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Bethesda in the Fall

Bethesda in the Fall

We have had a few frosts in the Washington, D.C. area and the leaves of the deciduous trees have started to turn yellow and red. The pines and magnolias retain their verdant hues and will stay green throughout the winter.

A favorite pastime of local residents at this time of the year is to take a day tour of the Shenandoah National Park which is about 75 miles from Washington. The park is in the Blue Ridge Mountains and has campgrounds, hiking trails, and many natural attractions. Along the crest of the mountains, the Skyline Drive allows visitors to drive through the woods and get a view of spectacular panoramas. The Appalachian Trail takes visitors through a wonderful wilderness that has been preserved for many generations. On previous occasions, I have seen fleeting glances of black bears crossing the road and groups of wild turkeys feeding along the roadside.

Today is a bright sunny day. The temperature is a crispy 58 degrees Fahrenheit, and the air is calm. I think I will go out for a walk and enjoy the view.
See my Paintings of Bethesda

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2008-10-30 

Is there a cure for Biological Aging?

Age 21 Age 64
Hairy and handsome at 21 vs. bald and gray at 65

I recently got an enthusiastic letter from a visitor to my web site who had read the pages about Calorie Restriction (CR) to slow down aging. He had some questions about resveratrol and other nutritional supplements. He also had these other things to say:
Do you really believe that the first person to live to 1000 years could be in their 60's today? (could it be you?)

I'm 22 and am pretty interested in anti-aging. I'd like to stay 22 for the rest of my life. I think with the help you give on your website and maybe even high doses of resveratrol within the next few years. I could stay young long enough to "cure" and maybe even reverse aging.

I believe there's so much to live for. Technological singularity, colonizing the moon, terraforming Mars, warping space and traveling light years within hours or minutes. We could occupy the Gliese's and beyond. Maybe map the whole universe! Isn't all of this worth trying to live to see?

First of all, I am not in favor of taking large doses of anything. I believe that evolution has fine-tuned the chemical processes in our body and that we can easily upset the balance that gives us life and consciousness. Also, although I am enthusiastic about technological progress, I am very disappointed about how we are treating the Earth and I think that this will eventually reduce the chance of human survival. I believe that our way of life will be significantly altered and all the societies on Earth will see dramatic changes due to global warming in 50 or 100 years. The sea level will rise, and an exodus of people from the coastal areas will begin. There will be scarcities, homelessness, and human tragedies in a scale that will dwarf what happened in New Orleans in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Some nations will completely disappear under water. Half of Florida will be submerged. The buildings in Miami will serve as reefs for tropical fish. In order to live to the age of 1000 years, we would first need to survive the man-made catastrophes that await us as a result of pollution, overfishing, and deforestation.

Last June, I wrote about Aubrey de Gray who is very optimistic about life extension and thinks of aging as a disease that can be overcome using Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS). These are some of his ideas about aging:
Biological aging is a progressive, degenerative process of decay, in which the healthy cellular and molecular order laid down in our youth slowly falls apart in the face of accumulating aging damage to its functional structures. This damage is a series of unintended biochemical side-effects of normal metabolism. As more and more of our cellular and molecular structures suffer this damage, functionality is lost, and health, resilience, and vitality are slowly taken away from us, leading to increasing age-related pathology.

This is Aubrey de Grey's Engineering Solution to Biological Aging:
Instead of interfering with the metabolic processes that ongoingly cause aging damage (the "gerontological" approach) or fighting a losing battle to keep badly damaged bodies from falling apart altogether (the "geriatric", conventional medical approach), the "engineering" strategy is based on the direct repair, replacement, or rendering harmless of the damaged structures themselves. In this approach, metabolism still causes ongoing damage, but the total burden of such damage is repaired well enough to prevent eventual pathology indefinitely.

As I look at myself in the mirror and I compare myself to my old photographs, I can see that my first signs of aging started at 25. Should a person start preventive senescence engineering at age 25? If not, how do you get back the hair that you have lost? Another sign of aging is when your hair starts getting gray. The body stops producing hair pigment. This means that something in your body has stopped working. I am not very optimistic about SENS, but if as a first step these scientists come up with a way of preventing baldness and gray hairs, then I will believe that the "engineering" strategy has further potential. Until then, I will remain highly skeptical.

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2008-10-28 

Rwanda is switching from French to English

An Imperative Sentence
Emperor Napoleon using an Imperative Sentence

Rwanda, a small landlocked country in the Great Lakes region of east-central Africa, has decided to change instruction in schools from French to English. The French language was brought to Rwanda by Belgian colonizers. On July 1, 1962, Rwanda was granted full independence from Belgium.

Rwanda has been in the news in recent years because of the 1994 mass killing of hundreds of thousands of Rwanda's Tutsis by Hutu militia. Now that the country is gaining some stability, there is a new focus on agricultural development and international trade. Most Rwandans speak the local Kinyarwanda language or French, but fewer than five percent speak English.

The emphasis on trade has made Rwandans aware that French is only spoken in France, and small parts of Canada, Belgium, and Switzerland. Whereas English is spoken worldwide even in countries like China. Rwandan Senator Aloisea Inyumba said:
"Introducing English is just being realistic. English is the language of business"

All Rwandan government employees are now required to learn English.
Learn Basic English Sentence Structures
English Verb Conjugation and Inflectional Morphology

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2008-10-26 

Baking Bread in Ancient Egypt

Royal Bakery in Ancient Egypt

The development of agriculture approximately 10,000 years ago gave rise to permanent settlements which grew into cities and civilizations. Emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccon), also known as farro, was one of the first crops domesticated in the Ancient Near East, which included the modern countries of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and Egypt. Emmer wheat is not cultivated today because it is a low yielding variety. Also, Emmer wheat is more difficult to mill into flour because the chaff does not come off through threshing.

Much of our knowledge about ancient Egyptian bread comes from archeological excavations that have found dessicated bread in tombs. The bread was placed as a funerary offering to nourish the dead during their journey to the afterlife. Some of these loaves of bread have been preserved since predynastic times by the arid Egyptian weather for as long as 5,000 years.

The illustration above is an etching from the tomb of Ramesses III, who reigned from 1186 BC to 1155 BC.[1] It depicts the process of making bread at the royal bakery. Bread was baked in many shapes, including the shapes of animals. At the top left, there are two workers with poles. The poles were used as pestles to pound the grains and remove the chaff. On the top right, there are illustrations of two methods of baking. There is an oven with legs and a lid, and there is a brick oven into which a worker is sticking his hand. The open-top oven worked like the tandoor clay ovens which are used today to bake breads like lavash and naan.

Egyptian grain was turned into flour by milling it on a saddle quern, which functioned by moving the grindstone back and forth. Grit from the quern stones was released into the flour and was baked in the bread. Many Egyptian mummies show severe abrasion of the teeth from eating bread containing sand and particles from the grindstones.
Learn how to bake your own bread

[1] Ancient Egyptian cuisine

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2008-10-21 

How to apply for Social Security benefits

Social Security Benefits

Two months before you reach 65 years of age, you will need to apply for Medicare. Medicare becomes your primary insurance policy at age 65, and any employer-provided health insurance becomes secondary. If you don't apply for Medicare, you may end up without health insurance. This is typical for most people who have medical benefits from an employer. If you don't have employer insurance, you can buy various types of supplementary medical insurance.

It is important to know that even though you qualify for Medicare insurance at age 65, you may not qualify for full retirement benefits yet. Social Security retirement benefits are accrued depending on your year of birth. People born from 1943 to 1954 need to wait until they become 66 to achieve "full retirement age". People born from 1955 to 1959 qualify for full retirement at ages 66 and 2 months to 66 and 10 months. Those born in 1960 or later qualify for full retirement only at age 67. Delaying the retirement age is one of the things that the Social Security Administration has done in an effort to provide services for an aging population with longer lifespans.

When you apply for Medicare or Social Security, you need to have the following documents:

The Social Security Administration requires to see your original birth certificate or other proof of age. They do not accept photocopies unless they are certified by the office that issued the original. If Citizenship or Naturalization is involved, they also need original documents. The office can accept uncertified copies of military service papers, W-2 or IRS Schedule C or SE forms. If you have already proven your date of birth and citizenship status while filing for Medicare, you do not need to submit these proofs again when applying for Social Security.

You can apply for Social Security benefits online at www.socialsecurity.gov
Learn more about Medicare

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Clay can kill bacteria

Turkish Mud Bath

Facial mud packs and mud baths have been promoted for centuries with incredible claims about beauty and health that a reasonable person would tend to dismiss as easily as the proverbial snake oil. This is a typical unedited promotional excerpt for the mud baths near a hotel in Dalyan, Turkey:
The thermal water in the mud baths at the 4km distance to Dalyan is useful for the rheumatisms, muscle fatigue, nervous diseases, joints and calcification diseases kidney and urethra treatments. This thermal water, which is in 39 degrees, contains sulfur, chloride, fluoride and radioactive gases. It is believed that the mud bath, which is famous to be an elixir of beauty, makes the people at least ten years younger. The mud which is waited in the body for 45 minutes period of time stretches the skin and removes the wrinkles. You can reach the region by means of a boat from Dalyan. You can experience the charm of Mud Bath with the comfort of Dalyan Hotel Palmyra.

The temperature of 39 degrees Celsius corresponds to 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Clays have been used for thousands of years to heal wounds, soothe indigestion, and kill intestinal worms. Lynda Williams, an associate research professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University is coordinating the work of three teams of researchers to study healing clays.[1] They have found that a French clay can kill M. ulcrans, a flesh-eating bacteria from Africa, methicyllin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), penicillin-resistant S. aureus (PRSA), and pathogenic Escherichia coli (E. coli).

Antimicrobial clays kill through purely physical means. When a bacterium comes in physical contact with the clay, the antimicrobial agents in the clay poke a hole in the cell wall of the bacterium causing the bacterium to leak to death. Mixing some of the clay at very low levels into sewage sludge that contains all kinds of bacteria causes all the bacteria to die so that nothing will grow in the sludge.

Lynda Williams
Lynda
Williams

"Our pilot study showed that one of the French clays completely kills E. coli; with substantial decreases in other Gram negative, Gram positive and Mycobacterial populations. A second French green clay had the opposite effect; enhancing bacterial growth. The mineralogy and major element chemistry of these clays are quite similar, therefore we seek to identify trace elements, organic compounds, chemical conditions (pH, Eh) or physical parameters (surface thermodynamic properties) that might be responsible for the disparate outcomes."

[1] French Clay Can Kill MRSA And 'Flesh-Eating' Bacteria

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2008-10-18 

How to avoid Alzheimer's disease

Beta Amyloid plaques
Amyloid plaques consist of protein strands misfolded
as beta-pleated sheets through hydrogen bonding

Alzheimer's disease affects approximately 4.5 million Americans, according to The U.S. National Institutes of Health. About 5 percent of people ages 65 to 74 and almost half of those ages 85 suffer the disease. There is no cure for Alzheimer's. People with the disease experience memory loss, difficulty remembering recent events or the names of familiar people or things. This disease does not result from normal aging.

Autopsies of people suffering from Alzheimer's have shown a substantial number of amyloid plaques in their brains. Amyloids are insoluble clumps of fibrous proteins that have misfolded into beta sheet structures. Amyloids may also accumulate in other organs and cause amyloidosis which is determined by microscopic histological examination and is characteristic of several different diseases such as inclusion body myositis, a muscle disease, and cerebral amyloid angiopathy.

The increase of Alzheimer's disease and the increase of obesity in the last 20 years, have caused scientists to explore the idea that specific diets may be beneficial or harmful for brain function. Indeed, it has been proven that obesity-related leptin levels contribute to the formation of beta amyloid plaques[1,2], and that caloric restriction prevents age-related neuronal damage.[3,4]

If you are overweight, now is the time to get back in shape. Don't wait until your body has been damaged beyond repair. You should exercise regularly and adopt a nutritious, low-calorie diet to maintain your ideal body weight. You will be a little bit hungry, but you will be healthier.
Tips on exercise, nutrition, calorie restriction, and a diet calculator


[1] Fewlass DC, Noboa K, Pi-Sunyer FX, Johnston JM, Yan SD, Tezapsidis N., Obesity-related leptin regulates Alzheimer's Abeta. FASEB J. 2004 Dec;18(15):1870-8. PMID: 15576490

[2] Jefferson Scientists Discover Mechanism Tying Obesity to Alzheimer's Disease

[3] Gillette-Guyonnet S, Vellas B., Caloric restriction and brain function, Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2008 Nov;11(6):686-92. PMID: 18827571

[4] Qin W, Yang T, et al, Neuronal SIRT1 activation as a novel mechanism underlying the prevention of Alzheimer disease amyloid neuropathology by calorie restriction, J Biol Chem. 2006 Aug 4;281(31):21745-54. Epub 2006 Jun 2. PMID: 16751189

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2008-10-16 

My sunflowers and the disappearance of honey bees

Sunflower bloomSunflower seeds

The sunflowers in my penthouse started blooming in August. Today, I harvested them. Most of the pollination was done by bumblebees. I did not see many honey bees in my garden this year. There have been reports that honey bees have been disappearing in massive numbers since 2006, forcing many beekeepers into bankruptcy.

Scientists have been trying to find out what is causing what they call "colony collapse disorder" (CCD). Pesticides and viruses are suspected, but the mystery illness may stem from a bee virus that apparently spread to the U.S. from Australia in 2004. A genetic comparison of healthy and diseased bee colonies in the U.S. has revealed the presence of Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV) in almost all beekeeping operations affected by CCD.[1] Bees are important because one-third of the U.S. food supply, including a variety of fruits, vegetables and even nuts, requires pollination by bees or other insects.

Our global economy depends on the interchange of goods originating from diverse ecosystems. Pests and invasive species expand into new territories by the hand of man. Starlings, kudzu, zebra mussels, Dutch elm disease, and snakehead fish are just a few examples of non-native species imported to America. It is possible that the demise of the bees has been caused by the globalization of commerce.

Flowering plants (angiosperms) developed approximately 115 to 125 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period. Bees evolved from the wasp family 100 million years ago. Bee fossils have been found in amber, which is petrified tree sap.
Learn more about the Cretaceous Period and the future of the Earth

[1] Mysterious Honeybee Disappearance Linked to Rare Virus, Scientific American, September 7, 2007.

Comments »

SolitaryBee said,
2008-10-16 @ 15:21:53

Do you grow many sunflowers?

If this disappearance serious and as yet unresolved, there has to be other measures taken to encourage alternative pollinators. It's great you have bumble bees in your garden, but have you ever thought about encouraging solitary bees... they don't usually sting, nor do they make honey, but they can be very easy going and happy to take up nesting boxes if you get the conditions approximately right. They have a limited March to May activity, but they are very avid pollinators for fruit tree blossoms if you have them.

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2008-10-15 

Antibacterial properties of raw honey

Pittsboro Honey

I saw a bottle of honey at a discount store with a very low price. When I looked at the label, I realized that it was syrup and not honey. The trade name was something like Honey Bear syrup. The word "syrup" was in small letters. The ingredients were high fructose corn syrup with artificial flavorings. Always read the labels and don't buy this junk food.

Real raw honey, which consists mostly of carbohydrates, differs from syrups in that it has enzymes from the flowers and from the bees. Some of the most important honey enzymes are invertase, diastase, and glucose oxidase. The most prominent enzymes are added by the bee during the conversion of nectar to honey. In some countries, such as Germany, the specification of enzymes is a binding legal indicator that prevents the adulteration of honey. The diastase content varies according to floral source, the length of the storage period and exposure to high temperatures.

We have heard this advice since childhood: If you have a sore throat, drink some hot tea and take a spoonful of honey. Don't put the honey in the hot tea! The high temperature will degrade the enzymes, and these enzymes have antifungal and antibacterial properties. Scientists have found that the enzymes in raw honey are effective against fungi such as Candida albicans and Aspergillus niger[1,2] and against antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus[3]. If you think about it, bees would not have been able to survive for millions of years without evolving a method of preserving their food from fermentation and spoilage by microorganisms.

My friend, Vladislav Oleynik, learned beekeeping (apiculture) from his father. Not too long ago, he established some hives and began a small operation called Pittsboro Honey in North Carolina. He brought me some samples of his honey when he visited me recently. What a delight!

Honey is not for everybody. Some people have allergic reactions to the components of honey. The symptoms of honey allergy may range from itching in the oral mucosa to severe systemic symptoms, and even anaphylactic shock. The proteins derived from secretions of pharyngeal and salivary glands of honeybee heads and the proteins from the pollens contained in the honey are generally the cause of allergic reactions to honey.[4]

[1] Boukraâ L, Bouchegrane S., Additive action of honey and starch against Candida albicans and Aspergillus niger, Iberoam Micol. 2007 Dec 31;24(4):309-11.

[2] Boukraâ L, Benbarek H, Ahmed M., Synergistic action of starch and honey against Aspergillus niger in correlation with Diastase Number, Mycoses. 2008 Mar 3, PMID: 18331445

[3] Kwakman PH, Van den Akker JP, Güçlü A, Aslami H, Binnekade JM, de Boer L, Boszhard L, Paulus F, Middelhoek P, te Velde AA, Vandenbroucke-Grauls CM, Schultz MJ, Zaat SA., Medical-grade honey kills antibiotic-resistant bacteria in vitro and eradicates skin colonization. Clin Infect Dis. 2008 Jun 1;46(11):1677-82, PMID: 18433338

[4] Bauer L, Kohlich A, Hirschwehr R, Siemann U, Ebner H, Scheiner O, Kraft D, Ebner C., Food allergy to honey: pollen or bee products? Characterization of allergenic proteins in honey by means of immunoblotting, J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1996 Jan;97(1 Pt 1):65-73. PMID: 8568139

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2008-10-10 

The Danger of Portfolio Balancing

Many brokerage houses offer portfolio balancing between different asset classes to minimize risk. The idea is that you can reduce your risk by having a mix of fixed income assets such as treasury notes or municipal bonds and a variety of small cap, large cap and international stocks. If your stocks are booming, you should sell some of your gainers and put the gains into your fixed asset classes.

However, during down markets, your cash reserves are higher relative to stocks that have lost value. In this case, portfolio balancing consists of buying stocks at the depressed values in the hope that they will eventually grow. But what happens when the stocks continue to go down in value? Should you continue putting good money into stocks that are likely to lose value? I don't think so. During these times it is probably more prudent to keep your cash and fixed income assets and wait for the market to stabilize.

Brokers say that you never know when the stocks will go up. They insist that gains are made during sudden market moves. You have to stay invested in order not to miss the upward market movements. I think that the times are changing and the old rules don't work. The market has dropped so much and so fast that if you had put all your assets as fixed income at the beginning of 2001, you would now have more money than if you had invested in the S&P 500 index or a fund based on the Dow-Jones index -- even accounting for inflation and all the dividends! Automatic portfolio balancing is dangerous because it can reduce your funds substantially during a long period of recession. With current market conditions, it may be wise to wait for a period of economic stability that lasts at least three months before you put some of your hard-earned cash into stocks.

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