Sunday, July 24, 2011

Chocolate, Coffee and Vanilla

It is a nice summer day, but I tired myself out in the heat. So I had some chocolate, which tasted pretty good.

I have been thinking about flavors lately, especially trace flavors in wine, and I thought I'd look up chocolate. The main one is theobromide, which has the wonderful Greek root meaning "food of the gods." Cocoa beans are so highly processed that other ingredients vary.

Caffeine is much like theobromide.
Imagine this rotated 180 degrees to
see the similarity.
Theobromide is related to another caffeine, and the structures are similar.

My wife points out Cage Baker's Immortal's series has a race of people addicted to theobromide. JR Rowling gave chocolate magically properties to drive away demons of depression. I think both ladies just liked chocolate.

Caffeine used to be my friend, but now I avoid it. Both theobromide and caffeine are stimulants, but caffeine is stronger. Both are diuretics too. Of course there is a little caffeine in chocolate. There is no theobromide in coffee though.

One of my favorite flavors is vanilla, and natural vanilla contains dozens of compounds. The prototype is vanillin.  I like this because as wood ages with wine, the tannins in the wine breakdown, and the wine reduces the tannins into aldehydes like vanillin. This breakdown is a mysterious process.  There is no theobromide or caffeine in (normal) wine.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Football Helmet Manufacturers Step Up Brain Protection

As high school athletes suit-up for summer work-outs, helmet manufacturers ship helmets with fancier padding, while injury lawyers trawl the sidelines for players with concussions.

Football-related brain injury has gotten a lot of press for long-term injury in pro players and acute injury in high school players. A physician's group says there are 300,000 football related concussions, but no one really knows.

Since my  previous post in 2010, manufacturers have introduced better helmets, but they are much more expensive.

Small changes in padding make big differences in
concussion protection.
Another big change is Virginia Tech's large study of helmets using accelerometers and dropping studies to assess helmet design. This ranks major helmet's according to degree of impact reduction. A problem with the study is that concussions are caused by particular kinds of impacts, like side impacts, and the study does not address that. There is also manufacturer funded research like this.

Riddell, has won a patent infringement suit (see also) against two other manufacturers on concussion reducing features of their helmets. This shows large manufacturers want to include these features. Patent violations have driven Schutt Sports into bankruptcy.

Newer helmets have fancier pads and these need to be well-maintained and the helmet still needs to fit. These are air-filled, nitrile foam or polyurethane foam.

Lawyers started suing on behalf of lifetime pro players with brain disease, but have moved onto suing on behalf of high school athletes -- there are a lot more high school players. Some of the high school coaches say stupid things, and this gets their school districts massive legal trouble.

I wonder why polycarbonate remains the material of choice for the helmet, and I suspect it is appearance. Some have made low-gloss polyurethane foam based helmets, but these have failed to catch on. Some advocate for kevlar or carbon-fiber reinforced helmets as are used in motor-sports, but these are much more expensive.

Monday, July 4, 2011

4th of July and a Balanced Budget

Franklin, Adams and Jefferson
draft the Declaration in this painting
by Jean L.G.  Ferris
When the colonists declared independence from King George in 1776, they said, in actions and in words that they would run their affairs better than the King of England. And after the Constitution was established, we began the giant experiment of Jeffersonian democracy, where we demonstrated that an elected government could run a country better than a King.

At the beginning many disagreed (e.g. Canadians), saying the rabble could not understand complexities of government and would make foolish decisions.

235 years later, the United States has generally run its affairs well, and we know that Kings are not any better than elected governments.

American democracy seems unable to run its own affairs lately -- look at our taxes and spending. I graphed this myself with data from the Brookings Institution's Tax Policy Center.
Taxes have been roughly constant since the mid-1990's. Expenditures grow and grow.
Sometimes I wonder if a philosopher-king could do a better job! Taxes have been bouncing around at the same level since the mid 1990's, but expenditures have soared.

Meanwhile a Prince of England tours Canada; a country with a better budget situation than us.

I am confident that Americans can meet the challenges of self-government. There is no King that is going to fix it for us.

Friday, July 1, 2011

BioPunk - A Cool Word in Search of a Cool Definition

Pris is a bio-engineered Replicant from 1982's Blade Runner
BioPunk - People who do synthetic biology who don't know what they are doing. Usually bored computer nerds.

BioPunks are hacking cells to make something cool. They are actually channeling CyberPunk, which sounds like it is a group of hackers, but it is actually a science fiction genre.

When I think of BioPunk, I immediately think of the synthetic humans used as slave characters in Blade Runner, called Replicants. Blade Runner is a really old movie (1982) but there is a great scene of a guy making little gnomes as a hobby.

A lot of these people are computer hackers, like Meredith Patterson, who has a so-called manifesto on BioPunk. She has high sounding rhetoric on punk biology.

I think that DNA origami qualifies, see this older post on little DNA pictures, and these little DNA boxes.