Danger–shrinkage ahead

We all need help with our hippocampus. Once we reach adulthood (as in 20), it shrinks. By the time a person reaches 70-years old, there’s an 80% chance that changes in the hippocampus will affect memory and learning.

When I reach 70, will it be the end of the line for my brain?

This area deep inside our brain is more sensitive than the princess and the pea. Head injury, stress, inflammation, hypertension, and viruses can damage it. We need this part of our brain for learning and memory. Loss of hippocampus mass is associated with Alzheimer’s and with depression. It rests near the olfactory bulb which means lack of taste or smell, as with covid-19, can be a sign of harm.

Although there are some things I’d like to forget, I rely on my hippocampus for my livelihood and keeping it big is important for my future. Imagine my alarm when two studies came out recently pointing to factors that contribute to shrinking it.

One linked shrinkage to bad diet. Consumption of roast meat, sausages, hamburgers, steak, chips, crackers, and soft drinks shrank the left hippocampus, even if the indulgences were short term. Mind you, I read this at the end of birthday month in our household–July–when we have five events spread over fifteen days, accompanied by plenty of cake, grilling, & celebrating Better Made’s anniversary.

The second hypothesized that too much coffee (6 cups or more) shrinks your brain and can cause dementia. I don’t drink six cups of coffee, I drink two at the most. But they aren’t small cups nor is the coffee weak. Seventy and beyond could be bleak for me. Is there any hope?

What helps your brain ward off the ravages of time and place? One answer is flavonoids.There are six different categories of these plant molecules and eating from every category is recommended. You’ll need to load up on tea, red wine/grape juice, chocolate, citrus fruits, parsley, berries, soy, and other good stuff as outlined in the link.

Peppers are a source of a type of flavonoid called flavone but when it comes to flavones, capers, parsley and oregano knock it out of the park. Parsley also has plenty of flavonols. source here.

Exercise can stave off shrinkage or possibly even build new brain bulk. Likewise, sexual activity has been associated with brain growth in this area, at least in rats.

Chronic stress attacks the brain chemically, and this can explain why PTSD is so damaging. Childhood poverty and stressful events, especially before age 8, shrink the hippocampus and have been related to life-long learning problems.(https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5253253/) Avoiding stress is an important factor in brain health and highlights the need for anti-poverty programs.

It’s uncertain if the brain can regrow itself but new connections are made when we learn or teach new things, even non-academic skills such as as quilting, gaming, and photoshop.

These studies have implications for education and for daily living. Exercise, enough sleep, and healthy meals along with less stress and no cramming facilitate learning. Taking breaks and spacing out tasks is a brain-healthy approach to learning and to chores in general. Apparently, no pain no gain doesn’t apply to the brain.

To save your brain, forget the extra coffee and the meth. Take a break. Enjoy a new skill–no pressure. And don’t forget the parsley.

To wash or not to wash

Hygiene is a relatively new idea in the Western world. An early recognition of the benefits of washing came in the 1840s when doctors noted that hand washing could reduce childbirth fever. The idea of “germs” had been kicked around for several centuries, but it wasn’t until the 1800s that Pasteur proved, through a series of experiments, that germs were transmitted from one source to another. The previous idea was that they and things such as flies arose spontaneously. In 1865, Lister developed the idea of antiseptics, and in 1890, the country doctor Robert Koch came up with his postulates to prove the cause of disease. There was initial push back to germ theory –people didn’t want to be held responsible for making others sick. Even when germs were accepted, hygiene was regarded by some as “for sissies.” By the mid 1950s, films such as this one with Soapy, a somewhat haunted bar of soap, spread the gospel about hygiene. At last, people knew enough to keep clean. Now, the idea of frequent cleaning is being debated.

When I heard about the movement to not wash your hair, the no-poo movement, I knew it wasn’t for me. My hair is too fine and being a teacher and around a lot of people, most of whom tower over me since I’m 5′ 1″, their invisible pathogens fall on my head throughout the day. To be safe, I wash my hair every night, at least during the week. But is this over-kill? Do germs stick on your hair? The answer to this question is: Yes. But.

A study done by several researchers in Singapore, including some from Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Singapore, with the title “Bacteria Display Differential Growth and Adhesion Characteristics on Human Hair Shafts” says that some bacteria cling to your hair while others simply sit on it.

They “showed the colonization and adherence of E. coli and P. aeruginosa on hair shafts, where P. aeruginosa, which tends to not be too dangerous to people with normal immune systems, was one bacteria that stuck to hair, formed a biofilm

E. coli inhabited only the edges of the cuticle scales..this study demonstrate(d) significant antibacterial effects of human hair shafts.”

Bottom line, yes germs stick to your hair but your hair can fight them off to an extent. Hair-derived antimicrobial proteins or peptides have been identified in hair shafts (Adav et al., 2018; Subbaiah et al., 2018).

Shampoo washes away germs on hair. However, grease from your hair can also kill germs. A threat may come from hairbrushes, which have been shown to contain fungal spores ( March 31, 2021, Infection and Drug Resistance)

How often should you wash your hair? It depends on the hair! It’s okay to wash it every day if it is fine because fine hair collects sebum more rapidly. Curly hair uses the sebum to make the curl so once a week can work for curly locks. African hair can go a week or two without washing. However, hair can trap pollen. Allergies can create the need to wash or rinse your hair more often.

Likewise, you should wash more often if you smoke or work with pesticides or other toxins.

What about beards? Beards are very germy and possibly a symbol of White Supremacy and anti-femininism. Beards need to be washed and brushed several times a week to remain sanitary. Wiggling a beard beneath a facial mask can release bacteria. However, having a beard doesn’t seem to be associated with being more sickly. Beards fall in the category of possibly being more of a danger to others. Beards haven’t been studied a lot.

Last but not least, there is the question of pubic hair–it is a natural cushion which will prevent STDs or is it germy and teaming with pheromones? Believe it or not, how this area is treated differs geographically. An interesting thing about pubic hair is that each person has a unique bacterial combination in this spot, with cohabiting couples sharing bacteria. However, like head hair, washed pubes are not overly germy. In fact, lack of pubic hair has been associated with a higher frequency of genital warts, herpes, and papillomavirus (HPV). However, you can and do give your mostly harmless germs to another via pube touching.

What happens when a person doesn’t bathe or shower regularly? A skin condition including a painful rash, can develop from bacteria, dead skin cells, and wax. Do you need to wash every day? No. A short shower every other day can work.

Of course, numerous diseases are spread by unclean hands. Even harmless bacteria can cause a nasty infection under certain situations, including entering a wound. As with pubic hair, each person has their own bacterial skin colonies and too much washing can damage skin and make way for new, less desirable bacteria. However, washing is necessary to remove bacteria from the skin. As with hair, some leeway depending on the situation is advised. Also along the same lines as the hair brush study, towels can be a source of bacteria and should be washed every two days.

Anyone with acne has probably been told that it is caused by bacteria and this is true. However, beneficial bacteria can help fight acne. Over-washing your face removes helpful bacteria and oils. Studies have found that products containing aforementioned lactobacillus (a type of bacteria usually found in yogurt) are effective in treating acne. Probiotic acne medication is being developed. Some companies are looking into probiotic make up. The problem with the later is that make-up itself can harbor germs and adding anything to help stop dangerous germs will also kill the probiotics. And, it’s not been proven that makeup with probiotics helps skin. Probably your best bet for giving your skin a boost of good bacteria is a yogurt face mask, which could increase moisture and elasticity.

Above: before and after a yogurt treatment on an over-washed hand

We each carry around our own little cloud of bacteria, controlled by our own natural antimicrobials. In fact, our bacterial cells outnumber our human cells by 10:1! Hygiene is needed to prevent invasion from outside germs, but we need to be aware that over-washing can stress our clouds and our skin and hair. However, other people might not always want to smell your cloud and they might not want to share your bacteria, so do wash when needed.

Three germs on dirty cloud of bad smell. Each of us carries around our own cloud of bacteria, some helpful and some not.

Want a little Red 40 with your Pretzel Salad?

Dig in. It’s only Red 40.

Mixed In takes place in Cochtonia, a city-state with futuristic technology and mid 20th Century mannerisms. This recipe is adapted from one in my Granny’s church cook-book (1987) which includes an abundance of Jello recipes. Although Jello seems lowly today, it’s a modern version of collagen rich aspic, used in aristocratic dishes of the past. Intricate layering was a part of aspic and Jello culture. You’ll find this recipe mentioned in Mixed In.

I’ll be honest. I bought things I didn’t know (or had forgotten) existed for this recipe.

Strawberry Pretzel Salad

Crust

Combine 2.5 cups of crushed pretzels

1.5 sticks of melted margarine

3 tablespoons sugar

Pour into a 9 x 13-inch pan

Bake for 10 minutes at 350o F

Cool.

Second layer

1 envelope Dream Whip, whipped with ½ cup cold milk and ½ tsp vanilla.

8-oz package of cream cheese, softened

1 cup sugar

Mix together the above ingredients and pour on cooled crust.

Top layer

1 6-oz box of strawberry Jello

3 cups boiling water

14 oz sliced frozen strawberries

Dissolve Jello in boiling water. Add frozen strawberries. Stir. Cool until slightly thickened. Pour this layer on cream cheese layer.

If desired, mix a half cup crushed pretzels with ½ stick of margarine and 1 tsp sugar, bake for ten minutes at 350o. Cool and use as a topping. Refrigerate for several hours or over night before serving.

Author’s note:

One question a person might ask about such a dish, which is delightfully sweet and salty, smooth and crunchy is: how dangerous is the red 40 dye that gives it the festive color? The answer is: it depends on who you are.

An article in Environmental Health Perspectives; Vol. 120, Iss. 1,  (Jan 2012): 1-5 noted that in a 1994 study in which children were fed placebos or capsules containing large amounts of dye some but not all “children displayed a clear dose-response function, with the higher doses eliciting higher scores on their 30-item behavior inventory, including five clusters of related behaviors: a) irritability/control, b) sleep disturbances, c) restlessness, d) aggression, and e) attention span.” In other words, some kids reacted poorly to the dyes, others did not. Yellow dye (tartrazine) appeared to have the most consistent negative effect. It didn’t seem to matter if the children were diagnosed with ADHD or not. Some kids had adverse reactions to high concentrations of dyes but many were unaffected.

 A more recent article ( J.Agric. Food Chem. 2017, 65, 12, 2588–2593:March 7, 2017) states that people who have elevated Red 40 in their urine often have high blood pressure.

Additionally, the dye has been associated with colon DNA damage in mice. (Journal of Toxicological Sciences (2010), 35 (4), 547-554CODEN: JTSCDR; ISSN:0388-1350. (Japanese Society of Toxicology))

Another study found that bacteria in your intestines can degrade Red 40 and turn it into a substance that can damage DNA and other chemicals that are be both toxic and carcinogenic. ( Journal of Pure and Applied Microbiology(Vol. 10, Issue 4) 2016) It’s thought this occurs to a greater extent in infants and children.

There aren’t an overwhelming number of studies showing the harmful effects of Red 40. Despite this, Nigeria, Switzerland, Canada and countries of the European Union as Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria and Norway have either banned Red 40 or added warning labels for the reasons mentioned above. 

When you think about it, does Jello have to be brightly colored? Wouldn’t it taste as sweet without the red dye? I’m not going to ban Red 40 from my diet. On the other hand, I’m not going to have a second helping.

Can volcanos ruin your summer?

In 1816, the year Dora Jordan died, Europe and most of North America seemed to be cursed. It was the year without a summer. The skies were overcast. Frost and even snow was common. Yes, it snowed in New England on 4th of July. Crops failed. Because of crop failures, horses, the main source of transportation, were expensive to feed. It’s believed this gave rise to the invention of the bicycle. Mary Shelley was inspired to write Frankenstein and the Gothic era of fiction took off. What gave rise to all this gloom and doom? The eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia the previous year.

The explosion knocked 4,000 feet of stone and rock from the top of the volcano. Ten thousand residents were killed immediately and 90,000 later starved.

In repose for thousands of years, the volcano began rumbling in early April of 1815. Soldiers hundreds of miles away on Java, thinking they heard cannon fire, went looking for a battle. Then, on April 10, came the volcano’s terrible finale: three columns of fire shot from the mountain, and a plume of smoke and gas reached 25 miles into the atmosphere. Fire-generated winds uprooted trees. Pyroclastic flows, or incandescent ash, poured down the slopes at more than 100 miles an hour, destroying everything in their paths and boiling and hissing into the sea 25 miles away. Huge floating rafts of pumice trapped ships at harbor.

Throughout the region, ash rained down for weeks. Houses hundreds of miles from the mountain collapsed under the debris. Sources of fresh water, always scarce, became contaminated. Crops and forests died….The major eruptions ended in mid-July, but Tambora’s ejecta would have profound, enduring effects. Great quantities of sulfurous gas from the volcano mixed with water vapor in the air. Propelled by stratospheric winds, a haze of sulfuric acid aerosol, ash and dust circled the earth and blocked sunlight.

The particles from the eruption settled and life returned to normal for the survivors. But this isn’t the only example of volcanos messing with life on earth.

A series of volcanic eruptions, beginning in 1256 and lasting until 1455, probably created the Little Ice Age. An abundant formation of polar ice kept the northern hemisphere cold until 1860. In other words, 1816 was a cold era, created by volcanos, made much colder by another volcano.

Long robes, hats–it’s damn cold in the 1500s! (Photo is a portrait of the alchemist Paracelsus)

More recently, the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 created a cooling effect which lasted for three years.

Numerous volcanos are erupting right now with the most dangerous one being Nyiragongo in the Congo.

You can view a map of erupting volcanos.

So, if people ask you why it is so cold today even if we have global warming, there are plenty of good answers but if you want a simplistic answer maybe it’s the volcanos.

First men in the moon: 100 + years of lessons not learned

First encounter with Selenites living inside of the moon

One of my favorite classic sci-fi novels is HG Wells’s First Men in the Moon. Written in 1900 and published as a novel in 1901, it tells the story of a businessman and a scientist who take a trip to the moon, thanks to the invention of a new substance that acts as an anti-gravity shield. Not only do I find the premise of an anti-gravity shield delightful, the reactions of the two characters, stereotyped although they may be, rings true, especially now as we see the pandemic play out. The pair encounters a new civilization on the moon and while the scientist promotes cautious study, the businessman can think of nothing but exploitation. As I contemplate coerced returning to work, as a teacher, even though scientists warn against it, I am struck by the lack of moral leadership in education these days. The reason for this is simple: schools are expected to be run as businesses. And some of that push, from the outgoing secretary of education, who never went to a public school in her life, is that they must remain open, pandemic be damned.

The trouble with education as a business is that education is not a business. It’s meant to be a form of philanthropy for the good of society. As we move away from that ideal, into perversions such as public-private partnerships, we burden our education system with private agendas. Some of these agendas are simple things such as workforce development and career academies teaching things like welding, culinary arts, and nursing assistant skills. My college even got a grant for some of this, called Talent Pipeline, meant to aid coronavirus relief. Ironically, you can click the link and see our “only business matters” governor smiling at young people. There is nothing wrong with any of the aforementioned careers. The problem comes when college and universities are hamstrung by them to the point where they cannot afford to provide any moral leadership. The money could have been used to improve ventilation in classrooms or help those with no access to the technology needed for remote learning. Instead, we teach welding because local companies want welders. Your tax dollars will do this for them.

Currently, doctors and hospitals have seen a surge in cases and have urged people to shelter this holiday season. We know that young people (not little kids) are spreading the virus. They are the main spreaders. Many people now filling the hospitals have been traced to young people congregating. Some colleges are doing the right thing. Extreme testing has kept rates nar 0.1 % at some colleges. Yet many secondary schools and colleges, especially in the grain belt, have not taken steps to do anything because they are run like businesses and abdicate their moral responsibility to be leaders. Even worse, many religious organizations have also abdicated this responsibility. Instead of modeling selflessness, selfishness abounds. Scientists have had to take on the role of telling people what they should do morally to protect other people. Not schools, not churches–scientists. Guess what–that very scenario played out in First Men in The Moon. And, not to spoil it for you, but the businessman learns nothing from it. Nothing.

Learn or exploit?

A COVID treatment for the powerful

The president’s COVID treatment seems to have worked, or so he claims.

At its heart, it was made from Designer antibodies from humans who have recovered from Covid and from mice who have been designed to have a human immune system.

What are antibodies? To understand them we need to review how viruses work.

Viruses are bits of genetic material that come in coatings that are covered with protein bits with a unique shape. These protein bits are called antigens. Antigens are how scientists identify viruses. They are like the calling card of a virus. Each one is unique to that type of virus. Technically anything that produces an immune response is an antigen. In COVID-19, the “spike protein” sticking out all over like a crown is considered the antigen. Proteins elicit an immune response, unlike the fatty lipid blob that contains the rest of the virus. The spike protein allows the virus to interact with our cells, penetrate them, and inject the viral material into our cells where it uses our cell mechanisms to reproduce itself. Yes, the viral infection is a lot like our cells getting raped and impregnated with a virus.

Antibodies may also be able to treat cancer. Image from cancer.gov

White blood cells recognize a virus as dangerous and cover the anitigens with antibodies to neutralize them. Other white blood cells can then eat the virus. Antibodies have to be tailored for each virus. Vaccines work by teaching white cells how to make the right antibody so they can leap into action without the learning curve. Keeping away from the virus and wearing a mask is like an abstinence only class while a vaccine is more like sex education with a pregnancy prevention compoenent.

In general, antibodies look like Ys under a microscope and you can buy antibody pins, lanyards, phone grips and facemasks. In the latter, the antibodies are shown with weapons–an axe, an arrow, and magic.

The president got a dose of these antibodies equal to three to four times the amount a human needs. Should the rest of us expect such treatment to be available soon? In a word, NO.

Supplies are limited because, in part, because Operation Warp Speed is more show than go when it comes to investment. Yes, it is a cheaply funded program which means most of us won’t able to afford this treatment.

The cost of monoclonals, especially for the higher doses needed for treatment, could split the world into the haves and have-nots. “It’s unlikely that that treatment will get down to a price point in the near future that it would be easily affordable globally,” says Seth Berkley, who leads Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and also heads an international COVID-19 vaccine effort.

A deadly virus which may cause sterility in males and a cure only available to some. Doctors are stuck saving the very person who got us into this mess, a man they condemn. I guess for most of us, it’s going to be abstinence only.

Labor’s unappreciated benefits

I was surprised that a friend recently didn’t know what the UAW sticker on my car meant. Sadly, there are many people who probably don’t appreciate what organized labor has done for us. The UAW, or United Auto Workers, has been around since 1915. Its president had this to say in a recent statement :

“Labor Day is the day that we celebrate and recognize the spirit, strength and life-changing contributions of working men and women across this nation. It is the voice, the sacrifice and the unwillingness to give up that defines our labor movement and our union.

So, I would like to remind all of us that it is labor that built America and America’s middle class. It is labor that has brought us fair wages, health care benefits, retirement, health and safety standards, a voice in the workplace and so much more. It is labor that stands up to social and civil injustice and it was the working men and women of this nation that stepped up when our country was in need of critical life-saving Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Our brothers and sisters were among the first to go to work to make PPE, to make ventilators, to staff food banks and help out in countless ways in communities from coast to coast. But then, that is what we do — and what we have always done.”

Organized labor has always been there for the working class.

In 1961, the UAW at GM, union won the” first fully paid hospitalization and sick benefits, and agreement for no discrimination on basis of race, creed, color or national origin.”

The UAW has lobbied for a Civil Rights Law, formation of OSHA, an Election Day paid holiday for auto workers, and to protect workers in numerous industries.

Before the labor movement gained steam in the 1800s, workers were overworked, underpaid, and not protected from workplace dangers. Children labored beside adults and were often victims of workplace safety lapses.

Strikes, protests, and riots were effective in getting organized labor some concessions from the rich overlords. Wealthy women such as Jane Addams supported the labor movement in its infancy. Child labor was ended in 1881, although not for farm workers. In 1938, the work week was dropped from 100 hours to 40 and a minimum wage was established.

President Reagan was a notorious union-buster and closed down OSHA offices to make conditions less safe. Since his election in 1980, wages have remained stagnant except for the wealthy. The decline of unions has been cited as a contributing factor for flat wages. Inequality and deregualtion, especially in other countries, also take a share of the blame for our huge wage gap, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. A more progressive tax structure would help solve the problem of income inequality.

Meanwhile, “labor unions have proven to be the only consistently effective mechanism for enabling workers to express their concerns and exert significant influence in the workplace..unions have benefited not only members, but the workforce as a whole.”

Labor Unions and workers have been significantly beaten up by politicians as of late. Even if, like most of us, you aren’t in a labor union, it’s time to give them, and workers, respect and to pay attention to the damaging policies enacted over the past few years by politicans who claim to represent the working class but favor the wealthy instead. President Trump even indicted Ronald Reagan into the Department of Labor’s Hall of Fame. We workers have paid the price for one bad president long ago. Let’s hope there isn’t more price to be paid.

Meanwhile, we can thank the UAW for providing protective equipment such as masks and gowns and equipment such as ventillators for healthcare professionals and workers during the pandemic when our elected officals couldn’t seem to get it done because, they didn’t want to.

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How important is natural hair?

The Crown Act, which prevents discrimination against naturally Black hair, or more accurately, against hairstyle and texture, passed the US House today. 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!