Monday, October 24, 2016

The Best News I've Ever Heard

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published October 26, 2016] ©2016
The news only gets better and better. In addition to chocolate’s many positive health benefits – foremost among them making life worth living – it has now been proven that it dramatically improves brain function.
I should mention that I have been collecting articles on the benefits of chocolate for many years. This is part of a tradition Olof and I have of giving each other framed articles at Christmas time extolling the virtues of whatever it was we were doing anyway – or confirming the deleterious effects of foods we don’t like. Olof, for example, hates tofu so I always framed articles for him suggesting that tofu causes dementia in middle aged men.  Neither of us is too fond of liver so anti-liver studies get prime space under our tree too. 
With chocolate research, however, science is making up for lost time. My whole chocolate-laden life, it’s been considered a dietary no-no, a demon whose lure I was constantly fighting. Not of course, that I ever won. Or even that I tried that hard. But now, like its fellow pariahs (coconut oil and eggs), chocolate is a health food. I was born before my time.
Over the last decade, as scientists have accepted increasing bribes from chocolate makers have delved into heretofore unknown health aspects of chocolate, the list of benefits of chocolate has expanded yearly.  Now dark chocolate is touted as a powerful (yes, they really did say powerful!) source of antioxidants – even more than blueberries or acai berries. (Consume a diet of chocolate covered blueberries and you could probably live forever.)
Dark chocolate is alleged to improve blood flow in the arteries and cause a small but “statistically significantly” (and we would never want to argue with statistics) decrease in blood pressure.  It lowers the susceptibility of LDL to oxidative damage while increasing HDL and improving insulin sensitivity.  Best of all, observational studies show a drastic (yes, drastic!) reduction in heart disease risk for the people who consume the most chocolate. Is this a deal or what?
There are even studies showing that flavanols (whatever the heck they are) from cocoa can improve blood flow to the skin and protect it against sun-induced damage. (Could I just slather a chocolate bar on my face and let it drip onto my tongue in the sun?)
Your doctor should be making you eat chocolate instead of all those wimpy vitamins that have now been proven to be useless. It goes without saying that Medicare should be covering it.
While chocolate benefit studies have been going increasingly in my favor, I haven’t always been able to experience its benefits myself.  A women’s magazine touted new scientific evidence suggesting that people who eat chocolate have less belly fat. Researchers hypothesized that antioxidant-rich dark chocolate may curb cortisol, a hormone that triggers ab flab. Snack on “two squares a day,” they recommended.  I’m guessing my squares were bigger than theirs.
But the new study that came out earlier this year about the cognitive benefits of eating chocolate make all those studies that came before it look like chocolate cream pie in the sky.
The Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study compared, over a five year period, people who ate chocolate at least once a week (“habitual chocolate consumption”) with people who didn’t.  The habituals “performed better cognitively” than the non-habituals.  Specifically, the chocolate chowers showed significantly superior ‘visual-spatial memory and (organization), working memory, scanning and tracking, (and) abstract reasoning.”  
As happy as I am with the results of this study, I couldn’t help but make a few observations. With all due respect, once a week is not habitual chocolate consumption. Once a day is not even habitual chocolate consumption. You want to see habitual chocolate consumption, stop in at Auntie Inga’s House of Avoirdupois pretty much anytime. 
The authors of the current study attempt to determine why, exactly, eating chocolate is associated with improved brain function.  Um, do we care?
Well, apparently THEY do. And despite having proven beyond any reasonable doubt, they’re still advocating only small amounts of chocolate in the diet. Um, why? God forbid anything that actually tastes really good could be eaten at will.  Does anyone ever tell you to eat broccoli in moderation? I think not. I’m thinking that right before the SATs, you should eat an entire five pound box of Godivas.
The author of the study noted:  “We only looked at people who were eating chocolate never or rarely versus once or more than once a week.”  He added, “I’d really like to see what happens when people eat a ton of chocolate.”
Look no further.  Here’s my number.
Framed copy of chocolate cognitive benefits article ready to be put under the Christmas tree

Monday, October 17, 2016

A Tale All Too Familiar To Parents

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published October 19, 2016] ©2016 
Ever since I could put pen to paper, I’ve been a diary and journal writer which is actually the sum total of my writing training, along with a lifetime of letter writing. 
Every once in a while, I go back through journals to see what I wrote and often find stories about experiences I’d long since forgotten. Usually it was for a good reason. The following is a case in point.
In 1988, my now-husband Olof was in his second year of what would be a total of eight years commuting down to my home on weekends from the Bay area. My older son Rory was 11.
Journal, Oct. 3, 1988
Rory has decided he wants to build a gismo from a kit. (Reminds me so much of my brother at that age. Happiness was a Lafayette Radio catalog and ten bucks.)  I keep trying to explain to him that Mommy is not talented in this area, and that Olof, who is, is only here at the moment on alternate weekends. Rory is undaunted. He has saved money from his nursery school aide job and already picked out several possibilities from his kiddie catalog of Strange and Amazing Gadgets. It’s really hard for single moms to find activities to do with sons which is the only reason I’d consider this. Plus, I hate to stifle the kid’s creative ambitions.  (I had this fantasy the other day that he became a heroin addict, and when I asked him how I had failed, he said, “If you’d just let me order a kit from Strange and Amazing Gadgets I’d be a successful engineer today!”)  OK, OK, enough guilt.
Letter: October 16, 1988
Catalog of Strange and Amazing Gadgets
Please send us one TS-295 Plans/Kit for the “U-Make-It Miniature Tesla Coil.”  A check in the amount of $29.50 is enclosed.  Sincerely,
Journal: Nov. 8, 1988
Olof can’t get here soon enough this weekend. The world’s smallest Tesla coil has arrived, along with the world’s largest headache. I am in so over my head.
Letter: Nov. 15, 1988 
Catalog of Strange and Amazing Gadgets
We recently discovered that the one-inch brass terminal with 6-32 insert adaptor failed to arrive with our U-Make-It Miniature Tesla Coil Kit. As this part is unknown to any hardware or electronic store in the Western Hemisphere, we would appreciate your shipping this item to us at your earlier convenience. Yours sincerely,
Journal: December 3, 1988
So much for Rory’s electronics education.  Some weeks ago I was persuaded to order a gismo billed as the U-Make-It Miniature Tesla Coil. A Tesla coil, I now know, is an electric gismo that generates high voltage current that arcs between two terminals (in this case a gold ball and a wire) to create a lightning-like effect. I was initially concerned about having 50,000 volts in the hands of an 11-year old, but I was assured by knowledgeable sources that it didn’t have enough amps to electrocute him. (I still had this recurrent dream that I’d wake up one morning to find it attached to his younger brother’s tongue.)
This was not your basic Heath Kit.  In fact, as Olof said when he was down last weekend, the creator of the circuit board for this thing should be taken out and shot. I cannot even calculate how many frustrating hours this thing has consumed of both of our already-over-full lives.
It did not come with a printed circuit board. What it did come with were umpty-300 itty-bitty components to fit on a circuit layout board the size of your thumbnail.
The two primary items of documentation were a hand-drawn circuit diagram that had been Xeroxed into oblivion and a component layout diagram that did not always agree with the circuit diagram. The instructions, in their totality, were:
(1) Count and verify that all parts have been delivered.
(2) Assemble board.
In point of fact, not all the parts WERE delivered, and the missing one had to be re-ordered. Further the concept of taking a lamp cord (the power source for this thing) and shoving the end into a container the size of a matchbox made the spacing between components and the various elements of wiring critical – and probably unachievable. Much frustration and soldering assistance (from Olof) later, it was ready for a trial run. With breathless anticipation (and a fire extinguisher for good measure), we turned it on. Instead of generating a lightning-like spark, it generated a “pop” and a small puff of smoke. (Olof says they either sent us a bad capacitor, or we got it in backwards.)
Rory was initially very disappointed. But the next day he was back wanting to know, could he order the kit for the high-sensitive directional parabolic microphone, or maybe the particle beam generator/proton accelerator?  In one of the least ambivalent moments of my life, I replied, “Not a chance.”


Monday, October 10, 2016

Eat Your Heart Out, NSA

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published October 12, 2016] ©2016

People think telephone surveillance is a new thing but then, they’re not old enough to have grown up with a party line. Eat your heart out, NSA. Sixty years ago, the entire country was listening in on each other’s phone conversations.

Back in the Pleistocene Era of telephonics, which is to say my youth, phones were just these clunky black things with a handset and a rotary dial. In my area at least, the only thing the rotary dial was good for initially was to dial “O” (for operator) and wait for a nice lady (always a lady) to say, “what number, please?” which you’d tell her using your actual voice.

When direct dialing came out and you could dial local numbers yourself, it was the hottest thing since sliced bread (which, by the way, revolutionized commercial baking in 1928. All those nice even pieces!) But direct dialing also put most of those operator ladies out of business.  There must be a special home for them where they sit serenely and stick plugs into a big switchboard and say “I’ll connect you now.”

In many areas, especially rural ones, party lines – multiple families sharing the same phone line – were the only option. On party lines, only one household could use the line at a time, and the phone company implored people to be considerate and restrict their calls to five minute. Like that happened.

Complaints about line hogging were legion. Even the 1959 Best Picture winner, Pillow Talk (Rock Hudson, Doris Day), portrays a party line feud that turns into romance. That was not how it usually worked out in real life. It was probably good that party lines existed in an era where fewer 9 mm Glocks were in circulation.

Party lines were the original Information Superhighway, an early version of social media. You could listen in on everyone else’s conversations which, of course, was pretty much the favorite national pastime. (Sorry, baseball).

Now that virtually everyone has a private line, we’ve all gotten out of the expectation that anyone is listening in. So we’re offended when we find out the NSA has been recording our private phone calls. I’d like to point out that at least the NSA doesn’t gossip about you. Maybe harass you at the airport but you don’t have to worry about them spilling your private information to your neighbors in the produce aisle.

Actually, this trip down telephonic memory lane was inspired by a question from my 6-year-old granddaughter about a built-in alcove in the hallway of our 1947 home. I was explaining that it was something called a “phone nook” which housed the single largely-immobile phone that most people owned at the time.

“So, it’s a charging station?” she replied after some thought. This was as close to her reality as this was going to get. “Where do you plug it in?”

Pondering how to explain this to her, I could see that it was going to be a long way from rotary dial to iPhone 7.  In fact, I remember one of the greatest improvements of my teenage life was the invention of the curly-cued phone extension cord so you could drag the handset around the corner into the coat closet and get some illusion of privacy. (Believe me, it was an illusion.)

Privacy would only come with the invention of cordless phones and then finally cell phones which have replaced pretty much every other piece of electronics heretofore known to man. 

From a 68-year-old’s view, old-style phones have some distinct advantages over cell phones.  

First, there is a lot to be said for a phone that can be used without (a) a manual, and (b) an operating system whose constant upgrades make everything you previously knew how to do on it obsolete. 

The other really big loss with cell phones is that you can’t slam them down. There was always something so inherently satisfying about being able to slam down a telephone receiver. Clicking an Off button – or worse, tapping some wussy touch screen – does not give one the emotional release that the solid slam of a plastic receiver on a telephone base could ever give. No wonder the whole country is so full of pent up anger. For that reason, we still keep one wall-mounted landline with traditional receiver in our home for use during election seasons. 

Considering the changes in telephones since I was a child, I try to imagine what my tiny grandchildren will be telling theirs about the archaic devices of their youth. Will phones still be an actual physical “thing” that you carry around and drop into the toilet at inopportune times?  I’m guessing not.

And as far as the NSA is concerned….  I know you’re listening, so would you mind spreading the word that Book Club has been changed from Tuesday to Thursday, and while you’re at it, that Susie Smith’s husband was overheard flirting with the nanny?

Six-year-old granddaughter and phone nook