguely adventurous that doesn't require wearing snowpants.

Except that every year it rains. And it's cold. And this year I forgot the freakin' tent poles! Yep, three whole hours away from Toronto, and I have a brainwave that the tent poles may not have actually been packed in the bag with the tent. Sure enough, the tent bag was very squishy. No hope that I might be wrong.

So we end up shelling out a bunch of cash for a Coleman tent that has a fly about the size of my pinkie fingernail, and which proceeds to leak like a sieve precisely at each of the four corners as it pours rain overnight. Which is does, since it's May 24th weekend and it pretty much rains every year as far as I can recall.

Ah well. We managed to stay warm due to multiple layers of fleece and dry due to the astounding floorspace involved in the Coleman version of the "3-man tent". And we even got in some hiking along the Bruce Trail and saw some pretty spectacular scenery.

And this time next year, I'll probably be getting ready to enjoy my first "outside" weekend of the year once again.

Friday, May 19, 2006

More climate change propaganda?

Rustle the Leaf is a weekly syndicated comic strip designed "to communicate essential environmental themes and truths". It's an educational website and they provide instructions on how to link to the current strip, so I don't think thye'll mind me posting this one from their archives here.

It's got an odd but environmentally appropriate cast of characters that includes Rustle (the leaf), an acorn, and a water drop. [Reminds me of the stories my Dad used to tell about the adventures of Henry the water drop. I think the science-y part of me has clear genetic origins!]

Ironically, this week's strip is about converting animal waste into energy - so maybe the comment in my post from yesterday about not wanting to have extra poo around was a bit premature!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

My propaganda wins

Oh, goody. A group I've never heard of called the Competitive Enterprise Institute has come up with a commercial extolling the benefits of a greenhouse gas. The idea is to counter some of the alarmist climate change stuff coming out in the media - most notably, the documentry featuring Al Gore called "An Inconvenient Truth".

Apparently the ad starts off like this:

A little girl blows away dandelion fluff as an announcer says, "Carbon dioxide: they call it pollution; we call it life".

Yup, that waste product left over when our bodies have gotten all the oxygen goodness out of it is part of life. Mind you, our bodies creates a variety of other waste products as well and I'm not sure that I'd happily accept having an excess of that stuff around in my "ambient environment" just because it was a byproduct of some useful industrial process... I won't even to get started listing chemicals that are vital for life and which are poisonous at high exposure levels.

"The fuels that produce CO2 (carbon dioxide) have freed us from a world of back-breaking labor, lighting up our lives, allowing us to create and move the things we need, the people we love," the ad runs. "Now some politicians want to label carbon dioxide a pollutant. Imagine if they succeed -- what would our lives be like then?"

I'm guessing that the alternative they're implying is something out of the dark ages. We'll have no light,ever, be forced to eat everything raw, and have walk miles to our workplaces (uphill both ways, and we won't even have any good hiking boots because they're probably all made in China).

I humbly offer an alternative view: phased-in green power including hydroelectric and wind power coupled with development of efficient products (heard of the Energuide?), reduction in electricity use (ahem, could we turn off the office lights overnight, please?) , embracing locally-grown produce, and designing communities that encourage walking and cycling.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mmm... you smell... funny.

I read on popgadget today that Demeter Fragrance Library (I've never heard of them before but who knows, I don't relaly keep up with the fragrance world) is releasing a limited edition of...

Eau de Play-Doh. 1 oz costs $19. (U.S. funds, I presume.)

I guess it's in honour of Play-doh's fiftieth anniversary, but if you ask me it's plain wierd. I can imagine two seconds of nostalgic happiness followed by mild disgust for the rest of the day. Nope, could not wear this to the office. (Well, you know - if I went to an office)

I checked the website for Demeter Fragrance Library, and they have other scnts too, including chocolate chip cookie, mojito, and kahala Kamikazee (all YUM!) as well as beetroot, turpentine, sawdust, and holy water.

I'm still wondering what the holy water smell would be.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Census Day!

Today is census day in Canada. Apparently you can actually get fined $500 or spend three months in jail if you don't fill it out - although I don't know how often that actually happens. On the National tonight, it was reported that for every person not counted, the province loses 11000 dollars in federal transfer payments. Sounds like a lot of cashola!

We got the long form - which included over 50 questions and took P. ages to fill out online. Some of the questions were even a bit subjective - how many hours of unpaid housework did I do last week... umm... I'm not too sure?

And what a warm fuzzy feeling I get inside when I think of how we've helped all those companies that use postal codes and census data to direct their marketing.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Another H2O commercial gripe

Brita has a new TV commercial that points out that tap water and the water in your toilet tank come from the SAME source.

I think I was supposed to think: Ewww. And that obviously, it must be a good idea to put a filter on my tap, because who wants to think about drinking that nasty water in the toilet, right?

Before we hit the commercial's punch line I was actually thinking that maybe the ad was about water conservation. Silly moi.

Sheesh. Talk about playing on peoples' fears about bacteria.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Canada Health Day

According to a supplement in my daily national newspaper (provided for the Canada Health Network) today is Canada Health Day.

I find it a little odd that I'm registered in a graduate-level University program all about health, where a lot of us (rather unsurprisingly) research public health issues - and I hadn't heard of Canada health day at all.

Not through school, or the media, or just random emails from various agiencies I deal with.

What is Canada health day supposed to be? 'Cuz if I didn't even know about it - surely - it wasn't an education/awareness campaign?

A bit of drama..

Two nights ago as P. and I were cleaning up after dinner, we had the back door open because it was warm in the kitchen.

"Smell like campfire", I commented.

Several minutes later, this was the scene from our front window:

Turns out the the apartment three units to our left was well and truly on fire. The firefighters had to go in with sledgehammers and we could hear them tearing apart the walls as we stood on our back deck. Lots of smoke too. Considering that all the buildings are essentially the same building here - one big string of storefronts with apartments above them, I wasn't really sure that we should actually bestanding on our back deck...!

Hurrah for the Toronto fire department - they managed to get everything under control relatively quickly. I did decide to not go to bed until I was sure they were packing up their equipment though!

Thursday, May 11, 2006


I just saw Aquafina's new TV commercial last night - they show how wonderful and pure Aquafina water is by sticking some instrument into it that measures total dissolved solids and comes up with some very small number. [Now that I think about it - was it a number greater than zero? What were the units? I'll have to watch more closely next time]

Interesting since total dissolved solids are related mostly to palatability and their absence does not necessarily imply safety or absence of pollutants.

Aquafina water probably doesn't contain bacteria or other pollutants - I don't really know, and this TV commercial does nothing to convince me one way or the other.

I wonder if the implication is that taste is the most important consideration for consumers of bottled water, or if it's that Aquafina assumes that although water safety is important to the public, we are easily duped into believing that water purity and safety can be determined by some arbitrary scientific-sounding test.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Allow me to brag for a moment

I sing in a women's choir in Toronto called Cantores Celestes and we have just released a new CD (it's actually the choir's fourth). It's called "The Circle Never Ends" and it's a combination of choral/bluegrass - we collaborated with an excellent bluegrass band called the Foggy Hogtown Boys. Sounds wierd but actually we sound pretty damn good.

Anyway, cuts from the CD have now been played on the radio in every province in Canada as well as in California. And Toronto's CBC 99.1 chose it as their disc of the month for May.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Creepy crawlies

Scientists have developed small robots that can fool cockroaches into thinking they are part of the gang. The "robo-roaches" have pheremone molecules on the them and are programmed to interact with real cockroaches. I gather the researchers think we'll soon we'll be able to have our own pied piper of cockroach-land, rounding up all of these horrible buggies so that we can finally go ahead and get rid of them.

I'm all for getting rid of roaches - they Really. Are. Gross. And they can carry diseases all over your nice clean counters in the middle of the night without you knowing.

To me, the creepiness of this announcement has nothing to do with the insect aspect and everything to do with the controlling communities of animals thing. One of the researchers was quoted as saying:

"It would be interesting to build our own intelligent societies of animals"

Yeah. And then - I know, we could build our own intelligent societies of people. And they would be modelled after MY vision of the way the world should be - MINE, Mwahahahahaha...

Besides, these animals already have "collective intellingence" - it's what the researchers are modelling and without it, this project would never have worked. I don't really get why us taking control of the collective action of the animal group makes it more "intelligent".

It just makes us more in control - and that is not the same thing. [KEYWORD in above quote: "our". Oh, now I'm getting all militant about how we want to control the earth and everything in it. Better stop typing NOW before this really goes off the rails]

Monday, May 08, 2006

Honestly. Just eat the sugar and go fly a kite.

So aspartame doesn't cause cancer after all - so say a group of European scientists who also seem to think that they have been so thorough and are so smart that their conclusions should put this issue to bed.

The problem is that just last year there was a study released showing that aspartame produced lymphomas in rats.

I dunno - I'd have to go and read all the studies myself to figure out what I believe, and I'm just not that committed to this topic. I'm sure every study has issues: number of animals tested, doses selected, extrapolation of results to humans, extrapolation to low doses... That's sort of the nature of trying to do animal research and then saying it applies to humans.

All I know is that if we could all just take control of our own lives and figure out that really, all most of us need to do is eat healthily and get a bit of exercise, then the stuff wouldn't be such a hot item to begin with.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Stereotype, begone!

I thought the stereotype was that men didn't really discuss relationships with each other; that it wasn't really very macho. After today though, I've cancelled my subscription to that belief.

This morning, in the gym, I overheard two guys discussing a friend's breakup with a girl and whether or not it was the right decision... all while they were lifting some nice big weights.

Later, I passed two guys on the crosswalk, and one was saying to the other:
"...I mean, I wonder what that relationship is actually like, between those two..."

And later, one guy to another as they walked down the sidewalk behind me:
"... a relationship can't (fu**in') be all about sex, you know? There's gotta be more to it than that..."

So guys do actually think about this relationship stuff after all. Aw, that's nice.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Ah, we didn't need that science stuff anyway...

Apparently in Britain, universities are closing all sorts of science courses. Not just science courses actually, entire science departments - and not wierd, random, non-mainstream departments, very mainstream ones like chemistry and physics.

That can't be good.

Apparently members of the Commons Science and Technology Committee said that "This is the logical outcome of introducing a market in higher education". Well, then, obviously the market isn't very good at figuring out what might be beneficial to us all in the long term. Doesn't this vague, "market thing" know anything about the economic potential in industries like: pharmaceutical, aerospace, electronics...

I guess that they've allowed the universities to be autonomous - basically because they're allowing them to get their funding from outside the government - and now they have no control over what happens there and can't 'make the universities keep these departments going.

If losing entire science depatments is the logical result of this approach, the obvious question seem to be:

"WTF were they thinking?"

Thanks to for the Beaker plush toy image

Thursday, May 04, 2006

It's my birthday...

Well, not quite yet. I'm a June baby. Which, according to some guy from the New Scientist who does their science blog, means I'm (statistically) more likely to commit suicide, have anorexia, become an alcoholic, or develop Alzheimer's disease. Oh joy.

(Uh, let's be clear - I'm happy with life. This is just me reporting on information that results purely from someone's statistical analysis. And we all know that statistics is pretty much capable of demonstrating any relationship we'd like it to, as long as we omit a teeny bit of context here and there)

The only (statistical) bonus associated with being born in June - according to this guy's summary anyway - is that I'm more likely to have been a medical student.

Oops, I guess I missed that boat.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Oho! Fun with Words III...

I found this website today that makes me feel so relieved. It's a list of all sorts of common spelling and language mistakes that people make in English. It stresses me out when people write things like ,
"... it was a mute point"

See this earlier post of mine ...and also this one)

Knowing that this stuff drives other people bananas and seeing all these errors in one big list somehow makes me feel a little bit more at peace with this (ungrammatical) world.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Bears and hippos, oh my!

Polar Bears and Hippos are now classified as threatened species. This makes me so angry, and very sad - both are huge, amazing, majestic animals that we have no right to be affecting. The main threat to polar bears is reduced habitat because of climate change, and hippos are being hunted without restriction in the Congo.

The World Conservation Union, or IUCN, says that 16,000 species of animals and plants are at risk of disappearing, including one in four mammals and one in eight birds.

Why do us humans think we're at the top of the food chain? We seem to have the impression that we're in charge of the earth. Too bad for us that the earth's ecosystems are more like a web than a chain. We are eventually going to tip ecology's balance so far off-kilter that it will be beyond redemption. And I wouldn't be surprised if the one strand of the web that could have saved us will be some tiny bacterium or some insect we classify as a pest.

We have no clue what we're doing.

Monday, May 01, 2006

My yearly treeplanting nostalgia

Ahhh, spring. A few years ago, I would have been preparing to head up to Northern Ontario to plant some trees. The smell of thawing earth and new vegetation always reminds me of the trek up there. I miss being so constantly in the forest - far away from the city and cars and noise. There's something really great about hard physical work outdoors - feeling truly tired is part of it, but I think that it allowed me to make a real connection with nature - hokey as that sounds.

Aside from learning how to really work hard, physically (something that I thought I knew how to do but really didn't - I'd say that I kept getting better at driving myself each year) - I also met and became very close to a lot of people I would never have otherwise spoken to.

And it was one of the few situations in my life where I was frequantly the lone woman in a group of men - and feeling comfortable and equal in that setting has probably empowered me immensely.

Ok, I'll stop being all warm and fuzzy about it now and pine for my treeplanting days on my own.

Pine for my treeplanting days. Haha.