How important is natural hair?

The Crown Act, which prevents discrimination against naturally Black hair, or more accurately, against hairstyle and texture, is one year old. The social implications of being able to wear your hair as you please are enormous but from a scientific standpoint, there’s even more reason to support going all natural. Some hair products, especially black dye and hair straightener, have recently been linked to breast cancer.

Eighty per cent of all women dye their hair. Dyes can be permeant or semi-permeant (last for 6 washes or so). Semipermanent dyes coat the hair and most are harmless. However, a few such as Grecian Formula, may contain lead based products and should be avoided.

Permanent dyeing opens and swells the cuticle, knocks out any color, and adds a large dye molecule. The first permanent dyes were made from coal tar in 1907. Hair dye has been around for a while and studied extensively. It’s known that only 1% of the dye gets into your scalp and if you get highlights or low lights, it’s even less since the dyes are applied away from the scalp in most cases. The dyes are not thought to be toxic or cancer causing, and yet, epidemiological studies have associated their use with breast cancer –a 7% rise in white women and 45% to 50% rise in black women who used dark hair dye. The risk was greater for those who dyed their hair at home. A chemical abbreviated PPD is found in greater amount in black hair dye. Dyes marketed to black women contain more endocrine disrupting chemicals as well.

Hair straighteners, used by 80% of black women to get a “European” look, are associated with an 18% rise in breast cancer by women of all colors.

Adana Llanos, a pioneer in this study, points out that the correlation does not prove that any type of hair dye or straighter causes cancer, only that there was previously no data looking at black women.

Researchers at Northwestern University have been looking at ways to make hair products safer, including developing dyes using pigments from black currents. In any case, hair style should not be one more arena where people have to fight for their lives. Celebrate natural hair!

From a display at the Charles H. Wright museum

This article is the basis for today’s blog.

In the bag: tips for the perfect coffee

Recently, the act of grinding coffee beans for the days’s cup struck me as pleasantly normal. Back when I was rushing off to an office and classroom, even something as small as grinding coffee was just one more obstacle to getting out the door. Whole bean coffee was in the “not worth it ” category, along with, at times, ironing. The semester from hell was over. Now, suddenly, I had a moment to appreciate the freshness and aroma of newly ground coffee. But what helps make coffee fresh? What keeps it fresh? And why does ground coffee smell so good?

Coffee beans undergo chemical reactions when roasted. This process creates hundreds of new chemicals.

Many of these chemicals are are good for you and and a few are bad. The good ones can “protect against gout (by lowering uric acid levels), tooth decay and gallstones… there is mounting and strong evidence for coffee providing some protection against type 2 diabetes.”  Coffee might even prevent Alzheimers disease.  Acrylamide is one of the few bad chemicals and more is found in in light roasts.

One thing that happens during roasting is the beans get lighter and more porous. The pores hold both carbon dioxide and the chemicals which give coffee its aroma. Of the many chemicals in coffee only a few are responsible for the aroma. Of these, a furan-2- methanethiol gets the most attention. Its odor has been described as a combination of nutty and burnt match. Clearly, the full range of aromas combine to give coffee its good smell. Medium roasts are most aromatic.

The good smell is created by less than 1% of the gases in coffee beans. Most of the gas trapped in the pores of a roasted bean is carbon dioxide. It makes up 1-2% of the weight of the roasted coffee.

Fresh coffee when brewed will have a delightful white foam called crema. This is made from carbon dioxide.

The way the coffee is roasted has a large effect on the gases trapped in the beans. Dark and medium coffees are highly impacted by roasting temperature and high temperatures release more gas–which you do not want. In the case of coffee, we want gas. Darker roasts are more porous and hold more gases to begin with. But the pores break down quickly when ground.

Keeping oxygen away is an important part of keeping coffee fresh. Carbon dioxide is found in highest concentrations in freshly roasted coffee. In a bag of coffee, carbon dioxide forms a protective atmosphere to keep oxygen away. Always close up your bag or canister of coffee to keep out oxygen and keep in carbon dioxide.

Grinding coffee will release up to half of the carbon dioxide within a few minutes and the grind will slowly lose the carbon dioxide over the course of days. Course ground coffee will lose the least carbon dioxide and fine ground the most. Keeping the bag closed will help prevent further loss.

An issue to be aware of when buying and drinking coffee goes further than the bag. Many coffee plantations are human rights violators, especially in Brazil. Many large suppliers of coffee have purchased coffee grown and picked using slave labor. Although coffee is originally from Africa, it was stolen and imported to South America and Haiti, along with Africans captured to tend it. Native people, particularly the Mayans, were also enslaved to bring us coffee.

This means that besides grinding beans before use & keeping the bag closed, the ideal cup of coffee will be Fair Trade.

Bulletproof is one such brand and here’s my favorite.

This company will let you select country of origin, are Fair Trade, and send you a clip to keep the coffee closed. They also advocate putting coffee in the freezer and I agree. The gases will be lost from the coffee pores much more slowly when cold.

There are plenty more to choose from should you do a search. Like grinding my coffee, paying attention to Fair Trade has not been a priority of mine. However, it will be in the future.

Thanks to this article for information on carbon dioxide in coffee:

Time-Resolved Gravimetric Method To Assess Degassing of Roasted Coffee, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2018, 5293-5300. Corresponding author is Chahan Yeretzian

Is technology making us stupider and what can we do about it?

I’m lucky I can work from home, very lucky. As I finish the semester, I wonder how student learning changed once courses went on-line.

Grading on-line papers is difficult for me. Reading from a screen is neurologically different than from a page. We read faster and with less depth on a screen. This is fine for an exciting novel, but when grading, I wonder how much I let slide. Add in the extra key-board steps it takes to correct or comment and it makes on-line paper grading slow going.

Some of my students turned in hand written lab reports and exams (via photo), as we did before we were so rudely interrupted. Writing by hand helps people remember and since it is slower than typing, it forces people to condense ideas and helps a learner transcribe knowledge onto their own words. It’s good for our dexterity. The pen helps us to see in a different way. When I found myself struggling to describe a sculpture in my novel in progress, I picked up a pen and sketched what my mind was visualizing. This helped me put my mind’s eye it into words.

Sadly, I will no doubt rely on screen submitted assignments more next semester because of health concerns. During my last week of in-person labs, as covid-19 crept up and all of us were either sick or scared or both, I had each general chemistry student show me their notebook as I graded the hand-written labs on the spot and gave each notebook back to its owner. I didn’t want a stack of them smoldering in my office, even though paper isn’t a huge source of transmission.

As we face an era of typed answers, we need to be aware of what we are giving up. Despite it being easier to type than hand write, answers are becoming shorter and less detailed, as if we are developing a universal impatience that may be here to stay. There is a pushback against learning cursive and many people don’t know it and can’t read it. However, it can’t be beat for efficient note-taking which helps you to remember. I compose on a keyboard and thank goodness for editors who then push me to expand. And as courses and compositions have moved on-line, I find a need to push my students to expand as well.

Teaching is only part of my job. This is the excuse given for paying adjuncts so terribly. However, if I attend one more Zoom meeting, it might toss me over the edge and I’ll run screaming outside without a mask. Yes, Zoom fatigue is the latest digital plague. Zoom brings us together in impossible times. It also makes us sadly realize what we’ve lost and can provide irritating distraction. Watching my hair grow ever longer is one of those distractions. Like most of us, I mute myself and block the screen.

Some educators blame the ubiquitous cell phones for creating a generation which is poor scholastically because they can no longer focus. People who once loved to read can no longer read books. Former voracious reader Josephine Tovey of The Guardian writes of her struggle to read. “Almost every night it was pitched in battle against powerful forces – my phone, my post-work bleariness and my internet-enfeebled attention span – and the book was losing…as I get older and spend more of my life online, reading books has become harder.”

Smart phones could be making us dumber and are also addicting. People check their phones around once every twelve minutes, and first thing in the morning. This cuts down on the ability to begin the day focused since checking a phone in the morning is distracting. Abundant smart phone and television use has been linked to depression, especially in teens.

Computer addiction has been defined as “A disorder in which the individual turns to the Internet or plays computer games in an attempt to change moods, overcome anxiety, deal with depression, reduce isolation or loneliness, or distract themselves from overwhelming problems. The elderly, as well as children and adolescents, are particularly vulnerable.” As we turn to on-line schooling, will we increase this, or will computers be used less during out of class hours because they are associated with work?

Signs of this addiction can be found on the link.

After the invention of the printing press, unscrupulous folks churned out books filled with misinformation. The populace, who had mostly associated a book with the Bible, fell prey. No doubt, in the 1450s, people probably wondered if books were making us stupider. Now days, memes are the spreader of bad info and have created a “new world disorder.” The saying with a picture has been called a form of psychological infection and a source of prejudice. Older people are particularly vulnerable.

However, at least we have a way to connect in times like this. How can we do it better?

A few tips are:

  1. Use your computer only in specific areas and turn it off when not in use.

2. Store your smart phone in your purse or pocket.

3. Limit time on social media. Restrict yourself to x number of comments per day.

4. Find something new to occupy your time. Many people have learned fresh skills from on-line courses. Common hobbies during these times are tv watching (be careful not to binge as binging causes depression), reading, working out, and arts and crafts. So many people are baking these days that stores have run out of many ingredients. (Here’s what to substitute.)

5. Give yourself a time limit. Use a Nanny App or set browsing free days or hours.

6. Don’t believe those memes.

7. To improve focus and help organize and slow down your distracted mind, take a break and write by hand.

𝓣𝓱𝓪𝓷𝓴𝓼 𝓯𝓸𝓻 𝓻𝓮𝓪𝓭𝓲𝓷𝓰!

Where folks do NOT shelter in place, will a mask help?

Here in Iowa, we are one of the few states without a shelter-in-place order. The governor’s guidelines are reactive, not proactive, and she is waiting until her metrics are reached to rein us in. These metrics include

  • Percentage of population greater than 65 years of age
  • Percent of identified cases requiring hospitalization
  • Infection rate per 100,000 population in the past 14 days
  • Number of outbreaks in long-term care facilities

As some have said, she is using the canary in a coal mine approach and our population is a the canary.

People in Iowa are NOT doing a great job of social distancing. Many of us see or hear of groups out and about, parties, and even trips to the church for coffee, And a friend recently had his/her business broken into by unsavory types roaming about. It’s like the wild west here. I’m lucky I can shelter in place at home, despite the 60 + assignments coming in each week. Going out is pretty terrifying. To this end, I decided to wear a dust mask when I walk my puppy. I have allergies anyway and the mask can also scare people away from me. Lord knows, they are not getting the message otherwise.

Professional masks are for the healthcare folks right now. Providers wear an N95 mask to protect themselves and a surgical mask over it to protect it. Although there isn’t a consensus yet, the virus appears able to spread as an aerosol, tiny particles like a mist which hang, not only on a cough or sneeze, but even when talking. This excellent article has all the in and out of aerosols vs droplets. And it makes a good case for why we should all wear masks to protect others.

It’s terrifying here and I have to ask: How helpful are non-medical masks? A study from several years back noted that they are half as effective as medical grade masks. Which in my opinion, is twice as good as nothing!

Being a chemist, I like protective equipment anyway. It makes me feel at home. Not to mention, I have always had ample saliva–I might as well keep it to myself.

My local hospital has distributed this pattern and are asking people to donate masks, making sure they have a tissue pocket to give one more layer of protection. This site recommends putting a vacuum cleaner filter in the tissue pocket.

One source recommends two layers of high quality cotton (as in quilts) with ties. “You have to use relatively high-quality cloth,” Dr. Scott Segal, chair of anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said. Thread count should be at least 180. Hold the material up to the light to make sure nothing peaks through. If light can get through, so can a tiny virus. The article mentions inserting flannel can be a good option. I went through my meager stash of material and found that t-shirts are not “high quality” and neither was my favorite bandana, or any of my scarves. My trusty potholder didn’t let any light through and smells like cookies! But would it be stifling? Not to mention, a potholder wouldn’t fit securely across the face. Look here for guidelines on masks, including taking them on and off properly.

dust mask
bandana
potholder

Wash in a pillow case with hot water but don’t bleach your mask. A friend passed along the advice to have one side different than the other to make sure you know which one to put face first. And don’t use them when wet. This site has more advice, including limiting time worn to 2 hours at a stretch.

As for hospital masks, we need them. Production is ramping up. Companies are making masks in my home state and nearby my home town of Pella.

Wearing a mask is polite–it keeps your germs from the outside. Just don’t let it make you feel invincible. The efficacy of masks has not been proven. And I for one, plan to shelter, no matter what my governor says.

With warmer weather ahead, some models predict, unlike the flu, that the virus will spread more. Remember, the only way to stop it is to remove the host. That’s me and you.

What’s free: books and advice

Last week was the beginning of spring break. I was planning to go on a trip but cancelled it (it remains to be seen if I get a refund from the airline) and instead, have begun putting my lectures on line. Yes, I’m a teacher and like all teachers, I’m doing my best to keep learning going. I can’t imagine what will happen if education halts and future health care professionals and scientists can’t get proper training. Oh wait, yes I can imagine it and it is a part of Lost in Waste, where a self-trained medic takes on a variety of roles in society.

In fact, you can read all about it for free this week. My publisher is hosting a give away and Lost in Waste is free as an e-book from 3-25 to 3-27.

I’ve been busy giving my lectures a voice over. Fortunately, I was a DJ back in the good old days of radio, before it was swallowed up by huge corporations like I Heart Radio. However easy it is for me to record my lessons, accessing courses remotely is not easy for every student.

These are weird times. The people who once warned of Killing Granny now say go out and stimulate the economy. Are they hypocrites?

This is why we need to be cautious of politicians dictating our health decisions. Many cannot be trusted. And when it comes to going out, listen to those who say “DON’T” if you can. There are several reasons

  1. You might get it. No one knows exactly how this new virus might act. It’s not just a cold or flu, but you can read about viruses and the flu here for a refresher on viral diseases. People of all ages are getting covid and being hospitalized–even babies. Of those who live, some develop a lung condition. It’s possible that a heart condition may also occur. And as far as immunity goes, in general people who have been infected with other coronaviruses have only a short lived immunity.
  2. You’ll spread it. You can have no symptoms and spread it. Even if you have it and recover without needing a doctor, you can spread the virus for up to two weeks following recovery. If you can stay home, please do. Not everybody can. You might need those who are affected. In fact, in at least one case, a relatively young police dispatcher has died from COVID.
  3. Your doctor might get it. Your local paramedic or firefighter might get it. Many states, including lots of rural ones, have doctor shortages. States with plenty of doctors are currently overwhelmed. Doing procedures such as inserting breathing tubes makes healthcare providers more vulnerable than the average person. What will happen if this disease spreads across rural America? You won’t be seeing a doctor, or there won’t be anyone to take you to the hospital, that’s what will happen.

4. Historically, as illustrated by the 1918 flu pandemic, ignoring medical advice in order to make money has been a disaster for the nation and the president.

I admit, sheltering in place is boring. My hair is starting to look like that insider trading chick from Georgia’s. And it’s only the beginning. Sob! In the mean time, these books are free on Amazon for a short time. Please, click away!

I’d like to thank author Lisa Edmonds for the graphic. Here’s a link to her newsletter. Please consider following her!

Chilling requirements (not just for plants)

The tulips are chillin’. Are you?

It’s Imbolc today–the time when Mother Earth awakes in the Northern Hemisphere. The cardinals are singing this morning–my new puppy can’t figure out what that mysterious sound is. It’s hilarious to watch her perk up her ears and twist her head around as she listens. Just wait, sweetie, it’s only the beginning.

We have a nice layer of snow here in Iowa. Snow is a pain to drive in, I admit it. However, it’s wonderful for the garden, providing insulation and moisture. In Japan, people put out special snow viewing lanterns with flat tops to catch the snow. Maybe instead of cursing the cold and snow, we need to look for ways to slow our culture down.

Although we’ve had the paradigm of hard work getting us ahead, many don’t believe it any more. There are studies and editorials about how productivity is killing us. Numerous companies don’t reward hard workers. They are obsessed with driving up stock prices and to do this they do things such as fire workers, cut Research and Development and trash the environment. This isn’t good for the long term health of the company. And constant work isn’t good for our health either. Employee stress eating after work is a sign of a poorly run company. Do you do that? Can you chill instead?

Meanwhile, Mother Nature tells us to chill. Apples and pears set more fruit after a hard winter. Time spent below freezing acts as a rest period for northern plants. Additionally, many plants have a chilling requirement, which is the number of hours of cool but not freezing temperatures they must experience before springing to life after winter. This keeps them from waking up too soon and facing a frost. “High chill” cold climate varieties need 800-1,000+ hours of chilling, while warm climate “low chill” varieties require 500 hours or less. Tulips, daffodils, and other spring bulbs require chilling. So do lilacs, dogwoods, and forsythia. Some of our favorite fruits such as apples, pears, blueberries, and cherries do, too.

My New Pup Chilling

Soon we’ll all be springing to life. It’s a time for new beginnings and spring cleaning. However, don’t forget to get your needed chill hours! There’s still time.

The New Craft

Quite a while a go, my daughter noticed that I had elements of witchcraft strewn about the house–particularly various crystals. She wondered if I could be a witch and alas, I wish I could be. I wish I could cast love spells and attract good fortune. I can’t.I had the crystals because I like rocks and minerals. I’m no witch. But at least I have science.

I wish I could ride on this delightful cinnamon broom but all I can do is enjoy its fragrance.

What did humanity have before science? We dwelled in superstition. The world was erratic and capricious–sometimes benevolent and other times cruel–depending on the wishes of deities. Deities selected the rulers of a nation. They brought the weather–sunny days to firestorms. They spoke to us through calamity and fortune. We did our best to understand, obey, and predict their whim and wishes. A cricket on the hearth signaled luck. In England, black cats were unlucky.

In the US, old shoes in the wall brought good luck as did lucky bones made from codfish. We had slogans such as “it’s always darkest before the dawn.” We had signs–lightning struck towers because the people within were bad, not because static charge accumulates at points. Maybe I’m glad not to have the witch’s craft. It seems so complicated.

As the Renaissance spread in Europe, a New idea took hold–that of verifiable truth. The idea that nature can be observed and understood, not just by the practitioner but by anyone else with the proper measuring tools and instruction. Secrecy and private craft was out and sharing ideas was seen as the only way to make progress.

When science struggled for respect, old women and women with birthmarks and extra nipples were witches. Witches cast low magic, earth magic or practical magic spells. An example of such might be causing milk to spoil or making someone have a “fit.” Interestingly enough, early scientists such as Isaac Newton believed in high magic, involving the planets, angels and demons, and cosmic realms such as alchemy, which involved chemistry mixed with prayer and summoning of powers by the alchemist. Sadly, all Newton got from his dabbling in alchemy was mercury poisoning from quicksilver. The Salem Witch Trials occurred during Newton’s life, although the English were starting to doubt witchcraft and the need to execute witches.

It took a while for magic to live only in the realm of fantasy. What’s the difference between fantasy and scifi? It’s magic vs verifiable truth. How does magic, the harnessing of unknowable forces, differ from science? In science there is the belief that anyone can do it–you don’t need to be The One who draws a sword from the stone or who is chosen to go to a school of magic. In science, nature makes the rules and anyone can discover them. Powers are discovered, not summoned. In science, everyone is a Muggle. Michael Faraday was a great champion of this and his ideas inspired other thinkers such as Charles Darwin who were great proponents of us all coming from the same family tree. (As opposed to leaders being from heaven and some being born better.) Science, at its heart, is the most equitable truth out there. It’s why it’s toppled dynasties, abolished slavery, and why scientists tend to write lab reports in the passive voice. It’s why, it’s so dangerous to those who believe they are innately better and are born better than others.

Esoteric signs. Vector symbols of philosophy and alchemy, masonic and occult sciences

In my upcoming novel, Lost in Waste, the city-state of Cochtonville has evolved into the country of Cochtonia, run by businessman brothers Bert and Clarence Cochton. They rule through their wealth and capriciousness. Agricultural products are the heart of Cochtonia–and scientists are there to help the country produce more products. What’s lost in this country is that science is a way of knowing based on evidence. It’s a search for the truth. Without this quest, scientists aren’t happy and they aren’t productive. And the truth is, the citizens aren’t be happy in Cochtonia either. The nation’s ridiculous hoops for advancement in society have created a stratified society. It’s conformity and slogans impact productivity.

Inequality makes societies unhappy. Societies which value fairness, equity, and equality are happier and more productive. Yes, science has brought us products and technology. But perhaps the deepest gift is verifiable and predictable truth while retaining the awe and wonder of magic.

“Because I said so.” Didn’t you hate that as a kid? I found it so unpersuasive as evidence. Verifiable truth. No special powers. No divine leaders. Equality. These are tools science gave us to use against oppressors. So wave a wand and cast a spell if you wish. I hope it works for you. In my lab, we’ll be pushing buttons. Because all we have is the new craft of science. And as far as things go, science is much more dangerous to demons.

A short Interview with Central College

How did you get into writing? I always liked reading and writing fiction as a child. In high school, a friend and I wrote comic serial novels to entertain and possibly irritate our classmates. In college, I loved my Short Story Writing course and then became the editor of the campus literary magazine. When I went to chemistry graduate school, I missed fiction writing so I applied to and got accepted to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I’ve been writing ever since, but didn’t attempt a novel until seven years ago.

How do you find time to write while teaching? I try to stay disciplined and write each morning and evening, even if it is just for a short time.

Why did you choose to write romance novels? I don’t really like violence and prefer to write things with a satirical edge to them. Love is a universal topic and gives plenty of opportunity for humor, frustration, self-reflection, and a happy ending.


How does the romance novel community react to your infusion of science into your writing? I mostly publish with a Sci-Fi publisher now so I am not strictly in the romance genre. I am still building my reader base and this has been slow going.


Do you bring your writing (in some form) into your science classes? Yes. Writing requires looking at concrete details and evidence, expressing ideas efficiently, and drawing a conclusion based on what has happened—just like a lab report.

Do you ever teach a novel writing class? No but I would love to if there is a demand.

Has anything from Central worked its way into your books? Not really. There is an adage in fiction writing that “only trouble is interesting.” I enjoy my work here so I don’t find a lot of inspirational trouble. I did one time have someone who no longer works here tell me that they found my field of Analytical Chemistry “far too easy.” I found this arrogant and I had a villain use the line.

Insider’s Guide to the Iowa Caucus

Hal Goetz leads caucus training in Knoxville, Iowa

Not long ago, I went to an Iowa caucus training. A caucus is first of all, a meeting. It’s not a primary. It’s a meeting run by a political party and funded by the party. It’s a meeting to select the party’s nominee for election and to work on the party’s goals and principles–the platform. It’s an expensive undertaking. Here is information about the caucus. Here is the platform of one party and of the other.

A caucus will have an attendance of 5-500 people, depending on where you live in the state. It is a place to register people to your party, register people to vote, and to elect delegates for candidates running for president. Each county has a specific number of delegates based on how many people voted in the last 2 elections and how many candidates from that party received votes. A caucus is paid for by the party but works with the elected official–the auditor–to get this information. There are no official candidates at this point, although many have been vying for the nomination. A caucus can elect “undecided.” However, based on your number of delegates, only so many can move forward as “viable.” A candidate may have supporters, but not enough to win a delegate. If this happens, the supporters have the chance to move to their second choice candidate. As you can imagine, there’s math involved and some rounding.

Since there were allegations of fraud in the last caucus–which turned out to be a Russian hoax–the caucus will be less meeting- like next year. Instead of counting people in preference groups and having people win over delegates, we need to collect cards. And people must sign the cards and declare who they are for early in the process. This is a departure for folks like me, who show up not knowing who they will be for and hoping to discuss things at a meeting. I for one feel that the interference in the past election, starting with the caucuses, was a serious threat. There’s a difference between free speech and perpetuating fraud.

In the past, the chair counted the people in each preference group and the results were verified with name and signature by a delegate for each candidate. The card adds an extra layer. Plus, I have to save the cards in case there is an audit. Here’s a look at the card:

The new preference card, because layers of verification wasn’t enough

I volunteered to be a temporary chair for the next caucus. My goal will be to sort people into their candidate preference groups, elect delegates to the county convention (they represent their candidate preference), adopt platform resolutions, and elect people to leadership roles. I had to have a training and will need to pass a quiz.

The Iowa caucus will be on Feb. 3, 2020. It’s the first test of a candidate’s appeal and organization. The locations will be announced, but any entity supported by state taxes in any way must permit their location to be used at no charge.

Once the caucus is over, I hope to relinquish my leadership role. I have a new book coming out, after all.