Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Atlantic Monthly Archives -- What a Resource!

I recently came across the . What a resource! The last 15 years' Issues are available for free. This is a rich resource for the avid, inveterate reader.

Here are the URLs:  Atlantic Monthly website; Back Issues

I am glad that it is still around today, alive and kicking, when print media all over the world are struggling.

In just one day, I read what Orville Wright said to reporters immediately after his epoch-making first flight, what Churchill said to Eleanor Roosevelt over dinner, discovered Edward Lear, read about the stirring story and poem of Barbara Fritchie and many, many articles that are both, readable and informative.

Plus, it links me to literally hundreds of books that I would not otherwise read - I shall acquire and read most of them one day.

Oh! Why do we have only 24 hours in a day? Why do we need to sleep?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Who says the recession is over for the US?


The Wall Street Journal reported on 24 Nov, 2009, that one in four homeowners in the US is “underwater” – meaning that they owe more on their mortgages than their home is worth.

A full 40% of those who took a home loan in 2006 are underwater, according to this report.

Douglas McIntyre, an editor at 24/7 Wall Street writes, “The news about underwater real estate is nearly as bad for banks as it is for homeowners. Default rates and foreclosures will almost certainly continue to rise. Banks will end up owning more and more properties that they are ill suited to sell. Many of those homes will be auctioned off at a fraction of what their values were two or three years ago.

Who's saying that the worst of the recession is over for the US?

Anybody who understands human behaviour will also understand that it does not make a difference to a person under 7 feet of water to be under 9 feet, or for that matter, 25 feet of water. Enough of those borrowers, following this dictum, would have tanked up on personal loans, credit card debt and any other form of borrowing.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Body Donation is easy!

 My mother passed away on Saturday afternoon.

In deference to  her oft-expressed wishes, my sister and I decided to donate her body for medical research, despite some personal misgivings, especially about whether there would be a dignified treatment of her remains. As such, there would be necessarily be no "funeral" or cremation, if this were to happen.

We had never thought of how to implement her wishes, but these were our first thoughts when we were forced to come face-to-face with her not being with us any more. We knew that eyes needed to be donated first, so we located an eye bank in Thane with the help of the nursing home. A doctor with his assistant arrived within the half-hour, during which we elevated my mother's head and placed wet cotton wool on her eyelids.

We then asked about the body donation, but no one seemed to know. We talked to three doctors whom we knew. One of them phoned up the coroner in Rajawadi Hospital and we were told that JJ Hospital is the place to go. But then, we remembered the big ruckus that had happened when one of our ex-neighbours passed away at his place of work in Mumbai, and his body was brought to Thane  (a neighbouring city) for cremation. No one allowed the cremation in Thane because he died in Mumbai. We were averse to having jurisdictional issues to deal with.

A second doctor told us the same, but a third doctor spoke to his friend in Rajiv Gandhi Medical College attached to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Memorial Hospital in Kalwa (within the Thane Municipal Corporation limits) and were told the usual procedure, and the exception procedure because it was a Saturday afternoon and the medical college would be closed, which was to deposit the body in the morgue and actually do the donation formalities on Monday morning. We decided that this seemed the most promising alternative which we woudl investigate first. We had also thought to ourselves that we would have a normal funeral if we encountered too much bureaucracy.

Since we decided to wait for 3 hours for my aunt to arrive from Pune to have one last look at her younger sister, during this time, there were discussions -- and many more misgivings. One person told us that the body would decompose over the weekend, as there were probably no proper storage facilities. Another told us that they will refuse the donation because the donation request was not pre-registered with the medical college. Then, another person asked, is it not possible to only donate a few organs so that the rest of the body can be cremated? A fourth said, why go to all this trouble? In any case, body donation is not part of  Hindu culture, so why not just go ahead and call a priest? The funeral rites require ashes, and here there will be no ashes. And so on.... I am recording all these misgivings because they will be issues raised for almost anyone proposing to do this.

The procedure, as it turned out, was simple: We were to go to the Casualty Department, meet the Casualty Medical Officer, and he would guide us about the rest of the procedure. We did that, and Dr. Gangwani, the CMO on duty, told us that we would have to pay Rs.100 for 2 days of renting a controlled temperature compartment in the mortuary to store the body. On making that payment, the morgue would accept and store the body. (That was more than one misgiving out of the way). We told him that we will be back in 2-3 hours, and hurried back to the nursing home. Later that evening, we gave a copy of the death certificate, paid the fee, and on the strength of that receipt, got an entry made in the Bodies Received register maintained by Security, and we were allowed to deposit the body in the mortuary, which was surprisingly clean and odor-free except for a certain staleness due to its being closed. This whole process took no more than 20 minutes. It took longer than that for all those who accompanied the ambulance to pay their final respects.
On Monday morning, my sister and I came at 10 am to the Anatomy Department of the Medical College, who gave us a form of an affidavit in Marathi that we had to execute on Rs.100 stamp paper, which took us around 35 minutes outside the nearby District Sessions Court. Another 10 minutes to get it notarised before a Notary Public and we were back at the Anatomy Department before 11 am. It took us 10 minutes for the polite Dr Anagha Apte at the Anatomy Department to fill out, get signed and give us a Certificate for Body Donation. That was done and finished by 11:15. That was all!

I found that they also have a facility of pre-registering for body donation -- they will issue the donor a Body Donation Card, which will make the procedure even simpler. That records the intent before death.

While I was waiting for the certificate, I saw some old newspaper clippings about body donation, which explained that any organs good enough to use for transplantation would be "harvested" first; including the skin for grafts for burns victims. The rest of the body would then be used to teach dissection to medical students, and later the skeleton and any other body parts not suitable for transplantation would be preserved in formalin for benefit of students.

One of the doctors I was talking to told me that technology existed to shave the cornea into three layers, and use each layer for grafting to three different patients, so a pair of eyes with good corneas could restore sight to as many as six persons!

I have decided that I shall do the same, following my Mother's last lesson imparted by personal example.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

When Technology Runs Ahead of Laws and Ethics

Ever since safe abortions were made possible and test-tube babies happened, our laws and ethics are being left hopelessly behind by technology.
I wonder why all these people are seduced by technology into uncharted moral and legal waters when a perfectly acceptable solution called adoption exists?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Did you know what artificial strawberry flavouring contains?

Just read this in a 2001 Issue of the Atlantic Monthly.

A typical artificial strawberry flavor, like the kind found in a strawberry milk shake, contains the following ingredients: amyl acetate, amyl butyrate, amyl valerate, anethol, anisyl formate, benzyl acetate, benzyl isobutyrate, butyric acid, cinnamyl isobutyrate, cinnamyl valerate, cognac essential oil, diacetyl, dipropyl ketone, ethyl acetate, ethyl amyl ketone, ethyl butyrate, ethyl cinnamate, ethyl heptanoate, ethyl heptylate, ethyl lactate, ethyl methylphenylglycidate, ethyl nitrate, ethyl propionate, ethyl valerate, heliotropin, hydroxyphenyl-2-butanone (10 percent solution in alcohol), a-ionone, isobutyl anthranilate, isobutyl butyrate, lemon essential oil, maltol, 4-methylacetophenone, methyl anthranilate, methyl benzoate, methyl cinnamate, methyl heptine carbonate, methyl naphthyl ketone, methyl salicylate, mint essential oil, neroli essential oil, nerolin, neryl isobutyrate, orris butter, phenethyl alcohol, rose, rum ether, g-undecalactone, vanillin, and solvent.

Yummy, isn't it?

Monday, November 02, 2009

How small is a carbon atom?

Here's a fantastic, interactive way of trying to comprehend the relative size of a coffee bean and a carbon atom, and several other things in between. Just slide the slider control to the right slowly.

PS: there are several other equally beautiful interactive applications on that same site. A must for the precocious primary school kid and for slow higher-secondary kids.