Liquid Smoke Flavorings Give Less Carcinogens Than Smoked Meat and Fish

Someone forwarded me this article by Superfoodly, Is Liquid Smoke Flavor Safe or Cancer in a Bottle? This article seems to have useful health information. I will unpack the physical basis for this below, but the key takeaway is:  smoked foods (i.e., have been exposed to actual smoke) like smoked turkey, and especially fatty meat/fish like salmon, have appreciably more carcinogens than food flavored by “liquid smoke” type flavorings.

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Air Fryer: Redundant, Self-Indulgent Counter-Space-Waster?

While we were all imprisoned at home in 2020, we turned to eating food, and preparing food to eat in order to occupy and comfort ourselves. People baked bread for the first time in their lives. When yeast in the stores ran out, the internet was alive with tips on how to get sourdough cultures started. And a lot of air fryers were marketed and bought.

The premise of air fryers seems unassailable: quickly circulate very hot air (up to 450 F/230 C) to get that delicious fried crispiness with minimal oil, and get it in minutes with minimal fuss and cleanup. Since we had an offer of getting an air fryer at a discount, I consulted my wise friend, the internet. I wanted to love air fryers, but it seems they don’t cook much differently than a modern countertop convection toaster/oven (“turbo broiler”). There are some space-age-looking air fryers with a more slender, curvaceous profile which has a somewhat smaller footprint than a rectangular turbo broiler, but the capacity is typically only enough for one person or a couple with modest appetites.

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Why is the COVID Delta Variant So Infectious?

The “delta variant” of COVID-19 is far more virulent than the original strains, and is largely responsible for the recent surges in COVID cases in the U.S. and worldwide. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky told the Senate on July 15  that the delta variant now makes up 83% of U.S. cases, up from 50% at the beginning of this month. It was first detected in India, then spread to the U.K. and the U.S., and around the world.

What is it that makes the delta variant so infectious? From a molecular point of view, here are the known functional mutations in the DNA that produces the “spike” proteins in the virus which bind to human cells:

Source: Stanford

Four of these mutations in particular are believed to contribute to the virulence of this strain, as discussed here. Among other things, they can cause the spike protein to bind more strongly to our cells, and inhibit our immune response. See here for 3-D model of the virus spike binding to human receptor, showing the locations of those mutated proteins.

As a result of those mutations the delta variant grows faster inside people’s respiratory tracts and reaches much higher levels. Per NPR,

On average, people infected with the delta variant had about 1,000 times more copies of the virus in their respiratory tracts than those infected with the original strain of the coronavirus, the study reported.

In addition, after someone catches the delta variant, the person likely becomes infectious sooner. On average, it took about four days for the delta variant to reach detectable levels inside a person, compared with six days for the original coronavirus variant.

… People who have contracted the delta variant are likely spreading the virus earlier in the course of their infection.

How can we stop it? It is pretty simple:  get vaccinated (or never be in a closed space with other unvaccinated humans). Vaccines don’t totally prevent you from getting COVID initially, so you might still have early symptoms and also be able to spread the virus to others for a few days. However, vaccines are highly effective in helping your immune system to quickly shut down any infection you do get before the symptoms get severe. This is true for all for essentially all strains of COVID, including delta.

Again per NPR,

Preliminary data shows that in some U.S. states, 99.5% of COVID-19 deaths in the past few months were among people who weren’t vaccinated, said CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky at a White House press conference in early July.

And 97% of those currently hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, according to Walensky.

Just compare the two maps below of which American states have high/low vaccinations and high/low COVID incidence, and draw your own conclusions:

Percent Vaccinations. Image source: ABCnews

COVID Case Density. Image source: ABCnews

Making Sunbaked Essene Bread: Snatching Victory from the Jaws of Sprouting Defeat

Last week I posted a somewhat downbeat article on my attempts at growing sprouts to eat. Clumps of hair-like alfalfa sprouts are OK, but the various sprouted beans and peas I made got no traction with me or my extended family. And my sprouted wheat tasted terrible, like a mouthful of grass.

The wheat got me curious – – I have enjoyed plenty of nice “sprouted wheat” bread, and it is supposed to be good for you. In the germination process, the enzymatic chemistry of the wheat seed goes into action and breaks down some of the highly stable compounds in order to activate them for supporting active growing instead of stasis. Studies show that this sprouting chemistry renders the material in the wheat more amenable to human digestion than in the original seed and greatly increases the vitamin A and C content.

So, what did I do wrong? It turns out that the timing of wheat sprouting is critical: if it goes too long, the wheat composition changes dramatically, turning more bitter. That is what happened with my first sprouting effort. Smarting with this failure, I decided to try again.

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Three Things I Have Learned About Growing Sprouts

Last month, we visited my daughter and her family, which includes a three-year-old and a six-year-old. We were only there for a week, so I thought a neat activity which we could complete in that timeframe would be to grow some sprouts to eat. It turns out I didn’t really know what I was getting into. My idea of sprouts was the light, crunchy bundle of hair-like alfalfa sprouts that nearly all of us have garnished a salad or a sandwich with at some point in our lives.

I did a quick read-up on sprout growing. The basic mechanics are quite simple: get some sort of screened or mesh lid for a Mason jar, put a couple tablespoons of sprouting seeds in there, cover them with a couple inches of water, and let them sit overnight. Then pour that water off, and every morning and every night run some fresh water in through the mesh, swirl it around a little bit to moisten the seeds and wash off bacteria, and pour that new water off. Keep the jars inverted, but a little tilted, so air can get in through the mesh. Keep the jars out of direct or reflected light. In about three days total you are done.

What could possibly go wrong, you ask? Well, I got seduced by all the glowing claims and enthusiastic comments online by sprout devotees about various types of seeds for sprouting. Instead of sticking to just plain alfalfa, I ended up buying a suite of sprouting seed mixtures which was highly rated on Amazon. What came was about 20 little plastic bags, each with a mixture of seeds for sprouting.

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Condo Building Collapse in Miami: Causes and Consequences

Everyone has heard of the terrible tragedy in Surfside, a suburb of Miami, where a large portion of a twelve-story beachfront condominium building suddenly collapsed. As of July 5, 32 people were confirmed dead, with over 100 still missing and likely dead in the rubble. As an engineer (not a structural engineer) I am interested in what caused this structural failure. I’ll share what seems to be the latest intelligence on that. I will also offer a speculation on possible economic ripples of this event: what if confidence is lost in the structural integrity of other Miami beachfront condos?

Here is the before:

Source: Wikipedia

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1970’s SNL on the Problem of Inflation

Any student of economics knows that inflation emerged as a big issue in the late 1970’s, first under the presidency of Jimmy Carter. The newly minted Saturday Night Live rose to the occasion. First, Dan Akroyd as Jimmy Carter proposed that that every American take 8 per cent of his or her money and burn it (Season 3, Episode 17, 4/15/1978), to reduce the money supply.

The President demonstrated leadership here by burning 8% of the $12.50 in his daughter’s little peanut bank:

A few months later (Season 4, Episode 4, 11/4/1978), the President changed his mind. Since austerity did not seem to be working, he offered a new approach – –  “Inflation is our friend”:

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Rudyard Kipling As Macroeconomic Commentator

In a random article I read on investing the author cited (in defense of commonsense finance versus novel economic flimflam) the following passage by Rudyard Kipling:

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins

When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,

As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,

The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

I was vaguely familiar with Kipling as an author of children’s stories like The Jungle Book and for writing poems celebrating British imperialism, but this seemed like some sort of macroeconomic commentary. “All men are paid for existing” sounds very much like Universal Basic Income, and “no man must pay for his sins” is consistent with a culture of blame-shifting. I was not aware of Kipling-as-economist, so I looked up the reference here.

This verse is the closing stanza of Kipling’s “The Gods of the Copybook Headings”. He penned this in 1919, as an expression of concern over trends in post-WWI Anglo-European society. “Copybook Headings” were maxims which appeared at the top of schoolchildrens’ copybooks in nineteenth-century Britain and America; the pupils would learn penmanship, vocabulary, spelling, and hopefully socially-useful values by copying these sayings over and over down the page. These maxims were based on traditional morals or on Bible sayings, like “A stitch in time saves nine” or “If a man will not work, let him not eat”.

I found that other investing advisers, such as John Bogle, also cited this poem in support of value-oriented financial strategies and claimed that it “beautifully captur[ed] the thinking of Schumpeter and Keynes”. Kipling felt that the old time-tested values were being replaced by trendy, flashy fads, but society would come to grief by rejecting the old common-sense virtues.  Eventually the “Gods of the [innovative] Market” would tumble, their “smooth-tongued wizards” would be silenced, and the public would realize that it is still the case that “Two and Two make Four.”

Without further ado, here is the complete poem:

The Gods of the Copybook Headings

AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,

I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.

Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,

And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.


We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn

That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:

But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,

So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.


We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,

Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,

But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come

That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.


With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,

They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;

They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;

So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.


When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.

They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.

But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,

And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”


On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life

(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)

Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,

And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”


In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,

By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;

But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,

And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”


Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew

And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true

That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four

And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.


As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man

There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.

That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,

And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;


And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins

When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,

As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,

The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!


This poem made little sense to me until I read some commentary by the Kipling Society. I’ll reproduce just a few excerpts here. Everything below is taken verbatim from that commentary except a couple of my side comments in square brackets:


Against the fundamental, unchanging values of life – the “Copybook Headings” which a child was expected to imbibe while learning to write – Kipling sets the transient, fashionable “Gods of the Market-Place”, which can be taken to refer to both trendy attitudes and the public figures associated with them.

Kipling argues that throughout the ages mankind has always been jostled between wisdom and foolishness. The references to past periods of time appear to reinforce the air of an historical survey, but the geological terms are fake, and Kipling’s concern is not with the past, but with post-war Britain. In the final two stanzas of the poem, the knockabout satire is replaced by a sterner prophetic tone:

As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

Notes on the text
[Verse 2]

living in trees Kipling starts his story with the first human ancestors.

Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind the capitals emphasize the trendy empty terms used by the Gods of the Market-Place [as evolving human society tries to transcend the elementary facts of nature such as water wets and fire burns, which even the gorillas honor].

[Verse 3]

word would come That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield When the Gods of the Copybook Headings are ignored, retribution follows, whether among savage tribes or in the heart of civilisation

[Verse 4]

Wishes were Horses ‘If wishes were horses, beggars would ride’ and a Pig had Wings ‘If a pig had wings it would fly’. Both these traditional sayings pour scorn on wishful thinking.

[Verse 5]

Cambrian a real geological period. Here, as Keating points out, it stands for the Welshman Lloyd George, who was Prime-Minister for much of the Great War. (Cambria is the Latin name for Wales). Lloyd George was the chief British negotiator for the Treaty of Versailes in 1919 which officially ended the War. This disarmed Germany but pledged all the Great Powers to disarm themselves progressively. Kipling strongly disapproved of Lloyd George, the Liberals, and the Treaty.

‘Stick to the Devil you know.’ The usual form of this saying is ‘better the Devil you know than the one you don’t.’ Here it means that being prepared for war is better than being disarmed and defenceless.

[Verse 6]

Feminian a made-up term which sounds suitably geological. It refers to the emancipation of women, a lively issue at the time [and perhaps to the new morality which increasingly separated sexual activity from committed marriage; the result being a decrease in child-bearing and an increase in infidelity].

‘The Wages of Sin is Death.’ See Paul’s Epistle to the Romans 6,23.

[Verse 7]

Carboniferous Another genuine geological period, in which coal measures were formed. Here it stands for the increasing power of trade unions, particularly the coal-miners.

robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul ‘Robbing Peter to pay Paul’ is a traditional phrase, usually meaning borrowing money to pay off debt. Here it means taxing the productive part of the population to support the idle. [This is a live issue in 2021…]

The Internet Knows Everything

About ten years ago, movers showed up to pack up and move our worldly goods across town. Because this was a short move, we went with some local, low-priced labor, instead of name-brand professionals. From a previous move, we knew that the legs of our baby grand piano could and should be removed for transport. Unfortunately, none of the movers knew how to detach the legs, and neither did I. I squirmed underneath and looked up, and did not see how to do it. I only saw some massive screws that looked like they were not about to move.

The internet to the rescue – – a quick search led to a YouTube video showing somebody moving a piano like ours, and just reaching under and knocking something with a rubber mallet, and voila, off came the legs. I could not see exactly what they did, but when I crawled under the piano again to look for something easily knocked aside, which had to be there, it was obvious what to do.

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The Rise and Fall (?) of Bitcoin Price

Well, it has been a fun party. Here is a chart of Bitcoin prices over the last year or so. Folks that bought in before December were up X4 or more by April. Woo-hoo! But prices have dropped by half in the past two months. Many articles were published over the winter justifying ever greater heights for Bitcoin. It was to be the digital equivalent of gold as a store of value. Also, it is touted as being decentralized and free of government manipulation – – a global, privatized people’s currency. What happened?

Source: Seeking Alpha
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