Follow the PCB and Mercury trail in our oceans

Marine biologist Stephen Palumbi gave a talk at TED about the massive problem with pollutants in our oceans, and the disease and death this causes everywhere in the world, throughout the food chain, including us.

Keep in mind what he says, then read this article, where the problem of toxins found in whales is shown in grim detail. Quoting from the article:

“The researchers found mercury as high as 16 parts per million in the whales. Fish high in mercury such as shark and swordfish — the types health experts warn children and pregnant women to avoid — typically have levels of about 1 part per million.”

“Ultimately, he said, the contaminants could jeopardize seafood, a primary source of animal protein for 1 billion people. ‘You could make a fairly tight argument to say that it is the single greatest health threat that has ever faced the human species. I suspect this will shorten lives, if it turns out that this is what’s going on,’ he said.”

“‘The biggest surprise was chromium,’ Payne said. ‘That’s an absolute shocker. Nobody was even looking for it.'”

“He said another surprise was the high concentrations of aluminum, which is used in packaging, cooking pots and water treatment. Its effects are unknown. The consequences of the metals could be horrific for both whale and man, he said.”

“‘I don’t see any future for whale species except extinction,’ Payne said. ‘This is not on anybody’s radar, no government’s radar anywhere, and I think it should be.'”

Guess who is the largest manufacturer of PCBs in the world? Monsanto.

Is the US government doing anything about this? No. They’re too busy blocking the press from seeing and reporting on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.


15 things about caffeine

I’m partial to a well-made espresso. I don’t drink them often, certainly not daily, because I’m aware of the caffeine’s effects on my body. The infographic below tells you about those effects, which are certainly worth knowing.

  • Caffeine occurs naturally in 60 different plants, not just coffee.
  • Caffeine works by increasing your dopamine levels, which makes you happy, and blocking adenosine receptors, which stops you from getting drowsy. Sadly, I can’t depend on it to do that to me when I need it. I find that when I need to stay awake, I’ll have a hard time doing so no matter how much coffee I drink, and when I need to sleep, even if I’ve had coffee at two in the afternoon and it’s now midnight, I still can’t fall asleep.
  • Caffeine is shown to temporarily increase one’s ability to learn, by increasing comprehension, memory, reflexes and clarity of thought.
  • Caffeine also improves endurance in athletes, which is why the Olympic Committee banned it in competitions.
  • Caffeine causes physical dependence. Withdrawal symptoms begin within 12-24 hours and can last from 2 to 9 days. Symptoms include headaches, fatigue, depression and irritability.

15 Things Your Should Know about Caffeine


15 things about marijuana

I’m one of a growing number of people who think marijuana ought to be legalized. I don’t use it, but I just don’t think a substance less dangerous than coffee and alcohol ought to be illegal.

See the infographic below for some facts about marijuana. Here are a few:

  • It’s nearly impossible to overdose on pot. You’d have to smoke more than 800 joints, and even then, you’d die from carbon monoxide poisoning, not marijuana poisoning.
  • The American colonies grew the hemp plant to make clothing, sails and rope. Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper. Through the 1600-1800s, the production of hemp was encouraged and even required by law at times.
  • Studies done in the 1940s have shown that there is no link between marijuana and violence, sex crimes, insanity or addiction.
  • Marijuana is already legal in a number of countries such as Australia, Czech Republic, Finland, Netherlands, Germany, Portugal, Argentine and Belgium.

15 Things Your Should Know about Marijuana


15 things about the tongue

A few tidbits:

  • The blue whale has the largest tongue in the animal kingdom. It’s the size of an elephant and weighs 5,400 lbs.
  • The five known tastes detected by the tongue are: bitter, sour, salty, sweet and umami.
  • Tongue cleaning with a tongue scraper is proven to help prevent heart attacks, pneumonia, premature births, diabetes, osteoporosis and infertility in men.

15 Things about the Tongue


Watch "The Energy Non-Crisis"

Please watch “The Energy Non-Crisis“. You can find it on Google Video, and probably on YouTube as well. Draw your own conclusions after you’ve seen it.

Regardless of who is really in control of oil, what’s clearly evident here is that our economy is suffering. If there really are such huge oil reserves in Alaska, we should start drawing upon them.

On a related note, I live near Washington, DC and have visited the World Bank. I’ve seen their headquarters, I know people who work for them, and I’m not so sure they’re the ones in control of oil prices, like he says. But that’s not as important as making sure our economy stays healthy, and right now, cheaper oil would help a lot.

Also, there’s the benefit (painful as it may be) of higher prices that can and will be seen in the future through more fuel-efficient cars and better housing. I’ve railed against the shoddy construction practices in the DC area (and seemingly throughout most of the US) for some time. Houses are built like matchboxes, with very little insulation or thought for long-term existence or impact on the environment. As utility prices rise and stay up, people will begin to see the advantage of solid, time-tested building techniques, with proper insulation and solar panels and the like. So I can’t say that higher oil prices are entirely bad.


I guess black squirrels really are more aggressive

First I noticed more black squirrels in our neighborhood. Then I read this article in the Daily Mail, which says they’re more aggressive and thus compete better for food. Then I saw this, a brawl between a black squirrel and a grey squirrel, during a walk on Beach Drive.

A black squirrel and grey squirrel fight for food

The black squirrel attacked the grey squirrel repeatedly, in spite of the fact that the grey squirrel held its ground. It just couldn’t accept defeat, and came back time after time after time. I counted 6 attacks, then they noticed me and paused until I left.

Granted, this isn’t a study, just a single empirical observation, but it confirms existing research, and it is valid.

While I’m on the subject of squirrels, what’s going on with the fur of this squirrel in downtown DC? I made a triptych of the same animal, but there were three of them with the same coat color, in the same meadow, at the time. Their fur looks like it’s bleached. Or is it their winter coat? It’s out of the ordinary for me, so I hope someone can clear things up.


When animation trash gets called art

Last year, I stumbled over the blog of one of the directors for the Ren & Stimpy cartoons, by the name of Vincent Waller. I subscribed, curious to see what one of the people who’d worked on that horrible cartoon was doing nowadays. It didn’t take long for me to find out…

A few days later, he blogged about a cartoon made by one of his fans. He lavished so much praise on it that I watched it. It was an utter bunch of filth, filled with suggestive sex, curse words, violence and bestiality. It was done in the style of the Ren & Stimpy cartoons — same sort of animation, similar character movement, similar colors, etc.

I left a comment on his post, telling him that I couldn’t believe he’d posted that garbage to his blog. I honestly thought the guy knew better than that, but I was wrong. He deleted my comment. I left a subsequent comment. He deleted that as well. I contacted him via email. He answered back and seemed somewhat rational. I thought I might have a decent conversation with him, and I asked him out of sheer curiosity why the Ren & Stimpy cartoons ever got made. What was the rationale behind them? I told him I found them depressing altogether, and I found the subject matter crude and filthy. I said that as a child, I wanted to see cartoons on TV, and very often, only Ren & Stimpy were on in the evenings, so I had to watch them if I wanted to watch any cartoons at all.

He told me to go away and not bother him again. He said that there was something wrong with me, that I should have watched something else, and that he and the series creator happened to like them, and that’s why they got made. That was the end of that conversation.

But, it got me thinking about the people behind Ren & Stimpy and the other horrible cartoons that our children can watch on TV nowadays, or were able to watch until not long ago — stuff like Beavis and Butt-head, for example.

These people make this horrible crap that appeals to their sick and twisted minds, filled with all sorts of suggestive behavior and language meant for adults, and they put it on TV, where it gets shoved by the cartload into the minds of our children. Do they take any responsibility for their actions? No, they do not. They blame the viewer for watching their stuff if he or she complains.

What they also do not want to recognize is that stuff that’s on TV carries weight with people (yes, it still does, in spite of widespread cynicism). If it gets shown on the air, people assume it’s been vetted and there’s some merit to it. It’s a false assumption, I know, but most adults don’t know this, much less the children. They don’t know the stuff is crap. If it’s on Nickelodeon or the Cartoon Network, it must be good, right? Wrong.

Generally speaking, crap cartoon shows get made because the creator is friends with a network exec, or he’s worked on a successful series and can now pitch his idea with some leverage. But that doesn’t mean that these shows are any good or that they’ve been vetted responsibly. It only means they got into the channel through the back door, and yes, they smell like it, too. What’s more, series creators and directors often get “artistic freedom” once a show has been approved. Execs don’t dare censor stuff, because that would stifle the series’ “creativity” — and I use that word very loosely in this context. So a bunch of weirdos with no self-control get to put together shows that get shown to children. What’s more, they absolve themselves of any blame whatsoever if children are influenced negatively by their work, and call people who protest “legless, armless lumps” (that’s the term used on me by that director I mentioned in the first paragraph), because they should know better than to watch their stuff.

They do not want to acknowledge, however, that children do not yet have the power to filter things properly. They don’t have a fully developed moral compass, and more often than not, choose to sit in front of the TV and hope that something good is on. Or, these thoughtless, immature “artists” also pull out the parent argument. They say that parents ought to monitor what their kids watch. Well, it’s a bit difficult to do that when you’re at work and your child is at home. Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network are supposed to be fairly safe channels, so you can’t just disallow them altogether. If you can’t even allow them, what can you allow?

But does any of this register with them? No. All they care about is making their crap, expressing themselves “artistically”, and getting paid for making their crap.

The sad thing is that the creator of Ren & Stimpy (whose name is not worth mentioning here) is now enjoying some sort of fame, since he was one of the few people who still adhered to the old animation methods (storyboards, character development, hand drawings, etc.) when he made Ren & Stimpy. He’s getting praised on various animation sites for that, and for contributing heavily to the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive.

I think ALL of that praise is misplaced… You can follow all of the right methods, you can make all the storyboards you want, you can draw painstakingly well, but if your original vision is horrible, the end result will be horrible as well. Ren & Stimpy should have never made it to TV. It should have been released to tape, and I bet if that had happened, we’d have it archived in obscure, seldom-seen videos on YouTube, uploaded and viewed by a few animation geeks, because no one else would have liked it.

In spite of the fact that this man is doing his part to preserve a somewhat lost art in animation, he’s a poor example of putting that art to work. Judging by the stuff he’s created so far, he’s not fit to hold a candle to Preston Blair or any other of the Golden Age animators he is aping. There’s a LOT to be said about censorship in animation, and Disney, in spite of all his shortcomings, had a very, very bright idea when he kept an iron grip on what got made and put out at his company. He made sure it was okay to show to children. The man was a genius.

I’ve done a lot of talking about bad cartoons in this post. What about good cartoons? What cartoons do I think are appropriate for children? Well, it just so happens that I wrote a post on how to find cartoons for children last year. It’s a good read, so have a look at that. I encourage parents out there, and the younger folks as well, if you’re looking for good cartoons, don’t stop looking, and don’t settle for garbage. Go looking for better stuff. If you have to buy DVDs, buy them. You can also rent from Netflix.

Make sure the stuff you watch is good stuff. You’ll know it’s good stuff because it’s the stuff that makes you feel warm, fuzzy and comfortable when you watch it. When you get up after watching it, you feel happier and better. Look for the good stuff, and let the bad stuff go to waste, because that’s where it belongs.


Photography, take two, part two

I continued to work on replacing photos hosted with third party services. The list of modified posts is provided below. This has proven to be a huge effort. I had to locate the photos in my digital library — not all of which is keyworded yet, though I’ve got location information for all my photos — but I also chose to re-process, keyword and re-title the photos. You see, most of these photos were keyworded through bulk uploaders, for the purpose of displaying that data on third party photo sharing sites, not for my own library. Clearly that effort was wasted, but I didn’t know that back when I did it… Where applicable, I am also re-writing some of the text.

I want to make sure that the content I provide here at ComeAcross is truly top tier, as much as possible. What does that mean? Well, it means I spent my entire weekend, including Monday, working on the posts listed below, and on the posts listed in part one. I still have more posts to go. I don’t mind doing this — actually, I look forward to it — but I do hope that you, the reader, appreciate the effort that goes on behind the scenes. 🙂

Also see Photography, take two, part one.


Photography, take two

Over this weekend and the last several days, I’ve gone through posts that contain photographs, and replaced all of the images with ones hosted directly at ComeAcross. In the past, I’ve used photos hosted with third party photo sharing services, and I realize now that’s a folly.

If a third party service goes down, which is very likely with beta services, my photos become unavailable. Even if that service is not in beta, a simple action like closing one’s account shuts down access to all of the photos uploaded there. It’s much more practical to host the photos together with my website. That way, I am fully responsible for making sure that all of my content is accessible. If something goes down, I can take care of it. If I need to change web hosting providers, I simply transfer all of my files over to another server.

It’s not as simple to transfer one’s content with photo sharing services, no matter what they may promise. Image and meta data portability is still not 100% there, and it doesn’t help when a photo sharing service advertises their API’s availability for more than a year, yet fails to put it out for public use. It also doesn’t help when said portability is rendered useless by the amount of compression used on the uploaded originals, or the deletion of meta data embedded in the originals…

You see, everyone is ready to promise the world to you when they want to sell you on something. Quite often, that “world” is nothing more than an empty little shell. I speak in general terms here, from the things I’ve learned through my various experiences — mostly recent ones…

At any rate, I’ve still got to modify a number of posts, but I thought I’d point out the ones I’ve already worked on. They’re quite a few, and I’m happy with the results so far. Here they are:

Also see Photography, take two, part two for more updated posts.


A lesson in civics and citizenship

I happened to look up resources on the Internet that help people prepare for the citizenship test. If you’ll remember, I announced last year that the citizenship test would get harder. I was amazed to see how many sites out there charge for access to information that’s already available freely, right on the USCIS website. They’ve got a great section that shouldn’t be missed by anyone studying for the citizenship test, called Civics and Citizenship Study Materials. It’s got a lot of downloadable PDFs stuffed full of valuable information, made available to anyone, for FREE. And here’s another web page with useful citizenship-related links.

I thought I’d offer you some sample civics questions that could get asked on the citizenship test. You may not be studying to be a citizen because you earned that privilege as your birthright, but it wouldn’t hurt anyone to know the answers to these questions. In spite of what the government tells you, there’s one kind of terrorism that runs rampant, right here among us. It’s called ignorance. I’m not implying that you, my reader, are ignorant, but we’ve all seen plenty of those people, right? Some of them don’t even know basic facts like who was our first president…

Let’s all do our part to fight ignorance. It costs nothing, and nobody dies in the process. How’s that for good odds? 🙂

  1. What are the colors of our flag?
    Red, white, and blue
  2. What do the stars on the flag mean?
    One for each state
  3. How many stars are there on our flag?
  4. What color are the stars on our flag?
  5. How many stripes are there on our flag?
  6. What do the stripes on the flag represent?
    The first 13 states
  7. What colors are the stripes on the flag?
    Red and white
  8. How many states are there in the Union (the United States)?
  9. What do we celebrate on the 4th of July?
    Independence Day
  10. Independence Day celebrates independence from whom?
    Great Britain
  11. What country did we fight during the Revolutionary War?
    Great Britain
  12. Who was the first president of the United States?
    George Washington
  13. Who is the President of the United States today?
    Barrack Obama*
  14. Who is the Vice President of the United States today?
    Joe Biden*
  15. Who elects the President of the United States?
    The Electoral College
  16. Who becomes President if the President dies?
    The Vice President
  17. What is the Constitution?
    The supreme law of the land
  18. What do we call changes to the Constitution?
  19. How many changes, or amendments, are there to theConstitution?
  20. What are the three branches of our government?
    Executive, Judicial, and Legislative
  21. What is the legislative branch of our Government?
  22. Who makes the Federal laws in the United States?
  23. Who elects Congress?
    The citizens of the United States
  24. How many Senators are there in Congress?
    There are 100 Senators in Congress, two from each state.
  25. For how long do we elect each Senator?
    Six years
  26. What makes up Congress?
    The Senate and the House of Representatives
  27. Name two Senators from your state.
    The answer to this question depends on where you live.
  28. How many voting members are in the House of Representatives?
  29. For how long do we elect each member of the House of Representatives?
    Two years
  30. Who is the head of the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government?
    The President
  31. For how long is the President elected?
    Four years
  32. What is the highest part of the Judiciary Branch of our Government?
    The Supreme Court
  33. What are the duties of the Supreme Court?
    To interpret and explain the laws
  34. What is the supreme law of the United States?
    The Constitution
  35. What is the Bill of Rights?
    The first ten amendments to the Constitution
  36. What is the capital of the state you live in?
    The answer to this question depends on the state where you live.
  37. Who is the current Governor of the state you live in?
    The answer to this question depends on where you live.
  38. Who becomes President if both the President and Vice President die?
    The Speaker of the House
  39. Who is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court?
    John G. Roberts, Jr.*
  40. What were the original 13 states?
    Virginia, Massachusetts, Maryland, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Carolina, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Georgia
  41. Who said, “Give me liberty or give me death”?
    Patrick Henry
  42. Name some countries that were our enemies during World War II.
    Germany, Italy, and Japan
  43. What was the 49th state added to our Union (the United States)?
  44. How many full terms can a President serve?
  45. Who was Martin Luther King, Jr.?
    A civil rights leader
  46. What are some of the requirements to be eligible to become President?
    A candidate for President must:

    • be a native-born, not naturalized, citizen,
    • be at least 35 years old, and
    • have lived in the U.S. for at least 14 years.
  47. Why are there 100 Senators in the United States Senate?
    Each state elects two Senators.
  48. Who nominates judges for the Supreme Court?
    The President
  49. How many Supreme Court Justices are there?
  50. Why did the Pilgrims come to America?
    To gain religious freedom
  51. What is the executive of a state government called?
    The Governor
  52. What is the head executive of a city government called?
    The Mayor
  53. What holiday was celebrated for the first time by American colonists?
  54. Who was the main writer of the Declaration of Independence?
    Thomas Jefferson
  55. When was the Declaration of Independence adopted?
    July 4, 1776
  56. What are some of the basic beliefs of the Declaration of Independence?
    That all men are created equal and have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
  57. What is the national anthem of the United States?
    The Star-Spangled Banner
  58. Who wrote The Star-Spangled Banner?
    Francis Scott Key
  59. What is the minimum voting age in the United States?
  60. Who signs bills into law?
    The President
  61. What is the highest court in the United States?
    The Supreme Court
  62. Who was President during the Civil War?
    Abraham Lincoln
  63. What did the Emancipation Proclamation do?
    The Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves.
  64. What special group advises the President?
    The Cabinet
  65. Which President is called the “Father of our Country”?
    George Washington
  66. Which President was the first Commander-in-Chief of the U.S.Army and Navy?
    George Washington
  67. What was the 50th state to be added to our Union (the United States)?
  68. Who helped the Pilgrims in America?
    The American Indians/Native Americans
  69. What is the name of the ship that brought the Pilgrims to America?
    The Mayflower
  70. What were the 13 original states of the United States called before they were states?
  71. What group has the power to declare war?
  72. Name the amendments that guarantee or address voting rights.
    15th, 19th, 24th and 26th
  73. In what year was the Constitution written?
  74. What are the first 10 amendments to the Constitution called?
    The Bill of Rights
  75. Whose rights are guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights?
    All people living in the United States
  76. What is the introduction to the Constitution called?
    The Preamble
  77. Who meets in the U.S. Capitol building?
  78. What is the name of the President’s official home?
    The White House
  79. Where is the White House located?
    Washington, DC
  80. Name one right or freedom guaranteed by the first amendment.
    The rights of freedom of religion, of speech, of the press, of assembly, and to petition the Government
  81. Who is Commander-in-Chief of the United States military?
    The President
  82. In what month do we vote for the President?
  83. In what month is the new President inaugurated?
  84. How many times may a Senator or Congressman be re-elected?
    There is no limit.
  85. What are the two major political parties in the United States today?
    The Democratic and Republican parties
  86. What is the executive branch of our government?
    The President, the Cabinet, and departments under the cabinet members
  87. Where does freedom of speech come from?
    The Bill of Rights
  88. What U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services form is used to apply for naturalized citizenship?
    Form N-400 (Application for Naturalization)
  89. What kind of government does the United States have?
    A Republic
  90. Name one of the purposes of the United Nations.
    For countries to discuss and try to resolve world problems or to provide economic aid to many countries
  91. Name one benefit of being a citizen of the United States.
    To obtain Federal government jobs, to travel with a U.S. passport, or to petition for close relatives to come to the United States to live
  92. Can the Constitution be changed?
  93. What is the most important right granted to United States citizens?
    The right to vote
  94. What is the White House?
    The President’s official home
  95. What is the United States Capitol?
    The place where Congress meets
  96. How many branches are there in the United States government?

*Answer will change with time.