Farming…

I realized this morning that for a blog that’s called ‘grouchyfarmer’, I haven’t talked much about actual farming here. (Well, to be honest, considering how rarely I’ve posted things here over the last year I haven’t talked about much of anything. But that’s a different story.)

I was a farmer, though. I worked on the family farm while growing up, all through high school and even while I was in college. Before we got married, Mrs. Grouchy (egads, I’m sure she would have a few choice words if she heard me call her that…) and I seriously considered doing something like buying into the family farm. But she was starting into a serious career, already had pretty good job prospects, and we moved to follow her career, and it was a choice that we never regretted.

I went back home from time to time to help my father out. Later when jobs were scarce, I worked as a farm hand for a year or so. But I generally haven’t been involved in the industry much since the early 1990s. For a time, briefly, we considered growing vegetables and fruit as a part time occupation when we inherited the farm, but quickly had to abandon that idea when reality set in and we realized that to make it work we would have to devote far more time to it than we could afford to. Basically one of us would have had to quit our day job and work full time at it, something we couldn’t justify economically.

Even when I was a kid farming was already changing. The so-called mega-farms were starting up, milking not just 40 or 50 cows as we were at our peak, but hundreds of cows. One of our neighbors pulled up and moved to Arizona in the early 1960s, to start one of the first mega dairy farms.

Even back in the 1960s farming was a difficult business, and in every way imaginable; economically, physically, emotionally… A lot of people have this romanticized image of farming; the noble famer out tilling the land, his or her own boss, working outside on warm, summer days, planting, cultivating, harvesting, brushing cows, watching sheep, whatever.

Isn’t like that. Never was. Never will be. Those pastoral scenes are largely the creation of Victorian era writers and artists who romanticized farming, created these peaceful, calm, lovely images in words and with oil on canvas.

George Henry Durrie (American Painter, 1820-1863)  Haying at Jones Inn.JPGWhenever I see a scene like this in an art gallery or museum, I would like to take the artist, put a shovel in his hand and let him clean out pens for a day and see if he still thinks farming is romantic. Or being up 29 hours straight because you spent all night nursing a cow who’s having a difficult birth. Or watching one of your tractors burning out in a field because a fuel line ruptured. Or…

Well, you get the idea.

Farming isn’t a ‘lifestyle’. Farming isn’t romantic. Farming isn’t images of cows grazing placidly in meadows. Farming is bloody hard work interspersed with moments of sheer panic as you watch things turning to crap because of circumstances outside of your control.

NeuroLogica Blog » Theranos Exposed

Source: NeuroLogica Blog » Theranos Exposed

As someone who has to surrender several rather large vials of his blood every six months for a variety of tests, I can assure you that it is a royal pain in the ass. Or in the arm, since that’s the part that’s being repeatedly punctured every time I go to the clinic. So it’s understandable that a lot of people wanted to believe that Theranos had invented some kind of magical machine (called Edison) that could do the job with just a couple of drops of blood and do it in just a few minutes.

Alarm bells should have went off all over when this company appeared out of nowhere with it’s claims. And in some circles they did go off. This would require an incredible breakthrough not only in medical science but in technology as well, and which seemed far too good to be true.

But that didn’t prevent the media, even the media that should have known better, from heaping praise upon the company and it’s founder, Holmes. Nor did it prevent some health care corporations, who also should have known better, from buying into the deal and using Theranos as their testing service.

Then little things started to show up. Like the fact that Theranos itself wasn’t even using it’s own machine, Edison, for most of the testing, and was using standard testing technologies that required large blood samples. Or how the fact that the results from the Edison machine seemed to be off just a wee bit. Well, okay more than a wee bit, really. Some estimates I’ve seen claim the results coming from this ‘revolutionary new testing procedure’ were wrong 50% – 80% of the time. So wrong that Theranos itself has had to invalidate all of the test results done by the machine over the last two years.

Other little nasties turned up. Like untrained, unqualified people doing the testing, according to Medicare’s auditors.

The company has gone from being worth over $5 billion dollars to literally nothing almost overnight, now.

There is no shortage of individuals and companies selling ‘health’ products that are utterly worthless, even down right dangerous. Things like supplements, naturopaths, the utterly insane people who are trying to tell parents that giving their autistic kids enemas of what essentially is industrial strength bleach… The list goes on and on. Theranos is just the latest and most high profile.

Jumping The Shark –The Arrow

One day I was scrounging around Netflix looking for something decent to watch when up popped a television show called The Arrow. From the accompanying blurb it sounded suspiciously like an old DC comic book character called Green Arrow. I ignored it at first, because when it comes to super heroes, GA was pretty much down at the bottom of the barrel.

His only super power was being able to somehow keep off the sexual predator watch list while running around wearing green pantyhose, matching green man panties, a silly green tunic, an even more silly hat with a feather in it, and sporting a dyed blonde goatee. Oh, and let’s not forget a just as ridiculously garbed pubescent boy named “Speedy”.

(What is it with all of these super heroes from the ‘golden age’ of comics and their scantily clad adolescent male companions? Batman and Robin, Green Arrow and Speedy, Flash and Kid Flash, Aquaman and Aquaboy…)

Anyway, the only thing Green Arrow had going for him was an endless assortment of utterly ridiculous arrows. Like boxing glove arrows when he needed to knock someone out. Net arrows when he needed to catch someone. Rope arrows when he needed rope. Exploding arrows when he needed to blow something up… The list was endless. Whenever he got himself into some hopeless situation, guess what? He would just happen to have yet another ridiculous arrow to get him out of it.

Batman wasn’t ‘super’ any more than Green Arrow was, but at least Batman was intimidating looking. The Green Arrow with his green pantyhose and green panties and ruffled shirt… Well, let’s just say that even back in the 1960s when I ran into the comic, people kinda wondered…

Well, they’ve been busy “rebooting” all kinds of comic books of late… SHIELD, Flash… I’d seen some of SHIELD and it wasn’t bad. Flash, well, it was silly but at least not truly horrible. Good enough to keep me watching. So I’d take a shot at the Arrow (ha ha… take a shot at the Arrow… get it? God, that was bad even for me.)

Much to my surprise, it wasn’t actually bad. Not at first, anyway. In true reboot fashion they’d made it gritty and dark and ridiculously complicated with about a dozen different subplots all running at the same time. But they did manage to keep things interesting enough to keep me watching.

(Aside: What’s with all of these former actors from Dr. Who turning up in these comic book reboots? The woman who played River Song, the fellow who played Jack Harkness from Who and later from Torchwood)

The Arrow (NOT Green Arrow, thank you very much. At least not at first. By the second or third season he is Green Arrow, although they don’t change the title of the show itself.), had been a young, naive, wealthy playboy until tragedy struck and he ended up shipwrecked on an island that would have been too sadistic and horrific even to include as one of Dante’s circles of Hell. The whole island story gradually comes out gradually in flashbacks extending through the entire length of the show as the writers attempt to somehow justify the ever more bizarre corners they write themselves into by the end of the second season.

Eventually they turn his teenaged sister (I think she’s a teenager. At least she was too young to legally drink in the first series so she was under 21) into the old Green Arrow sidekick, Speedy, because she’s learned mad, crazed ninja stuff from her evil biological father and member of the Assassin’s Guild…

Assassin’s Guild? Wait a minute… Where the hell did a guild of assassins come in?

Hell, I don’t know. I’d given up trying to figure out what the hell the writers were doing by that time and realized I’d been sucked into some kind of bizarre and possibly drug induced evil vision that the writers were trying to work out by writing instead of going to therapy like normal people.

So, we got Green Arrow. His sister, now super ninja assassin girl, Speedy. We got your drug crazed super soldiers. We got an assistant DA who dressed up in a black latex jump suit and a mask and screams at people who calls herself Canary. We got people coming back from the dead. Literally coming back from the dead.

The Arrow’s girlfriend, who just happened to be the sister of the assistant DA and the daughter of a police captain, died in the same shipwreck… Only she didn’t. She comes back and it turns out she’s some kind of wicked super ninja assassin too only she’s a good super ninja assassin…

And then it turns out the daughter of the head of the assassin’s guild in the lover of The Arrow’s risen from the dead girlfriend. And then Arrow has to fight the head of the assassin’s guild to the death and sort of kinda gets killed himself only not really, and then Arrow’s sister gets almost kinda sorta killed and they have to take her to the guild and shove her into this magic spring that heals people but only by turning them into occasional monsters who have to kill people every month…

There is a phrase that’s come into common usage in the entertainment industry: jumping the shark. It originates with an episode of the old Happy Days series where they put The Fonz, complete with leather jacket, on water skis, and made him literally jump a shark.

It referred to the fact that the writers and producers had so completely run out of anything even remotely entertaining to do that they had to resort to outright insanity in order to try to keep going.

The Arrow has jumped the shark. The assassin’s guild, the Hive plot, government conspiracies and now outright magic? Come on, guys, you’re not even trying now, are you?

Breakfast Backtrack: Maybe Skipping The Morning Meal Isn’t So Bad : The Salt : NPR

The Salt is a blog from the NPR Science Desk about what we eat and why we eat it. We serve up food stories with a side of skepticism that may provoke you or just make you smile.

Source: Breakfast Backtrack: Maybe Skipping The Morning Meal Isn’t So Bad : The Salt : NPR

For years I’ve been trying to convince people that the whole “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” nonsense is exactly that, nonsense. It is just one of dozens of things that ‘everyone knows’ that is just plain wrong. And because of that emphasis on breakfast, what’s happened is that breakfast is, instead of ‘the most important meal’, one of the most miserable and unhealthy because of our reliance on prepackaged breakfast foods like cereal that offer up tons of sugar, salt, and very little actual nutrition.

As is often the case, what ‘everyone knows’ is based largely on little more than a marketing campaign to sell you stuff you don’t need. In this case, breakfast cereals and foods. The whole ‘most important meal’ nonsense seems to be based almost entirely on a marketing campaign to improve cereal sales decades ago, and is backed by almost zero actual science. (And, believe it or not, an anti-masturbation campaign by Kellogg back in the early 1900s.)

One of the very few studies to look at this goes back to 1965 and is often referred to as “the Alameda 7”, where seven health habits were shown to be associated with physical health.

But there’s a problem with the Alameda 7 study — it had nothing to do with breakfast itself. It was looking at seven habits; sleeping, smoking, alcohol consumption, body weight, exercise and snacking as well as breakfast. Any one or any combination of those seven different factors can and do influence one’s overall health. The study never looked at breakfast’s influence on health by itself, only in combination with these other factors.

Basically there is little or no actual evidence that regularly eating breakfast does anything special for you, health wise. There is no relationship between eating or not eating breakfast and weight loss/gain. There is no relationship between eating breakfast regularly and overall health. There is nothing magical about eating right after you get up in the morning. It doesn’t alter your metabolism, doesn’t increase your calorie burning, it doesn’t… well, it doesn’t do much of anything special for you at all.

And if your usual breakfast consists of processed carbohydrates like sugared cereals, sweet rolls, high fat breakfast sandwiches loaded with salt, it’s probably worse for you than eating nothing at all.

If you’re hungry when you get up in the morning, by all means eat a healthy breakfast. Have some fruit, some non-sugared cereal. Quick cooking oats (not the ‘instant’ stuff), even some nice whole grain toast.

But if you aren’t hungry? If you’re idea of a good breakfast is an early lunch around ten in the morning, go for it.

Weight gain/loss is totally dependent on your total calorie intake versus your total calorie expenditure. Period. There is no magic about breakfast. It doesn’t reset your metabolism, making you burn calories faster as I keep hearing from people who should know better. When you eat doesn’t really matter. It’s what you eat and how much of it, not what time of day.

How was breakfast turned into what it is today, surrounded by so much misinformation and mythology?

Marketing, really. Before the 1800s there pretty much was no such thing (unless you were rich). People pretty much ate whatever was left over from the day before for breakfast, if they ate at all after getting up.

As the economy improved in the US during the mid-1800s, breakfast had turned into a full blown meal more similar to dinner. More affluent households served up breads, pancakes, lots and lots of butter, cake, pie. And meat. Lots and lots and lots of meat. Beef steak, roasted chicken.

And lots and lots of indigestion and constipation because of the lack of fiber in the diet. (Magazines and newspapers of the era were overwhelmed with advertisements for various laxatives, many of them harmful, because of it.)

Along came Dr. John Kellogg. Yes, that Kellogg, the one the cereal company was named for.

And he was… Well, there’s no pleasant way to put it. He was basically a loony, but he was a well meaning loony in a lot of ways and some of the stuff he came up with was actually not all that bad. Well, except for alleged corn flake enemas. And there was the obsession with masturbation…

But cereal, it wasn’t bad. And it did add fiber to the diet which helped with the whole constipation thing. (Although cereal did not ‘cure’ masturbation as Kellogg claimed it would. Seriously. He believed it would help prevent masturbating. He also advocated tying children up at night to prevent them from fiddling with their bits in the dark.)

Kellogg’s diet wasn’t really all that bad, nor was his cereal. It didn’t taste all that good according to contemporary reports (it was called ‘wheat rocks’ by detractors). But it did help, and people noticed.

And it launched the cereal industry which, in those days of a total lack of regulation, immediately began making wildly ridiculous health claims, which remain to this day, most of them totally unproven. Post claimed their cereal cured everything from appendicitis to malaria and everything in between, and that was one of the more mild of the ridiculous health claims made.

The whole “most important meal of the day” nonsense can be traced directly to advertising campaigns during the mid 1900s and later. And there was never any actual science to back it up. The whole notion was conjured up to sell you stuff.

It’s all marketing.

 

Wanderings…

lighthouse.JPG

This started out as a quick pen sketch in a journal from when I was in Maine in 2008. It’s a lighthouse outside of Portland along the coast. I scanned it into a file ages ago when I went through some of my journals and scanned in the drawings one rainy afternoon with nothing else to do, and just recently found the original scan and got interested in it for some reason. I turned on the cintiq, fired up a drawing program and started redoing it from the sketch and my memory of the place.

I was never very good at drawing or painting. Except for the usual childhood drawings done for school, I never had any interest in it. I started drawing people in the early eighties, my kids, friends. Was never very good at it, to be honest. Still am not. Probably because I never did enough of it to learn the skills necessary.

Buildings though… For some reason I enjoy drawing buildings. Perhaps it’s the lines, the geometric shapes, the detail, the structure. I don’t really know.

Pen and ink, pencil and now on the computer. I think I do it for the same reasons people do things like needle point. It’s relaxing, soothing, calming. For me, at least, it’s a kind of meditation, I think. I find it soothing to concentrate on the shapes, the lines, the detail… The mind, the eye, the hand, all working together, coordinating together, watching a collection of random lines slowly transform into a recognizable thing…

The journal got lost or destroyed somehow. I’m rather sad about that because I’d wrote a great deal during that trip about the things we’d seen, people we’d talked to. Including some memorable and remarkable encounters we had.

Like the Italian restaurant we ate at in some city in New York. The food had been fantastic, and we told our server to tell the chef how delighted we were with the whole experience. Well, it was late, almost closing time, we were the only ones left and were getting ready to leave ourselves, when the owner/chef came out with a bottle of wine for us and we sat and talked with this delightful fellow over a bottle of wonderful wine for almost an hour.

Or me and eldest son stopping at a gas station in New York. We’d been on the bikes for over a week, wearing full riding gear so only our hands were exposed to the elements, so our hands were tanned dark, dark brown while the rest of us was your typical pasty Wisconsin cheesy kind of look. Two young black guys selling car polish in the parking lot took one look at us and had to come over and check this out. They were hilarious, asking us for tanning tips

I’m still hoping those journals turn up somewhere buried in the attic somewhere perhaps…

Back to the drawing… I worked on this obsessively for several hours while, believe it or not, the second season of Witchblade was playing on the other monitor. I got this far and just completely lost interest in finishing it.

Maybe it’s because I can’t draw water?

 

 

IDC: Smartphone shipments flat for the first time; Samsung widens lead over Apple in Q1 2016 | VentureBeat | Mobile | by Emil Protalinski

Smartphone vendors shipped a total of 334.9 million smartphones worldwide last quarter. This figure is up just 0.2 percent from the 334.3 million units in Q1 2015, marking the smallest year-over-year growth on record. We saw hints of this in yesterday’s Apple earnings report, when the company reported an iPhone sales drop for the first time.

Source: IDC: Smartphone shipments flat for the first time; Samsung widens lead over Apple in Q1 2016 | VentureBeat | Mobile | by Emil Protalinski

That cell phone sales have flatlined shouldn’t surprise anyone. The advances in technology that drove a lot of sales has slowed to a crawl. Where once each generation of phone being released offered impressive improvements in ease of use, processing power, storage, etc., the last few generations of phones have offered almost nothing new to the users. Most of the improvements made over the last two or three years have been incremental, almost unnoticeable to the user; slight improvements in the cameras, a bit better screen resolution, slightly faster processors, small increases in available memory.

So with most, if not all of the improvements to the phones now being so slight as to be virtually unnoticeable to the end user, why bother to upgrade? The only reason I upgraded to an iPhone 6 was because my ancient iP 4 was on its last legs, and I got one hell of a good deal on it. Otherwise I’d still be using it. My wife is still quite happy with her elderly iP 4, and she’ll keep using it until it expires because there is no reason for her to change.

The same thing is happening in the personal computer industry. Sales are flat, even declining, because there have been few, if any, new technologies introduced that people want or need.