Fun Things You Didn't Know about Food-Borne Illness

Former BB guestblogstress Maggie Koerth-Baker has a piece up on MSN today about food-borne illnesses -- a topic near and dear to my gut, having just spent a few weeks on the road in rural Central America, where every food choice one makes as a visitor is not so much, "will this taste good" as "how likely is this to give me a week's worth of the runs"?

"Ironically, three days after turning that in, I actually came down with what is likely mild foodborne illness myself," tweeted Maggie, "It's fun!" Here's a snip from the section about Campylobacter (shown above, from Flickr user dokidok's stream):

Campy" is the leading cause of bacteria-related diarrhea in the United States, according to the Food and Drug Administration. In fact, experts say it's likely you've had a run-in with Campy before, and just not realized it. So why the low profile?

There are a couple of reasons. First off, campy's just not that mean of a bug. Catch it and you can expect a week of flu-like symptoms, plus diarrhea. "I'm not volunteering to get it, but at the same time it generally doesn't result in hospitalization or death," says Jim Dickson, a professor of animal science at Iowa State University and head of the multi-university Food Safety Consortium.

Campy's pattern of infection is also a factor. The big-name food sickness outbreaks tend to be multi-state affairs, involving hundreds of people. Campy, in contrast, is more sporadic. An "outbreak" often means a bad week for one family.

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Miles O'Brien Blogging the Air France Crash: The Search for Black Boxes

Miles O'Brien, whose work we've been featuring recently as a Boing Boing Video guest contributor, has been covering the Air France crash intensively on True Slant and in short bursts on Twitter. Here's a snip from his latest blog post, about the effort to retreive the plane's "black boxes."

Now that searchers have found some floating remnants of Air France 447 in the Atlantic 430 miles (700 kilometers) north of the Fernando de Noronha islands, the hard work of trying to locate the Airbus' "black boxes" - the Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder - can begin. This is actually much worse than the proverbial needle in the haystack, because in that case, the assumption is the needle can be found after expending a lot of time and energy. These boxes might very well be truly lost to the abyss.

But of course they still must try to find them as well as any wreckage of the Airbus A-330.

To that end, a French research ship with a submersible capable of diving to a depth of 20,000 feet (6,000 meters) is steaming to the area. The French transport Ministry says the ship carries equipment "able to explore more than 97% of the ocean bed area, specifically in the search area." I some spots, Atlantic is more than 20,000 feet deep in the area where searchers found the floating debris.

The submersible will be listening for the distinctive "pinging" noise that these boxes are designed to emit once they are submerged in water.

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Jo Walton on THE SPACE MERCHANTS

On Tor.com, Jo Walton has a sharp-eyed review of Frederik Pohl and CM Kornbluth's classic sf novel The Space Merchants. I happen to be in the middle of writing a story called "Chicken Little" that's a tribute to this novel, for an anthology in honor of Fred Pohl, and I've been thinking about it nonstop for weeks -- and Walton nails it.

Much more interesting as futurology are the incidentals of the background. This is a ridiculously over-populated Earth, only in Antarctica and around the blast-off range of Venus rockets is there any empty space at all. Rich people live alone in two rooms, with fold-out beds and tables. Privacy doesn't exist. The entire planet is at worse than the density point of modern Tokyo. Well, there's a future that didn't happen, but you can see how in 1952 in the middle of the Baby Boom it looked as if it might. There are golf clubs on high floors of corporate sky scrapers.

It's interesting to see conservationists so demonized, yet the forms of pollution and consumption everyone else is embracing so enthusiastically aren't the ones that we see as the problems. They're wearing "soot filters." That kind of pollution turned out to be a fixable problem and is pretty much gone in first world countries. They've run out of oil and are pedaling their cars and using rockets for long distance travel, but there doesn't seem to be any shortage of plastics. They don't have any climate change problem, and they're all eating hydroponic food and syntho-protein (with yummy addictive additives) because there's literally no room for farms.

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Canadian copyright lobbyists leaned on "independent" researchers to change report on file-sharing

The Conference Board of Canada's sellout on copyright just keeps on getting worse. To recap: the Conference Board is a supposedly neutral research outfit that was asked by the Canadian copyright industries to write a report on file-sharing and piracy in Canada. They hit up the Ontario government for $15,000 to fund an event where the findings of the report would be presented.

Then they hired an independent researcher who concluded that there wasn't anything particularly wrong with Canadian file-sharing. They threw away his research.

Then they plagiarized dodgy press-materials produced by the leading US copyright lobby group, quoting lengthy passages that were factually wrong.

Then they denied any wrongdoing.

Then they admitted they'd plagiarized, but insisted that the public money hadn't been spent "on the report" -- it had been spent on the conference about the report, which is a Different Thing Altogether.

Then the founder and leader of the Conference Board, Anne Golden, appeared on the TVOntario podcast Search Engine and argued that she didn't really see anything especially egregious about the fact that the plagiarists had copied the talking points of the people who'd hired them to write the "independent" report. She even tried to discredit the distinguished academic who wrote the conflicting report that they discarded by saying that he's a plagiarist for saying that "if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck" (in reference to the Board's apparent bias-for-money position), because someone else said that first.

And now, it just got worse. Read the rest

Roald Dahl on vaccinating your kids

Here's Roald Dahl's impassioned plea to get your kids immunized. I live in East London, where we have live measles afflicting otherwise healthy kids who could have been vaccinated against them, but whose parents have been duped by a falsified claim that vaccinations are linked to autism (here's a non-falsified claim: measles leads to permanent disability and even death).

I remember when my daughter got sick and broke out with measle-like spots when she was too young to have had her vaccination against the disease. As I contemplated the possibility that my daughter might be permanently disabled or even killed because gullible people were choosing not to vaccinate their kids, I wanted to start wringing necks.

Dahl had a child die from measles, and he was determined that no other child should die needlessly from fear and ignorance.

Here in Britain, because so many parents refuse, either out of obstinacy or ignorance or fear, to allow their children to be immunised, we still have a hundred thousand cases of measles every year. Out of those, more than 10,000 will suffer side effects of one kind or another. At least 10,000 will develop ear or chest infections. About 20 will die. LET THAT SINK IN. Every year around 20 children will die in Britain from measles. So what about the risks that your children will run from being immunised? They are almost non-existent. Listen to this. In a district of around 300,000 people, there will be only one child every 250 years who will develop serious side effects from measles immunisation!

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Deluded Microsoft marketing guy has a new name for netbooks -- Boing Boing Gadgets

I figured our Rob must be kidding when he posted on Boing Boing Gadgets about the frankly insane plan by a very senior Microsoft marketing manager to rebrand "netbooks" as "low cost small notebook PCs." But it's not a joke:

Steven Guggenheimer, Microsoft's General Manager of Application Platform and Development Marketing, thinks that the term "netbook" should be abandoned. Instead, he says, such devices should be called "low cost small notebook PCs."

Bear in mind that this chap is a marketing manager: he's doing this because he thinks it will make it easier to sell the software. Microsoft's soul is so attuned to selling committee-ordained business concepts to management that it just can't help itself.

Microsoft wants to rename netbooks with absurd five-word phrase

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Exploring Your Own Backyard

(William Gurstelle is Boing Boing's current guest blogger. His new book Absinthe and Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously is on sale everywhere. Follow him on Twitter: @wmgurst)

In Stephen Talbott's interesting book, Devices of the Soul, he makes a case that there's too much technology in our lives. One observation in particular struck me: people spend less time observing and experiencing the natural world directly. So much is intermediated by other, electronic stuff. Says Talbott:

"The Net can only teach a boy about trees, but he won't understand them. The information from the net or a book is fragmented and decontextualized. It will never carry the same force as first hand experiences."

Yup, I agree. So, I decided to spend some time exploring my own back yard. Is there really anything new and exciting back there? You bet.

Recently I was given a new type of handheld digital and optical microscope. The new generation of digital microscopes are wonderful little devices for taking a very, very close look at stuff in the house and garden. I hooked it up to my netbook computer and ran around the neighborhood annoying ants and beetles.

I spent the whole afternoon looking at stuff and taking pictures. Skin cells, fabrics, seeds, and of course, bugs, were just part of the wild menagerie of things I examined. Corny, maybe, I found it way cool, and I'm no little kid.

While I was observing an ant from my garden, I noticed it seemed have an even smaller insect crawling over its thorax. Read the rest

The Art of Living Dangerously

(William Gurstelle is Boing Boing's current guest blogger. His new book Absinthe and Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously is on sale everywhere. Follow him on Twitter: @wmgurst)

Lately, I've been hard at work writing a book entitled Absinthe and Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously, (which not so incidentally, went on sale Monday.) While corresponding and talking with readers of my previous book, Backyard Ballistics, I found that many people enjoy taking technical, physical risks. And it seemed to me that the people who did so seemed to be a bit more intellectual curious, more self aware, and even a bit happier than those who were not. Was this true? Are people who take some well considered physical risks better off than those who do not?

Basically, I wanted to know this: is it intrinsically better to be an Evel Knievel or a Caspar Milquetoast? Better to be Chuck Yeager or Niles Crain? Are lion tamers happier with their lives than monks?

Psychologists can assess and numerically describe a person's risk-taking proclivity. Risk-taking behavior can be summarized as a single number from one to 100. A one is a house-bound agoraphobe and a 100 is a heroin junkie with a death wish. The distribution of risk-taking proclivity is described by a normal, bell-shaped curve. Not surprisingly, most people cluster around the mean score, as the graph shows.

But here's the cool thing. I found that moderate, rational, risk takers, that is, those with scores between the mean and one standard deviation to the right are the people who are most satisfied with their lives. Read the rest

Delving into the psyche of men who buy exfoliant advertised for use after mother-daughter threeways

Sociological Images expertly dissects the new Axe exfoliant-for-men ad, which suggests that it's the perfect thing to use after sexual relations with "Jessica" and "Jessica's Mom":

The heterosexual male fantasy of being sexually serviced by two women is so common as to have become a cliché, but what about the less-frequently endorsed but still prevalent fantasy about those women being sisters (or better yet, identical twins!) or a mother-daughter pair? Is it simple attraction (i.e., if you're attracted to one woman in a family, it's likely you'll be attracted to other women who look/act like her)? Is it the taboo element? Or does the power to coerce women into an incestuous situation serve as it's own reward?

Still, Axe got one thing right with this product. When I think about a guy who would buy this sponge in the hopes of securing sexual relations with a woman and her mother, I can't help but think of him as a, well...tool.

Geez, what a tool! Read the rest

Investing in litigation: beat the street by buying a share in someone's grievance against a big company

Investing in litigation is a gimmick from my next novel, Makers, coming next fall from Tor and HarperCollins UK -- the idea is that you can get rich by bankrolling people who have grievances against giant corporations in exchange for a piece of the award or settlement (this is something that plaintiff-side lawyers effectively do when they do work on contingency). I based it on a crusading lawyer I know who raised money from a philanthropist this way, but as far as I knew, that was the only case of it at the time.

No more: investing in litigation is now a sound business strategy, says the NYT:

Mr. Fields is chief executive of Juridica Capital Management. which runs a fund that invests in one side of a lawsuit in exchange for a share of any winnings.

"It's always a good time to invest in litigation," Mr. Fields said, though he added that the weak economy helped. "When the recession started to bite, the phones started ringing off the hook. Last year, we looked at 122 cases and we made 17 investments." A small but growing number of investors are exploring this idea, helping companies avoid some of the risks and costs of litigation in exchange for part of any money paid out when the case is settled or resolved by a court. After all, it can be costly to hire lawyers, who may charge close to $1,000 an hour at the most elite firms.

Credit Suisse has a unit devoted to this kind of investing.

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