June 14, 2019 § Leave a comment
For most people, an uneventful international flight is a good international flight. That wasn’t the case for Ontario native Ippolit Bodounov when he traveled from Russia to Canada last October. His problems started when a Canada Border Services Agency beagle sniffed out a strange scent in his luggage. Actually, his problems started pre flight, when he decided to load a grocery bag with 4,788 wild leeches and put it in his carry on.
Bodounov’s story made the rounds last year when he was caught, and then again in May when he was fined C$15,000 for the illegal importation. Importing leeches, in and of itself, isn’t wrong—they’re often used for medicinal purposes (their saliva contains blood thinners, anti-clotting agents, blood-vessel dilators, and an anesthetic). But the species of leeches brought in by Bodounov are internationally regulated and he lacked the necessary permits. So remember that the next time you think about . . . nah, just forget it.
Hearing about leeches brought to my mind a passage in the book Exodus to a Hidden Valley, which tells the story of the Morse family, missionaries to the Lisu in Burma. They were ordered by the military government to leave the country by the end of December 1965, but rather than leave the Lisu behind, the Morses relocated to a remote area in Burma near the Indian border, away from government control. In describing their trek through the jungle, Eugene Morse writes,
There is no really effective weapon against the leech, Instead of keeping them away, bundling up often tends to hide leeches from your sight. During the rains we learned that even wearing shoes can be a hazard, because leeches hiding in a shoe can turn your foot into a bloody mess before you feel their bite. Leeches dread fire and ashes, and many American British soldiers virtually chain-smoked their way through the Burma campaign of World War II in an effort to keep them at bay. But we learned the Lisu technique of scraping them off with a sharp machete, a process that had to be repeated every few minutes to keep them from sucking blood. On one occasion my brother Robert helped his wife scrape 102 leeches off just one of her legs after she had been walking only five minutes. The mobility of these wormlike creatures is incredible. You can look at what seems to be a totally quiet area of jungle foliage, wave your hand, and suddenly find leeches crawling out from under every leaf, where they have been hiding from the rain. They almost seem to jump the last half inch or so to reach any available piece of warm flesh. If a man opens his fly to relieve himself along a jungle trail, later he will very likely find that at least two or three leeches have managed to make their way to his groin.
Once a leech has attached itself to you, it injects an anticoagulant into the surrounding area of flesh. It drinks until it swells up like a miniature sausage and then falls off. But because of the anticoagulant, you continue to bleed, and anybody who gets a number of leech bites is likely to suffer seriously from loss of blood. Nobody who has lived in the jungle during the rainy season underestimates the danger of leeches or ignores the importance of seeing to it that everything, from houses to latrines and other buildings, is made as leech proof as possible.
In the jungle opening one’s fly can be dangerous. Got it. But as it turns out, opening one’s mouth—or nose—can be risky, too. In 2017, a young Australian man claimed that while eating a pre-packaged salad from a Coles supermarket, a leech attached itself to his tongue. And he has video evidence. “I tried to get it off with a fork,” he tells The Daily Mail Australia, “and it just exploded in my mouth.”
Want more visuals? A report in the Turkish Archives of Ortohinolaryngology shows a leech on the base of a young lady’s tongue, the result of drinking unfiltered spring water. BBC published photos of a leech removed from the nose of a backpacker from Edinburgh, who came back from Southeast Asia with the unwelcome souvenir, which had grown to three inches long over a month before the traveller realized what was going on. And a YouTube video shows the extraction of a veeeery large leech from the nostril of a man from southern China. It had possibly latched on while the man was swimming in a river.
All this got me wondering if anyone makes a habit of putting leeches in their mouths on purpose, as in, for food. From what I’ve found, the answer is a definitive Maybe. In season four of Dirty Jobs, host Mike Rowe spends time with some some leech trappers in Minnesota. After they walk him through the collection and sorting process of the soon-to-be bait, Rowe asks them if there’s anything else he needs to know. “We occasionally eat ’em,” one answers.
Rowe later asks Jason, son of one of the leech wranglers, “Now look, man. Be honest with me. Leeches, are they served in fine restaurants up here in northern Minnesota, or anywhere for that matter?”
“Not too much in the United States just because of the whole food standards and everything,” Jason replies, “but over in Asia, it’s good to go.” He then proceeds to de-vein some leeches and deep fry them. Jason and the cameraman eat some raw, while Rowe waits until they’re cooked, claiming, “You know what? It’s pretty good.”
“But over in Asia, it’s good to go.” Really? Actually, I’m thinking probably not. Asians do eat a lot of things that aren’t normally on Western menus, but it’s a too easy go-to to claim that they eat anything and everything.
In truth, if you’re looking for a good leech recipe, look no farther than Europe. In one episode of Heston’s Feasts, British chef Heston Blumenthal hears from a Transylvanian historian on how to prepare “leeches swollen in goose blood.” Good may be stretching it a bit. After sampling the chewy result, Blumenthal declares, “That’s just congealed goose blood with a leech-membrane casing, and that to me, no matter how I try and wrap that up, it’s not appetizing.”
Dina Fine Maron, “Why Was This Man’s Luggage Stuffed with 5,000 Leeches?” National Geographic, February 10, 2019; “Leech Smuggling: Canada Fines Man after 4,700 Carried on Plane,” BBC News, May 28, 2019; Eugene Morse, Exodus to a Hidden Valley, Reader’s Digest Press, 1974; Nic White and Josh Hanrahan, “Man Says He Found a LEECH in a Coles Salad—and Only Noticed when the Creature Attached Itself to His Tongue,” Daily Mail, January 14, 2017)
April 17, 2019 § Leave a comment
“Bauhaus Movement: Every Time You Sit Down, Thank the German Art School”
Every time you plop yourself down in a chair at work, rush to your favorite seat in class, or lounge at your desk at home, you can think the Bauhaus Movement. The Bauhaus was originally a German arts school started in 1919, whose teachings eventually developed into an art and thought movement that inspired a generation of artisans, architects, and designers around the world. [April 12] was the centennial celebration of Bauhaus, and Google marked the occasion with a front-page doodle.
Hungarian furniture designer Marcel Breuer was one of the first and youngest students at the Bauhaus. He was quickly recognized for his carpentry skills, and in short order became the head of the school’s carpentry shop. Eventually, Breuer designed two pieces of furniture that changed chair design forever: the Cesca Chair and the Wassily Chair.
The Cesca was the first chair made out of a combination of tubular steel and caned seating that was also mass-produced, and has since become a common chair in offices and homes. . . .
[The Cesca] eventually became the blueprint for countless chairs after it. Cara McCarty, the former associate curator at the department of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art considered it to be a pivotal invention in furniture design.
“It’s among the 10 most important chairs of the twentieth century,” she told The New York Times in 1991.
Danny Paez, Inverse, April 12, 2019
December 13, 2018 § Leave a comment
One of Sunday’s 60 Minutes segments was on the effects that continual screen time has on children’s brains. In particular, they looked at a study currently being conducted by the National Institutes of Health, a study looking at brain scans of 11,000 nine- and ten-year-olds over the course of a decade.
One of the experts interviewed on the show was Tristan Harris, a former Google product manager. His comments were actually made last year for another story on 60 Minutes titled “What Is ‘Brain Hacking’? Tech Insiders on Why You Should Care.” In the clip, Harris talks about the competition among developers to find ways to hook us on their apps. He calls it “a race to the bottom of the brain stem.”
(Here’s the entire segment from 2017. It’s well worth watching. But since it’s more than 13 minutes long, maybe you should keep reading and come back to it. I don’t want you to give up before you get to the second video below.)
So where do we find the off ramp from the highway to addiction? Gamification guru Gabe Zicherman tells the news show that we shouldn’t expect the creators of the technology to show us the way, as they’re not inherently inclined to make their products less habit forming. “Asking tech companies, asking content creators to be less good at what they do feels like a ridiculous ask,” he says. “It feels impossible. And also it feels anti-capitalistic. This isn’t the system we live in.”
Hmmm . . . maybe capitalism can produce solutions of its own. Take, for instance, this example of capitalism filtered through a Swedish furniture company in Taiwan. It uses technology to thwart technology. And it uses smartphones to get things cooking—literally. (Thanks for the link, Peter.)
July 15, 2018 § Leave a comment
“South African-Lithuanian Stuffed Matzah Balls”
9. Divide the matzah meal mixture into 8-10 balls of equal size.
10. Flatten the balls, then and place 1 tsp of meat filling in the center of each. Enclose the filling, pinch the edges together and form into balls.
11. Place the matzah balls into the rapidly boiling salted water and simmer 20 minutes.
12. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
13. Drain the matzah balls and place in a pan greased with chicken fat; cover with remaining 4 tsp chicken fat and sprinkle with cinnamon.
14. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until slightly browned.
May 27, 2018 § Leave a comment
Nöden är uppfinningarnas moder.
That’s Swedish for “Necessity is the mother of invention” (unless I’m just completely mistaken).
For Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin, industrial design students at Sweden’s Lund University in 2005, the necessity was a new law that required children under the age of 15 to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle. They understood that many people, including kids, don’t like wearing traditional bike helmet’s, so they wanted to create something that people would enjoy wearing and that would still keep them safe. The result was a collar worn around the neck that uses an accelerometer to detect a crash and instantly inflates an airbag to surround the head when needed.
In 2011 the Hövding (or “Chieftain”) passed required safety testing in Europe, receiving CE certification, and is now sold in 17 European countries—as far east as Istanbul—and in Japan. So, to readers in the US, when will you see one on a street near you? Probably not soon.
At first I assumed that the major issue was that Americans just aren’t sold on the idea, so I was hoping for some brave early adopters here to get the ball rolling. (I have the same hope for the Ostrich Pillow, another headgear innovation that I’d like to be the second or third on my block to own.) Or maybe it’s the cost: about $350—and it has to be replaced after deploying. But no, that’s not what’s holding it back, at least not yet. Right now, it’s nearly impossible to get one here.
First of all, according to the company’s website, the Hövding hasn’t met American testing standards for bicycle helmets. Second, it can’t be mailed outside of Europe (Japan has them because the airbags are made there). And third—because I know you’re thinking you’ll take your next vacation to Sweden and bring one back with you—TSA won’t allow one on your flight because of its CO2 cartridge.
As for the safety-standards factor in the States, a 2016 Stanford study shows the product’s potential. Mehmet Kurt, part of the Stanford research team, states that “air bag helmets, with the right initial pressure, can reduce head accelerations five to six times compared to a traditional bicycle helmet.” But the kicker is that “right initial pressure.” If the airbag doesn’t inflate with the maximum amount of air, then a forceful impact could cause the helmet to “bottom out,” and the head would strike the ground (or other obstacle) through the cushioning.
But maybe someday . . . here. The Stanford group calls for a general updating of US helmet standards and testing, which, they say, “are very far behind.” And then they want a more in-depth look at several aspects of the Hövding: how it protects against rotational accelerations and forces, how it performs when dropped from greater heights, what can be done to eliminate bottoming-out issues, and how to make it “smarter.”
Here’s hoping all that can get worked out and the Hövding, or something like it, can make it to our shores. Not only would having “invisible helmets” in the US prevent injuries, but it would also increase my odds of getting to not see one firsthand.
(Taylor Kubota, “Stanford Researchers Show Air Bag Bike Helmets Have Promise,” Stanford News, October 3, 2016)