Archive | September 2015

Things to “wine” about—and some beer

 new UW study found arsenic levels in 98 percent of red wines tested exceed U.S. drinking water standards, but that health risks depend on one’s total diet. Mr.TInDC, flickr

A new UW study found arsenic levels in 98 percent of red wines tested exceed U.S. drinking water standards, but that health risks depend on one’s total diet. Mr.TInDC, flickr

Two items in the news today should be noted by beer and wine drinkers everywhere. One is a cool upcoming talk at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and the other is a new science report reminiscent of “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

First, if you’re anywhere in the Cleveland area Friday night and are not already planning to go see the Red Sox take on the Indians, head over to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History for the next installment of their Explorer Series, “Uncorking the Past: Re-Discovering and Re-creating Ancient Fermented Beverages

Patrick McGowan, an adjunct anthropology professor at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, will describe how our human ancestors made an astounding array of fermented beverages from honey, grapes, barley, rice, sorghum and perhaps even chocolate. Light appetizers and a cash bar precede the 7 p.m. talk, so what’s not to like?

Then there’s a new study on wine out from the University of Washington, and this one has 64 things not to like. In particular, researchers found levels of arsenic above the safe drinking water standards in 64 out of 65 samples of U.S. wines.

“Unless you are a heavy drinker consuming wine with really high concentrations of arsenic, of which there are only a few, there’s little health threat if that’s the only source of arsenic in your diet,” U-W researcher Denise Wilson noted in the press release accompanying the report.

“But consumers need to look at their diets as a whole,” Wilson continued. “If you are eating a lot of contaminated rice, organic brown rice syrup, seafood, wine, apple juice — all those heavy contributors to arsenic poisoning — you should be concerned, especially pregnant women, kids and the elderly.”

Ironically, arsenic was one of the poisons added by two spinster aunts to the elderberry wine they used to kill boarders in the classic comedy play and movie, “Arsenic and Old Lace.” Definitely watch the old Cary Grant flick if you’ve somehow missed it. And if you’re up for a fun, more modern spoof, check out Parnell Hall’s cozy 2013 mystery, “Arsenic and Old Puzzles.”

I don’t know yet whether any of the wines tested by the U-W researchers were elderberry wine. The full report appears in the October issue of the Journal of Environmental Health.

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For the Love of LEGO

LEGObookphotoThere are days when the theme song from last year’s The Lego Movie still keeps running through my head. And it never annoys me. That’s more than I can say for many of the tune that the Academy Award folks nominated for an Oscar last year or in most years. I’ll bet this is true with lots of people too. Thus, even if the artists who composed and produced “Everything is Awesome” didn’t get the recognition they deserve, their creation continues to inspire and resonate.

This is very much true of LEGOs themselves, which made possible and inspired Mike Doyle’s latest book, Beautiful LEGO: Wild! When I saw the press release for the book from No Starch Press, the cover immediately made me want to review a copy. First, it features LEGOs, which were one of our kids’ favorite toys as they were growing up.

My son, in particular, loved designing buildings and a variety of other creations with LEGOs—not just as a little kid, but into junior high and high school. He’d develop detailed plans for structures with all of the basic blocks, as well as a variety of specialized pieces, including the larger bases. My son has always loved parrots too, and the cover photo of Beautiful LEGO: Wild! includes the ~750 piece sculpture “Rainbow Lorikeet” by Gabriel Thomson.

Doyle himself is a LEGO artist and graphic designer, and the book is a lovely collection of a variety of artistic works—plants, pets, marine animals, wild animals, and more. There’s even a “Grumpy Monkey” and “Boxing Panda” (both by Tyler Clites). Photos are in full color, and brief descriptions identify the artist and approximate number of pieces. The book would be fun for folks to just look through.

Perhaps more than many other art books, this one can also serve as a source of inspiration for others to try their hands at awesome LEGO art. After all, basic LEGOs are at most toy stores, and it’s much easier these days to get specialized pieces than when my son was little. Just order them online.

But while the book can provide inspiration, don’t expect it to provide how-to information. The preface points out that many of the sculptures feature a piece known as Plant Leaves 6 x 5. But I would have preferred some more information on other specialized pieces that helped artists make particular designs. I also would have liked to see some information for people who wanted to learn more about the how-to side of things.

I realize one doesn’t page through an art book on the Impressionists or M.C. Escher and expect to see how-to information there either. But since No Starch Press bills itself as a publisher of “the finest in geek entertainment,” I would hope future titles in the series have a bibliography in the back with this sort of thing.

On the other hand, I would not want to see anything nearly as detailed as the very specific instructions that LEGO includes in its robotics kits. After all, part of the fun of this book and most other LEGO art is that it takes off in directions that other people may never think of.

Speaking of the LEGO robotics field, though, those kits and groups have inspired some of their own awesome designs in the technology world. The LEGO robotics field is especially popular with a lot of middle, junior and senior high school students, who might start out making a kit but then go on to design their own incredible machines and devices with Arduino boards, laptops, Bluetooth, and other components. And if you have any doubt about some of the incredible things kids are designing, check out the titles of the technology projects for the 2015 Broadcom MASTERS finalists, who were announced earlier this week.

Put some basic tools in the hands of artists, designers and engineers of all ages, and you can wind up with some really wonderful creations. Everything is awesome!