Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Yahoo! Answers: Anatomy Edition

It's been a while since I've had a chance to round up some of my favourite Yahoo! Answers questions. This one stood out today though:

I wouldn't even know where to begin answering this. The lungs would be an awful long way to travel, even if the kid is constipated. If this actually happened, I'd be very impressed.

A BLT update: September

The deadline for Michael Ruhlman's BLT-from-scratch challenge has come and gone and so far I have not been able to make a sandwich. But challenge be damned -- this sandwich is getting made one way or another.

The hold up has been with my tomatoes, which only a few days ago finally started to ripen. I have no idea why it took so long, but I'm just glad I'm actually getting some.

I also made a test loaf of bread a couple of weeks ago. I made a heavy rye bread, which might be a bit too intense for a BLT, but it was an encouraging experience. It was the first loaf of bread I'd ever baked and I was pleased with the results. It was dense, rich and flavourful, like much of the rye bread I grew up with.

So what's missing now? My bacon is ready. My tomatoes are ready. I can bake a loaf of bread tomorrow. Lettuce will have to come from my mother's garden. I just really hope there's still some there for the taking. Otherwise, I'm going to have to get creative.

With any luck, I'll have a picture of my BLT by the end of the week. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Instruments antique road show

As a musician, it's inevitable that you end up having a lot of instruments pass through your hands over the years. Some are quickly forgotten, while others are unique enough to stand out from the pack. There's always a eureka moment when you realize you've discovered something a little special. And in the case of older instruments, you have the added bonus of knowing that this is an instrument with history and a story all its own.

Thanks to some kind members of my extended family, I've uncovered an interesting guitar that certainly has an interesting back story. I was told that the guitar had been taking up basement space for several decades and was actually used by my mother-in-law when she was learning to play guitar in the 70s. Was I interested? Despite the less-than-promising description, I'm never one to pass up a potentially exciting find. Of course I'd take a look!

I won't lie: my first impression was a bit iffy. It looked its age, was covered in stickers, and I certainly didn't recognize any of the detailing. It was a hollowbody guitar with a black and gold-sparkle finish, and there was some significant structural damage around the output jack. But it felt pretty good in the hands and I decided to give it a shot based on that.

Once I got the guitar home, I removed all of the stickers, washed off the residue, cleaned and oiled the fret board, and finally put some fresh strings on it. And you know what? It sounded really great. Despite the damage to the body, the output jack seems to still work reasonably well, the action is very playable, and the neck doesn't have any severe issues.

But what the hell is it? I had no idea. My only indicators were an unusual "A" logo on the headstock and an atomic music note logo on the pickguard. My assumption was that it was most likely bought from a catalogue or department store. I started by poking around to see what kind of guitars Sears sold in the 70s and discovered some Silvertones that bore vague resemblences to what I had.

The rest fell into place quite easily. I learned that many of the Silvertones sold by Sears were made by Harmony. As it turns out, they also produced their guitars under several other brand and store names, including Airline, Montgomery Wards, Alden's, and others. And they all had similarities to my mystery guitar. And then I found it: a picture of the exact guitar I was looking for. The "A" on the headstock stood for Alden's, a catalogue retailer.

The guitar is an Alden 9908 Tuxedo single-pickup electric hollowbody -- a replica of Harmony's own Stratotone "Mars" H45. Interestingly, all the websites I saw claimed that it was originally produced from 1962-63, although several web commenters claim the parts on their guitars have date stamps from later in the 60s. That's a little earlier than I was expecting to find, but then again I don't currently know exactly when and where the guitar was first purchased. But I do know that later versions of this model supposedly had a modified pickguard that protected the area around the tone knobs and no longer had the gold sparkle over the black finish, so I'm guessing this one must be from the 62-65 range.

Most importantly, the guitar sounds great and definitely still has some life in it, so I would definitely qualify this as "an awesome find." And as a final piece of trivia, I discovered that the Harmony H45, which this is nearly an exact copy of, was an early guitar used by folks like Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. Here's a photo of the band from 1964, including Brian with his Harmony Stratotone (front, left).

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I'm really happy for you...

If I've learned anything from the Kanye West/Taylor Swift incident at the MTV Video Music Awards, it's that the internet as a whole is very easily amused. There are, like, a million videos, photos, and god knows what else out there poking fun at the situation already. And yes, I'm just as easily amused, it seems. All of this dumb stuff made (and continues to make) me laugh. More, please!

The Kanye West Apology Generator

Make your very own Kanye West Apology. Be sure to turn on your CAPS-LOCK for extra authenticity. (Link)

I'mma Let You Finish
A lovingly assembled tumblr feed of all the Kanye goofiness you could possibly need. (Link)

Kanye interrupts a game of Super Mario Bros.

Kanye interrupts Barack Obama

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The politics of food labels

Accidental Hedonist called my attention to this latest article (New York Times) on the topic of nutrition-oriented labelling for packaged foods.

The Smart Choices Program lets food manufacturers buy into their program for a fee in exchange for having a recognized health-conscious label to stick on any of the products that happen to meet the program's nutrition requirements.

Of course, as the Times article points out, the program has numerous flaws, not first of which is the commonly understood fact that most of the healthiest products in most supermarkets are those that barely even have any packaging. But more to the point, the article explores some of the dubious products to be granted inclusion in the program, such as sugary cereals like Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes, Cocoa Puffs, and Lucky Charms. That's the one with the marshmallows.

How do backers of the program defend the inclusion of these items?
[Dr. Kennedy, president of the Smart Choices board] said Froot Loops was better than other things parents could choose for their children.

“You’re rushing around, you’re trying to think about healthy eating for your kids and you have a choice between a doughnut and a cereal,” Dr. Kennedy said, evoking a hypothetical parent in the supermarket. “So Froot Loops is a better choice.
This raises a number of red flags...

(A) If you're "trying to think about healthy eating for your kids" and the best ideas you can come up with are Froot Loops and doughnuts, then you're probably not ready for parenthood. At the very least, you're not thinking hard enough.

(B) Does this mean I can safely assume that anything healthier than a doughnut qualifies as "nutritious"? It doesn't seem like they've set the bar very high for themselves here. Is it okay if I give my kids cotton candy for breakfast? It's lower in fat than a doughnut.

(C) How does Dr. Kennedy think the labelling will help a consumer in this situation? Is it an obvious choice because the Froot Loops have a "Smart Choices" label, while the doughnuts do not? Does this mean the program's aim is to convince consumers that all products lacking the "Smart Choices" label are inherently less nutritious than those that do bear it? Since there are only 10 food manufacturers participating in the program, it seems impossible for them to know what their products are being compared against. Yes, it could be doughnuts. But it could also be a banana or yogurt.

So what is Smart Choices? It's a glorified marketing campaign, basically. Its limited participation guarantees that most of the healthiest products available to consumers will be ignored and it ignores foods' undesirable traits in favor of more marketable ones. As consumers, we all lose.

More importantly, this story speaks to the general issue of health-oriented packaging claims. We may be picking on Smart Choices here, but the same problems apply to almost any product that makes generalized health claims on its packaging. Maybe some of this time, effort, and money should be put into actually educating consumers, rather than just telling them things after they arrive at the store.