Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Cartoon - Fishbowl

cartoon by Andrew Sigal


Fishbowl - Cartoon by Andrew Sigal, (c) 2013

Isn't it cruel keeping them in there like that?
I wouldn't worry about it son. I don't think
they have enough brain cells to even
understand their surroundings.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Peeling paint on my Lexus RX400h




In May, 2005, I purchased a brand-new 2006 Lexus RX400h - the world's first hybrid SUV. It was a car that was in high demand. At the time I was living in Boulder, Colorado. My local Lexus dealer had a multi-month waiting list. After a search, I found the car at Lexus of Lincoln, in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Lexus RX400h has been a terrific car for going on nine years. It offers a great combination of comfort, carrying capacity, four-wheel-drive traction, and fine performance, in a package that provides impressive fuel economy for vehicle of its size and weight.

In addition to the price of the car, I also paid $495 for a Chip Guard treatment. Sometimes referred to as a “clear bra”, this is the application of a 3M plastic film to forward facing portions of the car. The film protects the paint from rock chips and other dings.

Recently, I discovered a line of peeling paint directly behind the Chip Guard on the hood. This was especially odd, since the finish on the rest of the car has held up extremely well. Clearly the problem had something to do with the Chip Guard treatment. The only place where the paint was showing damage was in a precise line exactly at the upper edge of the Chip Guard on the hood. Though I now live in California, far from Nebraska, I called Lexus of Lincoln to find out if they were aware of any problems occurring with the Chip Guard on their cars, and if there was anything they could do for me. The service agent that I spoke to directed me to email photos of the problem to the service director, Jim McCauley. I took a number of pictures from different angles and emailed them as requested.





   
Left side of hood Right side of hood
(click photos for larger view)


Since email can be notorious fallible, I sent one photo per message, and I also sent a separate email noting that the photos were being attached to subsequent messages. After three days I had not received any reply, so I emailed him again, merely asking for confirmation of receipt of the pictures. Finally, four days later, McCauley replied that he had the photos and would get me a response by the end of the week. All good… maybe.

Fifteen days later I hadn't heard a word. I sent a reminder message asking if there was anything he could tell me about the status of my issue. I also decided that it was time for me to go online and see what problems other people might be having with Chip Guard on their cars. I didn't find anything specifically related to Lexus vehicles, but I did see postings on a variety of auto forums (mostly BMW) about Chip Guard problems.

Of particular interest, some people complained that Chip Guard installers had used razor blades to cut the plastic film while it was on the car, cutting into the paint in the process. This was the“ah ha!” moment for me. Clearly the installer had cut the film to shape on the hood of the car, cutting through the paint. It took time, but eventually the cut line had allowed water to get underneath the paint, causing it to pucker and flake. I had assumed that the film was delivered to the installer pre-cut and ready to be applied. That assumption made me wonder how the line of damage could have occurred. Now, knowing that the material was cut by the installer, the source of the damage was obvious.

A few days later I happened to be at a Porsche dealer. There, I asked the service manager if they did Chip Guard installation. He said yes, and proudly informed me that the guy that did their Chip Guard had been installing it as long as anyone in the business and was “a true artist.” The installer had a few spare minutes and was happy to chat with me about my Lexus problem. He told me that at the Porsche dealership they have a machine that precisely cuts the material to shape prior to application, so no cutting is ever done on the car. Then I told him my Lexus was nine years old. “Oh”, he said, “yes, nine years ago it was a common practice to trim pieces on the vehicle, especially if the installer didn't get the film on perfectly straight.” He added, “You had to be very careful not to cut the paint.” He went on to opine that if the installer had cut through the paint, then one would expect to see exactly the problem I described.

Eventually I received my reply from Lexus of Lincoln, a mere 24 days after my initial inquiry:


Hi Andrew,

After reviewing the pictures it appears that there is paint chipping on several areas of the hood not just around the chip guard, this is caused by rocks or debris and there is no warranty coverage for that. The warranty on the chip guard is for 5 years and has expired, and it doesn't appear to be any damage to the chip guard so it would not apply to the chip guard warranty at this time.

Thank you,
Jim McCauley
Lexus of Lincoln
Service/Parts Director

So, it appears that the service director at Lexus of Lincoln took over three weeks to look at my photos, and then ignored obvious evidence of a straight line of chipping paint, focusing instead on one small blemish above the Chip Guard cut line. He also seemed to think that I was concerned about the Chip Guard itself, whose warranty had indeed expired. If Lexus of Lincoln had replied quickly and efficiently with a baseless “no” reply, resting on the Chip Guard warranty, I might have just dropped it. But, asking me to put in the effort of supplying photos, making me wait weeks and requiring multiple reminders, then coming up with such a bogus reply, certainly does not speak well for their service department. I replied to this email immediately, expressing my disappointment at the poor quality and tardiness of the response. I also cc'ed the general manager of Lexus of Lincoln. To date I have heard nothing more.

It has been almost nine years since the purchase of the car. At the time, I was quite pleased with the sales process. Since I didn't live in Nebraska, I never had any service done at Lexus of Lincoln, so this paint problem was my first and only interaction with their service department. I can only speculate about how other Lexus of Lincoln customers feel about this dealership. However, the failure of their service department to stand behind their installation of an aftermarket Chip Guard product certainly does not speak well for them. Something to consider when shopping for a Lexus vehicle in Nebraska.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Online Bake Sale for the Philippines







FoodPool proudly supported the Online Bake Sale for the Philippines (#bakesale4pinas) with a matching grant. People from around the world bid on delicious goodies provided by generous food bloggers. The proceeds go to help the victims of typhoon Yolanda. Thank you!


Friday, September 13, 2013

Mea Culpa - The true history of the Pumpkin Spice Latte

Image from Delish.com


Yesterday, Delish.com posted an article about a petition being put forth by Vegans, complaining that Starbucks needlessly puts condensed milk in their pumpkin spice latte mix. Because of the condensed milk in the mix, it is impossible to make a Vegan pumpkin spiced latte. Other lattes offered by Starbucks use mixes that dont contain dairy products and can therefore be made with milk substitutes to produce a Vegan version of the beverage. See http://www.delish.com/food/recalls-reviews/vegans-petitioning-starbucks-pumpkin-spice-lattes?src=soc_fcbks.

I reacted to this story in a way born of ignorance. I wanted to publicly present my "mea culpa." I blew this one on so many levels. Let me hereby apologize for any aspersions I may have cast on Vegans or their traditional fall consumption of pumpkin spice lattes.

I did more research on the matter and learned a number of things that I had not known. First and foremost, it turns out that the Pilgrims were Vegans! Wow. That explains a lot! Furthermore, the tradition of consuming “pumpkin spice lattes” was introduced to the Pilgrims during the famous First Thanksgiving. It was, in fact, Chief Starbuck himself, leader of the Massachusett Indians, who brewed the first pumpkin spice latte ever tasted by a European. It occurred on that fateful day of sharing and celebration in 1621.

Furthermore, it turns out that the word “laghtee” is a Wampanoag word (adopted by the Massachusett) meaning “any type of frothy liquid, especially a beverage.” It was over two hundred years later that Italian Americans brought the Anglicized word “latte” back to Italy (along with the use of tomatoes in pizza.) Later, during WWII, riding the wave of Italian wartime nationalism, the similarity between this corruption of “laghtee” and the Latin “lactis” resulted in the creation of the myth that the “latte” was an Italian creation. This myth has spread far and wide despite numerous failed attempts by descendants of the Massachusett and Wampanoag to reclaim their rightful beverage history.

Needless to say, the “spice” in the original pumpkin spice latte was not the combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves that we think of today. The pumpkin spice latte was originally brewed with a powder made from the bark of the Gesundheit pine (Pinus gesundheit), known as “ahchoobangbang” in Wampanoag. Because of this, the pumpkin spice latte was a seasonal brew, since the pine only developed its distinctive flavor in the fall as the tree began preparing for the cold northern winter. The Gesundheit pine, named after famed 18th C. German botanist, Dr. Freidrich Gesundheit, went extinct in the early 1930s, not long after the discovery of penicillin. As a result, we now make our pumpkin spice latte with a mixture of “spice island” spices.

Apparently, drinking pumpkin spice lattes in fall has been a dearly held tradition among American Vegans, linking them to their Pilgrim ancestors. Furthermore, by surreptitiously adulterating their pumpkin spice latte mix with condensed milk, the Starbucks Corporation is guilty not only of depriving Vegans of this important fall beverage, but also of co-opting and perverting yet another Native American tradition. Not only has the Starbucks Corporation stolen and sullied the name of one of the greatest chiefs in Massachusett history (for which they have never provided ample compensation.) Not only are they earning huge revenues from the very brew that Chief Starbuck gave as a gift of peace to the Pilgrims. But, as if that weren’t enough, they are needlessly corrupting this traditional drink in a way that makes it unfit for the very people to whom it is most meaningful, further commodifying and distorting early American foodways.

My apologies for suggesting that Vegans should not work to protect this significant beverage. My comments in reacting to the original story were the result of an inexcusable ignorance of the true facts in this matter. I hope that this will serve as ample compensation for my earlier unfeeling words.



Note: for more important information on American culinary history you can learn about the Pie of July celebration here.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Building a 2-bin composter






Earlier this year I attended a talk on composting presented by the Alameda County Master Gardeners. They described a number of different composting systems and the pros and cons of each one. The system that they liked the best is a three bin composter. They provided a link to the StopWaste.org website describing how to make this composter: http://www.stopwaste.org/home/?page=445#3bin.

This composter is intended to be used is as follows: new material is always added to bin number one. After that material has broken down for a couple of weeks, it is then transferred to bin number two. By only ever placing semi-composted material into bin number two, this second bin gets filled up with dense material, thereby achieving the requisite one cubic yard of compost necessary to produce a hot compost. The third bin is used to hold completed compost until it is needed.

There are pros and cons to this system. The main plus is that it achieves the one cubic yard of compost necessary to get the compost to heat up. The biggest negative is that the unit is so… big! As designed, it requires a three foot by three foot by nine foot area in your garden. That is quite a lot of space for most home gardeners to dedicate to composting. In looking at the design, I realized that for most people the third bin isn't really necessary. The third bin is just for storage. Instead of providing this extra bin for finished compost, one could simply use the compost as it becomes ready, or store it in a trash can, or even just pile it up on the ground somewhere. By changing the design from three bins to two, the space required is reduced from nine to six feet in width. This also reduces the cost of the materials by one third.

I have designed and built such a two bin composter for my own use based on the original plans. I have also made a couple of modifications and updates to the original based upon availability of materials and personal preference, and I have added some comments on the construction process. I hope you find this useful.


Notes:
  • I have only built one such unit. If you find any errors in the plans below, or have recommendations for improvements, please let me know.
  • I have redrawn the original drawings with additional annotations to help make the process clearer. However, graphics are not my forte. If you have the skills to improve these, please let me know.
  • The original instructions assume that you have access to very straight lumber. Unfortunately, these days it is almost impossible to find good lumber. Virtually all lumber available at a reasonable price will be bent and warped. As a result is impossible to achieve the tolerances assumed by the original plans. The straighter you can get things, the better the results will be, but truly straight corners are virtually impossible on this scale.
  • The original plans are very specific about the size of the front openings. This is because one needs to cut the 1x6 slats to slide down into the front panel. Because modern lumber makes such accuracy almost impossible, I recommend not cutting the 1x6 pieces until the composter frame is complete. At that time you will want to custom cut each 1x6 so that it will slide into slots at the front. You will want to number each panel so that you know how they fit in. You may also need to chisel out the slots as necessary to fit the slats.
  • The original plans call for the use of ¼ mesh hardware cloth. However, hardware cloth is very expensive. For my two bin version of the composter, the hardware cloth alone would have cost about $45. Therefore, I chose to use chicken wire, which is much, much less expensive. So far I don't think the use of chicken wire in place of hardware cloth has been a problem. Because the use of chicken wire results in a nasty set of wires sticking out which can easily snag clothing and rip skin, I chose to add 1x2 furring strips nailed on top of the edges of the chicken wire. This covers the ragged wire edge.
  • It is interesting to note that the composter system in use at the Oakland Botanic Gardens (where the Master Gardeners presented this talk) does not use any kind of mesh on the outside of the bin. Their composter is entirely wood on the outside, with mesh on the bottom. Cutting and installing the chicken wire is a considerable effort and pain in the butt. Considering this effort and the cost of hardware cloth or chicken wire, if I had it to do all over again I think I would construct mine entirely of wood. Nonetheless, these plans are for a chicken wire based system. If you choose to use all wood you will need to develop your own plans.
  • The original instructions assume a fairly high degree of familiarity with woodworking. I have attempted to make it somewhat easier for novices to construct this composter; however, some woodworking experience really is required. It is also fair to assume that if you have the set of tools listed below, you are probably an experienced woodworker.
  • The author assumes no liability for any damages or injuries resulting from the construction or use of this composter. There are no warranties expressed or implied. The information provided herein is for entertainment purposes only.
  • Creative Commons License This two bin composter by Andrew Sigal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.  Please feel free to share and use this design. However, when you do, please give credit to the original 3-bin composter plans on StopWaste.org, and credit me for my 2-bin design contained herein.


Tools:

You will need a saw for cutting the pieces of lumber to lengths. I used a compound miter saw which makes this project much, much easier. There are a lot of cuts to be made. You will also need a drill with a 3/8 inch bit. You will need a hammer, socket wrench, and tape measure. You will need to have tin snips for cutting the wire mesh and roofing materials, and a screwdriver. Personally, I found an electric screwdriver to be invaluable. A socket bit for the electric screwdriver was also very convenient. The other optional item which makes this job vastly easier is an air compressor with pneumatic brad nailer and staple gun. Otherwise, you'll need a handheld staple gun and additional nails - but be prepared for sore and tired hands at the end of the project.


Materials:

Lumber:

  • 2x4 - 6 @ 31.5”, 6 @ 36”, 4 @ 6', 3 @ 29”   * see note
  • 2x6 - 3 @ 36”
  • 2x2 - 4 @ 34.5”, 1 @ 6', 3 @ 29”
  • 1x6 - 12 @ 31”
  • [Optional] 1x2 furring strips - 3 @ 36”

* Note that you can economize on lumber by not cutting extra pieces for the three 29" 2x4's. These pieces of wood are only used to provide a surface onto which to staple the chicken wire. They are not structural. Therefore, they do not need to be single solid pieces. If you purchase 8' 2x4's (the most common and economical size,) when you cut your four 6' sections, you will have four 24" scraps. You can make up the three 29" pieces by using three 24" leftovers, and cutting the remaining 24" scrap piece into 5" segments (with a final 9" scrap.) You will also have scraps left over from cutting the 36" sections (you will get two 36" pieces from each 2x4x8 with a 24" piece of scrap.)

[Side note: if you are not familiar with lumber sizing, modern lumber is sold by nominal size, not actual size. Thus, a piece of wood that is called a '2x4' is not actually 2” x 4”. It is actually 1.5” x 3.5”. The reason is that originally lumber was sold unfinished. A 2x4 was 2” x 4”, but after planning it smooth, it becomes approximately 1.5” x 3.5”. Now lumber is sold prefinished, so the sizing does not match the name. However, the lengths for pieces of lumber are correct, so a 2x4x8 is actually 8' long.]


Fasteners:

Note: the original project calls for a lot of nails. Personally I dislike nails for a lot of reasons, and almost always choose to use screws. In my version of the project I substituted decking screws for almost all the places where nails were called for in the original. I used brads from my pneumatic brad gun to attach the 2x2's and 1x2's.
  • Carriage bolts with washers and nuts - 8 @ 3.5 x3/8 bolts, 8 nuts, 16 washers
  • Screws and/or nails - I am sorry that I did not count the screws and nails that I used. For screws I used primarily decking screws ranging from 1.5" to 3.5". I also used a handful of penny nails. Your choice of nails and screws will depend on your preferences and tools. This is a fine project for using up screws and nails that you have laying around.
  • Appropriate staples your staple gun (manual or pneumatic)
  • [Optional] brads if you are using a brad nailer.


Additional materials:


  • Corrugated Roofing (historically this would have been fiberglass, now one normally finds this made from polycarbonate material) - 1 piece of 8' x 26" , cut into three 32"  x 26"  pieces.
  • Wiggle molding - this is a product that has a wave shape that corresponds to the corrugations in corrugated roofing. It is used to mount the corrugated roofing to the top of the compost bin. You will need 12 feet. Theoretically you are supposed to use special gasketed roofing nails to attach corrugated roofing. However this is another expensive specialty item. Given that the project uses wiggle molding, and water-tightness is not a requirement, I found ordinary decking screws work just fine.
  • Hinges - Two hinges of a size sufficient to mount the roof. 3" hinges work well. Larger or smaller should also be fine. They should be made out of a material which will not rust such as galvanized steel or brass.
  • Flat corner braces - the original plan specifies 4 corner braces, however Home Depot no longer carries 4"  sizes in my area. I used 6"  and that was fine. You'll need 4 of them.
  • Flat T-braces - 2 braces. Again either 4" or 6" size.
  • [Optional] hook eyes, and 8' of chain or wire. This is used to hold the top so that it cannot flop over backwards. In my case the compost bin is up against a fence, so the top cannot open past 90 degrees and the hook eyes and chain were unnecessary.


Drawings:

As noted, I have redrawn the original drawings. I have also prepared three sets of drawings to help illustrate the construction. There are also photos of some details.


The composter showing only the lumber pieces.




Annotated with lumber dimensions.



Showing hardware components


Assembly:

Main structure:

  1. Screw together two 31.5” 2x4's (C) and two 36” 2x4's (B). Repeat three times to create the two end frames and one center divider. Attempt to make the frames as square as possible.
  2. Cut three 36” x 33.5” pieces of chicken wire and staple to the frames. The outer frames will have the chicken wire on the outside, the middle frame can have the chicken wire on either side.
  3. [Optional] Nail, brad, or screw 36” 1x2 furring strips over the top edges of the chicken wire.
  4. Drill 3/8” holes and bolt the frames to the 6' 2x4's (A). Two on the bottom and one on the top at the back as shown in the diagram. There is no 2x4 on the upper front.
  5. Screw the 29” 2x4's (D) onto the bottom of the frames, thereby filling in the gaps (or use three 24" pieces and three 5" pieces as noted above.) This will provide a surface for attaching chicken wire to the bottom of the structure.
  6. Cut two pieces of 6' x 36” chicken wire. Staple one to the back of the structure and one to the bottom.


Detail of optional furring strip covering sharp ends of chicken wire




Slats and slat tracks:


  1. Screw the 2x6's (E) to the front of the frame as shown.
  2. Leaving a one inch gap, nail, brad, or screw the 34.5” 2x2's (G) on the inside of the frame. This will create the track into which the 1x6 slats will slide.
  3. Once this is done, you can begin the process of cutting 1x6 slats to the correct lengths to slide into the frame. You may need to chisel out the frame or otherwise make modifications to allow the slats to correctly slide into place.




Details of 2x6's and 2x2's forming a channel to hold the front slats



Lid:

  1. Assemble the lid with flat corner and t-braces screwed to the bottom side. Note that the front, side and center brace pieces are all 2x2's (F & H), while the back piece of lumber is a 2x4 (A). This is done to make the lid lighter and easier to open and close, while still providing enough wood at the back to hold the hinges.
  2. Cut the corrugated roofing material into three 32” pieces. The easiest way to do this is with tin snips. Note that the roofing will be attached with the corrugations running front to back (see photo.)
  3. Place the wiggle molding along the front and back edges of the lid, and screw each piece down with one or two screws (this step only needs enough screws to hold the molding in place for the next step).
  4. Place the three pieces of corrugated roofing on top of the wiggle molding. Make sure that the corrugated roofing pieces overlap each other by at least one inch. Then drive screws through the roofing pieces and wiggle strips into the wooden lid frame.
  5. Place the lid on top of the main structure, attaching it with the hinges.
  6. If you are using a chain to restrain the lid from falling backwards, attach eye hooks to one edge of the lid and main bin and connect a chain, rope, or wire between them.


Detail of wiggle strips and roofing material





Finished composter:


When completed, this composter is quite heavy, so you will want to build it entirely in place, or pre-build part of it and complete it in place, or have several people available to assist with moving the completed unit. Even with a compound miter saw with laser, electric screw drivers and drills, and pneumatic tools, this project took many hours to complete, and cost well over $100. However, the result is a pretty great, high end, compost system.

The finished composter, open, with one slat removed.


I look forward to hearing your comments.


Note: For another similar project, check out my Herb and Seed Cleaner.


UPDATE: November 2013

As noted, the original composter plans from which I developed this design called for screen on 4 of the 6 sides as well as between the bins. I'm am not sure if the creator of the 3-bin composter system had a particular climate in mind for that unit. However, here in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have been having trouble keeping the compost moist enough. Not long after completing my composter I added a microjet bubbler from my irrigation system to each of the bins. Still it was drying out. Finally I took a cue from the composter at the Gardens at Lake Merritt and removed the screen from the two ends, replacing them with wood. It appears that for my climate, during the summer, screen on 4 sides allowed for too much evaporation.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Uncarved Block Turns 100




This is my 100th posting on The Uncarved Block. Woo hoo!

I wrote my first post on June 27, 2008. At about that time I saw an article that said that the average blog was read by six people and was maintained for three months. I don’t know if that is still true (and I don’t really know if it was true at the time.) Regardless, it feels good to have gone well beyond those anemic numbers.

On the other hand, four and a half years to post 100 entries is hardly a raging torrent of prose. For a blog like The Daily Kos, 100 postings is barely a flicker. But I feel like this is a moment worthy of my notice and appropriate for reflection. I’m not sure why, but over the years I have gone through periods where I felt like I had a lot to say – a lot to write – and that I wanted to put it out in public. But then there were other times when I would go for days, weeks, or even months without writing a word. Friends tell me that this inconsistency is deadly for a blog; people only want to subscribe to something that they can read every day like the newspaper, or at the worst, once a week like a TV show.

One of the hardest things about continuing to write is the lack of feedback. I’m able to get reports of the number of visitors to the blog and its various posts. I find these statistics confusing at best. Let’s say this week there were 500 page views, 250 visitors, and 200 unique visitors. Hmmmmmm. What do those numbers really tell me? Of all those views and visitors, none left a trace – not a comment, not a “like” on Facebook, not a Google+, not a tweet. Did these visitors enjoy what they read? Was it valuable to them? Did they even read it, or did they find the post through a search engine only to discover that it wasn't what they wanted, then leave within seconds to search for something else?

I wish people would give me some kind of feedback, some crumb or clue, even if it is negative. I think I would be happier getting comments like “why are you wasting your time on this crap” than facing the current state of silence. I find it disconcerting that a post like Repairing an Antique Soda Siphon can get 4000 hits but only three comments. The other 3997 readers had nothing to say? Ah, well. I am fairly sure that most people that get to a posting on this blog arrived there through a search engine. They search for something like “Sparklets soda siphon,” which takes them to that post. Even if it is the material that they wanted, they don’t stick around. They wanted to find out about Sparlets soda siphons, got the information they were looking for, and left. They aren't inspired to see what I have to say about seed cleaning, or Rodney King, or dogs having Buddha nature.

I had some excellent feedback from a good friend about the blog as a whole. He suggested that I make it much more focused; not the “Miscellaneous Ramblings of an Uncarved Block,” but rather a blog about “food, gardening, fixing gadgets, and my dog.” He is quite right. Such a blog could generate a following, a readership, possibly even a dialogue. But it’s not really what I want to write. So I have to choose. Do I write what I want to write and not get the response I desire, or do I try to get the response that I want without the opportunity to ramble. Sigh.

My second post, way back in June of '08, was entitled “Graffiti”. In it I pondered the question of why I was writing this blog at all. Ninety eight posts later I still don’t have an answer. I’ll check in again at post 200 to tell you what I've found.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Gas Arrow, or, on which side of your car is your gas tank filler?




My cousin Hank told me the other day about an automobile feature that I never knew existed. In your own car, you know which side the gas cap is on (or perhaps I should say that I hope you know.) But on a rental car, when you get to a gas station, how do you know? If you were me, you got out of the car and looked. But guess what?!? It turns out that on the gas gauges of most modern cars there is a little arrow pointing to the side that the gas filler is on.

I gotta say that is a brilliant little standard that the automakers have created. However, it would be a lot more brilliant IF THEY HAD F'ING TOLD SOMEONE! I mean, come on! You add a spectacularly useful feature to your product, but then you don’t tell people that it is there??? What’s that about?

Here, for your enjoyment, is the page from my car’s owner’s manual discussing the fuel gauge:


There's the arrow, plain as day. But does the text say anything about it? I think not.

The whole thing makes me think of the movie Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) . [SPOILER ALERT] In one of the movie’s many famous scenes, the Russian ambassador tells the U.S. President and his cabinet (including Dr. Strangelove) about the existence of a secret doomsday machine. The machine is set to blow up the planet, destroying all life on earth if anyone detonates an atomic weapon, thereby deterring the use of atomic bombs by all players. But the doomsday machine is only a deterrent if everyone knows about it, and everyone knows that they will die if they attack. Dr. Strangelove, in a clenched tooth, throat gripping invective demands "...the whole point of the Doomsday machine is lost if you keep it a secret - WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL THE WORLD, EH?"


That’s what I want to know. Hey car companies! You added this great little bit of useful information to your cars. WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL THE WORLD, EH?

By the way, I did a bit of searching to try to find out when the “gas arrow” started showing up on dashboards. I did a general online search. I searched the U.S. NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.) I searched the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers.) I searched the U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) since they set fuel standards in the U.S. I turned up nothing. My guess is that some car company (probably Mercedes Benz) came up with the idea and that everyone else just followed suit without any standards body getting involved. If you know when this little arrow started appearing on dash boards, and/or why it wasn't announced to the automobile driving public, I’d love to hear about it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Stanhopea orchid

Here is a series of photos taken as my Stanhopea orchid opening over the course of several days. I'm not sure if it is Stanhopea oculata or wardii. Click on the images to see larger versions, and don't forget to Facebook/Tweet/G+ or comment if you like this post :-)

The plant with flower spikes well formed a few days before opening.

Closeup of the flower spike hanging down from the plant (most orchids have flower spikes that rise upwards from the plant.)

The flower buds develop more color and begin to enlarge

Even more color in the buds, and peduncles (flower stems) begin to stand out from the spike.

The first two buds begin to open.

The first two flowers are open, though not fully. Two other buds have begun to open (notice that the open flower above has two petals curling backward, while on the flower below, which is about an hour younger, the petals have just begun to curl upwards.)

Most of the buds are now open. There are several other spikes on this plant waiting to go.

The whole plant with most of the buds open.

All but one bud are now fully open.

Closeup of a fully opened flower.

Finally, all the flowers on this spike have opened.

The plant with one spike fully opened.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Danger of Feeding Dogs Raw Trout


Kero in her "room" at the veterinary hospital with her  IV tube and cone removed during one of my visits (she's hiding her arm under her body in the hopes that we wont reconnect the IV tube.)


[Note: If you want to skip the story and just jump to the important part, click here.]


A few weeks ago my lovely husky, Kero, fell very sick. Initially, she seemed confused, was walking strangely, and would hardly eat anything. Kero had been on a walk with the dog walkers earlier in the week on a very hot day. I wondered if perhaps she had become dehydrated. It also occurred to me that she might have re-injured her back (broken years ago in a car accident.) Perhaps something had happened while running or playing that had caused a swelling in a disk, impacting her spinal cord.

I didn’t want to over-react, but I kept a close eye on her. At one point when she was laying down I threw a treat to her. It bounced past her. She lifted her head, looked at the treat, and then put her head back down again. This was not good. I went over and examined her. She allowed me to touch, poke, and prod her everywhere, including her feet. She never lets anyone touch her feet without a major hassle. I was very worried. It was time to go do the vet.

It was a Saturday, so our usual veterinarian wasn't there, but the vet who saw Kero was very careful and concerned. I mentioned the heat on the walk, her back, and the fact that I had fed her some raw mackerel a week earlier. After the examination the veterinarian opined that there were a couple different possibilities, but she suspected pancreatitis. Blood was drawn for a full set of tests and Kero’s back and belly were x-rayed. We were sent home to await the results, along with some pain medication in case it was a physical injury that was causing Kero distress.

The next day I got the call with the results: the x-rays showed that Kero’s back was unchanged; she still had the old damage from her earlier injury, but nothing new had happened to explain her behavior. The x-rays didn’t show anything else going on in the areas that were filmed. Her blood tests however showed significant pancreatic enzymes in her blood – clear evidence that her pancreas was damaged, presumably by pancreatitis. However, pancreatitis is normally accompanied by vomiting and diarrhea. Kero wasn’t showing those symptoms.

The following day I brought her back in for more tests and a day of IV fluids. Then again the next day, and the next. One by one they ruled out every possibility except pancreatitis through x-rays, ultrasound, and blood and urine tests. Still, there was no vomiting. They began keeping her overnight, feeding her orally with a syringe. She refused to eat on her own.

Eventually she began having diarrhea. Major, explosive, projectile diarrhea. But no vomiting. At that point I asked my vet if it was possible that she had a parasite such as giardia as well as pancreatitis. We were expecting diarrhea with the pancreatitis, but there should have been vomiting too, and timing of the diarrhea was odd. A stool sample was sent off for analysis. The result: Salmon Poisoning Disease (SPD).

I was confused. I had recently fed her raw mackerel, but definitely not salmon. I knew that raw salmon was a no-no. A couple years earlier a neighbor’s dog was dying of cancer. I commiserated with her about her dog’s condition. She wondered what would be on his “bucket list.” I said I knew what would be at the top of Kero’s list: a whole fresh salmon. After that conversation it occurred to me, why wait until your dog is dying to give them the thing you think they would like most in this world. On the other hand, I was worried about fish bones and so forth, so I went online to see if there was anything I should know before giving her such an ├╝ber-treat.

I found a lot of web site, blogs, and discussion groups that talked about feeding your dog raw food – fish or otherwise. There were many people that praised raw food as the ultimate source of canine nutrition; after all, dogs evolved from wolves. There were just as many who felt that raw food was dangerous – dogs aren’t wolves just as we aren’t chimps, and the raw ingredients we buy in grocery stores may contain all kinds of contagion that would normally be destroyed by cooking. Regardless of which side a web site or author came down on regarding raw food they all agreed on one thing: no raw salmon. In the end I decided that I would feed her some raw fish from time to time – as long as it wasn’t salmon. Kero was wildly enthusiastic about the new addition to her diet. Hence the mackerel I had fed her the week before.

Now the test results were showing positive for salmon-flukes. But I hadn’t fed her any salmon. I went online to see if there was anything wrong with feeding a dog raw mackerel. Try as I might, I couldn't find a single mention of mackerel being a problem. I wasn’t certain exactly when I had bought the fish, or where. I suspected the mackerel might be an important clue, so I went through my credit card slips to nail down the details. What I found was a surprise. I had totally forgotten - a few days earlier I had purchased a trout at a local grocery store for my dinner that night. I have no idea why I remembered the mackerel the prior week, but forgot the more recent trout.

I was sure the trout had come eviscerated – they always are. As I thought back I recalled coating it with egg wash and flour and pan frying it. But I couldn’t for the life of me remember if I had cooked it head on, or if I had removed the head and given it to Kero. Regardless, I returned to the internet to search for information on salmon flukes and trout.

Here is what the Merck Vet Manual has to say:
[Salmon Poisoning Disease] is caused by Neorickettsia helminthoeca and is sometimes complicated by a second agent, N elokominica , which causes EFF [Elokomin fluke fever]. The vector of both agents is a small fluke, Nanophyetus salmincola . Dogs and other animals become infected by ingesting trout, salmon, or Pacific giant salamanders that contain encysted metacercariae of the rickettsia-infected fluke. In the dog’s intestine, the larval flukes excyst, embed in the duodenal mucosa, and introduce the rickettsiae. The fluke infection itself produces little or no clinical disease.
Yup, raw trout can contain the same fluke that causes Salmon Poisoning Disease. The big problem is that the disease is known as “Salmon Poisoning Disease,” but it can be caused by ingesting any raw salmonid species. The members of the family salmonidae include salmon, trout, char, freshwater whitefish, and graylings. Though I couldn’t be certain, I must have removed the head from the trout and given it to Kero, not realizing that trout can carry SPD.

As soon as the diagnosis was made they began administering anti-parasitic drugs for the fluke and antibiotics for the associated bacteria (which is the actual agent of the disease.) Within a couple of days Kero’s fever was down, the diarrhea had stopped, and she had begun eating on her own. She came home. In just a few days she was back to her old self (though almost 25% lighter.) A few weeks later only the missing hair where she had been shaved remained as a reminder of her ordeal. A follow-up urine test showed no indication of pancreatitis.

I was surprised at how many web sites make reference to the danger of feeding dogs raw salmon, but few mention trout. Even my vet had not known that raw trout could carry the fluke that causes SPD. It is worth noting that untreated, SPD is fatal in 90% of cases. So, I hope that this blog posting might help to spread the word, and maybe, just maybe, save other dogs (and their faithful guardians) from considerable pain.