December 27, 2010
Warning! This series probably contains graphic and disturbing images and content, followed by pictures of adorable animal babies. Read the rest of this entry »
December 18, 2010
I can remember a friend from my Army days telling stories about how he could sometimes catch eels in his dad’s farm pond in New Jersey. I knew almost nothing about eels back then, but I was pretty sure that they didn’t breed in ponds. So, how did they get there? My friend couldn’t explain it even though this is apparently Read the rest of this entry »
December 15, 2010
Coffee beans are indigenous to Ethiopia where they call the plant “bunn”, but it was not very popular until the Arabs began cultivating it in quantity in the 1400s. Drinking the infusion of roasted beans that boosted energy and suppressed appetite became very popular with Sufi monasteries in southern Arabia and Yemen, then it spread throughout the Arabic world, then to Italy, then to the rest of Europe, to Indonesia, and to the Americas. Coffee, coffee, coffee!
Don’t like that origin story? There’s always the apocryphal (but cute) story of Kaldi, the Ethiopian goatherd and his dancing goats!
Kaldi, noticing the curiously energetic effects when his flock nibbled on certain bright red berries, decided to try the fruit himself. His exhilaration prompted him to bring the berries to an Islamic holy man in a nearby monastery. But, as is typical of most “holy” men, the holy man rained on his parade, disapproved of their use, and threw them into a fire… from which an enticing aroma billowed! The roasted beans were quickly raked from the embers, ground up, and dissolved in hot water, yielding the world’s first cup of coffee.
Googling Kaldi yields About 7,040,000 results in 0.22 seconds. Not bad for a mythical goatherd invented by a Catholic professor of oriental languages in the 1600s.
December 14, 2010
For those of you who are not familiar…
Vladimir Horowitz (1903 – 1989) was a Russian-American virtuoso pianist who came to fame in the 1920s in Russia and then throughout the world. He was a legendary pianist and many of his recordings are renowned as being the definitive performances of frequently played pieces by well known composers such as Chopin, Liszt, Scriabin, and Rachmaninoff.
His performances were often exaggerated and dynamic; Frequently overwhelming audiences with waves of sound, then immediately contrasting with phrases of incredible delicacy and gentleness. His dynamic style and virtuosity earned international esteem and he consequently performed for kings and queens, emperors and presidents, and multitudes of adoring fans over a 70 year career.
In my opinion, Chopin’s Mazurka, Op. 17 No. 4 is a relatively simple piece. I’ve heard several recordings over the years and have mostly ignored it. It’s not very dynamic, it is short, and I always just thought of it as just sort of plain. Until I heard Horowitz play it.
The following video is among the last of his recordings before his death in 1989 and has become one of my favorites. It is from the 1985 documentary film Vladimir Horowitz – The Last Romantic. This clip is just a little scrap of the film that I found on YouTube. Before the Mazurka actually begins, it shows a brief bit with his wife talking about her ability to listen without being influenced by personality, and then shows him playing a little snippet of Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca from Sonata 11 while the recording crew are getting everything set up. He misses a few notes and makes a joke about not being Heifetz after his wife mentions it. Sweet. Enjoy.
“Is very intimate now…pshhhh” – Vladimir Horowitz
December 14, 2010
I have high blood pressure. I’m not really sure why, but it probably has something to do with being too fat, drinking lots of beer, smoking cigarettes, eating cheeseburgers, and not exercising enough. It usually hovers around 140/90, but I’ve discovered a sure fire way to temporarily propel those numbers up into stroke territory. Follow these simple steps and you too might soon be entertaining your friends with your uncontrollable drooling.
- Drink a bunch of Samuel Adams
- Down 4 cups of coffee
- Chain smoke a pack of cigarettes
- Eat a delicious cheeseburger
- Go to the gym for some power lifting
That’s it. You’re probably dead or disabled now. Since I’m neither, I must have skipped a step. Like, number 5. Strangely, I didn’t feel up to power lifting after chain smoking and eating some ground up cow sandwich. (Also, I don’t have a gym membership so it just seemed like a lot of trouble.)
If I HAD decided to go work on my pecs, I’m pretty sure I would be pricing one-hand keyboards right now instead of blogging. Instead, I checked my blood pressure because I felt like an overinflated beach ball and saw that I was at 195/110. For those of you that don’t understand what that pressure reading means, see the awesome Japanese dude below for an interesting visual.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. High blood pressure is not only useful for putting out forest fires, but does so through the use of an Ultraman style blood laser! Awesome! Except…no.
Thankfully, I had some celery.
I’ve discovered that eating 3 or 4 celery stalks has the fairly immediate effect of lowering my blood pressure by around 10%. As it turns out, there is a scientific explanation for this.
A yummy chemical compound found in celery, given the catchy name 3-n-butylphthalide, relaxes the smooth muscles in arterial walls which then dilate, lowering blood pressure.
Just like most things that modern science “discovers”, the ancient world was already fully aware of the benefits of celery. Hippocrates (c. 460 BC – c. 370 BC), a.k.a. the father of medicine, often prescribed it as a treatment for nervous tension. Indeed, celery was highly prized by the ancient Greeks and was often given as an award during sporting events.
Ayurvedic practitioners on the Indian subcontinent have been using celery to treat a variety of ailments for around 3000 years.
The Chinese have been using it to treat high blood pressure for 2000 years or so. The Japanese have been using it to treat painful arthritic joints for several hundred years at least.
So, what took western medicine so long to catch up? I don’t know, but it sounds like fodder for another blog topic. Way back in the 1990’s, a medical student and a pharmacologist began studying the chemical properties of celery after the medical student noticed his Chinese father successfully treating his own high blood pressure by eating 4 stalks of celery every day for a week. They determined that the phthalide was the compound that was probably responsible for the effect and so they injected it into rats and noticed a similar drop in blood pressure.
I’m sure that after another 20 years of redundant animal testing, the FDA will finally approve the use of phthalide for the treatment of human hypertension and then western doctors can prescribe some pharmaceutical company’s $20-per-pill wonder drug to treat high blood pressure. Until then, I’ll just eat celery more often.