Sunday, October 26, 2008

Put my restless legs to work

Published October 26, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

Much has been said this election season about our dependence on foreign oil. Whether you’re a republican or a democrat or none of the above, this is an issue you should be worried about. For me, the issue is not only related to foreign oil, but our country’s continued dependence on all fossil fuels. Sure, they have their place, and I wouldn’t want to live without heat in my home. I just think it’s time we work a little harder on developing existing sources of renewable energy and finding new ones.

This is where I get really excited. Cue the jumping and the squealing and the collapse into smug self satisfaction.

Folks, I’m no energy expert, but I’ve got a creative brain in my head, and I’ve found what could be the most compelling answer to the energy crisis facing the world today. I have discovered a completely untapped source of renewable energy, a veritable gold mine of potential. This. Could. Change. Everything.

Ladies, and gentlemen, I’m talking about Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). This is a condition that has afflicted me for as long as I can remember (and I’m sure for even longer than that). Inherited from my mother, “Wiggly Feet Willie” Braudaway, RLS is a condition that causes me to keep my toes, feet, or legs in almost constant motion. Even as I write, my bare feet resting on the legs of my computer chair, I feel the comforting wiggling of my two big toes, beating a happy left-left, right-right, left-left, right-right cadence in the air above my family room floor.

I don’t know what causes RLS…maybe a mineral or vitamin deficiency…maybe a “Gotta Dance!” mentality. What I do know is that it’s with me nearly 20 hours a day. That’s 140 hours a week of movement. Sometimes it’s just an ankle wiggle. Sometimes it’s a full foot figure eight. Most often, it’s a rhythm between my two feet: a tap-tap right and a bob-bob left. On a bad day, it’s a very frequent need to streeeeeetch my full legs out in front of me, circling my ankles and flexing my toes.

Do I like living with RLS? No. What would make it better? Knowing my condition could help millions of Americans keep the heat on without the use of coal or oil or nuclear power. Seriously, people, with the right technology, I could power an entire city block during one hour-long training meeting at work.

Speaking of technology, you should know I have no idea how we could actually convert RLS movement into storable and ultimately usable energy. I’m a fidgety idea woman, not a scientist. Fortunately for all of us, the planet is teeming with scientists. All we have to do is find the scientist who wants to put my plan into action.

I know Washing ton politics have never been a friend of renewable energy, what with big oil companies courting politicians with campaign donations and questionable “gifts” (coughbribescough). I’m not afraid to jump into that political game. I may not have a lot of money to throw at the big wigs in the east, but I have some skills. I made a pumpkin bundt cake with a chocolate glaze the other day that would bring Congress to its knees. Throw in a few of my homemade cinnamon rolls and a mouthwatering pot roast so delicious it nearly makes my husband cry and we’re in the energy business, people.

I don’t know how long this will take to develop, but the good news is that this energy is 100% available…right now. And now. And now. Over the course of writing this, I’ve gone from the toe wiggle to an ankle shake, and hundreds of kilowatts of energy were there for the taking. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to take a good hard look at this possibility. That’s right. I want this for the children. It’s all about the children.

Of course, if it pans out, I will expect to never have to pay taxes again, and I wouldn’t sniff at a Nobel prize…

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Got lactose intolerance?

Published October 19, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

As I was driving to work the other day, I heard what I’m sure was supposed to be a funny commercial. In the ad, a pretentiously voiced actor playing the role of scientist reminded listeners that humans are the only animals in nature who don’t stop drinking milk after childhood. I immediately assumed it was a public service announcement intended to raise awareness about the dangers of milk consumption.

Oh, but I was wrong. Sponsored by dairy farmers, this commercial instead made the point that Mother Nature made a great, big mistake with animals everywhere, and that we humans are just smarter than nature, hence our daily milk habit. Not only that, the “scientist” in question made the additional claim that if a grown sheep were to drink milk, he just might end up smart enough to take your job.

Let’s discuss, shall we?

This sheep…would he be drinking sheep’s milk or cow’s milk? Would a sheep prefer the milk of its own species, or would cow’s milk be superior? I mean, I drink cow’s milk, and I can’t really afford to lose my job. I need to size up the milk-drinking competition and make sure I’m on the same bandwagon, or should I say milk wagon?

Let’s assume for the moment that this sheep has access to both types of milk. It only makes sense that the sheep would prefer the milk of its own species over that of another. A new question arises, then. If I want to remain competitive with a sheep, would it be better for me to drink sheep’s milk, or should I follow his lead and stick closer to home? I am, after all, a human. I’m not sure where I could find a steady supply of human milk (I mean, I have friends with nursing babies…but we’re not that close).

Obviously, I’m taking a facetious perspective on the whole milk thing. It makes no sense whatsoever in my highly developed brain that we humans are drinking a beverage that was meant for the gut of a calf. Every argument I hear in support of milk drinking (up to 24 ounces a day?) follows the same nonsensical line into my brain and right back out of it.

Lactating mothers: Drink lots of milk so you can make lots of milk…never mind that cow behind the curtain who provides milk for millions of Americans without so much as a sip! Aging women and men: Drink lots of milk to prevent osteoporosis. Why, in Asian countries, osteoporosis is much less prevalent than in America, and they drink…uh, very little milk. Hmmmmm.
Everyone: Drink lots of milk to get your adequate daily supply of calcium. What? The more milk you drink the LESS calcium your body can absorb, you say? Huh.

I say all of this admitting that I do drink milk from time to time. Why do I drink milk? Because it’s the only thing that tastes “right” on my cereal or after a sticky peanut butter and jelly sandwich or with a couple of cookies. It’s a secondary food…an accessory, really. It’s basically a condiment. I just drink it with my eyes wide open, knowing it’s not really meant for me, and there will be more consequences than benefits with every swallow. I have much the same relationship with steak, candy bars, and talk radio.

I’m not about to buy into a load of bull from dairy farmers who want me to believe that I’m doomed without regular visits to a bovine wet nurse. Truth be told, I went dairy-free for 18 months a few years ago, and I’m on the verge of doing it again, only this time, for good. Strangely enough, I don’t at all fear losing my job to a four legged animal.

And considering all those sheep out there who are smart enough NOT to drink milk…well, maybe Mr. Dairy should update his resume.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Published October 12, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

I remember back in my teenage girlhood, I used to participate in an annual, weeklong tradition called “Girls Camp.” The leaders of these well organized expeditions hoped to teach us skills for survival that would put us in line with the skills our boy scout counterparts had known since they were eight. Among other things, we had to learn to tie knots, build fires, cook outside, and give first aid.

A good experience for an impressionable youth, right? The problem I encountered with my “education” at girls’ camp was that there was no practical application involved in learning these skills. When it came time for the second year girls to build a woodpile, we’d line up, one of us would build a woodpile, the leaders would sign her off, knock it down, and the next girl would take her turn. Everything I learned was quickly forgotten, simply because I was only doing it for the signature.

Enter my fourth year leaders, hardy individuals with backgrounds in scouting. They divided us into campsites and then told us we were on our own for the first two days. If we wanted to eat, bathe, receive first aid, or otherwise avoid gruesome, camping related deaths, we’d have to use the skills in our books without help from our leaders. Our food was sent to us in boxes prior to each meal time, and you can bet we didn’t knock our woodpile down.

I learned a valuable lesson that summer. Never again would I learn something just for the sake of saying I’d learned it. If I was going to spend my time in a class, I’d darn well better have some use for that knowledge when I was through. In fact, I dropped out of trigonometry my senior year of high school for that very reason and took Theater Arts instead. (The fact that the trig teacher was an arrogant blowhard who had no concept of what the word “teach” meant helped a little, but only just.)

So, here I am, nearly midterm in my semester at college, and it’s time to make an accounting of what I’ve learned and how I plan to go about using it. For reference, I’m pursuing a degree in psychology and am currently taking Philosophy, Ethics, Evolution of Human Nature, and Geography.

Right…geography…because when we’re dealing with a troubled mind, it helps to know the climate of Sub-Saharan Africa.

The whole “well rounded education” principle involved in the pursuit of a Bachelor’s Degree has me baffled. I’m going to school with the goal of advancing in my career, a career which does not in any way involve the study of weather, climate systems, rock formations, or the hydrologic cycle. I’m scrambling for a way to use what I’m learning in my ever day life, and I’m coming up short each time. I’m afraid I am, in essence, knocking down the woodpile with this class.

OK, so it’s a challenge. I can handle a challenge. Somehow, I have to figure out how to justify my knowledge of the seasonal path of the trade winds, latitude and longitude , soil characteristics, weather prediction, and groundwater collection. The only thing I can think of is the rare possibility that I might someday be shipwrecked on a tropical island and will have to survive and feed myself as well as figure out where I am and how to get back to civilization. I’m unsure as to whether or not creating just such an emergency in order to use this knowledge would be venerable or just plain silly. I might have to console myself with the fact that IF I were stranded, I COULD find my way back and just leave it at that.

Of course, once I realize that I’ll need trigonometry to actually plot my latitude and longitude, it will already be too late.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Published October 5, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

We have become a nation of text messagers. Everywhere you go, you see people, cell phones in hand, tapping out messages to friends and family. I’m not stranger to the text message phenomenon. Frankly, I love it. It’s the most convenient form of communication since talking! If you haven’t started texting yet, I highly recommend it. Just make sure you’re ready for the somewhat unsettling addition of “predictive text” to your life.

My first experience with this came at two in the morning when a former coworker (a nurse) sent me a text message that read, “Hey, I quit my job! You need to call of in the morning and tell of who did off pass.” I was perplexed. I responded that his text didn’t make any sense and received an even more perplexing reply: “Sorry. Under the influence of T-9.” I thought he was telling me he was on drugs, and I actually cried a little and wondered what I could do to help him..

A quick call to my sister the next morning set the record straight. T-9 is just a harmless program in a cell phone that predicts the words you’re trying to type based on the sequence of numbers you’ve pushed. My friend was trying to say, “You need to call me in the morning and tell me who did med pass.” Because “of” and “me” are both produced when typing 6-3, and since “of” is more often used, the predictive text program automatically wrote that when my friend meant to write “me.” Same thing with “off” and “med,” or 6-3-3.

Once you learn how to use predictive text, you’ll find it’s, for the most part, user friendly and convenient. The occasional substitution isn’t a problem if you’re vigilant. Any time I type the word me, I now automatically press the down button to avoid the “of” mistake my friend made. I also know that when I try to type “if,” my phone will type “he,” and when I try to type “no,” my phone will type “on.”

After nearly three years of using predictive text, I’ve made some interesting discoveries:

* Predictive text can not predict every word…unless you’re speaking Old English. Through extensive study, I’ve found that my phone knows every old English word I can possibly think of, including thee, thee, maketh, methinks, begat, begot, betwixt and betrothed . It seems the makers of predictive text assume its users are all texting each other about the upcoming Renaissance Fair. This fact becomes even more interesting when you realize your phone does NOT know words like spinach, pretzel, burrito, and clarinet. (When you try to type the latter two, the phone dreams up strange food item called a currito and a mythical instrument called a blarinet .)

* Predictive text does not do compound words…except when it does. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. I can type backpack and backyard but not backpedal. I can type checkbook but not checkup. Cupboard, but not cupcake. Landlord, but not landmine. My personal favorite: I can type daydream. I can type dreaming. But I can not type daydreaming. Apparently, my phone wants my head out of the clouds. Any attempt at typing daydreaming produces the obvious insult, “daydreamhog.”

* Predictive text is often thought-provoking. It’s interesting to note that when typing game, you are also typing hand. When typing kiss, you also type lips. Typing book lets you also type cool. Typing good also types home. And when you try to type karaoke, your phone gives up right after it types Japan.

*Predictive text is neutral when it comes to commonly misspelled words, so, don’t think it will save you from yourself. It will let you write receive AND recieve, tomorrow AND tomorow , separate AND seperate, and even definitely AND definately. Either the makers of predictive text didn’t know the correct spellings or they thought the majority of the population would get angry when their phones wouldn’t allow them to spell the words they way they always had.

Somebody somewhere is very glad he can put down his blarinet and go have a currito.