The brightest beetle we’ve seen, and help identifying bugs

As long as I was on the topic of beetles, I thought I’d include this one which my husband photographed on Mt. Ashland in August during one of our wildflower walks.

Desmocerus aureipennis, male Elderberry Longhorn Beetle

The best resource I have found for identifying insects, if they are not among those illustrated in our insect field guides, is by using BugGuide.net. If you can narrow your search down, you may be able to identify it yourself by looking through the extensive pages of thumbnail photos for each group, genus, and species. That is how I figured out what this was,

Cyclosa conica CR0780.jpg

a spider named Cyclosa conica, for an earlier post—but I had to scan through dozens of pages of thumbnails to find this particular individual.

There’s another way: submit at least one good photo of the insect or arachnid in question to bugguide.net, with relevant details such as geographic location, time of year you saw it, and where (in your attic? under a log? on a rose bush?). Then a group of people who know lots more about bugs than you or I, will take a look, there will be perhaps some back and forth, and you’ll probably get a consensus. Before posting your photos you need to register an account with username and password, then after that you can log in and look at your photos and see what has been said about them.

BugGuide.net is hosted by Iowa State University Entomology, and a lot of the responders are extremely knowledgeable. Also, it is a collegial effort—they check each other’s work, in effect. But of course if the answer is really important to you: if this spider just bit you and your arm is swelling, or you have an orchard infestation of some bug, you want to talk to a real live person like a doctor or an ag extension agent. Try to get the bug into a little jar and take it with you.

This is a fun and educational site to browse through. There are pages of many-legged creatures awaiting identification (the better your photo, the better your chances, but send the photos you have), and of course a structure of pages organized by taxonomy, order/family/genus. Even better, on the left of each page is a visual key, a clickable guide composed of bugs by shape, to help you get close to the creature you are interested in.

The big red bug was not in our guides so I submitted it and got a precise ID. It is a Desmocerus aureipennis/auripennis, male. The females don’t have the bright red elytra, or wing covers. It’s one of a group called Elderberry Longhorn Beetles, and our photo showed it on that tree. I looked up other photos of this insect and yes, that’s what it is.

[Etymological note: desmocerus from the Greek desmos (banded or fettered) + keros (a horn) and aureipennis from the Latin aureus (golden) + penna (feather, wing).]

Chronic pain—resources for patients

I haven’t written about chronic pain or fibromyalgia for many months, though I think about those subjects every day. A comment on one of my posts (Methadone and chronic pain: a personal account), raised the question of how a patient can help his family understand what he’s experiencing. Chronic pain can change a person in so many ways from facial expression to level of activity, interest in sex, mental acuity. For family, friends, and people at work, the changes can be frustrating, mysterious, threatening. What does this new behavior mean, who is this person, how long will it be like this? Why can’t s/he just live with that pain, why does it have to affect everything? Is s/he behaving like that because s/he doesn’t love me and the kids any more? Is it ever going to change back?

The person in pain is feeling a complex mix of emotions too, wanting to communicate and be close but embarrassed to admit how huge the effects of the pain really are, or to confess helplessness in the face of the pain. Will my spouse leave me, will my boss fire me, will I be thought crazy or weak, manipulative or a malingerer?

Patient
Can’t know how others feel about his or her pain and changes
Does know it has a negative effect, and may feel guilty about it
May feel helpless, resentful, guilty, frustrated, angry
Afraid to ask

Family and friends
Can’t know how patient feels physically or mentally
May feel helpless, resentful, guilty, frustrated, angry, abandoned
Afraid to ask

It’s the classic set-up for terrible misunderstandings and friction: intense emotions on each side, big stakes at risk (marriage, jobs, survival of relationships you’ve spent years building), and neither side knows what to say.

Then there’s dealing with the medical establishment, not easy for the person with chronic pain. Treating chronic pain is frustrating and unrewarding for physicians. The pain is invisible and resistant to treatment, progress is measured subjectively by the patient, misuse of pain medications is a serious risk, and perceived pain is affected by emotional and social factors outside a doctor’s comfort zone.

I’m choosing three parts of this huge subject to address now. First, ways to track your pain level and medications’ effects so that you can discuss them more clearly with others, including family and physician. Second, articles on families and chronic pain. Third, an annotated list of links to the major organizations concerned with pain, where more resources can be found.
My hope is that individuals can find tools here to help them get started with communicating better, understanding better. The tools are not the conversation, but they may be the foundation for it. To build on that foundation requires each of us to expose vulnerability, to admit how much other people mean to us, and to practice patience and compassion every day. And keep your sense of humor in good working order!

To that end, here’s an interruption, with a cartoon that nosleepingdogs has been saving for just the right occasion, and she hopes this is it. (Cartoon by Bizarro, reproduced without permission but with great appreciation.)

Bizarro,onNosleepingdogs.jpg

Making the invisible, visible

How can we pain patients help others understand what we’re feeling? Pain is invisible, it varies in type and intensity, and everyone has had some pain so they all think they know what chronic pain is like. Keeping a daily record, with numeric measurements, will give something concrete to point to, showing that you’ve had no pain-free days for the past month, or that your pain consistently increases under certain conditions. Such records are called pain diaries, journals, or logs, and they are a very useful aid in talking to doctors as well as to family members. They also give patients a way to know, and remember later, how this week’s pain compares to that of last week, or how this pain med compares to the one we used previously.

The heart of the pain log is a measurement scale for pain, like this one from the National Institutes of Health.

Numeric Rating Scale and use.jpg

At one end is “no pain”, at the other end “severe” pain, with the 10 at the end often described as the worst pain you can imagine. Record numeric pain ratings on your log form as often during the day as you think will be helpful. I’ve gathered several forms from various sites, which you can download or print directly. Because links change, I’m giving not only the original link to the site presenting the form, but also a link to a copy of the form hosted on my blog. The forms are free for personal use, I think none of these organizations will object, but not for any commercial purpose. Or, you can design your own form, and I include a sample that I made in a few minutes in a word processor.

Choose a form that lets you record the additional information that you think is important. Some include what meds you took and when, so you can compare that to changing pain level. Others have places to record levels of stress, quality of sleep, amount of exercise, and mood. I recommend photocopying or printing at least a month’s worth, and stapling them or putting them in a notebook. Be conscientious about this. It doesn’t take long to fill in the day’s information, and the value lies in writing it down at the time, and every day. Once a week won’t be much good, nor will it work to try and remember how you felt last week. Just do it, maybe when you brush your teeth at night, or after taking each medication, or after each meal.

Pain log templates

The thumbnails are just pictures, not links. View or download the forms with the links at the end of the description. All forms are in pdf format.

Here is the Daily Pain Diary Form from Partners Against Pain. It consists of 2 pages; one in graph format to record pain level and meds taken, the other with questions about breakthrough pain, sleep, side effects, other things you did to help relieve your pain, etc. Download or view this form from the original site, or from my blog files.

Daily_Pain_Diary.jpg

Next is the Pain Management Log, a simpler one-page form from Partners Against Pain. It records date, time, severity of pain, medicine or non-drug control method used, how severe the pain is one hour later, and activity at the time of pain. It can be used for a single day, or you can make entries for successive days on the same page. Download or view this form from the original site or from my blog files.

Pain Management Log from www.partnersagainstpain.com

The 8.5×11 Pain Log is a 2 page form, from the American Chronic Pain Society, unusual in that it uses cartoon-like symbols for levels of pain, exercise, stress, etc. Download or view this form from the original site or from my blog files.

8 5x11 Pain Log from the American Chronic Pain Society

The form pictured below is the one I made up quickly myself in a word processor, just as an example for those who want to design their own. One page. Download or view this form from my blog files.

Original pain form made on a word processor.

Next are two forms that are not for daily use but would be good to fill out before a visit to your doctor, as a sort of summary or review of a period of time. First, a 6-page questionnaire called Keeping Track of Your Care, from Partners Against Pain. (It seems to have been designed for cancer patients, but will serve other pain patients just as well.) In addition to summing up pain, meds taken, and that sort of thing, it also has a list of questions about the effect of the pain upon your life over the time period, and the usual drawing of a body front and back on which to indicate location of pain. The list of questions would be good to review before going to see your pain doctor each time, to be sure you bring up all your concerns.

This questionnaire also asks “What is your goal for relief?”, a great question to consider, and let your physician know what your goal is. It’s a good question for two reasons: one, you need to realize that zero pain may not be an achievable goal, and if it is not, what is your secondary goal? To continue working, to enjoy better relationships with your loved ones, to be able to be active for 6 hours a day before you have to stop, to get your pain from an 8 to a 3? Important issues to think about. And, second, it gives both you and your physician something defined to strive toward. Download or view this form from the original site or from my blog files.

Keeping Track of Your Care from http://www.partnersagainstpain.com/printouts/A7012PD2.pdf

Second, the 2-page Patient Comfort Assessment Guide, another from the Partners Against Pain organization.
Like the preceding template, this is not a daily record but the sort of thing that your pain doctor might have you fill out regarding your pain, meds taken and how much relief each gives on a numeric scale, side effects, and how pain has interfered with different aspects of your life in the past week, including mood, sleep, ability to concentrate, normal work, etc. Download or view this form from the original site or from my blog files.

Patient Comfort-Assessment Guide, another from the Partners Against Pain organization

How pain records help you talk to your doctor

Pain doctors have to have a way to decide upon, and justify, the medications they give you (or prescriptions for physical therapy, TENS units, referrals to nerve specialists, etc.). They can feel much more confident if you bring in a photocopy of your pain journal for them to keep in the file, with times, dates, and numeric ratings, than if you just come in and say “Doc, I need something stronger, this prescription just isn’t helping me.” If you feel your journal shows something in particular, go over the entries with your physician. Maybe your journal will show that what you need is medication for “breakthrough pain”, to be used occasionally as needed to keep the pain from getting the upper hand. Or maybe there will be a pattern telling the doctor something you’re not even aware of.

It is absolutely in your best interest to keep a pain journal, and keep it accurately. Don’t inflate what you are feeling. But—and here is another way pain records can help— do use them to show the doctor exactly how the uncontrolled pain is affecting your life. Restoring you to your previous level of functioning is the pain doctor’s aim, not making you feel good. That, I’m afraid, is up to you, perhaps with some help from anti-depressants or the like. But your doctor knows that people don’t feel good when they can’t do the normal things in their life because of pain, so improving function does, indirectly, also improve mood and enjoyment of life.

When my pain was at its worst, I began to think of my life as a sinking ship, from which everything nonessential was being thrown overboard. Anything I did just for enjoyment, over it went. The “have-to’s” of course were kept: working, commuting, taking a shower, shopping for food, and so on. Your pain journal can be the evidence of how much of your life has been “thrown overboard”, or become very difficult, because of pain (and the fatigue that goes with it). Choose a journal template that will help you record this, as well as levels of pain and how well meds or other methods work.

How pain records can help you

They can help you measure progress, or lack of it, over time. When you feel rotten all the time, the days can all blend together. Then you look back at your records and see that 6 months ago you couldn’t walk a block, or sit in the car for more than 15 minutes. Now both of those things have improved. “Wow! I’m making progress!” Give yourself a pat on the back, figure out what made the difference, and work on it some more. Or, no progress? backward movement? Then you know what you are doing is not working, and you and your doctor need to talk about this. And you’ve got the evidence on paper to show her or him, rather than just walking in and saying that you feel worse than ever.

What’s on paper can also help your family understand your situation, what you are going through. They may not need to look at the pages, but just being able to say that for the last month your pain level hasn’t been below 6 on a scale of 1 to 10, is a concrete representation of something otherwise invisible and hard to think about. “Dad hurts all the time” doesn’t have the same impact.

Articles for chronic pain patients and their families

My search for reading material I can recommend has just begun, it seems, since so far I’ve found only one article, and no books. I’m hard to please, apparently. I have no use for material that doesn’t adequately distinguish between addictive behavior, and the behavior of a pain patient who’s become habituated to opioids (see earlier post, Dr. House’s writers betray pain patients), or for intimations that people with chronic pain just need to think positive thoughts and get some exercise. (Though I won’t deny, both of those are good things! Both can make you feel a little better, too, but they are not cures for pain, and many people are in such pain that the advice is a mockery.)

Surviving a Loved One’s Chronic Pain. This article was written by a pain doctor as a handout to patients.

This handout was inspired by a patient of mine who came into my office and inquired what resources were available for the family members of patients with pain to help them understand what their loved ones were going through. He discussed how his wife was frequently angry at him for not doing more physically at home while she was at work and how she often yelled at him. He felt guilty about it, but felt he did as much as he could tolerate. I was embarrassed to admit that I did not know of any handouts explicitly directed at spouses, family members, and other loved ones. After doing some research on the Internet, I discovered several very helpful publications, specifically Julie Silver’s 2004 book, Chronic Pain and the Family: A New Guide (Harvard University Press) and the American Chronic Pain Association family manual, ACPA Family Manual: A Manual for Families of Persons with Pain, written by Penny Cowen (ACPA, 1998). I also found some helpful articles by Mark Grant, a psychologist in Australia, especially his “Ten Tips for Communicating With a Person Suffering From Chronic Pain,” which is available on his website, http://www.overcomingpain.com. Mark was kind enough to allow us to summarize his suggestions here. As well, one of us (Whitman) has a website to help patients cope with chronic pain, and occasionally discusses family issues on it (www.howtocopewithpain.org). Much of what is in this handout is taken from these sources.

What was striking, however, is how little material there was oriented toward the family compared to the massive amount of self-help material oriented to the patient with pain. In view of the profound effect the patient’s pain has on the family and the equally profound effect the family’s (and friends’) responses have on the patient with pain, I found this troubling. I also felt that while Silver’s book and the ACPA manual were very helpful, few family members would get them and fewer read through them. What was needed, I felt, was something brief and to the point. This is the result of that determination.

Surviving a Loved One’s Chronic Pain, four pages, available as a pdf from the original source, pain-topics-org, or from my blog files.

This article recommends another that I agree on, “Ten Tips for Communicating With a Person Suffering From Chronic Pain” available at overcomingpain.com or from my blog files.

Organizations concerned with pain

American Pain Society
a professional medical organization with some education functions. They do research on sub-topics in pain and also some advocacy.

Publications include:
Guides for Persons with Pain
Patient Guide: Managing Osteoarthritis Pain
Consumer Guide: Managing Rheumatoid Arthritis
Parent Guide: Managing Pain from Juvenile Chronic Arthritis
Guide for Adults with Cancer Pain
Guide for Adults with Fibromyalgia Syndrome Pain
The above are short pamphlets, 12-16 pp and are offered for sale in sets of 25 of one title, for medical. There is no version that can be read online as far as I could find.

American Pain Association

They say, “Pain has been ignored as a problem by the medical science and society for a long time. The fact that America still doesn’t have a National Institute of Pain indicates this lack of attention towards pain. Surprisingly, America does have a National Institute for Addiction. The primary efforts of the American Pain Association are directed towards education and research. We are also working in the area of developing expert consensus statements regarding pain issues.”

Seems to be mostly a professional organization, offering certification courses in pain, and basic and advanced courses in pain management for all medical personnel including nurses, physicians, pharmacists.

American Pain Association page summarizing new methods of pain relief, will give you some ideas to research or ask about.

American Chronic Pain Association

A previous organization, the National Pain Foundation, is merging with the ACPA.

The ACPA has some very good informational resources, including their Chronicle (archives here). For example, the Summer 2006 issue was devoted to nerve pain.

Partners Against Pain, source of many of the forms I’ve described above. They describe themselves as “a resource that serves patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals to help alleviate unnecessary suffering by advancing standards of pain care through education and advocacy.” Advocacy is a major element of their work, but other material is available too. They publish a Resource Guide for People in Pain which contains some of the forms above, and others including checklists for doctor visits or the ER, as well as sections on other aspects of health that are good to review, like nutrition, stress, and exercise; it also has lists of organizations concerned with certain diseases or conditions, or professional fields, or patient support. I recommend skimming through it for what you need at the moment. Read or download it here.

American Pain Foundation

APF is an education & advocacy group, which actively works with the news media on conveying pain issues, and publishes a semi-annual Pain Research and Practice Update. The Summer 2010 issue is here.

They have a library of online materials which I haven’t explored yet, but it looks worth checking out. Here’s the directory:

Information Library

• Audio/Video Replays
• Chat Transcripts
• Pain Conditions
• Pain Topics
• Publications
• Q&A About Pain
• Top Ten Tips for Coping
• Webinar/Teleconference Replays

Pain Resource Information
• Financial Information & Assistance
• Finding Care
• Journals
• Pain Law & Ethics
• Pain Links 
• Pain Resource Locator

Programs & Campaigns
• Acute Pain Spotlight
• Back Pain Spotlight
• Breakthrough Cancer Pain Online Guide
• Cancer Pain Spotlight
• CareCentral for Caregivers
• End of Life Care Spotlight
• Exit Wounds – Military/Veterans Pain Initiative
• Fibromyalgia Spotlight
• Health Decision Making Online Guide
• Let’s Talk Pain
• Shingles & Post-Herpetic Neuralgia Spotlight
• Yoga for Chronic Pain & Disability

The vocabulary of pain

Pain and its treatment have a specialized vocabulary. I found some online glossaries that may be of interest in understanding exactly what is being talked about.

Chronic Pain Glossary of Terms
Pain management: Glossary of terms

American Pain Society Glossary of Pain Terminology

The Armenian Cucumber Martini

What with too many gophers and not enough bees, our vegetable garden is not as abundant as we’d hoped. Even the several varieties of summer squash, which usually can be counted on to produce more than the most ardent squash lover can eat, aren’t setting much fruit.

Deciding to drown our horticultural sorrows we needed a garnish for the martinis. Something different…there, on the counter! An Armenian cucumber. It’s in the same family as the squash but is setting fruit much better. They’re slender, pale green, and curl into a circle. Let’s give it a try.

ArmenianCucumberMartini1.jpg

Into the glass goes a slice.

ArmenianCucumberMartini3b.jpg

Verdict by the resident Martini expert? “Cool and refreshing. I think I like that better than olives!”

ArmenianCucumberMartini5.jpg

We’ve also enjoyed these cucumbers sliced up in soups. Turns out, though, that while they look and taste like cukes they’re technically melons, Cucumis melo var. flexuosus. True cucumbers are Cucumis sativus.

Algae poses threat to humans as well as animals

Health departments have been trying to inform swimmers and pet owners that they should avoid water with visible algae, since ingesting it can cause severe and sudden illness including convulsions or even death. In our state, three dogs died last year after swimming at a reservoir. One died before his owner could even get him to the car, another died on the way to the vet.

Now, a recent report in the ProMED health tracking network calls our attention to human risks that don’t involved either entering or drinking the algae-contaminated water.

One man, whose dog died after a swim in the lake, was hospitalized last week [week of 19 Jul 2010] after he gave the dog a bath. Within days, the 43-year-old man began having trouble walking and lost
feeling in his arms and feet.

“We weren’t swimming in the lake because it’s disgusting,” said the
victim’s wife, whose husband, is still having trouble with memory loss and fatigue. “Our dog was just covered in that sludge, and my husband washed him.” Washington Examiner, July 30, 2010.

According to one doctor treating the Ohio man, his neurological problems may be permanent. But he’s better off than his dog, who died despite having the algae washed off.

The algae are in the “blue-green algae” family, and are actually not algae but photosynthesizing bacteria, called cyanobacteria. Blooms, or overgrowths, in bodies of water (fresh or saltwater) are encouraged by temperature change and increases in nutrients, often from agricultural runoff into the water. The cyanobacteria, like some algae, make toxins harmful to fish and mammals. Humans have been aware of this mostly through being poisoned by eating shellfish, which concentrate the toxins. The familiar warnings about “red tides” and issuance of “shellfish advisories” result from these conditions.

While it has been known that skin contact with toxic algae could produce illness in humans, the severe results from relatively small exposure—simply washing an algae-slimed dog—seem to be worse than expected.

The lake in Ohio is Grand Lake St. Marys; it’s the largest inland lake in the state by area, but is extremely shallow, with an average depth of only 5 to 7 feet. This shallow lake warms up more, and doesn’t dilute the runoff of agricultural fertilizer and livestock waste as much as if it held more water. Recent algae blooms have killed so many catfish that crews were shovelling up the dead fish. With the lake surrounded by warning signs, the area’s $160 million tourism industry has declined, and a boat race that draws about 30,000 people in late August each year has been cancelled.

Some algae are harmless, but there are many different algae or bacteria that can produce dangerous levels of toxins when they bloom. Some are more harmful than others but it’s foolish to take chances: keep yourself, and children and pets, well away from any water that has a visible algae presence. This can be greenish, reddish, or other colors. Or it can appear as just cloudiness or discoloration in the water, as foam or scum floating on top, as mats on the bottom, or actual filaments or pellets. And don’t let kids or pets wander to areas of a river, stream, or lake that you have not closely checked.

Algae by rocks.jpg

Source.

An Ohio factsheet sums up the methods of exposure, and known symptoms:

Skin contact: Contact with the skin may cause rashes, hives, or skin blisters (especially on the lips and under swimsuits).

Breathing of water droplets: Breathing aerosolizing (suspended water droplets-mist) from the lake water-related recreational activities and/or lawn irrigation can cause runny eyes and noses, a sore throat, asthma-like symptoms, or allergic reactions.

Swallowing water: Swallowing HAB-contaminated water can cause:
◦ Acute (immediate), severe diarrhea and vomiting
◦ Liver toxicity (abnormal liver function, abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting)
◦ Kidney toxicity
◦ Neurotoxicity (weakness, salivation, tingly fingers, numbness, dizziness, difficulties breathing, death)   Source.

Splashing of water in eyes, or inhaling droplets of contaminated water, can get the toxin into your system. One of the toxins from cyanobacteria, Saxitoxin is “reportedly one of the most toxic, non-protein substances known. It is known that the LD50 (median lethal dose) in mice is 8 micrograms/kilogram. Based on
a human weighing approx. 70 kg (154 lb), a lethal dose would be a
single dose of 0.2 mg.” [Source, ProMED report.]

How much is two-tenths of a milligram? There are a thousand milligrams in a gram, and a dime or a paper clip each weigh about 1 gram. So an amount of toxin weighing the same as two ten-thousandths of a paper clip may be lethal.

Algae,feet in water.jpg

Source.

These “Harmful Algal Blooms” can occur in large or small bodies of water; often, but not always, they are in areas where the waterflow is slow (near shore) or nonexistent (stagnant). Small pools or puddles separate from the main body of water can contain algal growth. Even in tiny amounts the toxins can have devastating and sudden effects of humans or animals.

Eating fish or shellfish from contaminated waters is dangerous too. Cooking does NOT render toxins safe.

Algal blooms can be very transient, appearing and disappearing in a matter of days to weeks. If you spot a possible instance and there are no warning signs, it may not have been found yet. Stay away from the water and call your local or state health department so they can track outbreaks, and put up signs.

For the state of Oregon, current advisories can be found online here. The HAB team can be reached by email at Hab.health@state.or.us, by phone: 971-673-0440; Toll Free: 877-290-6767; or by fax: 971-673-0457. Other states should have similar programs; your city or county health department ought to be able to tell you more.

Why are these toxic algae blooms becoming more common?

The short answer is, better growing conditions for algae. They thrive in warm water, and temperatures are going up. Nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) from human activities pour into streams, lakes, rivers, and the ocean, and act like Miracle-Gro for the algae. Sources include runoff from fields treated with fertilizer or manure, spraying partially treated sewage sludge, sewage overflows, and runoff from pastures.

What can be done?

Rising temperatures, that’s a big one. Let’s just look at eutrophication or over-nutrification of water, since that’s something where local efforts can have relatively immediate local effects. Obviously, better treatment of sewage (including livestock waste) and reduced use of fertilizers (in agriculture, on golf courses, in parks, and in our own personal yards) are important steps to work on. On July 1st, 16 states will begin enforcing laws that require dishwasher detergents to be almost phosphate-free. That’s a small but significant improvement; the legislator who introduced the bill into the Pennsylvania legislature estimated that 7% to 12% of the phosphorus entering sewage plants came from automatic dishwashing detergents. New guidelines from the federal Clean Water Act to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus have provided more impetus to these particular efforts.

Not so obvious steps:

At least one study found that use of organic fertilizers led to less nitrogen runoff than use of chemical fertilizers.

Remediation of areas where nitrogen is stored in soil, from decades of deposition by one means or another, is possible but expensive and slow.

And years of research is showing us, surprise surprise, that intact aquatic communities slow the trickle-down of nutrient pollution (from, say, creeks to streams to rivers to a lake) and seem to enable a body of water to better resist eutrophication. Dr. David Schindler (Professor of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta) has studied the problem for decades including 37 years of work on Lake 227, a small pristine lake in the Experimental Lakes region of northern Ontario. He says, for example, that overexploitation of piscivorous (fish-eating) fish seems to increase the effects of eutrophication. (His earlier work energized the campaign to reduce phosphorus pollution.)

A study along the Georgia coast suggests that tidal marsh soils protect aquatic ecosystems from eutrophication, caused by the accumulation of nutrients. And they sequester large amounts of carbon, helping us slow down climate change. I would expect similar results with regard to freshwater wetlands and marshes. When I was a zookeeper I worked with mechanical incubators for bird eggs, none of which was as reliable as one of those “bird-brained” hens of whatever species. We are told that the appropriate native herbivores—bison, wildebeest, and so on—produce more meat per acre and do less damage than introduced species like cattle. And now we’re coming around to seeing that oldmothernature is better at water purification than we are, if we leave existing systems intact (but we never do).

Salt Marsh.jpg

Salt Marsh near Dartmouth, Nova Scotia; more good photos of this marsh here.

Ways in which print is superior to digital, part 1

NOTE: Which are better, fish or birds? Silly question, right? We must ask, “better for what?” I’m not maintaining that print is inherently a “better” medium than digital media, nor the reverse. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. We should maintain both.

1. Permanence

Information on the web can vanish overnight. Maybe your webhost suddenly shuts down.

I once hosted a site that talked more about this idea at http://mind.blazingfast.net/TheRaft, but it seems that google nor the wayback machine are able to help me reclaim that page. source

blazingfast.jpg

Or someone controlling the content decides on a change…

Last week, President-elect Barack Obama launched a Web site with detailed information about his plans for technology, Iraq, and health care policies.

Now they’re gone. source.

ZZ4CFCCCB1.jpg

Image source.

In my own computer files I have the complete text of a book published in 1976, which was made available online by the author. It had to be downloaded one chapter at a time, and as I did so I was thinking “Oh this is silly, I can come back to this whenever I want.” But recently when I tried to go back to the link, it was gone, and the text is nowhere to be found as far as Google can tell.

What’s online may be altered too: the writer can undergo a complete turnaround, or merely make edits to what is posted, so that it’s difficult or impossible to recover the original. Rather like the drastic re-writing of history in 1984. With a printed book, such changes are additive rather than subtractive: an author publishes a “revised second edition” for example, but the first edition still exists and can be consulted. This means you can recover specific details lacking in the revised form (citations, turns of phrase, pronouncements, data, whatever it might be), as well as track the writer’s alterations.

As with other differences between print and online material, this lack of permanence shows how what’s considered an advantage can have a flip side, a drawback that is the consequence of a valued feature. Things have the “vices of their virtues”. Something that is easily updated cannot remain constant.

Even if digital data isn’t altered, it may become unreadable. We have found many examples of the earliest known writing, from 4600 years ago. And its glyphs are all visible to the human eye, able to be widely studied via photos so that languages are reconstructed and unknown forms of writing are deciphered. The pre-cuneiform writing below is part of a list of “gifts from the High and Mighty of Adab to the High Priestess, on the occasion of her election to the temple” about 2600 BC. (Wikipedia)

CuneiformTablet.jpg

Yet digital records less than a decade old may become unreadable because of physical deterioration or hard to access because of the adoption of new systems and hardware. The Wikipedia article on CDs shows a CD recorded in 2000 which by 2008 had lost part of its data due to physical degradation. And any computer user who is old enough, and is conscientious about making back-ups, probably has a stack of old floppy disks bearing data that didn’t get transferred before the old machine went out the door. If you find a ribbon-bound bundle of letters written in 1810 you can open and read them easily, but your own material stored 8 or 10 years ago on floppies—getting at that will take considerable effort, and each year that goes by will increase the difficulty of finding compatible equipment (as well as the likelihood that the disks themselves may be damaged or degraded).

When works exist only in digital form, there is reason to be concerned about how long they will endure, and be accessible. A shelf of books and movies on DVD may be about as hard to play in 2025 as a box of 8-track tapes is today. Software and hardware will have moved on. Where does that leave an author, if demand doesn’t support a re-issuance in new media? How do you share or re-read a book you liked or found important, when the computers that could read it are all in the landfill? What about historians, will they all have to congregate in museums of carefully-maintained antique computers, trying to coax words from deteriorated storage media? Print books, on the other hand, won’t become obsolete until the human eyeball evolves into something else (a barcode reader?).

So, if you want text or other material to be accessible to you in ten years, or to posterity in a hundred years, print it. On archival-quality paper.

Longlasting media

EarliestKnownDictionary.jpg

Above, one tablet of the earliest known dictionary (about 2,300 BC). Source is the fascinating HistoryofScience.com, which has timelines of short articles for various aspects of science, medicine, and technology. Some of their articles (including this one) are based on Wikipedia, but not all. Being able to scan through them by topic is great. “It consists of Sumerian and Akkadian lexical lists ordered by topic. … One bilingual version from Ugarit [RS2.(23)+] is Sumerian/Hurrian rather than Sumerian/Akkadian. Tablets 4 and 5 list naval and terrestrial vehicles, respectively. Tablets 13 to 15 contain a systematic enumeration of animal names, tablet 16 [the one pictured] lists stones and tablet 17 plants. Tablet 22 lists star names.”

dunhuang_starmap.jpg

Here’s a piece of thin paper 1300 years old: part of the earliest known complete star map, the Dunhuang Star Atlas. It was drawn in China about 650 AD. The paper survived being stored in a cave for an unknown period, and was found in 1907. Image source. More on this and another early Chinese star atlas here.

CopernicusPrintedBook.jpg

This book, printed in 1543, is a first edition of On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres by Nicolaus Copernicus. No data loss in nearly 500 years! Copernicus wrote it in Latin, which was then the international language of science, and is now called a “dead” language because it has no living native speakers. But due to its historical and religious importance, there are far more people alive today who can read Latin than can read 16th century Polish, the language Copernicus grew up speaking.

The iPad comes to our house

Yesterday was going to be one of those cherished days when we didn’t have to get in the car for anything. Or maybe just drive somewhere nearby to go for a walk on a forest service road. We had been expecting Dan’s iPad to be delivered, but an email had informed us a couple of days earlier that UPS doesn’t make Saturday deliveries out where we live. Sigh. Wait until Monday. Then UPS phoned: “We can’t bring it today, but we are open until 1 pm if you want to come and pick it up.” Silly question! Suddenly we wanted nothing more than to make that 25 mile trip to town.

The web is already full of accounts and reviews of the iPad, even though the official release date was only yesterday, so there’s no need for a full description of the device here. And we haven’t had it long enough for an actual review. But we’ve had it long enough to know how we like it, and that is: very very much.

The sleek design is matched by perhaps excessively minimalist instructional materials. It came with one postcard-sized piece of paper showing the external controls: Home, On/Off, etc. That was about it. And something about using iTunes to configure it. Maybe Apple expected all the early adopters to be iPhone or iPod Touch users, who would find a lot of familiar features. That’s not us (no cellphone service at our house, no need for an iPod), but we figured it out. You start out with the iPad by connecting it to your computer and opening iTunes, which detects the iPad and takes you through registration, setting up email account settings, and syncing music. An excellent user guide is on the web, readable in Safari on the iPad, but we didn’t find that out right away. An upfront referral to the user guide would have saved us some struggling, mostly with the touchscreen “gestures”. We also spent at least an hour trying to figure out how to play the music that had been synced to the iPad, until the user guide led us to an icon we hadn’t touched yet because it said “iPod”. Turns out that opens up your music library. Hunh, imagine that.

That’s all minor stuff. The iPad itself is a marvel: how easy it is to hold and use, the bright sharp screen, long battery life, intuitive operation. There it all is: your photos, the web, email, music—and Dan hasn’t even downloaded anything from the app store yet except a dictionary/thesaurus, a news reader, and the free iBooks app. This last comes with a free book, Winnie the Pooh, which seems an odd choice except that the typography and color illustrations show off the marvelous visual rendering strengths of the iPad. Some say the bright LCD screen will cause eye fatigue for readers. I can’t say yet, and the brightness is adjustable; I do think it is a great advantage to be able to read in the dark, not possible with some other e-reading devices. I’ve still got an old Palm that I keep by the bed so I can read when sleep eludes me, because it too is backlit, and I really expect the iPad will be kinder on the eyes than the small low-contrast screen of the Palm on which I have read for hours at a time.

The ability of the iPad to go from landscape to portrait mode whenever you turn it is just amazing, and makes it easy to try in an instant whether you want to read this book with one larger page shown vertically, or two smaller pages side by side. Depends on the book and how you feel at the moment, and having the choice offered and made so effortless is very nice.

In fact I’d say that’s one of the generalities I’d make about this device: it’s not just thoughtfully designed for ease of use, but for ease of use by people with different requirements. Adjustable, customizable. And that’s just out of the box. I’m sure the coming months will see lots of changes and third-party add-ons offering even more flexibility in different areas.

The QWERTY keypad that appears on the screen, whenever you need to type, is big enough and each key-press makes an unobtrusive but adequate sound so you know you’ve pressed it. What does that mean, “whenever you need to type”? When you touch the Search box in Safari and need to fill in a term, it appears; when you touch the “paper” of the Notepad application, it appears, and so on. This is intelligent anticipation of the user’s needs and it feels right.

The sound quality is surprisingly good, far better than that of my MacBookPro, and seems to have more volume too. We played around with the iPad well into the evening, maybe 6 hours of using the browser, looking at photos, playing music, and still had 55% of the battery power left.

Dan’s keen to get some specific apps designed for the iPhone that we have been yearning for: one is iBird Explorer Backyard: “This interactive field guide lets you search North American birds by color, shape, habitat, location, and more.” And there’s one for butterflies too. Imagine having this in your coat pocket or daypack, a field guide that can show you “birds with red markings” if that’s what you’re looking at, and play bird calls! There’s a hand-held star-guide we saw demo’ed on Rachel Maddow’s show, which gives you a labelled view of the part of the sky you are looking at—move it and the section of sky moves too. Not sure if that one is going to work for us or if it requires the iPad with 3GS, but we’ll look into it.

Okay, looking back at what I’ve written I can see people saying critically “You say it is ‘thoughtfully designed for ease of use ‘ but you couldn’t figure out how to get at your music? You must be a shill for Apple.”

I confess, I got a Mac SE in 1987 or ‘88 and it did change my life. It enabled me to do things, such as edit and lay out a magazine, producing camera-ready copy, that I would never have been able to do otherwise. The iPad gives me that same feeling as the SE, or the first laptop I got, a blue clamshell iBook: the feeling of possibilities and of a pleasure of use. After all, the Mac made computers fun to use. You could enjoy the way the machine worked, as well as enjoying what you were able to do with it. And the iPad is one more landmark on that same path.

I found myself wondering last night what computing would have developed into without Apple, if Bill Gates and Microsoft had been not just the monolith of computing but (effectively) a monopoly, the only game in town. Who can say, but I’m confident it wouldn’t have been as much fun, or unleashed the personal possibilities that the Mac has. For those too young to remember, it was the Mac that made possible the use of fonts, WYSIWYG, page-layout with Aldus Pagemaker, paint and draw programs, photos on a computer, the graphic web, and on…We went from this

iPad MSDOS.jpg

to this

iPad HelloMac.jpg

and now this

iPadWinnie.jpg

this

iPadNotes.jpg

and this (none of these hurried photos does justice to the iPad; it’s brighter, sharper, and of course not skewed or moiré-patterned)

iPadPhotos.jpg

Coming soon to our iPad:

iPadBirds.jpg

and who knows what else? It’s exciting.

Giving pills to dogs: a small but useful trick

You’ve found the food that works best for hiding pills and you think you’re headed for success, getting these pills into your dog. But then the rascal rolls the food-ball around in his mouth, feels the pill, and spits it out. Now he’s suspicious!

Here’s a trick that has worked for us. Make at least two treats without pills. Give one of these first, then give one with a pill in it. Strike a balance between covering the pill adequately, and making the treat so large it isn’t gulped right down. At each point, allow the dog to see that you have additional yummy bites waiting for him; he’ll be less inclined to take his time, more willing to bolt down each treat in order to get the next one. Give a treat without a pill as the last one. If your dog is really suspicious, and you have more than one pill to give, you may want to alternate: plain, pill, plain, pill, plain.

Cheese is our usual cover for pills, and the best thing we’ve found, actually, is that spray-on cheese, the new version of Cheez Wiz. Put pill in the palm of your hand, squirt on the cheese-like substance (get some under the pill too) and watch your dog go for it. Here too it helps to use plain cheese-blobs as the lead-in, and keep your dog anticipating the next one so he’s keen.

But with the method I’ve described, we have successfully pilled even suspicious dogs with pills smushed between slices of cheddar or wrapped in a piece of lunch meat.