Monday, August 17, 2015

Apple #716: Cicadas

The air is buzzing with the noise of cicadas.  Which makes me realize, I know next to nothing about them.  I'm not a fan of their appearance, but I'm very curious about the loud noise they make. So what's the deal with cicada sounds?

The Magicicada septendecim emerges every 17 years.
(Photo from Crockett Facilities Services)

  • There are about 3,400 species of cicada in the world, and over 190 species and sub-species in North America alone. So talking about cicadas in general means you're generalizing about a lot of different species, each with slightly different characteristics. But generalizing is what I'm going to do anyway.
  • In most cicada species, it's the males who make the noise, and the noise they're making is a mating song.  
  • Females make their own sound by flicking their wings, which sounds similar to a light switch being flipped on and off.  In some species, females make this sound in response to the males' mating song.
  • Cicadas make other sounds too, such as distress alarms when a predator is attacking, or warm-up calls before the males launch into their big production.  But we have a harder time hearing those other calls and distinguishing them from each other.  So most of the time when people are talking about cicada noises, they mean the loud mating call of the males.
  • If you think it sounds like thousands of cicadas are making the same noise together, you're not wrong.  Males will synchronize their songs with each other so they are all going off at the same time. This establishes a "chorusing center" and works to attract large numbers of females to the same place, increasing everybody's odds of finding a mate.
  • Exactly how each cicada makes his song isn't entirely understood.  What we do know is that each cicada has two bumps on either side of their abdomen.  The bumps are called tymbals.  Special muscles inside the abdomen make the tymbals contract and make a popping noise, and then the muscles pop the tymbals back out again to make another popping noise.  

Close-up of one tymbal relaxed, then contracted. Popping the tymbal in and out makes a popping noise.
(Diagram from The Robinson Library

  • They work a lot like those metal clicker toys you may have played with when you were a kid, popping the metal up and down to make a clicking sound.

  • The difference is a male cicada can make those tymbals pop in and out 100 to 500 times per second. 
  • The other difference is the echo.  The tymbals are housed in the cicada's exoskeleton. Beneath the tymbals, the body of the abdomen is mostly hollow.  So the clicking of the tymbals at rapid-fire speed gets echoed again and again, and the echoes echo each other.

Cross-sections of a cicada's abdomen. You can see the largely empty abdomen and how much space there is for the noise of the tymbal to create an echo. 
(Diagram from The Robinson Library

  • Making the tymbals pop in and out would be, for us, like making our entire rib cage collapse and expand over and over again 100 to 500 times a second.
  • But on the cicada, it looks like it's shaking its tail like a rattlesnake.

  • Knowing this much about how the process works, you would think scientists would be able to replicate the sound.  Nope.  
  • Naval researchers have tried for years to figure out how to do what the cicada does, in order to create a very loud sound that will travel a long way through water, produced using very little power. "We're still working on it," researchers say.
  • Perhaps the most mysterious part of the process is exactly why it's so loud.  But it definitely is loud -- deafening, in fact.
  • One species of cicada in Australia is said to produce a call that exceeds 120 decibels at close range. At this level, sounds reach the deafening point.  Other things that hit 120 decibels: fireworks displays at close range. Thunder. A passing freight train -- louder even than that.
  • The loudest cicada in North America was recorded by the University of Florida at 108.9 decibels. This is just slightly less loud than that passing freight train. 
  • The video below is of this species of cicada, the Neotibicen pronotalis walkeri (formerly Tibicen pronotalis walkeri), or the Walker's Cicada.  It lives in 28 of the 50 states, mainly in the Midwest and the South.

  • Even the cicadas have to protect themselves from their own noisy mating songs. On either side of their head, both males and females have large membranes called tympana. Yup, they're like ears. A short tendon connects each tympana to the auditory organ in the cicada's head. When the male sings, that tendon retracts, pulling the middle of the tympana inward, creasing it so that it will not absorb his own sound. 
  • In a manner of speaking, he's putting ear plugs in to protect himself from the decibels of his own song. (Pete Townshed, eat your heart out?)
  • The males also tone it down a bit when an interested female approaches.

Life Cycles and Brood Cycles

  • The female lays her eggs in the roots or branches of a tree. After the eggs hatch, the young cicadas are pale little worm-like things. They live underground, in the tree roots, drinking the tree's xylem (nutritional fluids). They are too small to damage the trees they live on, even in high numbers.
  • In some species, the young stay down there for two or three years before they crawl up to the surface, shedding their nymph exoskeleton on the way, to begin their life as an adult.  In other species, the young may stay underground as long as 17 years. 
  • Still other species emerge each year, but every several years, enormous numbers of them will surface at once.  
  • Once the adults are above ground with their new skin, wings inflated and ready to go, they fly up into the trees where the males start their songs and the females commence their clicking.
  • One genus, the Magicicada, has species such as the septendecim that emerge every 17 years (Latin lovers will notice the word for "seventeen" in the name) or 13 years. 
  • There are pockets of Magicicada in various places around the U.S. One pocket, or brood, emerged this year in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas.  In 2016, another 17-year brood is due to emerge in New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. (To see a chart of brood cycles across the country, check out Cicada Mania)
  • The fact that this species has broods across several states that each emerge at different times, plus the fact that there are many other species that emerge annually or close to that is why it seems like there are a ton of cicadas in some part of the country each year.

Distribution map of the 17-year Magicicada species populations.

Distribution map of the 13-year Magicicada populations.
(Map from Sanborn & Phillips, Biogeography of the Cicadas, Diversity 2013)

  • As adults, cicadas live only about 4 to 6 weeks before they die.

The life cycle of a cicada
(Diagram from The

Cicadas Are Not Locusts

  • It is important to note that cicadas are not locusts, which are migratory grasshoppers.  It is tempting to think there's a plague of cicadas when you see them in enormous numbers singing their crazy loud songs to each other. But that is simply not true.
  • Cicadas do very little damage to the trees they live on, either as adults that we can hear and see all over the place, or as nymphs underground.  Some younger trees might struggle with the effects of large numbers of cicadas, but older trees do just fine. 
  • They don't bite or sting people. They're not interested in people at all.  They just want to get it on, give up the ghost, and that's it. 

Bonus Fact

  • Small cicadas make their songs at a pitch higher than what humans can hear. But dogs and other animals can hear them, and if they're close enough, the high-pitched song can be loud enough to make the dog wince or whine in pain.

Cicada Mania
The Robinson Library, Family Cicadidae
Howstuffworks, How Cicadas Work
Colorado State University Extension, Cicadas
National Geographic, Cicada 
Science Daily, Secrets of the Cicada's Sound, May 30, 2013

Monday, August 3, 2015

Apple #715: Fan on High vs. Fan on Low

Let me tell you a little story about fans.  Well, two stories, actually.  Maybe three, if you count the cows.

Recently, a friend of mine was visiting.  We'll call him Montgomery.  We went to an all-day event and when we came back to my house, we discovered the A/C was not working.  Broken. Busted.  No go, Charlie.  It had been in the 90s most of the day and very humid.  So it was really hot & stuffy in my house.

I got out one of my trusty box fans and Montgomery turned it on while I tried to see if the reason the A/C wasn't working was anything I could fix.  Turned out, no, the motor was dead.  Nothing I could do about that except put in a call for a repair man.  After doing that, I sat down on the couch in front of which Montgomery had placed the fan and turned it on.

This is very like the box fans I own.  Mine are also Lasko Weather Shield models.  They do the job, and they don't rattle. You can buy this fan from Amazon for about $39.  I got mine from Target for about $10 less, if memory serves.

Normally I turn my trusty box fans immediately to the highest possible speed (3 out of 3).  Montgomery had set it to 2.  I thought, of course at the higher speed the fan will cool things off faster, or more, or better.  So I turned the fan up to 3.  Much to my great surprise, the higher speed did not feel better.  In fact, it kind of felt worse.  Like it was blowing warmer air on us, or the higher speed air was battering us but not really cooling things off.  So I put it back down to 2, and instantly it felt better.  We felt more of a cooling effect, and the speed was gentler and more lulling.  We sat in front of the fan on medium speed and talked for a long time, and felt pretty comfortable, in spite of the hot stuffiness elsewhere in the house.

I vowed to remember this lesson and try it on my own another time.  So I did and now we come to my second story.  In both senses of that phrase.

My bedroom is upstairs, and the A/C even when it is working properly does a poorer job of cooling things off up there.  So usually at night I turn on one of my trusty box fans -- exact same kind as the one Montgomery & I had used -- aimed at where I sleep in the bed.  I keep the fan positioned a fair ways away from the bed, over by the closet, because that's where the A/C vent is.  My theory is the fan will blow the cool air that comes out of the A/C vent in my direction where I'm sleeping in bed.  It is this fan that I always turn up to 3.

I also put my box fan on a chair so it's roughly the same height as my bed.  Not as high as on the stool shown in this photo.  But a similar idea.
(Photo from Lennbob on Flickr)

But after Montgomery's visit, I tried out the fan at level 2 instead.  I thought that, as with my experience with Montgomery, the fan on the lower setting would feel cooler and more gentle and pleasant, and I would save energy besides.  So I lay in my bed, waiting to feel the gentle cooling of the medium setting.  Instead, I did not feel cooled off enough.  I tried this on three different occasions, and each time, I had to get up and turn the fan up to 3.  Then I could feel the cool breeze and drop off to sleep.

So what gives?  Why did the fan work better on level 2 in one instance, and level 3 in another?  You've probably already guessed the answer.  But first, let me tell you a few things I learned about fans.

  • The little truism people like to say is: Fans cool people, not rooms.  They churn the air, and the motion of the air over your skin causes the sweat your body produces to evaporate that much more quickly, and thus your body cools off more quickly as a result.  Fans, in essence, create wind chill.
  • So a fan will help you cool off more quickly.  But it doesn't do much to change the temperature of the room.
  • There's kind of an asterisk to that statement which is the case of ceiling fans.  Ceiling fans move the air just as a box fan does, but since it's situated on the ceiling and since cooler air wants to sink while hot air wants to rise, a ceiling fan will create an entire column of air that is about the height of the room.  You will feel the breeze of the moving column of air, but that column also puts in motion the hot air at the top of the room, causing it to cool slightly and descend.  So a ceiling fan does cool the air in a room a little bit.

How a ceiling fan distributes the air and therefore regulates the air temperature.
(Diagram from the Fan Doctor)

In the summer, turn on your ceiling fan so it rotates counter clockwise and pushes the air downward beneath the fan. In winter, reverse the fan so it rotates clockwise and moves air upward beneath the fan. 
(Diagram from the Fan Doctor)

  • Former stock car racer and inventor Walter Boyd got the idea to maximize this principle when he invented the High-Volume Low-Speed fan, specifically to keep dairy cattle cool.
  • He had invented all sorts of things, from modifications to improve the safety and performance of race cars to a machine that improves the way roofing materials are applied, to a machine that raises the Jumbotron.  So I guess somebody asked him, hey, guy who is good at inventing improvements to things, can you figure out a better way to keep my cows cool?
  • The reason this is important is because if dairy cows get too hot, they don't produce milk.  They are rather sensitive creatures, it turns out, and their threshold for temperature comfort is lower than people might have guessed.  If you're putting all your dairy cows in the milking barn and it's a warm day, the dairy cows are going to get too hot to give as much milk, or maybe some won't give any milk at all, and nobody's going to be very happy about that.
  • Farmers were using fans in their cattle barns but the fans weren't doing enough to keep the cows chill (no, regular reader Jason, that is not a typo. No need to correct me).  They needed a better solution that would not cost a lot.

A dairy cattle milk barn. Note the box fans suspended above the cows.
(Photo from Modern Farmer

  • So Boyd thought about fans.  He noticed that if a fan is on too high, sometimes that's not comfortable.  Sometimes the speed of the fan does not make you cooler.  So it probably wouldn't solve the problem to speed up the fans the dairy farmers were already using.
  • He also knew that these dairy barns are huge, and it's of little use to have a relatively small fan in front of only one or two cows.  What you really need is to get all the air in that huge cattle barn moving.  You don't have to get it moving fast, but you have to get it moving.  So he came up with a giant fan that would move a lot of air in a large room: the high-volume low-speed fan.

Example of a high-volume low-speed fan (HVLS).
(Photo from Nelson Equipment)

  • These HVLS fans are attached to the ceiling, so they're taking advantage of that principle of moving an entire column of air.  The blades of the fan are enormously long so they'll move a lot of air.  They're also modeled after airplane propellers, not only in the materials with which they're constructed but also in the sense that the angle at which the blades are tilted will maximize the amount of airflow their motion can generate.
  • These fans were regarded as a great innovation because they did help cool those dairy barns at relatively little cost.  So dairy farmers all over the place started buying and installing these things left & right.  If you've ever been in a great big barn-like room, you've probably seen one of these.  They are installed in most of the buildings in my state's fairgrounds, for example.  
  • The HVLS fans did improve things, but not quite enough, it turns out.  The dairy farmers conducted more research over the years and discovered if they attached water spray nozzles to the HVLS fans so the cows get sprayed with a fine mist of water while the fans move the air and therefore also distribute that mist, then the cows would stay cool enough even in very hot weather to keep producing milk.  
  • Hey, nobody wants an unhappy cow.

(Photo from Apple Guardians

  • But the point of this HVLS story is that this Boyd guy knew that low-speed fans can sometimes be more effective than a high-speed ones.
  • There are also various laws of aerodynamics that suggest that a low-speed fan may be more effective. For example:
    • In order to 2x the speed of a fan, you have to 8x the power of the motor.  A higher-powered motor will generate more heat by its action so now you have a high-speed fan pushing the hot air it's creating as well as the hot air in the room.
    • (I also read a lot of things about mass air flow vs. volumetric air flow, but I don't feel that I understand the difference well enough to explain it to you.  Suffice to say, it led me to the conclusion that moving a lot of air slowly could be more effective than moving a little air quickly.)
  • So why the heck, if all those things are true about slow-moving fans, wasn't my box fan just as effective or even more effective at the slower speed?
  • The answer, I think, is distance.  When Montgomery was here, we were sitting very close to the fan on level 2.  Like, maybe 2 feet away from it at most.  The fan I keep up in my room I have maybe 6 or 7 feet away from the bed.  If I'd moved it closer, the level 2 speed might have felt more comfortable than the level 3 speed.  
  • But since I want the fan to move the cool air from the A/C vent in my direction, and since the moving air has to travel a lot farther to accomplish that, I need the fan to have a higher speed so it can create more force to move the air farther.  
  • (I really hope my high school physics teacher, Mr. Wisz, would agree.  No joke, that was his name.  He was the best.)

Another demonstration of the fact that distance matters.  The ceiling fan people are saying that when a room's ceiling gets higher, and thus farther away from you, you don't want to get a ceiling fan that goes really fast to make the moving air travel farther. Instead, you make sure the fan is positioned closer to you so you can better feel its effects.
(Diagram from

  • But the point for all you fan-running folks out there is this: Don't necessarily assume that putting your fan on the highest possible speed will give you the best results in all situations.  There are lots of variables -- distance from you to the fan being one of them, but also the size of your fan, the level of humidity (air density), how much heat your fan creates in doing its job, and who knows what else.  The number of ice cream sundaes in the room.  
  • Try your fan out at a lower speed first.  Give it a few minutes, see if that's sufficient.  If it's not, then turn the thing up.  You might be surprised to find that the lower speed was better.  Or maybe not.

(Photo from FarmTek)

  • Bonus question: why are fans made to go OFF HI MED LOW as opposed to OFF LOW MED HI?
  • Answer: to overcome impedance (like resistance but in an electrical current), the voltage of the fan has to be high enough to get the thing going.  Then it can be turned to a lower setting.

P. S. Here's another trick I used to use in an apartment that did not have air conditioning: put a bowl of ice cubes in front of the fan. Here, they're using those freezer pack things.  Probably a better idea as they stay frozen longer.

(Photo from The Good Human)

Sources and Stuff I Read
Howstuffworks, How do fans make you feel cooler?
Mental Floss, How Does a Fan Work to Cool You Off?
Electronics Cooling, All You Need to Know about Fans, May 1, 1996
Lasko, Create a wind chill in your home with help from electric fans
SF Gate, The Direction & Speed of Ceiling Fan Rotation in the Winter & Summer
Spoke, Walter Boyd 
Architectural Record manufacturer-sponsored article, HVAC for Large Spaces: The Sustainable Benefits of HVLS Fans, December 2009
Plant Services, Walter Boyd talks about HVLS fan technology, March 25, 2011
Private University Products and News, Big Fans Improve Comfort and Efficiency across Campus
J. W. Worley and J. K. Bernard, Cooling Effectiveness of High-Volume Low-Speed Fans Versus Conventional Fans in a Free-Stall Dairy Barn in Hot, Humid Conditions, The Professional Animal Scientist, 24 (2008): 23-28 (pdf)
Wikipedia, High-volume low-speed fan
Hudson Products Corporation, The Basics of Axial Flow Fans (pdf)
Teledyne Hastings Instruments, Mass Flow versus Volumetric Flow
The Vacuum Lab, The Difference Between Volume Flow and Mass Flow (pdf)
Tangent Labs, Volumetric Flow vs. Mass Flow (pdf)
UC Boulder, Density, Mass Flow Rate, & Volumetric Flow Rate  (video)
Emerson Network Power, Achieving Energy-Efficient Data Center Cooling: Does Reducing Fan Speed Always Result in Energy Savings? (pdf)

Monday, July 13, 2015

Apple #714: Quaaludes

So unless you've been keeping your TV and your internet turned off for a few weeks, you have by now heard that Bill Cosby got quaaludes in the 1970s for the purpose of giving them to women he wanted to have sex with.  He made this admission in a court case in 2005, but in the light of multiple accusations that have been made by multiple women that he drugged them to insensibility and raped them, this admission seems very damning.

Then last night I read a disturbing account in The Huffington Post of the rape and humiliation of Jackie Fuchs (a.k.a. Jackie Fox) by the band's creepazoid manager in front of a room full of people, when she was in the Runaways with Joan Jett in 1975.  She was given somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 quaaludes which made her immobile, but though she was drugged, she was aware of what was being done to her.  She was 16 years old at the time.

The Runaways, L to R: Lita Ford, Joan Jett, Jackie Fuchs, Sandy West, Cherie Currie.  They were all somewhere around 15 to 17 years old.
(Photo from Consequence of Sound)

So, what's the deal with quaaludes?

Prescription bottle for Quaaludes, manufactured by Rorer in the 1970s. Quaaludes are now illegal in this country because they are extremely addictive and dangerous.
(Image from The Paris Review)

  • First, you can't get Quaaludes in the U.S. anymore.  They were banned in 1984 in the United States and in several other countries because they were too powerful, too addictive, and too many people were dying or going into comas from taking them, especially when taken with alcohol.  
  • I tell you this first because I want you to keep the fact of their dangerousness in your mind as you read the other stuff about them.
  • Quaalude is the trade name for methaqualone.  The drug was originally developed in 1951 (some say 1955) by a researcher in India who was trying to prevent and/or treat malaria.  It turned out it didn't do that, but they discovered it was a powerful sedative.  They ran it through some tests and it seemed like it was non-habit-forming, so bingo, they've got a magical drug that can treat insomnia and help those pesky nervous housewives relax, and no worries!
  • So doctors started prescribing it freely all over the place. It didn't take long for people to figure out if they kept themselves awake past that initial 15-minute window of intense sleepiness, they would enter the realm of the high.  They felt relaxed, calm, a sense of well-being, little or no pain, numbing or tingling in the limbs, increased self-confidence, euphoria, and a ramped-up sex drive.
  • That's a nerdy way of saying that some people who took quaaludes (and did not pass out) felt fantastic.  People who took them back in the day say there's no high like a quaalude high, and they say this with a kind of dreamy sadness for something lost.
  • The drug caught on first in Germany and Japan, and then it became popular in the UK where it was called Mandrax, before it caught on in the United States. 
  • In 1965, a US drug company William H. Rorer started making & selling the drug in the US.  The needed a brand name for the methaqualone, but instead of calling it Qualone, they came up with something else.  They borrowed the double A idea from Maalox (Maalox was a flagship product of theirs, so named for the fact that it is either MAgnesium or ALuminum hydrOXide), and the rest of the name was supposed to remind you of quiet interlude, which was what this sedative would give you. Hence, Quaalude.
    • The pills were stamped with the number 714, so some people refer to them as 714s.
    • Keith Richards named a speedboat that he bought in 1971 Mandrax
  • By the mid- to late-1970s, "Doctors were essentially giving them out like candy," and they were a huge hit, especially among musicians, artists, and club-goers.
  • People were "luding out"--taking enough of the quaaludes until they passed out, like a dunk black-out.  Because it was a sedative, this was pretty easy to do, especially if you mixed them with liquor.
  • Some people took quaaludes to help them come down from a coke high.  Frank Zappa's "Pygmy Twylyght," talks about a guy who's "crankin' an' coke'n'," and "hurtin' for sleep in the quaalude moonlight."  
  • Other people took it, or gave it to others, because of the way it made them want to have a lot of sex.  The Tubes' lead singers' onstage persona -- their version of Ziggy Stardust -- was called Quay Lewd.  Band members from the 70s said if you gave a girl ludes, "she'd be all over you" within minutes.  Hugh Hefner used to give quaaludes to his live-in girlfriends or to women who visited his mansion--every night.  

Billboard in Venice, CA, 1976. I think maybe that was originally an ad for Bacardi and Coke, but somebody changed it.
(Photograph by Anthony Friedkin

  • Shel Silverstein, in addition to writing songs and poems for children, wrote some other songs that were for adults only.  In 1980, he wrote this little ditty:
Quaaludes Again

She's doin' quaaludes again.

She fumbles and stumbles
And falls down the stairs,
Makes love to the leg of the dining room chair.
She's ready for animals, women, or men.

She's doin' quaaludes again.

A band called Naked Grape also has a Quaalude song. Theirs is called Rorer, Or Rorer

Rorer, oh Rorer, where did you go?
You left without warning, how could I know
That many years later, I'd sit back and dream,
of doing the nasty, on seven fourteens

Rorer, oh Rorer, you were Rock 'n' Roll,
I woke up with strangers I did not know
Had you stayed longer, my death I would see,
but you went first Rorer, so for now, R.I.P.

  • The thing was, a whole lot of abuse went along with the quaaludes.  The lead singer of the Bay City Rollers, Les McKeown, says a man gave him quaaludes and raped him when he was 19. Perhaps most famously, Roman Polanski is accused of giving champagne and quaaludes to a 13 year-old girl before raping and sodomizing her.  
  • Then of course there is Jackie Fuchs' story.  One night in 1975, after she was given several quaaludes until she had to lie down on a bed because she couldn't stand up, her manager, Kim Fowley (male), asked a roadie if he wanted to have sex with her, and when that guy said no, Fowley undressed her in front of a room full of people and ultimately raped her.  
Jackie tried to protest, but she was frozen. “You don’t know what terror is until you realize something bad is about to happen to you and you can’t move a muscle,” she says. “I can’t move. I can’t speak. All I can do is look him [the roadie] in the eye and do the best I can do to communicate: Please say no. ... I don’t know what it looked like from the outside. But I know what was going on inside and it was horror.” [Jason Cherkis, The Lost Girls, The Huffington Post]
Jackie Fuchs (or Jackie Fox as she was called then), 1976 
(Photo by Neal Preston, sourced from Rock n Roll Icons)

  • There is actually no evidence that quaaludes have aphrodisiac properties.  The drug may have earned the nickname "the love drug" because of the way it reduces inhibitions.  Or maybe it's only that it was used to knock people out prior to raping them.
  • It was the Rohypnol of its day, except it was worse, if that's possible.  Because the drug was also enormously addictive. It took effect extremely quickly for something you swallow--within about 20 minutes--and the body absorbs nearly all of it.  Doctors and researchers were reporting that people were showing signs of addiction after taking the drug for only two weeks.  Two weeks!
  • Here's one little tale of ludes and addiction, though it's about Iggy Pop, and he's been addicted to all sorts of stuff.  A member of a band the Dead Boys tells a story about a band-mate who was going to meet Iggy Pop for the first time and took a couple of quaaludes to calm himself down. But the quaaludes were too strong and the guy passed out in his soup.  Literally.  His face went splat in his bowl of soup while they were at dinner.  But Iggy, who'd been a long-time addict himself -- this was after Lust for Life -- was only interested in was getting his hands on some of this guy's quaaludes. He went through the guy's suitcases while he was passed out, looking for some he could take.
  • Someone who remembers taking them in the late 70s said, "I knew a guy who used to steal them from his mom, who was dying of cancer." [Angela Serratore, Free of One's Melancholy Self, The Paris Review]
  • The other problem was that the drug was downright dangerous, especially when mixed with alcohol.  One of the drug's effects was to make your limbs tingle or go numb.  People who took it a lot would discover that the tingling or numbness did not stop when the drug wore off.  They vomited, stopped eating, they fell into depression or anxiety or paranoia, and taking more quaaludes only made it worse.  People were getting seizures and convulsions and cardiac arrest.  People who drank and took quaaludes fell into a coma and died.
  • David Bowie's song "Time" mentions quaaludes and red wine -- the fatal combination that claimed the life of "Billy Dolls," or Billy Murcia of the New York Dolls.

Billy Murcia, drummer for the glam band New York Dolls, died of an accidental Quaalude overdose in 1972, at age 21, after only a year of being in the band.
(Photo from The Shit)

  • In 1978, Rorer sold the drug to a different company, Lemmon, and they kept making them and stamping them 714.  This is why some people call quaaludes Lemmons or Lemmon 714s.  
  • The name "Quaalude" was actually trademarked, but it had become a word like Kleenex or Coke, where people use the brand name to mean the whole category.  Lemmon did not like it that other companies were calling their methaqualone quaaludes.  That was one of their biggest headaches at the time, mis-use of the brand name.  Priorities, right?
  • Doctors and researchers were reporting a sharp increase in the number of people dying from taking quaaludes. This was a prescribed drug at the time, remember.  Just like you can still get oxycontin today by prescription, even though we know damn good and well by now how enormously dangerous and destructive it is.  
  • In the 10 years from 1971 to 1981, 246 people died due to having taken quaaludes. One-third of those deaths were car crashes.  The majority of those 246 deaths involved some kind of fatal trauma, including suicide or homicide.  Doctors were basically begging the powers that be to tell people to stop prescribing it.
  • In 1984, President Ronald Regan signed legislation making methaqualone a Schedule I drug, which means it is illegal to manufacture or sell it in the United States.
  • After that, it mostly disappeared from this country.  
  • It is still made and sold illegally in some countries, including Colombia, India, Pakistan, and South Africa, where it is called the British trade name Mandrax--and where it wreaks a whole lot of havoc.  In most cases, things made today that are called quaaludes or Mandrax are some combination of barbiturates (Valium is one kind of barbiturate) or barbiturates plus some small amount of illegal quaalude.  Quaaldues are not technically a barbiturate, so this is why people say that the stuff you get today that's called quaalude isn't the same thing.  But it is still addictive and very dangerous.

One of the incarnations of Mandrax sold in South Africa today. It is usually crushed, mixed with dagga (marijuana) and then smoked in a broken neck of a bottle.  It's extremely addictive, and people who are hooked on it often steal to support the habit.
(Photo from Drug Aware South Africa)

  • Some black market quaaludes that are smuggled into this country from Colombia through Florida are being sold in the US today, though it is rare compared to something like heroin (illegal and enormously destructive) or oxycontin (legal and just as destructive).
  • So the quaaludes that Cosby gave the women he raped?--er, allegedly raped.  In the cases of those who say he drugged and raped them in the 70s, most likely he bought the quaaludes legally, by prescription.  Judging from the number of women who've come forward, some doctor was giving Cosby a lot of ludes.  

(Composite image from WKYT)

  • Maybe at first, Cosby didn't think there was anything wrong with it.  Back then, lots of celebrities were taking quaaludes to loosen up, have sex.  Maybe at first, he fooled himself into thinking the women wanted to take the drug, wanted to have sex with him.  Maybe the same way people have a drink to get past their nervousness, the women took a lude, or he offered it to them.  Maybe him offering the quaaludes turned into him giving it to them without their knowledge.  Or maybe he straight-up drugged them all without their knowledge from the start.  Hard to say what was in his mind.  
  • But my point is, given the stories that have emerged about quaaludes, it seems like giving people that drug without their knowledge in order to rape them was something that was not all that uncommon in the 1970s when quaaludes legal and popular. That doesn't mean it wasn't wrong, of course.
  • As for the other cases that happened more recently--Andrea Constand, for example, said she was drugged and raped in 2004--either Cosby hung onto some of his ludes, or he bought today's version of quaaludes illegally, or he used something else like a high dose of Valium.  Regardless, I don't think the "everybody's doing it" situation applies for the more recent violations.
  • One last thing.  I want to point out that the company that first started making this drug, a drug which causes addiction, depression, loss of feeling, seizures, comas, death, and which was used to facilitate the rape of an unknown number of people--that company named this drug so it would sell like Maalox--a medication that treats heartburn.

Angela Serratore, Free of One's Melancholy Self, The Paris Review, January 28, 2014
The Vaults of Erowid, Methaqualone
PubChem Open Chemistry Database, Methaqualone
Jason Cherkis, The Lost Girls, The Huffington Post, undated
Eliza Gray, Why Bill Cosby Admitted Under Oath to Getting Drugs to Have Sex With Women, Time, July 9, 2015
Harry Low and Tom Heyden, The rise and fall of Quaaludes, BBC News Magazine, July 9, 2015
Larisa Epatko, What are Quaaludes, and how do they work? PBS NewsHour, July 7, 2015
wiseGEEK, What are Quaaludes?
Justin T. Gass, Ph.D., Quaaludes, New York: Infobase Publishing, 2008
Bay City Roller Les McKeown has been living a secret gay life, Daily Mirror, February 18, 2009

Monday, June 22, 2015

Apple #713: Nutrition Data Labels

I have developed a fondness for a rather terrible junk food.  I've always liked Fritos, especially when inserted into a grilled cheese sandwich.  But now they've got these newfangled souped-up Fritos -- the Honey BBQ Flavor Twists.  The name itself should tell you this is processed pseudo pfood from the pit of badness, but apparently, I don't care.

The twistiness makes the Fritos extra-crunchy and therefore very satisfying, and the honey barbecue flavor, which is probably an affront to all genuine barbecues everywhere, is such a diabolical combination of sweet and spicy that I keep going back for more.

I've been trying to cut back on the sugar these days, and I assumed these junky temptresses would have tons of sugar in them.  I mean, they've got "Honey" in their name.  But when I checked the nutrition label, it says only 1 gram of sugar per serving, where one serving equals 23 chips.

Nutrition Facts for Fritos Honey BBQ Favor Twists.  Recipe for for my downfall, apparently.
(Image from Frito-Lay)

23 chips is a fairly good amount.  I can usually hold myself to about that many per junk-out session with the Fritos.  1 gram of sugar is not that much.  In fact, it's surprisingly little.  Especially when the ingredients include
  • Corn -- among the sweetest of the vegetables. It is, after all, the source of corn syrup.
  • Sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Honey solids
  • Molasses solids

Either all these sweetening agents are present in very small amounts, or somebody's not doing their math right.

So then of course I had to wonder, who puts together this nutrition data, anyway?  Is it the food manufacturers themselves who say how much of x, y, & z is in their stuff, or is somebody else looking at the food they make and tallying up the goods & the bads?  If it's the food manufacturers themselves, what's to prevent them from lying through their high fructose corn syrup-coated teeth?

Never fear, the Apple Lady has got the skinny for you.

  • It's the FDA that is in charge of the Nutrition Data label.  But when I say "in charge of," I mean they are the ones who say what the label looks like, and what information must be included on it -- you have to say how much trans fats are in your food, how much sodium, how much protein, etc., etc.
  • By the way, they've proposed changing the way the Nutrition Data label looks.  An example of the current label is shown below on the left, and an example of the proposed new label is on the right. 

(sample Nutrition Facts labels, current and forthcoming, from the FDA)

  • They want to make the information that's most important to people bigger and easier to read -- calories in big print, as is the serving size, and the % daily values are closer to the thing they're measuring.  I think it's an improvement. 
  • Speaking of serving size, the FDA are also going to change the way servings sizes are calculated, to reflect what's more realistic.  Instead of making serving sizes say how much of a thing you should eat or drink, they're going to say how much of a thing you actually will eat or drink.  So for a 20-ounce Coke, for example, instead of saying that's a serving and a half or whatever amount they now use, soon they'll say it is one serving, since most people drink the entire 20 ounces as a serving.  Which will mean the amount of sugar per serving displayed on the label of a 20-ounce Coke will most definitely go up.

The exterior of one of the FDA's buildings at its campus headquarters in Silver Spring, MD
(Photo from the FDA's Flickr page)

One of the labs at the FDA. This particular lab is used for drug evaluation, but this gives you an idea of the level of technology the FDA is using on a regular basis to carry out its multitudinous operations.
(Photo from the FDA's Flickr page)

  • The FDA also dictates the way percentages of daily values are calculated (you would expect this to be obvious and simple, but it's not), and they stipulate how the samples of a particular food are to be determined, how many must be sampled, what math to use to get rid of outliers in the sample, and so on.
  • I want to pause on this concept of sampling for a moment.  Let's say your product is dried plums.  You grow your plums in several different orchards in different locations around the country.  The plums grown in California during a drought will be slightly different -- maybe smaller with a darker & thicker skin -- than the plums grown in Michigan during an especially rainy season -- maybe larger and with more moisture -- and those will again differ slightly from the plums grown in Idaho during an especially sunny time -- maybe these will have a lighter-colored skin but darker flesh.  
  • Because of these variations, the nutritional content of the plums in each of these regions will also vary slightly.  Maybe the droughty California plums will have a higher fiber content, while the rainy Michigan plums have more sugar, while the sunny Idaho plums have more Vitamin C.
  • The FDA therefore has rules about how to account for such variations in crops.  Either you use a database that's already been complied for your product (in this case, plums) that has been let's say "normalized" to take into account all the variations -- growing season, have the crops been transported and how far and for how long, in what soil were they grown, how were they processed, and so on.  Or if the FDA doesn't have a database already, you can develop your own, but the FDA has very strict rules about how you do that.
  • So, ultimately, the FDA is in charge of what the label looks like, how the samples are compiled, and what math is used to arrive at the numbers that go on the label.
  • But the real meat & potatoes of the business -- how the food itself is tested and analyzed -- the FDA is not in charge of that.
  • The testing & analysis of the food is the responsibility of the food manufacturer.  In the case of our Honey BBQ Twisty Fritos, that would be Frito-Lay.
  • However, most food manufacturers do not test & analyze their own foods.  They don't have the expertise or capabilities to do that.  Most food manufacturers hire a laboratory to do the testing & analysis for them.
  • Who are the food testing laboratories?  They are legion, across the country and around the world.
  • Think of all the things that foods can be tested for.  Here is a short list:
    • Nutritional data -- fats, vitamins, minerals, calories, etc.
    • Presence of toxins -- bacteria, salmonella, fungal toxins, etc.
    • Organically grown or not, and the effect on nutrition
    • Influence of pesticides or herbicides
    • Presence of GMOs or influence of GMOs on nutrition
  • That gives you one clue as to how many food testing labs there are out there.  

An FDA inspector and a store employee conducting a pretty simple on-site test to determine the pH of rice.  With a pH of < 4.6, the rice can be left at room temperature while the sushi, right, is prepared.
(Photo from the FDA's Food Safety Flickr page)

  • Maybe a better indicator of the number of food testing labs is the range of methods that can be used to analyze food. Those, too, are now legion.
    • One of my favorite methods is by incineration.  That's right, they burn the food.  Then they analyze the ash. The ash can tell them lots of things, such as levels of carbon or potassium, or the alkalinity of the food.  Two notable observations: if they're analyzing a sugar or a gelatin and there's an unusually high amount of ash after burning, it means the sugar is of low quality.  Or when analyzing other types of food, a high amount of ash can indicate "the presence of an adulterant," like dirt or sand.
    • Most methods these days are extremely advanced, and the names for those methods use very big words.  I've listed some of these techniques along with a super-simplified description of how the technique is used to identify a food's chemical components.
      • mass spectrometry -- identifies chemicals by their mass
      • nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy -- by the magnetic fields surrounding the nuclei
      • polymerase chain reaction -- by their DNA replicated on a large scale
      • gas chromatography -- by the gases present when the material is vaporized
      • high-performance liquid chromatography -- by the way each component interacts with another liquid
      • capillary electrophoresis -- by the way the ions react after voltage is applied
      • supercritical fluid extraction -- by the way the compounds behave in the presence of a non-organic solvent super-heated and super-pressurized so it is between a liquid and a gas

This is what a mass spectrometry machine looks like, circa 2005.
(Photo by Nayu Kim on Flickr)

  • You can see how a food manufacturer would not possess the expertise or the equipment to run such tests.
  • The methods the labs use to run their tests are stipulated, for the most part, by the industry associations to which they belong.  There are several such associations -- the American Association of Cereal Chemists, the American Oil Chemists Society, the Institute of Food Technologists, to name a few.

  • The AOAC is a global association of academics, government agency members, laboratories, instrument manufacturers, and other providers of chemical technology services and equipment.  Since 1884, these members have contributed their knowledge and experience toward the development of standards of chemical analysis -- not just for testing food for nutritional content, but they also test supplements & vitamins, infant formula, livestock feed, fertilizer, soil & water, and human & animal pharmaceuticals.
  • They publish what seems to be the industry bible that describes the best way to run all sorts of tests, whichever method you're using, or for whatever component(s) you want to identify.  Their guide, Official Methods of Analysis, is the must-have reference tool for the industry (though the current edition, the 19th, is sold out at the moment).
  • It's all voluntary, people's participation in this association and their contribution to the development of better & better standards.  But if they screwed up their own standards, they'd only be making things harder for themselves.  Having standards is also a way they can tell which companies are doing a good job and which companies are doing shoddy work and so might be giving their fellow chemists a bad name.
  • So it's in an industry association's best interests to come up with the best practices that they can and to keep everybody as informed about those best methods.  This is why the FDA seems to feel pretty confident in relying on the chemical & food research community to develop and maintain their own methods for analyzing foods.
  • So, to recap, a food manufacturer hires one of these food analysis labs that are most likely a member of the AOAC or similar organization.  The lab runs whatever super-duper tests they have on the food -- in our case, the FritoLay Honey BBQ Flavor Twists--and then they report the results of their multiple & complex tests to the food manufacturer.
  • It is up to the food manufacturer to make sure that the information on the Nutrition Data label is accurate and is presented in line with the FDA's regulations (the math is done correctly, etc.).
  • The manufacturer sends the information about the label to their packager, the packager prints the labels on the packaging & ships out the product, the grocery store puts it on the shelf, we pick it up, read the label, say, "Only one gram of sugar? Heck, that's hardly anything," and buy the stupid bag of Fritos.

The Frito-Lay Honey BBQ Flavor Twist packaging being produced.  The material used is a pre-printed plastic film which extends product shelf life. Frito-Lay's Fayetteville, TN plant is working to find more ways to recycle this material.  Their scraps from making potato chips are sold to a dog food manufacturer.
(Photo from Maintenance Technology)

  • But the FDA isn't entirely and totally trusting of this process.  They will randomly spot-check a manufacturer's products.  They'll run their own tests and compare the results against the Nutrition Data label. (The FDA follows the AOAC's Methods in conducting their tests, by the way.)
  • The FDA is in charge of most of the foods we eat.  The USDA polices all things meat & poultry -- slaughtered, processed, packaged meats, chicken, and eggs -- and the FDA covers everything else.  It's the USDA's policy that if the stuff that's actually in the package is within 20% of what the label says, the food is in compliance.  I can't find anything that says so exactly, but I'm assuming that the FDA has a similar tolerance allowance in the neighborhood of 20%.
  • If what's in the package is more than 20% different than what the label says, then you're out of compliance and . . . I don't know what happens next.  All the out-of-compliance stuff I found was for really serious things, like foodborne illnesses (salmonella, listeria, etc.) which can be really dangerous and which were found to be present because some element of the company's operation was out of compliance with the FDA's requirements for how you're supposed to set up your shop.  
  • I couldn't find any discussion of occasions when what was in a package of Fritos differed in some way greater than 20% of what the label said, and what the FDA did about it.
  • I suppose there's probably a hierarchy of penalties -- fines, requirements to change your labels and maybe your procedures, and then if the problem persists, maybe you lose your approval to sell your foodstuffs.  But I'm just guessing at this part of it.

FDA food safety inspectors examining cans of infant formula to see if they're within their expiration date.
(Photo from the FDA's Food Safety Flickr page)

  • So, what does this all mean about my Fritos nutrition data label?  I think it means that, unless I'm willing to go out and get my own mass spectrometer and run my own spectrometry tests, I should probably accept that the industry professionals know what they're doing -- within a 20% range of accuracy, and for a normalized sample of Fritos.  
  • It is possible I could have gotten a rogue bag of Fritos that has more than 20%  of what the label says of sugar in it, which would amount to > 1.2 grams of sugar per serving as opposed to 1 gram per serving.  But the odds of that happening are not high.  
  • And I'd probably eat the crunchy twisty Fritos anyway.

Mmm, look how crunchy.
(Screenshot from this video of someone eating a bag of the Honey BBQ Flavor Twists)

USDA, Frequently Asked Questions, What are the regulations for creating food product and nutrition labels?
US FDA, Guidance for Industry: Nutritional Labeling Manual - A Guide for Developing and Using Data Bases
US FDA, Proposed Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label
US FDA, Compliance Manuals
Leo M. L. Nollet, Handbook of Food Analysis: Physical characterization and nutrient analysis
AOAC International 
Alejandro Cifuentes, Food Analysis: Present, Future, and Foodomics, ISRN Analytical Chemistry, Volume 2012, Doc ID 801607
The National Restaurant Association, The rise of nutrition analysis
Chem Guide UK, The Mass Spectrometer

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Apple #712: Brain Fog after Exercise

Earlier today, I played tennis.  Not a real game, just hitting the ball around with a friend for about an hour and a half.  This is the second time I've played tennis in I'm not sure how long.  Twenty years?  I'm embarrassed that such a number like that exists in my life.  Anyway, it's been a very long time, and I am woefully out of practice.

Also, as my body is reminding me, it is not used to being so active & athletic.  Most of the time, my exercise consists of hour-plus-long walks in the woods or equally lengthy bike rides.  Neither of those things is as challenging as running down a little bouncy yellow ball and trying to hit it back over the net with speed and accuracy.  Or so my aching thighs and biceps are telling me.

Heather Watson, at Wimbledon 2014. I would like you to notice how muscular her arms and legs are. This is how fit you have to be to play tennis well. This is not me.
(Photo from Celeb Mafia)

The last time my friend & I played, it was a pretty hot day.  When I got home, I took a shower and passed out for about three hours.  Wiped. Out.  Today, it wasn't that hot, so I thought I wouldn't find myself so completely out of commission afterward.  And that was true; it wasn't as bad.  No total blank-out sleep, but I did take a couple of naps.  What's relevant to this here Daily Apple is that I have felt fogged in the head most of the day.

One of many depictions of brain fog. This one, made with Microsoft Paint, seems especially apt.
(Image by Lydia King)

I've been trying to settle on a Daily Apple topic for, what, three hours now.  I've read news articles, found a couple of things that seemed like good candidates, read a page or two about the topic, but just could not see how I could contribute anything further to the information available.  I chalk this up to the brain fog: it's not that I doubt my abilities, I'm just having trouble visualizing what I could do.

This one might be my favorite.
(Image from Tara Skye Golden)

I looked up brain fog and exercise, and I got a lot of flotsam & jetsam.  It takes some thinking at a higher level than my brain wants to do right now to sort out what's relevant and useful from what's not.  But I'll give it a bit of a go.  We'll see what comes out.

  • Brain fog is not any kind of official medical term.  But it's something most of us have experienced at some time or other.  It can be characterized by
    • inability to focus or concentrate
    • poor memory retention or recollection
    • difficulty learning new information
    • you tend to view a task as more difficult than you otherwise would
    • difficulty expressing thoughts articulately
    • disorientation
    • lack of mental clarity
  • In other words, your brain just won't work as well as it normally does.

(Image from Chronic Curve)

  • All kinds of things can contribute to brain fog.  Here are some of those things.  I will alphabetize them, because I'm not a medical-enough person to tell you which causes are more or less common, and the alphabetizing will be a good exercise for my cloudy cortex.
    • ADHD
    • Anxiety
    • Brain injuries or brain tumors
    • Chemotherapy
    • Chronic fatigue syndrome
    • Dehydration
    • Depression
    • Diabetes
    • Electrolyte imbalance following exercise
    • Fibromyalgia
    • Food allergies, especially gluten
    • Hormonal imbalance
    • Low blood sugar
    • Lack of sleep (guilty)
    • Lyme's disease
    • Lupus
    • Menopause 
    • Multiple sclerosis
    • PTSD
    • Schizophrenia
    • Stress
    • Substance abuse or withdrawal from substance abuse
    • Thyroid disorders
  • I like the alphabetical list because it puts big scary things next to fairly common things -- schizophrenia next to stress, for example.  I find it interesting that common things like dehydration or low blood sugar can have an effect that is similar to one of the effects of a big scary thing like schizophrenia or a brain tumor.
  • That said, I'm sure the level or duration of brain fog probably does differ, depending on which of these causes is involved.
  • I suspect I'm not saying this right.  Hopefully you will know what I mean.

(Image from As My Body Attacks Itself)

  • One of the main points here is that a lot of us experience brain fog, for any one of a multitude of possible reasons.  
  • In my case, I've got the fog probably because of a suite of three or four causes: after-effects of exercise, dehydration, and lack of sleep.  I would kind of like to go to bed right now and sleep for a day or two.
  • Here's one interesting thing I read about dehydration: some researchers studied what would happen to women who exercised and got dehydrated versus women who exercised and did not get dehydrated.  The researchers tested the women's mental abilities before and after exercising to determine how their brain function was affected. 
  • The women who were dehydrated reported
    • less vigor
    • more fatigue
    • increased perception of task difficulty
    • headaches that were more severe than those not dehydrated
  • The other interesting tidbit is that the women who were dehydrated didn't know that they were.  This doesn't surprise me because I remember reading elsewhere that it doesn't take much for your body to be effectively dehydrated.  The symptoms of dehydration can be very severe -- think of the bearded thirsty guy crawling through the desert -- but you can be a very long way from that point and still be dehydrated.

Thirsty? If so, take a tip from this cat and have a drink of water.
(Photo from VetriScience Laboratories)

  • Signs of mild dehydration are:
    • Thirst
    • Dry, sticky mouth
    • Sleepiness
  • (That last one is especially interesting in this context, isn't it?)
  • I remember reading some doctor saying somewhere, "If you're thirsty, you're dehydrated."  Surprising, but true.
  • But I want to know more about how or why exercise reduces your mental capacity.  
  • A lot of guys who lift talk about "CNS fatigue" or having trouble paying attention the day after a heavy lifting session.  
  • Some say they try to avoid it by taking naps before and after a lifting session, or they eat more (there's a debate as to whether proteins or carbs will be more helpful in this situation).  
  • So it's very much a real thing. But why does it happen?

(Image from Alaska Health Improvement Center

  • [looks up more stuff]
  • Well, I can find all sorts of things that say exercise is good for the brain.  Stimulates blood flow, which means more oxygen gets carried to the brain, which encourages mental function and also possibly the generation of new brain tissue.  Stimulates endorphins, which reduce levels of depression, and can give you a "runner's high" feeling afterward.  Improves cardiovascular function, helps control blood sugar levels, as well as of course helping to burn fat and reduce weight.
  • I can also find things that say that too much exercise, as in people who train intensely for really long periods of time -- people training for the Iron Man, for example -- can be bad for you.  Your body can't cope with the amount of stress all that exercise is putting on it, so the immune system gets overtaxed.  Regular high-intensity exercisers may find that they're getting colds and flu a lot, or they're developing problems with their heart rate, or they may even suffer a stroke.
  • I am nowhere near having that kind of exercise problem. 

Exercising so hard this happens can actually be bad for you.  It can make your body vulnerable to illnesses and injuries.
(Photo originally from Lava Magazine, sourced from Iron Man Finish Line Collapse)

  • Ah, here's one article.  "Researchers suggested that too much exercise may cause the brain to “max out” in the production of BDNF [brain-derived neurotrophic factor] and neurons, and this may prevent learning."
    • (BDNF, by the way, is a protein that supports the health of synapses in the brain and also protects and helps grow new neurons.)
  • In other words, the more physically fit mice had reduced mental capacity compared to the less active mice.
  • This runs counter to expectations because most of the time, exercise increases your mental acuity.  But that's in the short-term.  This study was looking at bred-into-them traits over the long term. 
  • So this study doesn't really answer my question. But maybe the business of there being an overload of BDNF may apply in the immediate short-term, too.

Brain fog, someecards style
(Image posted somewhere on this Beat Brain Fog Pinterest page)

  • [looks up more stuff.]
  • OK, I can't find anything that tells me what I want to know.  Even so, I think I've read enough to formulate a theory of my own.  Here goes.
  • A moderate level of exercise is good.  Gets all the juices flowing, improves your mood, sharpens mental abilities -- in general does all sorts of wonderful things for your mind and body.
  • But when you do too much exercise, then you can run into problems.  This can mean too much exercise over the long term, or too much exercise in a single session.
    • Lots of those body builders report that if they have a really intense session one day, whether or not they get the brain fog the next day depends on how in shape they are already.  If they've kind of fallen out of shape for a while and then go back to it hard, they get the brain fog.  Or if they're at a good, consistent level of lifting but they don't give their body sufficient recovery time in between sessions, then they'll get the brain fog the next day. 
  • And here's my theory about why this happens.  This is completely and totally my theory -- not even that, it's actually only a hypothesis. And not a scientific one, at that.  
  • I'm thinking that exercise that reaches a level of intensity that your body is not prepared for because of factors such as
    • not enough sleep
    • not enough carbs to fuel the body & the brain
    • your body just isn't used to that much exercise
  • then your body doesn't have enough juice to power both the body and the brain.  So your body makes some tough decisions about where to divert the resources it does have.  And since it's always going to choose that which is absolutely necessary for survival first, it's going to feed the most basic functions first and let the nice-to-have stuff slide for a bit.  Higher brain function probably falls into the nice-to-have category as opposed to, oh, keeping your blood flowing and your heart beating, regulating your body temperature, sending food to your cells, and so on. 
  • So while your muscles are twitching and your heart rate is returning to normal and your muscles are trying to rebuild, your brain is temporarily left in the zombie zone.
  • So, what to do if you find yourself in the post-exercise brain fog?  Here are my suggestions:
    • drink water
    • sleep
    • eat
    • drink water
    • sleep
    • eat
    • rest
  • That's all I've got.  Thank you and good night.

This is more like me. Not enough sleep.  Cause I got stuff to do. 
(Photo from Inquisitr)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Apple #711: Do Ladybugs Bite?

If you've been reading the series of entries on how I put together these here Daily Apples, you'll already be a little bit familiar with this topic (I used this topic as an example in Part 2 of Behind the Daily Apple).  But it seems to me that the best way to finish the question, how do I do what I do, is to show you the final result.  So here is the final result.

So here's the question I said I would take up: what's up with the biting ladybugs?  To get a bit more specific, where did they come from?  Did they always bite, or is this a new thing?  Let me insert one more general question ahead of that: Do ladybugs bite?

  • Short answer: Yes. And it's kind of our own fault.

Asian ladybug. This kind bites.
(Photo from GardenWeb)
  • This is a case of unintended consequences. Or put another way, people not really thinking through the effects of their actions.
  • As early as 1916, again in the 1960s, and yet again in the 1970s, people in the US brought ladybugs from Asia here to this country because those Asian ladybugs ate aphids.  
    • What better way to control this pest problem? they said with excitement. No pesticides necessary!  We just drop a bag of Asian ladybugs on these pecan trees, or on these rose bushes (that's what the ladybugs were sold for in my home town, back in the day), and they'll eat up the aphids!  No more aphid problem!  Sure, maybe we've got a few extra ladybugs.  So what?  They're harmless.  They're ladybugs!
  • Well.  After enough years of dropping bags full of ladybugs onto pecan trees and rose bushes and whatever else, the Asian ladybugs made themselves at home here in this country.  They "jumped ship" as one source put it, meaning they did not die off at the end of the season but rather started building little ladybug homes, having little ladybug babies, and raising their offspring, who then went and had more little ladybug babies.

Multicolored Asian lady beetle females can lay up to 3,800 eggs in one season, sometimes in batches of 20 to 30 eggs per day.  Lots of ladybugs making lots of ladybug babies, and you'll get a pretty big ladybug population pretty fast.
(Photo from The Ohio State University OARDC)

  • They were "observed in the wild" -- meaning there was a large enough colony living on their own, outside of any farmer's or gardener's observation or assistance -- in New Orleans in 1988.  Since then, the Asian ladybug has spread like crazy across most of the United States and Canada.
  • They are now considered established in the Northwest, the Northeast, and the Midwest.
  • Why is this such a problem?  After all, they're only ladybugs, right?
  • To answer that, we have to know a little more about this particular kind of ladybug.
  • The Asian ladybug, a.k.a. . . .
    • Harmonia axyridis
    • multicolored Asian lady beetle
    • Asian lady beetle
    • Halloween lady beetle
    • Japanese lady beetle
    • harlequin ladybird
    • many-named ladybird
    • multivariate ladybird
    • pumpkin ladybird
    • Japanese ladybird
    • southern ladybird
  • . . . eats aphids.  I mean, they really go to town on the aphids.  They were first brought here to eat the aphids on pecan trees, but then they discovered all the soybean fields all across the south and the Midwest.  Rife throughout those soybean fields were soybean aphids.  A smorgasbord to the multicolored Asian lady beetle.  And they went to town, munching up the soybean aphids like nobody's business.

Pictures of soybean aphids en masse -- or any swarming bugs -- give me the creepy crawlies, so I won't post a photo of them here.  But if you want to see what soybean aphids look like, take a look at Purdue University's page about them. Or just trust me when I say they're little yellow-green bugs and they generally cover the undersides of soybean leaves.

  • So, that's good, right?  Multicolored Asian lady beetles eat lots of soybean aphids, and that helps our soybeans grow, farmers are happy, we're happy.  Right?
  • Well, the multicolored Asian lady beetle does some other things too.  They migrate each year in the fall.  And before they migrate, they all get together to make their migration plans.  OK, I don't know if that's what they're doing, but they do combine to form great colonies of lady beetles.
  • They like to find tall sheltered places, like the where the wall of a house meets the roof, or the side of a mountain, or the sides of tall buildings.  They generally prefer light-colored buildings as places to hang out.

Again, I am not a fan of pictures of swarming bugs, but if you want to see what a whole bunch of multicolored Asian lady beetles congregating on the arm of a sofa looks like, be my guest.

  • The way they call to other multicolored Asian lady beetles is by releasing pheromones.  In most cases, you and I can't consciously smell pheromones.  But we can smell the pheromones of the multicolored Asian lady beetle.  And the pheromones smell terrible.  People describe it as "foul," "unpleasant," or "acrid." 
  • That might not be such a big deal, if there were only one multicolored Asian lady beetle on your arm.  But hordes of them swarming on the side of your house?  If you smashed them with a broom, those stinky pheromones (or perhaps it's another substance, one designed to ward off predators) would come out of the leg joints of the smashed lady beetles, and you'd have a pretty stinky mess.
  • And mess is right, because not only do the pheromones stink, they can also stain.  So if they're in your house and they're climbing up your aunt's beige silk curtains or they're crawling across your pearl-colored Asian carpet, perhaps thinking finally they're home, and you smash them, now you've got stinky lady beetle juice all over your aunt's lovely curtains and your pearl-and-now-lady-beetle-colored Asian carpet.

The stain of smashed Asian lady beetles.  All over your nice carpet. 
(Photo from University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment)

  • So what, you say.  So they stink a little bit.  So they might make a stain if I smash them.  I just won't smash them.  I'll seal up the cracks and crevices of my house so they can't get in, they'll stay out side, I'll let them eat all my aphids, and we'll all be happy.
  • OK, well, they also bite.  The lady beetles native to the US do not bite.  But these foreign imports do.

This is the biting kind of ladybug (the multicolored Asian lady beetle).  You can identify it as such by the M or W shape on the lighter colored back of its neck behind the head.
(Photo from Maclean's in CA)

The multicolored Asian lady beetle can range in color from yellow to orange to russet, and the number of spots on their backs may vary.  But the one thing that is consistent is that M or W shape on the back of the neck.  You will also know it by its bite.
(Photo from Michigan State University)

  • Eh, big deal to that too, you say.  It's just a little bug.  The bite might sting a bit at first, but it's not like a mosquito bite, or a bee sting.  It's not going to itch and itch or really hurt or anything like that . . . right?
  • Um, sort of wrong.  It's true that the bite from a multicolored Asian lady beetle is more like an annoying pinch than anything especially painful.  But some people can have an allergic reaction.  And the way this allergy expresses itself is in the form of rhinoconjunctivitis, more commonly known as pink eye. 
  • If you've ever had pink eye, you know it's really unpleasant.  And people tend to back away from you like you have the plague.  If you watched Bob Costas covering the Olympics when he had pink eye, you know what I'm talking about.

Bob Costas, with pink eye.  He didn't get his from a reaction to a ladybug's bite, but let his painful-looking eyeballs be a cautionary tale to you nonetheless.
(Photo from Faboverfifty

  • Some sources also suggest that allergic reactions to the bite of a multicolored Asian lady beetle could trigger asthma.  And that is most certainly not fun.
  • Another problem is one which, in general, we hear about a lot when people talk about invasive species: lack of predators, and the inability of native species to compete.  In parts of southeast Michigan for example, the multicolored Asian lady beetle has so aggressively out-competed the native lady beetles for food, the native species are now severely threatened.
  • We're starting to learn enough about how ecosystems work to know that if even one plant or animal is threatened or on the verge of disappearing, that can have a huge ripple effect up the food chain.  So it's probable in another five or ten years or so, scientists will start telling us about some frog or bird or other creature that relies on the native ladybirds for food but can't find any to eat because there are only the noxious multicolored Asian lady beetles flying around, and so now the frog or bird or whatever it is has become at risk.

Here is an excellent drawing of the food chain involving a ladybug. The ladybug eats the aphid, the spider eats the ladybug, and the bird eats the spider.
(Drawing by Joshua Campes, posted at LALB)

  • Putting all this another way, the Asian ladybugs became an invasive species in this country -- and we were the ones responsible for the invasion.  You know, good intentions.  Trying to control a pest without using pesticide.  But unhappy results.
  • One final tidbit: the multicolored Asian lady beetle is cannibalistic.  That is, some of them eat their own larvae or their own eggs.  This seems to be an inherited trait, first of all.  But it also seems to be influenced by the number of aphids.  Lots of aphids, less cannibalism.  Few aphids, and they eat their young.  
  • I'm not saying we should bring in bags of some other aphid-eater from some other country to try to force the multicolored Asian lady beetle to eat their young. I'm just saying, something else to think about.  When you get a bite from a ladybug, did that ladybug use those same jaws to eat its own offspring?
  • Changes how you feel about ladybugs a little bit, doesn't it?

The ladybug. Cute classroom clipart, or vicious child-eating insect?
(Clip art from

Creature Control, Asian Lady Beetle
University of Minnesota Extension, Multicolored Asian lady beetles
Michigan State University Diagnostic Services, Multicolored Asian Ladybeetle
R L Koch, The multicolored Asian lady beetle, Harmonia axyridis: A review of its biology, uses in biological control, and non-target impacts J. Insect Sci., 2003, 3:32
Michael F. Potter et al., University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment, Asian Lady Beetle Infestation of Structures
Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Biological Control, Harmonia axyridis