Tuesday, November 28, 2006

I'm participating in an Experiment

Pharyngula informs us that Acephalous is conducting an experiment to see how fast links propagate over the internet. Since I've been a blog slacker for more than a week, I'll take this gratuitous opportunity to post something. It's an easy one, since all I need to do is link to Acephalous' post on the matter.

I'll also link to an amusing story about Reiki healing from the Pretentious Narcissistic Misanthrope.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Faculty-of-Medicine Wants My Help

Once again, the subject matter for a skepticism article has come right to my email box. I received the following missive recently:

I think your site and [sitename] can be a good match for linking.

[sitename] does not have a link page, but we offer three way linking (better than the usual linking) from facultyofmedicine.net.

If this is of any interest to you please respond.

Jane Fields,
POB 200067, Pittsburgh, PA
NOTE: I recently received a message from the staff of the site that "Jane Fields" named in her email to me. The site she named disavows any connection with facultyofmedicine.net and politely asked me to remove their name from this article due to the bad publicity (apparently this page floated to the top in Google searches for their name). Since it appears that "Jane" was just name-dropping to give herself credibility, I have complied with the request.

Hey, if she wants to freely share her contact information with strangers over the internet, who am I to stop her? It’s not like there’s any reason to assume this is a legitimate name, anyway.

A quick look at the “facultyofmedicine” site reveals what looks like an online bookstore. Someone has basically put together a list of vaguely medical titles with links to Amazon to sell them.

Browse through an extensive selection of Medicine books on subjects such as Anatomy, Cardiology, Neurology and more.
This doesn’t seem like such a bad site. It's a simple money maker for someone who wants to make money off medical students without actually having to maintain an inventory, but there's nothing wrong with that. Of course, scrolling down the page, what should I find as the sixth book on their list but...
Natural Cures "They" Don't Want You To Know About Written by Kevin Trudeau
Followed by a couple more beauties like Suzanne Somers' Slim & Sexy Forever: The Hormone Solution for Permanent Weight Loss & Optimal Living and Everything You Need to Know to Feel Go(o)d.

All these on a page titled “MEDICINE STUDENT BOOKS”. If this kind of material is included in medical school curricula, I feel I must quake in fear should I ever become ill.

They’re not all like that of course. There are titles like the Handbook of Evidence-based Radiation Oncology, too, but seeing the woo mixed freely with the substantiated is rather disconcerting.

One title is Outsmart Your Cancer: Alternative Non-Toxic Treatments That Work. The Amazon description says...
Learn the unique characteristics common to all cancers. Read testimonials from many who have completely recovered using alternative approaches. Learn why non-toxic methods are so effective and how to obtain them.
Testimonials instead of evidence; this does not bode well. I’m sure Orac can do a much better job of examining such claims than I can, but I would far sooner follow the instructions of an experienced medical doctor than the advice of someone with no medical training of any kind (and no, the author -- Tanya Harter Pierce – is not a doctor).

I guess the problem that I have with this site is that it randomly mixes unsubstantiated claims with legitimate medical literature, lending an air of credibility to the unsupported CAM books.

So, sorry Jane, but I won’t be giving you a link; I don’t want to do anything to improve your Google score. Even my readers will have to hand-key the URL into their browsers to see what I’m talking about (sorry for the inconvenience, guys).

Monday, November 13, 2006

My Accent Results

Several of the weblogs I read have been passing around this quiz lately, so I thought I would take it and see what happened. I figured the results would not be exactly consistent with where I live, and I was not disappointed.

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

The South
The Inland North
The Northeast
The West
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

So, based on that, would it surprise you to know that I was born and raised in East Tennesse, and that both of my parents are from south Alabama? I also went to college in South Carolina, if you think that's relevant. I have no explanation, but it was interesting to have this test affirm what other people have told me.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Bringing Forth Wine

Bottled MeadThis has been a busy day for us, but all likeable activities. We racked my Lady's "Grog" (a molasses beer), bottled Apricot Wine and Sassafras Mead, and started a new batch of Concord Wine.

We had originally planned to bottle the Grog, but I miscalculated the amount of priming sugar. It's a one-gallon batch, but without thinking I quoted the sugar addition for a five-gallon batch. Not wanting to create grenades, we decided to rack it into another carboy and let it ferment out the excess sugar.

Bottling the Apricot Wine was the second project of the day. This wine was made from common white grape juice (Niagara is the variety used, I'm told) mixed with "apricot nectar". I don't actually know what makes "nectar" different from "juice", but it certainly seems to carry a lot of flavor. This is actually a pretty simple sweet wine, so fancy bottling wasn't required. We used miniature soda bottles with crown caps.

Crown Capping 1Crown Capping 2Crown Capping 3

After bottling the wine, we moved on to bottling the Sassafras Mead. As with our last batch, this mead has exquisite color and clarity. Unlike the last batch, this one is almost drinkable already. It still has a bit of a jet fuel aftertaste, though, so it will get to lay in a wine rack for a year or so before we serve it to anyone. If past experience is any guide, this will be an excellent mead in a few years.

Our final project of the day was to start a brand new batch of Concord Wine. We've made this wine before as a sparkling wine that carbonates in the bottle (and won a blue ribbon in the sparkling division at the Tennessee Viticultural & Oenological Society wine contest, I might add). We'll be using slightly easier methods this time; this will be a sweet, still wine that we'll "bottle" in a cornelius keg and then pressurize. Our objective is to have it ready in time for Gulf Wars XVI.

This batch of wine started with common Concord grape juice that you can find at any grocery. Having more presence of mind than usual, I remembered to take hydrometer readings of the juice before starting fermentation. Our juice had a specific gravity of 1.065, which is sweet enough to carry the wine to about 8% alcohol after fermentation. That's not enough; the wine wouldn't be strong enough to keep vinegar bacteria from establishing themselves. We therefore needed to add some sugar.

Sugar in a bottleJuice and SugarMixed Sugar

Yeast ProffingThis operation involved dumping five pounds of sugar into an empty grapejuice bottle, pouring about half a bottle of juice in after, and then shaking vigorously to mix the sugar into the juice. We then poured the mixture into the carboy. This little operation brought the specific gravity up to 1.100, which should make a wine with about 13% alcohol.

Fermentation BeginsAfter proofing some Lalvin 71B-1122 wine yeast (saccharomyces cerevisiae), we added it to the carboy, and we saw the first signs of fermentation within the hour. The wine can sit quietly in a corner for a few weeks while it goes through its primary fermentation. After that, it should slow down enough for its first racking.

I shall try to remember to document the entire procedure here at the Saga.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Skeptics' Circle 47

Drat! Somehow the 47th Skeptics' Circle of Heroes snuck up on me without me even noticing. Oh well, I guess I now have two weeks to come up with something. Head on over to Polite Company to see what the more alert crowd of skeptics has to offer this week.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Slashing Soapstone

In my very slow quest to cast some nice pewter medallions, I acquired a large slab of soapstone for making two-part molds. I'm switching to two part molds instead of open molds because the pewter I'm using isn't particularly well suited to open-faced casting, and I'm not keen to alloy it with lead so it will be more suited to that method. No, I'd rather avoid the toxic heavy metals as much as I may.

Consequently, I needed to cut my slab of soapstone down to manageable-sized blocks. Soapstone is a pretty soft stone that's easy to carve and cut, of course, so I figured that a bit of work with a hacksaw would make neat pieces without too much difficulty. Needless to say that was a notion born from a deranged thread of optimism floating idly through my addled mind. A hacksaw will certainly cut through soapstone, but it is abysmally slow going, as roughly an hour (non-continuous) of hacking didn't even get half way through the block.

Unrelated events happened to work in my favor, though. As I mentioned long ago, the catastrophic failure of our water heater forced us to rip out our carpeting, and we spent much of the last few months laying a tile floor in its place. My brother- and sister-in-law loaned us a tile-cutting table-saw for the duration of the project, and after the floor was finished, I took the opportunity to turn that stone cutting blade against my slab of soapstone. In just a few seconds it cut through more soapstone than I'd been able to go through in nearly an hour of hacking.

So, soapstone blocks secured, I must now find time to carve some molds.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Nautical Nonsense for Halloween

Our second annual Halloween Party was a success this year. At least I think so, and I've gotten good feedback so far.

As usual we had a few games planned, some for kids and some for adults. The main kid-friendly game was the treasure hunt. Since it was a nautically themed party, this was a supposed pirate treasure hidden somewhere on the property. We came up with a few clues to lead participating guests on a merry chase through the fields (in the dark, with only two flashlights). We tried not to be too stingy with the treasure, either: we put actual cash in there along with an assortment of costume jewelry. Since the treasure chest and the key were hidden separately (ah, gotta love movie inspiration), the finders of each ended up splitting the treasure.

Other entertainments included a surprising amount of renaissance dancing (not expected, but definitely welcome), rubber duck races, and a game of fishing for bottles. The bottle fishing was the brutal adult game, since we were talking mini-bottles, and you had to empty the one you caught before you could cast for another. I had to recover for about an hour after that one.
We also had a costume contest with a lot of interesting costumes. A few pirates, of course; the goddess Thetis; the 13th Warrior (who changed costumes to a pirate later); the figurehead of a ship; an island; an aquarium; and a sailor. The island got the prize.

Good food and drink always help make a party, so we included contests for them as well. My Captain Jack won best drink, since no one else entered anything, but we had several entries in the food contest.

We're looking forward to an "Animated Characters" themed party for next year.