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Vitamins are harmful in large doses

Vitamins are necessary for a healthy life. A proper diet can supply all the vitamins that our body needs, but vitamin deficiencies can result from diets that do not include a variety of vegetable and animal products. People who don't eat animal products for philosophical reasons (vegans) need to take Vitamin B12 supplements to avoid deficiencies that can cause anemia or nervous system damage.

The sale of vitamins in the United States is a multi-million dollar industry. If you turn on the television at dinner time, you are likely to see many advertisements for vitamin pills and dietary supplements. Many people self-medicate without consulting a dietitian or nutritionist and try to compensate for their bad diets by taking daily doses of vitamin and mineral supplements. Also, many doctors find it easier to recommend vitamin pills, rather than educate their patients about nutrition.

Experimentation with large doses of vitamins was proposed by Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling, who claimed that gram quantities of Vitamin C could prevent colds and cure cancer. Further scientific studies found that Vitamin C was not effective for colds or cancer. There is a lot of popular appeal for the idea that if a little is good, more must be better. But this is not so. A healthy body can only be maintained through moderation.

In the 1950s, Denham Harman proposed the idea that damage from free radicals on the cells caused aging. Free radicals are highly reactive unstable groups of atoms that can be neutralized with antioxidants. Since Vitamin E is an antioxidant, many people started to take the vitamin in doses as high as 2000 IU per day, when the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is only 22.4 IU. However, large doses have been found to increase the risk of cancer, rather than reduce aging. Researchers at the National Cancer Institute found that men who took a high daily dose of vitamin E (400 IU per day) had a 17 percent greater risk of developing prostate cancer. The trial included 35,533 men in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico who were monitored for 7 to 12 years.[1,2]

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is found in carrots, green leafy vegetables and liver. Vitamin A toxicity develops after taking too much vitamin A for long periods. Excessive vitamin A intake is associated with increased risk of fracture. Some of the symptoms of hypervitaminosis A are blurred vision, bone pain or swelling, and abnormal softening of the skull in children.[3]

What vitamins or minerals should you supplement? Start by using a free web application for tracking your nutrition such as CRON-O-Meter. Enter the foods and the amounts that you eat in a typical week. When you have data for one week, you can determine the deficiencies in your diet, and only then can you decide what supplements to take. Most people find that they only need to supplement magnesium. Calcium may also be necessary for those who don't consume dairy products regularly. A detailed analysis of the foods that you eat can lead you to make more nutritious choices.

Chemical Structure of Vitamins and Minerals

[1] Klein EA, et al., Vitamin E and the risk of prostate cancer: the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT), JAMA. 2011 Oct 12;306(14):1549-56. PMID: 21990298

[2] Lippman SM, et al., Effect of selenium and vitamin E on risk of prostate cancer and other cancers: the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT), JAMA. 2009 Jan 7;301(1):39-51. Epub 2008 Dec 9. PMID: 19066370

[3] Zile M. Vitamin A deficiencies and excess. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 45.

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How to make an Albert Einstein head from a mango seed

Ripe mangos are sweet, juicy and delicious. Sometimes you cannot stop sucking on the seed to get every bit of pulp. When all the pulp is gone, you are left with a hairy seed that is perfect for making doll heads. You can draw facial features with a pen, or cut out faces from magazines and paste them on the seeds. Mango seed dolls have real hair that you can comb and trim. Here is a step-by-step guide for making mango seed doll heads.

Eat the mango and remove all the pulp from the seed. Let it dry and comb the hair from time-to-time as it dries to prevent the hair from matting. This is the way the mango seed looks after combing.
Cut out a picture of your favorite rock star or scientist. Make sure the size of the face is approximately the size of the seed. Paste the picture on the mango seed and comb the hair in a suitable style. For Einstein we leave the hair a little bit wild.

Here is the finished Einstein head at a party with several clowns.

You can make a two-faced doll by gluing another face to the back side of Albert Einstein. Since the mango hair is nice and blond we can choose a picture of Marilyn Monroe, but it looks like she had a bad hair day.

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Global warming brings early cherry blossoms

Carpet of cherry blossomsThe USDA published a new Plant Hardiness Zone Map based on the average annual minimum winter temperatures. Growers and gardeners use the map as a guide to determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location. When the new guide came out, it was evident that the hardiness zones had shifted further to the north. This is a clear indication that the plants feel that the weather is warmer. Some lettuce plants that sprouted in the fall in Washington, DC survived the winter without freezing. Washington's famous cherry trees reached peak bloom two weeks earlier than usual, and the Cherry Blossom Festival had to be held earlier. By the end of March, which is the usual time of the festival, the flowers were gone and the ground and the cars were covered with cherry blossom petals.
Car covered with cherry blossoms
The release of the new hardiness map did not mention global warming because this is a political hot topic in the United States. If global warming is accepted as a fact, there are economic implications. For example, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases will have to be controlled by reducing the combustion of fossil fuels. This would reduce the profits for energy producers, car manufacturers, and many other industries. To maintain the current business models, it is better to deny global warming and continue burning fossil fuels. There is another reason why manufacturers would like to keep the status quo. If the cost of fossil fuels is raised to try to reduce their use, new alternative fuel technologies and green power sources will be developed to compete with existing industries. This is bad for the businesses that profit from the consumption of fossil fuels. They will be like the buggy whip manufacturers that eventually went out of business when internal combustion vehicles replaced horse-drawn carriages and became the main mode of personal transportation at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Global warming poses a real threat to our ecosystems, including the risk of mass extinctions. The winters with little snow, tornadoes before springtime, rising sea levels, and early blooming of trees are all signs of warmer weather. The rise in temperatures is correlated with the increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide which started with the industrial revolution. It is getting harder and harder to deny the impact that our industrialization is having on our planet.

Geologic history of the Earth and global warming

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Android phone turns on by itself

Android Pro phone

I have been using an Android Pro phone for about one year. It is a good smart phone that lets me access e-mail and the Internet easily. The phone can play music, take pictures, and I have also used it tethered to a laptop to get Internet connectivity in places without WiFi hotspots, but I have three basic complaints:

1) The phone is slow to respond to the input from the touch screen. This is particularly noticeable soon after I have turned on the phone. This is a major problem for a device whose main function is to make telephone calls. This deficiency is inherited from the operating systems that run our computers. Many times I have clicked on a window to try to stop a process only to be ignored by the computer. I click, and click, and click, but the computer is too busy with its internal processing to pay attention to my commands. Today's operating systems are not designed to be smart enough to give priority to human commands over other processes that may be running on the computer.

2) The reflectivity of the glass makes it impossible to read the screen in bright sunlight. Sometimes, I just put the phone back in my pocket and wait to use it when I am indoors. This is the same as not having a phone. Cupping the hand to shade the screen can help to read the screen, but then you only have one hand free to enter numbers or other information. I wish that phones could activate a high contrast screen like the E Ink display of the Kindle DC book reader so that it could be read in bright sunlight. You could then use the back-lit LCD screen at night and the E Ink screen in the daytime.

3) The Android phone turns on by itself. There are various online groups and bulletin boards that have discussions about this problem but they don't offer any real solutions. Approximately three or four minutes after I turn off the phone, it turns on again by itself. One time, I found that my phone battery was completely discharged because the phone had turned itself on and spent all its energy trying to get a signal. After I turn off the phone a second time it generally stays off, but not always. The purpose of turning off the phone is to conserve the battery, but if the "power off" command does not really turn off the phone, what is its purpose and what is it doing? We can be a little paranoid and imagine that the phone is turned on by Google or some government agency that is secretly tracking our location and using the phone's microphone to eavesdrop on our conversations clandestinely. More likely, it is just a software bug or a hardware problem and not some secret Big Brother plot, but my phone turns on by itself so frequently without my authorization that I now take out the battery after I power off. This shows the phone who is the boss.

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Standards compliance vs. cross-browser functionality

Webmaster's Dilemma.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) provides defines for coding HTML and provides a validator to check the markup of HTML and other types of Web documents (http://validator.w3.org/). The advantage of complying with the W3C standards and having error-free code is that the web page will have cross-browser compatibility, facilitate analysis of the web pages by search engines, and ultimately enhance search engine ranking.

Standards are moving targets, and web browsers face tough competition. In the past, Netscape and Internet Explorer battled for supremacy to act as the gateways of the Internet. Each of the browsers introduced unique features that gave them an advantage over their competitor, but this created chaos for web programmers who had to provide alternative code for the browsers and their different versions.

As the number of browser competitors increased, customized browser coding lost favor and there was a clamor for HTML standards. The battle was only partially won, because the browser developers still had to support old HTML coding conventions while trying to meet the majority of the new standards. Today, five browsers dominate access to the internet: Internet Explorer (IE) from Microsoft, Safari from Apple, Chrome from Google, FireFox (FF) and Opera. Both FireFox and Opera obtain revenue from Google by setting it as the default search engine.

Most of the browsers update themselves automatically when newer versions become available. Microsoft originally tightly bundled the IE browser with its ubiquitous operating system in order to get marketplace dominance, but this turned out to be a bad decision because the newer versions of the browser cannot be installed in the older operating systems. Windows XP is locked into using version 8 of IE because the browser is used to apply updates to the operating system. Consequently, versions 6 through 9 of IE are still out in the field, and the browser has lost significant usage share. IE usage was over 70 percent in 2005, but it has dropped to about 20 percent in 2012.

The HTML5 standards, which are still under development, have the potential to standardize web applications of the future. In the meantime, web developers still have to code using some of the old conventions to get the required cross-browser functionality. A case in point is the HTML5 error message for the following applet element: "The applet element is obsolete. Use the object element instead."

<applet code="AudioBox.class" height="0" name="AudioBox" width="0">
<param name="ab0" value="laugh.au#bark.au#meow.au#"/>

The correct HTML5 code should be:

<object type="application/x-java-applet" height="0" width="0" name="AudioBox">
<param name="code" value="AudioBox.class" />
<param name="ab0" value="laugh.au#bark.au#meow.au#"/>
Applet failed to run. No Java plug-in was found.

Unfortunately, the object element for AudioBox.class works for FF, IE version 9, and Opera, but not for Safari or Chrome, whereas the applet element works on all five browsers. Other applets work fine when converted to the object element on the Safari and Chrome browsers, but not this particular one. There must be some subtle point of incompatibility. Hence the dilemma: 1) comply with the standards and lose support for two browsers which have a combined usage share of about 40 percent, or 2) disregard the standards in favor of code that works in the five major browsers. From a business perspective, the decision to disregard standards and support the majority of customers is easy. Perhaps later, when the specification of the HTML5 is finalized and all the major browsers are compliant, there will be a time when it will be possible to meet standards and support all users.

The convergence to HTML5 will eventually reduce web site maintenance, but the diversification of web-enabled devices, such as smart phones and tablets, is already making it harder for webmasters to serve all users with common code. The small screens of the phones require customized display formats to be useful, and these web pages are usually kept in a separate mobile subdomain and have completely different code.

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Omega-3 deficiency will shrink your brain

Baked SalmonBaked Salmon Recipe

Brain tissue contains about 60 percent fat.[1] Two essential fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are necessary for the proper development and function of the brain and the eyes. Deficiencies of these long-chain fatty acids can lead to psychiatric disorders, including depression.[2] Fortunately, these fatty acids are found in fish oil, and eating fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel or sardines several times per week can provide enough of these necessary nutrients to maintain good health.

Essential fatty acids are called "essential" because they have to be obtained from the food that we eat and cannot be created from monounsaturated or saturated fats. Strict vegetarians who do not consume animal products, including fish, can potentially develop omega-3 deficiency. However, flax seed oil is a good vegetable source of alpha linolenic acid (ALA) which is an omega-3 fatty acid with 18 carbon atoms that can be converted by the body into EPA with 20 carbons, and DHA with 22 carbons, although at low efficiency.

A recent study tried to find out why higher dietary intake of omega-3 fats and higher blood levels of DHA and EPA have been associated with a reduced risk for dementia.[3] The researchers performed cognitive tests and measured the brain volume of 1,575 dementia-free participants of the Framingham Study. The participants with the lowest blood levels of DHA had lower total brain volumes. Participants with lower omega-3 levels also had lower scores on tests of visual memory, abstract thinking, and executive function which includes cognitive processes such as planning, memory, attention span, problem solving and verbal reasoning. The study concludes that lower blood levels of DHA are associated with smaller brain volumes and cognitive impairment even in persons free of clinical dementia.

Learn more about dietary fats

[1]Roy Walford, M.D., "Beyond the 120 Year Diet: How to Double Your Vital Years", 2000.

[2] Edwards R, et al., Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid levels in the diet and in red blood cell membranes of depressed patients, J Affect Disord. 1998 Mar; 48(2-3):149-55. PMID: 9543204

[3] Tan, Z.S., et al., Red blood cell omega-3 fatty acid levels and markers of accelerated brain aging, Neurology, February 28, 2012 78:658-664

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Exercise before breakfast to burn fat

pancreasA recent survey found that over 63 percent of adults in the U.S. are either overweight or obese. Most people know that diet and exercise can get the body back to normal shape, but diet and fitness plans generally do not discuss the mechanisms by which diets work.

The weight of the body is regulated by the digestive system, the respiratory system, and hormones from the pancreas. Food provides proteins, fats and carbohydrates which are macronutrients absorbed by the digestive system and are used to build body tissues and provide energy. The presence of carbohydrates in the blood causes the beta cells of the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas to release insulin. Insulin is a hormone that regulates carbohydrate metabolism and causes cells to take up glucose from the blood and store it as glycogen in the liver and as fat in the skin, abdomen, hips and muscles.

The islets of Langerhans in the pancreas also have alpha cells that produce glucagon, a hormone that helps convert stored fat into carbohydrates, but the secretion of glucagon is inhibited by the presence of insulin. Thus, the hormones secreted by the pancreas control the level of glucose in the body. When we eat food, insulin reduces the level of sugar in the blood by converting it mostly to fat. When we are hungry, glucagon raises the level of glucose in the blood by converting fat into carbohydrates through lipolysis.

When we lose weight, where does the lost body weight go? Energy is extracted from the nutrients by the mitochondria in the cells. The waste products are carbon dioxide, uric acid and ammonia. These last two are nitrogen-containing compounds. Uric acid is the result of oxidation of nucleic acids found in the DNA of the food that we eat, and ammonia is produced from the metabolism of proteins. The liver combines ammonia and carbon dioxide into urea, and both, uric acid and urea are excreted in the urine, which is how the body removes waste nitrogen from the body. The excess carbon dioxide from carbohydrate and fat metabolism is expelled through the lungs which also take into the body oxygen from the atmosphere. So, the weight is lost through the urine produced by the kidneys and through the carbon dioxide exhaled by the lungs.

Exercise increases the rate of metabolism and promotes the breakdown of body tissues to produce waste products. Every exhalation of breath carries some carbon dioxide that reduces the body weight by a corresponding amount, which is not very much. One hour of exercise, such as walking at a brisk pace, burns 300 calories; this corresponds approximately to the calories in one bagel with a tablespoon of jelly.

The combination of exercise and a nutritious, limited calorie diet is crucial for weight reduction. Exercising in the fasted state before breakfast improves insulin sensitivity and takes advantage of the fact that carbohydrate stores are burned during the night and the body switches to burning fat. Exercise before eating maintains the fat-burning mode, and this can be extended by delaying breakfast for one hour after exercising. It is important not to snack. Even a small morsel of food can trigger the release of insulin and stop the fat-burning mode.

Learn more about Exercise

[1] Van Proeyen, K; Szlufcik, K; Nielens, H; Ramaekers, M; Hespel, P; Beneficial metabolic adaptations due to endurance exercise training in the fasted state, J Appl Physiol. 2011 January; 110(1): 236–245. PMCID: PMC3253005

[2] Van Proeyen K, Szlufcik K, Nielens H, Pelgrim K, Deldicque L, Hesselink M, Van Veldhoven PP, Hespel P., Training in the fasted state improves glucose tolerance during fat-rich diet, J Physiol. 2010 Nov 1;588(Pt 21):4289-302. PMID: 20837645

[3] Kiens, B; Skeletal muscle lipid metabolism in exercise and insulin resistance, Physiol Rev. 2006 Jan;86(1):205-43. PMID: 16371598

[4] Romijn JA, Coyle EF, Sidossis LS, Gastaldelli A, Horowitz JF, Endert E, Wolfe RR. Regulation of endogenous fat and carbohydrate metabolism in relation to exercise intensity and duration. Am J Physiol. 1993;265(3 Pt 1):E380–91. PMID: 8214047

Comments »

Carolyn Taylor said,
2012-02-19 @ 14:40:11

Thank you for this important information.

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The Circulatory System

The main structures of the cardiovascular system are the heart, arteries, capillaries and veins. The function of the heart is to pump blood through the arteries to the organs of the body. The arteries branch out into a network of capillaries that carry blood with nutrients to the cells and remove their waste products. The capillaries merge to form the veins that circulate the blood back to the heart.

The pulmonary artery carries blood from the heart to the lungs. The function of the lungs is to exchange gases. The carbon dioxide produced from carbohydrate and fat metabolism is carried in the bloodstream to the lungs where it is released to the atmosphere, and oxygen from the air is absorbed and stored in the hemoglobin of the red blood cells.

The aorta, which is the largest artery in the body, branches from the heart into the mesenteric and renal arteries that carry blood to the intestines and the kidneys, respectively. The blood in the capillaries of the intestines absorbs carbohydrates, proteins, and fats from the foods processed by the digestive system. Blood from the intestines goes to the liver via the hepatic portal vein. The liver removes toxins from the blood. In the liver, the ammonia produced from protein metabolism is combined with carbon dioxide to create urea. The blood from the liver flows back to the heart via the hepatic vein and the inferior vena cava. The kidneys remove nitrogen waste products from the blood. Uric acid from nucleic acid metabolism and urea from protein metabolism are filtered out by the kidneys and excreted in the urine. Blood from the kidneys goes through the renal vein, then to the inferior vena cava, and finally recirculates back to the heart.

Cardiovascular diseases, such as arterial plaque and hardening of the arteries, may result in heart attacks and strokes that are some of the leading causes of death. Proper diet and exercise can help to prevent cardiovascular diseases.

Learn how to reduce risks of Cardiovascular Disease

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Problems Coding Games with HTML5, CSS and JavaScript

Applications coded for the Adobe Flash player are ubiquitous on the Internet. Many web sites exist only as flash implementations. Flash provides a rich environment that can render interactive graphics and sound. The problem with Flash is that it is controlled by a private company that cannot react to the demands of the great diversity of devices that access the Internet today. In April of 2010, Steve Jobs wrote an open letter explaining why Apple was not supporting Flash in its line of products. Among the reasons was that Flash does not perform well on mobile devices and that it is the number one reason why Mac computers crash. He also suggested that Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools which are completely open and controlled by a standards committee.

In my opinion, HTML5 still has a long way to go to equal the functionality of Flash. One of the problems that I have consistently encountered in writing web pages is cross-browser compatibility. What works on one browser may not work in another. The most persistent problem is providing sound to an application. HTML5 defines the <audio> element as a standard way to embed an audio file on a web page, but of the five major browsers, only Google Chrome can play all three of the supported file formats (MP3, Wav, and Ogg). The only way to provide audio on all browsers is to use something like the AudioBox applet, but this does not work for the 5 percent of users who turn off JavaScript to avoid advertisements.

I implemented a Sudoku game with HTML5, CSS and JavaScript to test the level of support provided by various browsers. I found several surprises. When adapting the JavaScript code obtained from dhtmlgoodies.com, the command to provide a hint placed a graphic box in the wrong place. The reason was that the getLeftPos() and getTopPos() functions in JavaScript provided a value that was offset by the left and top margins specified in the <div> element with absolute position that contained the game. The JavaScript expressions had to be modified to subtract these values. I cleaned up the code by processing the JavaScript with javascriptlint.com and added curly brackets that were missing and removed multiple declarations of variables.

While testing locally on my Windows 7 system, I left the browser while I switched to work on another application; when I returned to the Sudoku game, the browser was frozen. This happened for FireFox and Internet Explorer, but not for Safari. This was not caused by buggy JavaScript code, but was the result of a missing Java applet for which Safari issued the proper diagnostic. Once the problem was fixed, all the browsers worked properly.

Another concern is the way that browsers handle asynchronous events, such as keyboard input and mouse clicks. It is possible that these unseen processes implement rules that are different from what a user intends. A case in point is the ambiguity of the arrow keys. The Sudoku game can use the arrow keys for navigation around the 9x9 matrix. If only the game matrix is displayed and the browser does not need to use scroll bars to display the web page, everything works fine. The user can navigate the matrix using the arrows without any problem. However, if the game matrix is in a page with additional text that requires the browser to show a vertical scroll bar, then there is an ambiguous situation. The game application uses the down arrow to move the cursor within the matrix, but simultaneously, the web browser interprets the down arrow as a command to scroll the web page down one line. The result is that the whole Sudoku matrix moves when it should stay fixed. Programmers need to use the preventDefault() function for keystrokes to avoid the unwanted browser action, but then the page can only be scrolled with the mouse. Developing games with HTML and JavaScript requires being aware that special coding may be required depending on how the browser renders the web page.

Try the JavaScript Sudoku Game

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Spectacular Sunrise improves your mood

There is something magical about a pretty sunrise. It sets the mood for a wonderful day regardless of the problems that you have to face. The small picture above gives but a tiny glimpse of the beauty of the day. You get a different perspective when you actually see the beautiful colors of the sunrise across the whole horizon and you smell the crisp, fresh air. All your senses wake up. The progression of the colors as the sun relentlessly approaches the horizon is breathtaking. First you see the purples and dark reds. A few moments later, the reds turn to hues of orange that progress to yellow. When the sun finally peeks over the horizon, the whole sky is aflame with light. It is good to be alive to enjoy the beauty of nature.

See more pictures taken from the top of the penthouse.

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