Marsh at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: USFWS


Some readers know that Alice and I drove to Maryland to see my brother Pat and Jenny, intending to go from there to the Delaware shore for a wedding and then to Pennsylvania for lunch with my sister Carol and niece Mary Ruth.  Instead of the wedding, I went to the hospital with fluid in my lungs and then we had to skip lunch in Pennsylvania.  I’m fine now.

Meanwhile, we had a nice time with Patrick and Jenny.  We drove through the Blackwater Refuge which includes the Blackwater River and lots of Chesapeake Bay water with necks of land and marsh. Saw herons, egrets, an eagle perched on a stump.  Took a short walk.
This is the place that has a webcam on an eagle’s nest and on an osprey nest so we can watch chicks being fed and developing.  Eagles perch on the osprey nest when osprey’s are not home.


Four chicks on osprey cam. Credit: USFWS


Three eaglets on eagle cam. Credit: USFWS


GOOD olive oil is very good for us


Does everyone know that the extra-virgin olive oil on store shelves may not be all extra-virgin or even all olive oil?  And a lot of it is not fresh enough to do us much good? And it might not be from the country of origin given?   Check Tom Mueller’s book,  Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil rjn

To Get The Benefits of Olive Oil, Fresh May Be Best


NPR Morning Edition

Experts say lots of factors determine how quickly an oil deteriorates — from the variety of the olives, to how the oil is produced and stored.

The Mediterranean diet is a pattern of eating that lately has become a darling of medical researchers. It includes vegetables and grains, not so much meat and, of course, generous portions of olive oil.

Mary Flynn, an associate professor of medicine at Brown University, says the evidence that olive oil is good for your heart has never been more clear. “Olive oil is a very healthy food,” she says. “I consider it more medicine than food.”

She points to a big study published earlier this year in the New England Journal of Medicinewhere researchers in Spain had men and women in their 50s, 60s and 70s who were at risk of heart disease follow one of three diets.

Some ate a low-fat diet, another group ate a Mediterranean diet with nuts. And a third group ate a Mediterranean diet that included almost four tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil per day.

Don't hold back on the olive oil, a Spanish study concludes.


Surprise: Some of the best-tasting extra-virgin olive oils are now being produced domestically. Think Texas, California, Florida.


“So, they could compare the three diets: Was it nuts, was it olive oil or was the low-fat diet beneficial?” says Flynn.

And what researchers found was that a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil cut the risk of heart attacks and strokes by 30 percent. The nut group, which was consuming olive oil as well, did well, too.

“The fact is, there are a huge range of benefits of real extra-virgin olive oil,” notes Tom Mueller, who has spent the last six years investigating and writing about olive oil. He says olive oil is good for two reasons: It’s mostly unsaturated fat, and extra-virgin oil, which is the highest-grade and least-processed form of olive oil, contains a whole range of other beneficial plant compounds called polyphenols.

But here’s the catch: Unfortunately, it turns out that more than half of the extra-virgin olive oil imported into the U.S. has been shown to be substandard.

“The fact is, it’s quite often just very low-grade oil that doesn’t give you the taste of the health benefits that extra virgin should give you,” Mueller says.

A bottle of California Olive Ranch oil with the harvest date.

A bottle of California Olive Ranch oil with the harvest date.  Courtesy of Alexandra Molinaro

In fact, a study from the University of California, Davis, found that 69 percent of imports tested failed to meet a U.S. Department of Agriculture quality standard.

And Mueller says in some cases the oil is just too old. By the time imported olive oil reaches us, it has often been shipped from place to place and sometimes not stored well. Even if it’s not noticeably rancid, many of the heart-healthy compounds have degraded and fizzled.

“Extra-virgin olive oil is fresh-squeezed juice — it’s a fruit juice — therefore freshness is a critical question,” he says.

Mueller says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration used to police olive oil imports to ensure producers were meeting quality and freshness standards. But those efforts have fallen off.

So, where does that leave those of us who want to get our hands on the healthy stuff?

Well, for starters, Mueller says look for brands that carry a harvest date on the bottle. California Olive Ranch oil, which is sold in lots of chain supermarkets nationwide, has a date clearly stamped on the back of the bottle.

Gregg Kelley of California Olive Ranch says every single bottle produced by his company includes the date that olives were harvested to produce the oil in the bottle.

And he says the olives were pressed very quickly, so the oil is really fresh.

“The most important thing for consumers to remember when they’re purchasing extra-virgin olive oil is that it is not wine: It does not get better with age. It’s never better than the day it was produced,” Kelley says.

Now, as long as the olive oil is properly stored, the freshness will hold in the bottle at least for a while. Some bottles now carry an expiration date.

Surprise: Some of the best-tasting extra-virgin olive oils are now being produced domestically. Think Texas, California, Florida.

Surprise: Some of the best-tasting extra-virgin olive oils are now being produced domestically. Think Texas, California, Florida. Karen Castillo Farfan/NPR

But as soon as you open the bottle and expose the oil to oxygen and light, it will slowly start to degrade. So, Mueller says, don’t make the same mistake his family made.

“I grew up with terrible oil; I had a huge tin in my grandparents’ cabin and that was olive oil for me — it was moldy and fusty and there for years,” he says.

Experts say a lot of factors determine how quickly an oil deteriorates: everything from the variety of the olives, to how the oil is produced and stored

But generally speaking, “we usually see that oil is no longer good after four to six months after opening,” says Selena Wang of the UC-Davis Olive Center.

Oils with the highest levels of heart-healthy compounds tend to be pungent and peppery. Mueller says if the oil stings the back of your throat a little that tells you the beneficial polyphenols really are there.

“Once you have that taste, you get used to the bitterness and pungency, you never go back,” says Mueller. “It’s a completely different experience.”

And a healthy one, too.

1st Nanotube Computer,0,1277167.story

Sayonara, silicon? Engineers build first carbon nanotube computer

Carbon nanotube computer designedStanford University engineering student Max Shulaker shows off the new material used to make carbon nanotube computers. (Norbert von der Groeben / Stanford University )
By Amina KhanSeptember 27, 2013, 7:11 p.m.
 Tech soothsayers have long predicted the demise of computers as we know them today, as their shrinking sizes approach the limits of silicon’s ability to take the heat. Now, researchers at Stanford University — in the heart of Silicon Valley — have tossed the essential element aside and built a basic computer out of carbon nanotubes.

The engineering feat, described this week in the journal Nature, could herald the birth of a whole new generation of carbon-based computing devices, experts said.

For decades, the transistors that serve as the building blocks of computer chips have been based on silicon. And they’ve been getting smaller and cheaper at a pretty consistent rate — that’s the premise behind Moore’s Law.

But among the many advantages of silicon lies one significant drawback, said Max Shulaker, a graduate student in electrical engineering at Stanford who led the development of the newfangled computer.

“When we keep going smaller in silicon, it becomes less efficient,” he said. “You waste a lot of power.”

The tinier the silicon transistors get, the more heat they leak. They  potentially could get so small that the chip would actually melt.

Engineers have long recognized the need to find a replacement for silicon. They’ve been working since the early 1980s on quantum computing, which takes advantage of the fact that individual particles of matter and light can be in more than one state at a time. They’ve also been experimenting since the 1990s with DNA computing, which stores data in double helixes.

But some researchers in the burgeoning field of nanotechnology had a simpler idea: Why not use carbon nanotubes in place of silicon? That would allow engineers to take advantage of silicon computing’s existing architecture.

“It’s good because it makes it much more easily commercialized,” Shulaker said. “There’s so much money and time invested in silicon. We’re not going to throw it away all of a sudden.”

Carbon nanotubes are rolled-up sheets of graphene, a form of crystalline carbon that’s only 1 atom thick. The tubes are extremely small — about a nanometer across — and have a host of fascinating properties that scientists have been exploring for a range of purposes, from super strength to electrical conductivity.

Their thinness — thousands of nanotubes lined up can fit across a human hair — is what makes them potentially useful to build transistors, Shulaker said. By cramming more transistors into a small space, carbon nanotubes could improve on silicon’s performance by an order of magnitude.

Other teams have managed to create carbon nanotube transistors, but not an entire functioning computer, Shulaker said. That’s because carbon nanotubes come with a few drawbacks. They have to be grown on a quartz substrate, and it’s difficult to make sure they’re all perfectly aligned. Even a few stray nanotubes could create a host of bad connections.

On top of that, some of the nanotubes act like they’re metallic and conduct electricity. To make a computer, the researchers needed to find a way to get rid of those and leave behind only the ones that were semiconducting, and thus be able to turn electrical current on and off.

The Stanford team, led by professors Philip Wong and Subhasish Mitra, came up with a two-pronged solution. First, they turned all of the properly functioning, semiconducting nanotubes “off” and then ran an electrical current through them. The current heated the remaining nanotubes until they fried in a puff of carbon dioxide, leaving only the properly functioning ones intact.

Even with the metallic ones gone, any remaining disorderly nanotubes could still cause a short-circuit. To work around the issue, the scientists came up with an algorithm for a circuit design that is guaranteed to work, even with a few mislaid strays.

The result is a computer with 178 transistors and only a one-bit processor. (For the sake of comparison, the computer on your lap or desktop contains a 32-bit or 64-bit processor that use millions or billions of transistors.) Building anything more complex will require an industrial facility, not a university lab, researchers said.

But it’s an impressive start.

“This computer is far from being competitive with current standards, but had this machine been made in 1955, it would have been,” Franz Kreupl of the Technical University of Munich wrote in a commentary that accompanied the Nature report. The team’s smallest carbon transistor is about 8 micrometers, he said, and scientists still need to slim that model down to a mere 20 nanometers.

However, Kreupl said, if researchers can build more powerful processors and scale down the size, “we might be able to type on one soon.”

For his part, Shulaker estimated that it would probably take 10 to 20 years to bring a functioning carbon nanotube computer to market.

“I don’t think Silicon Valley will become Carbon Valley overnight,” he said.



Save $950 a Year?


I think it’s interesting that folks pay almost as much for bottled water as they do for gasoline!  And there is no reason to believe that bottled water is any more healthful than the reliable stuff from the tap unless you have a private well.
Bottlers have been caught actually packaging tap water.  I picked up one bottle in a store that gave as its origin “Such and Such Spring, Other Such Spring or other source.”

Drink Up?  Posted by Joan Salge Blake  September 16, 2013 11:35 AM

Source:  Partnership for Healthier America

The latest campaign by First Lady, Michelle Obama, is to encourage Americans to drink more water to improve their health.  “Water is so basic, and because it is so plentiful, sometimes we just forget about it amid all the ads we watch on television and all the messages we receive every day about what to eat and drink,” Mrs. Obama said.  “The truth is, water just gets drowned out.”

Not too surprising, the American Beverage Association, which represents the makers of soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, and bottled water and the International Bottled Water Association are fully behind the campaign.  According to CBS news, the water drop logo (see above) associated with the Drink Up campaign will soon be featured on select water bottles and drinking fountains.

I think the message to drink more water can be a positive one if individuals who routinely drink a bottle of sugary beverages, such as sodas and sport drinks, replace it with naturally occurring calorie and sugar-free water.  Because 20 ounces of cola pour up 250 calories, all of which come from the 17 teaspoons of added sugars in the bottle, switching over to water is a nutrition no-brainer.

The only issue that I have with the campaign is that the public needs to be made aware that they don’t have to consume costly bottled water to stay hydrated and be healthy.  Tap water is the biggest bargain in the neighborhood as it costs less than a penny a gallon.  In comparison, the price of bottled water can be hefty, ranging from $1 to $4 a gallon.  If you pay $1.50 per bottle (the typical price in a convenient store) and buy two bottles of water daily, you will be shelling out more than $20 a week and $80 monthly.  Over the course of 12 months, you would be spending more than $950 on a beverage that is practically free from your kitchen faucet.

If you are worried about the quality of the water in your home, don’t fret.  For most Americans, the drinking water in their homes comes from a community water system. The source of this municipal water can be underground wells or springs, or rivers, lakes, or reservoirs.  Regardless of the source, all municipal water is sent to a treatment plant where any dirt and debris are filtered out, bacteria are killed, and other contaminants are removed.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees the safety of public drinking water with national standards that set limits for more than 80 contaminants, either naturally occurring ones, such as bacteria, or man-made ones, such as chemicals, that may find their way into your drinking water. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been invested in these treatment systems to ensure that the public water is safe to drink.  In fact, some bottled waters may actually be from a municipal water source.

So feel free to Drink Up…..just save yourself a lot of money and drink tap water.

Careful! Tylenol is Dangerous


ProPublica  Journalism in the Public Interest


Use Only as Directed  —  1,567  people have died from 2001 through 2010 from inadvertently taking too much acetaminophen (Tylenol).

By Jeff Gerth and T.Christian Miller, ProPublica, Sept. 20, 2013, 10:00 a.m.Design & Development: By Krista Kjellman SchmidtLena GroegerAl Shaw
Major points in this article:

1 About 150 Americans die a year by accidentally taking too much acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, federal data from the CDC shows.

2 Acetaminophen has a narrow safety margin: the dose that helps is close to the dose that can cause serious harm, according to the FDA.

3 The FDA has long been aware of studies showing the risks of acetaminophen. So has the maker of Tylenol, McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a division of Johnson & Johnson.

4 Over more than 30 years, the FDA has delayed or failed to adopt measures designed to reduce deaths and injuries from acetaminophen. The agency began a comprehensive review to set safety rules for acetaminophen in the 1970s, but still has not finished.

5 McNeil, the maker of Tylenol, has taken steps to protect consumers. But over more than three decades, the company has repeatedly opposed safety warnings, dosage restrictions and other measures meant to safeguard users of the drug.

During the last decade, more than 1,500 Americans died after accidentally taking too much of a drug renowned for its safety: acetaminophen, one of the nation’s most popular pain relievers.

Acetaminophen – the active ingredient in Tylenol – is considered safe when taken at recommended doses. Tens of millions of people use it weekly with no ill effect. But in larger amounts, especially in combination with alcohol, the drug can damage or even destroy the liver.

For over more than 30 years, the FDA has delayed or failed to adopt measures designed to reduce deaths and injuries from acetaminophen. The agency began a comprehensive review to set safety rules for acetaminophen in the 1970s, but still has not finished.

McNeil, the maker of Tylenol, has taken steps to protect consumers. But over more than three decades, the company has repeatedly opposed safety warnings, dosage restrictions and other measures meant to safeguard users of the drug.

Davy Baumle, a slender 12-year-old who loved to ride his dirt bike through the woods of southern Illinois, died from acetaminophen poisoning. So did tiny five-month-old Brianna Hutto. So did Marcus Trunk, a strapping 23-year-old construction worker from Philadelphia.

The toll does not have to be so high.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has long been aware of studies showing the risks of acetaminophen – in particular, that the margin between the amount that helps and the amount that can cause serious harm is smaller than for other pain relievers. So, too, has McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the unit of Johnson & Johnson that has built Tylenol into a billion-dollar brand and the leader in acetaminophen sales.

Yet federal regulators have delayed or failed to adopt measures designed to reduce deaths and injuries from acetaminophen overdose, which the agency calls a “persistent, important public health problem.”

The FDA has repeatedly deferred decisions on consumer protections even when they were endorsed by the agency’s own advisory committees, records show.

In 1977, an expert panel convened by the FDA issued urgently worded advice, saying it was “obligatory” to put a warning on the drug’s label that it could cause “severe liver damage.” After much debate, the FDA added the warning 32 years later. The panel’s recommendation was part of a broader review to set safety rules for acetaminophen, which is still not finished.

Four years ago, another FDA panel backed a sweeping new set of proposals to bolster the safety of over-the-counter acetaminophen. The agency hasn’t implemented them. Just last month, the FDA blew through another deadline.

Regulators in other developed countries, from Great Britain to Switzerland to New Zealand, have limited how much acetaminophen consumers can buy at one time or required it to be sold only by pharmacies. The FDA has placed no such limits on the drug in the U.S. Instead, it has continued to debate basic safety questions, such as what the maximum recommended daily dose should be.

Safety Delay
36 5 28 17 13 26

In the 1970s, the Food and Drug Administration appointed an expert panel to review the safety and efficacy of over-the-counter pain relievers, including acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol. The panel delivered their recommendations on April 5, 1977. At the time, the FDA estimated it would issue final regulations before the end of 1978. The agency has still not completed its work. This is how much time has passed since then. Find out more >>

For its part, McNeil has taken steps to protect consumers, most notably by helping to fund the development of an antidote to acetaminophen poisoning that has saved many lives.

But over more than three decades, the company repeatedly fought against safety warnings, dosage restrictions and other measures meant to safeguard users of the drug, according to company memos, court records, documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, and interviews with hundreds of regulatory, corporate and medical officials.

In the 1990s, McNeil tried to create a safer version of acetaminophen, an effort dubbed Project Protect. But after the initiative failed, the company kept its experiments confidential, even when the FDA inquired about the feasibility of developing such a drug.

Later, McNeil opposed even a modest government campaign to educate the public about acetaminophen’s risks, in part because it would harm Tylenol sales.

All the while, it has marketed Tylenol’s safety. Tylenol was the pain reliever “hospitals use most,” one iconic ad said. The one “recommended by pediatricians,” said another. “Safe, fast pain relief,” its packages promised.

In written responses to questions for this story, as well as a pre-recorded statement  by its vice president for medical affairs, McNeil said it has always acted to ensure its products were used safely.

“McNeil takes acetaminophen overdose very seriously, which is why we have taken significant steps over the years to mitigate the risk,” the company wrote. McNeil has engineered safety packaging and spent millions on research, education and poison control centers that advise people who have overdosed.

The company said that science on acetaminophen had evolved over time and that it had implemented safety measures accordingly. Most recently, it announced it will soon add red lettering to the caps of medicine bottles saying they contain acetaminophen and that users should read the label.

In several cases, after FDA advisors recommended the agency enact safety measures over McNeil’s objections, the company adopted them before the agency forced it to do so. The company then said it was taking such steps voluntarily. McNeil also stressed that it has always followed FDA regulations.

McNeil objected to the thrust of questions from ProPublica and This American Life, saying they indicated “a clear bias” in favor of plaintiff’s lawyers who are suing the company.

The company declined to answer questions about individual cases of death or injury. “Our hearts go out to those who have suffered harm from acetaminophen overdose, and to the families of those who lost their lives as a result,” McNeil wrote in its statement.

FDA officials said the agency saw the benefits of keeping acetaminophen widely available as outweighing the “relatively rare” risk of liver damage or death. Some patients cannot tolerate drugs such as ibuprofen, and for them acetaminophen may be the best option, said one agency official.

Accidental Deaths by Acetaminophen Poisoning

How many people have died by accidentally overdosing on acetaminophen each year.

1,567  Number of people who have died from 2001 through 2010 from inadvertently taking too much acetaminophen.

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Multiple Cause of Death database

The FDA has bolstered acetaminophen warnings as new science about the drug emerged, the agency said in a statement.

But FDA officials acknowledged the agency had moved sluggishly to address the mounting toll of liver damage caused by acetaminophen. They blamed changing research, small budgets, an overworked staff and a cumbersome process for changing rules for older drugs such as Tylenol slowing them down.

The agency has greater authority over prescription drugs, and it has already slapped medications containing acetaminophen with a “black box warning” that says overdosing can lead to “liver transplant and death.” Paradoxically, the same medicine sold over the counter does not tell patients that death is a possible side effect.

“Among over-the-counter medicines, it’s among our top priorities,” said Dr. Sandy Kweder, one of the FDA’s top experts on acetaminophen. “It just takes time.”

Many doctors believe in acetaminophen and some medical associations advise patients to take it for mild to moderate pain or reducing fever. “Given the number of doses given annually, the track record is incredibly safe,” said Dr. Bill Banner, a pediatrician and the medical director of the Oklahoma Poison Control Center.

Every over-the-counter pain reliever can cause harm. Even without overdosing, aspirin and ibuprofen can lead to stomach bleeding. In extremely rare cases, according to the FDA, recommended doses of ibuprofen and acetaminophen can provoke a skin reaction that can kill.

But the FDA says acetaminophen carries a special risk. About a quarter of Americans routinely take more over-the-counter pain relief pills of all kinds than they are supposed to, surveys show. That behavior is “particularly troublesome” for acetaminophen, an FDA report said, because the drug’s narrow safety margin places “a large fraction of users close to a toxic dose in the ordinary course of use.”

The FDA sets the maximum recommended daily dose of acetaminophen at 4 grams, or eight extra strength acetaminophen tablets. That maximum applies to both over-the-counter and prescription drugs with acetaminophen.

Taken over several days, as little as 25 percent above the maximum daily dose – or just two additional extra strength pills a day – has been reported to cause liver damage, according to the agency. Taken all at once, a little less than four times the maximum daily dose can cause death. A comparable figure doesn’t exist for ibuprofen, because so few people have died from overdosing on that drug.

About as many Americans take ibuprofen as take acetaminophen, according to consumer surveys from the mid-2000s.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Association of Poison Control Centers collect data on the number of deaths associated with each drug, but the figures are incomplete, making comparisons subject to question. McNeil contends the databases do not contain the information needed to draw conclusions about the relative risks of different medicines. The company and some epidemiologists maintain that these data sets undercount deaths resulting from chronic use of naproxen, ibuprofen and similar pain relievers. (More on the numbers can be found here.)

Still, the data show that acetaminophen is linked to more deaths than any other over-the-counter pain reliever.

From 2001 to 2010, annual acetaminophen-related deaths amounted to about twice the number attributed to all other over-the-counter pain relievers combined, according to the poison control data.

In 2010, only 15 deaths were reported for the entire class of pain relievers, both prescription and over-the-counter, that includes ibuprofen, data from the CDC shows.

That same year, 321 people died from acetaminophen toxicity, according to CDC data. More than half – 166 – died from accidental overdoses. The rest overdosed deliberately or their intent was unclear. For the decade 2001 through 2010, the data shows, 1,567 people died from inadvertently taking too much of the drug.

Acetaminophen overdose sends as many as 78,000 Americans to the emergency room annually and results in 33,000 hospitalizations a year, federal data shows. Acetaminophen is also the nation’s leading cause of acute liver failure, according to data from an ongoing study funded by the National Institutes for Health.

Behind these statistics are families upended and traumatized and, in the worst cases, shattered by loss.

Just before Christmas 1999, 12-year-old Davy Baumle came down with a sore throat. For a week, his parents, David and Udosha Baumle, gave him Maximum Strength Tylenol Sore Throat, measuring out doses of the thick syrup.

But instead of getting better, Davy became listless. On Christmas Day, he threw up blood. His father took him to a local emergency room wrapped in a fuzzy brown blanket. A few days later, the boy was declared brain dead.

“They tell you it’s medicine… They don’t tell you it can kill you.”

David Baumle, father of Davy Baumle

The Baumles later sued McNeil, claiming the company had failed to warn consumers of its product’s lethal danger. At trial, they testified they never gave Davy more than the recommended dose, 4 grams per day, or eight tablespoons. An expert for the company testified that lab work suggested the boy had ingested more, 6 to 10 grams, over several days.

The difference amounted to as little as 4 tablespoons a day, but the company prevailed, persuading the jury that the Baumles had not used Tylenol precisely as specified.

David Baumle said he would never have given his son the drug if he knew it was potentially lethal. At the time, the label simply warned of “serious health consequences” in case of overdose.

“They tell you it’s medicine,” he said. “They don’t tell you it can kill you.”

Tylenol was born in 1955, when the family-owned McNeil Laboratories introduced a liquid for children called Tylenol Elixir.

The drug’s key ingredient, acetaminophen, was developed in the late 1800s in Germany’s coal tar industry. McNeil seized on the drug’s potential after American research suggested that the medication does not cause stomach bleeding, as aspirin can. McNeil named the product based on letters in the chemical term for acetaminophen, N-acetyl-p-aminophenol.

Johnson & Johnson acquired McNeil in 1959, the same year that Tylenol was approved for over-the-counter sales. Soon thereafter, the first adult version of Tylenol rolled off the company’s production line in Fort Washington, Pa., the site of McNeil’s current headquarters.

Unlike companies that develop prescription drugs, McNeil has no patent on acetaminophen, and so no right to sell it exclusively. Virtually every drug store stocks generic acetaminophen, usually on the same shelf as Tylenol. To sell Tylenol at a premium, the company had to persuade customers they were getting extra value.

Tylenol has had “generic competition for 40 years,” said Ashley McEvoy, then the president of McNeil, in a webcast interview posted in 2008. “If I look back at what’s garnered success for McNeil, it’s the enduring value of brands.”

The company aimed its early sales pitches at doctors, according to a company history, working to persuade them to recommend Tylenol as a safer alternative to aspirin. To this day, the company’s formula for success hinges on positioning Tylenol as safer than other painkillers and more trustworthy than generics.

“If I look back at what’s garnered success for McNeil, it’s the enduring value of brands.”

Ashley McEvoy, former president of McNeil, the Johnson & Johnson unit that makes Tylenol

Perhaps the most famous chapter in McNeil’s corporate history is its response when several people in the Chicago area died in 1982 after taking Tylenol laced with cyanide.

The mysterious deaths terrorized the country — and raised questions about the safety of the company’s products. But in what later becamea business school case study, McNeil removed Tylenol from the market, offered refunds and eventually developed tamper-resistant pills. By the end, it had transformed a disaster into a public relations coup.

McNeil’s marketing campaigns for its master brand were also skillful,burnishing Tylenol’s image while usually avoiding claims of absolute safety or zero side effects. One slogan: “The brand of pain reliever that doctors recommend more than any other.” Another: “Trust TYLENOL. Hospitals do.”

“We never use the word ‘safe’ in our advertising,” said Anthony Temple, McNeil’s longtime medical director, in a legal case in 1993. “We will say ‘a superior safety profile’ or some language to suggest its relative safety to other” over-the-counter pain relievers.

Plane Lands on Outer Drive


Plane makes emergency landing on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive

Chicago planeJohn Pedersen, right, talks with police after landing his single-engine plane on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago on Sunday because of mechanical trouble. (Ashley Rezin / Sun-Times Media / September 22, 2013)
By Matt Pearce  September 22, 2013, 1:36 p.m.  Los Angeles Times
This isn’t something you see every day: A small plane landed on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive early Sunday morning after the pilot encountered some mechanical difficulties. No one was hurt.

According to the Chicago Tribune, John Pedersen guided his juddering two-seater over Millennial Park after a stabilizing part on the plane malfunctioned.

He saw traffic on the famous drive and tried to time his landing for when the cars were stopped at a red light. “You pick a landing spot that’s not going to jeopardize anybody else,” Pedersen told the Tribune.

Yet after he set down the plane safety, he said, two cars hit it and sped away.

Fire officials rolled the plane off the highway, at which point the whole ordeal became a bit of a novelty for emergency responders and onlookers taking photos of the craft. (Photos of the plane didn’t reveal much, if any, damage.)


Falcons Scare Off Crop-Eating Birds



Falconers bring an ancient twist to modern farming. They’re not cheap, but neither is netting. And the ‘stooping’ technique can be more effective than scarecrows, noise and flash tape.

By David Pierson Los Angeles Times   6:00 AM PDT, September 15, 2013

To keep pesky birds away from his blueberries, veteran farmer Mark Flamm has blared recordings of avian distress calls, shot noisy “bird bangers” from a pistol and ordered an employee to shake a gravel-filled bottle at the sky.

He even went old-school and planted a scarecrow.

“That didn’t work,” said Flamm, 58, who once lost a fifth of his berries to his feathered foe despite the efforts, “though I got a picture of a bird sitting on the scarecrow.”

That’s when he called in the falcons.

Starting three years ago, the central Washington state grower hired Vahe Alaverdian of Falcon Force, a master falconer based in La Crescenta, to drive out the flocks of sparrows and starlings that were fattened off Flamm’s fields.

Using a hunting technique that some think dates back to the Bronze Age, Alaverdian prompted his raptors to launch into a series of high-speed dives, called “stooping,” meant to mimic the capture of winged prey. The maneuvers — not unlike an aeronautical war dance — trigger an innate panic attack in the fruit-munching birds, who are either paralyzed with fear or flee for new surroundings.

The falcons are trained to scare, not snack on, their targets.

“It’s amazing. Suddenly all the other birds go quiet because they know they could be eaten,” said Flamm, who has seen his crop loss from birds dwindle to around 3%.

In the age-old face-off between farmer and bird, falconry has presented a relatively new way to tip the scales in man’s favor.

It’s an ancient twist to modern farming, which has embraced technology to resist disease, conserve water and conjure a smorgasbord of expensive hybrid fruit. Yet when it comes to marauding birds, growers have few solutions short of ringing the skies with shotgun blasts.

“There’s not much we can do,” said Joe MacIlvaine, president of Paramount Farming Co. in Bakersfield, the world’s largest grower and processor of almonds and pistachios. “You can’t shoot them, and you can’t poison them, which aren’t great ideas anyway.”

One Ventura County strawberry farmer’s imperfect answer is riding his bicycle on his farm and sounding its bell. Others use timed propane cannons and firecrackers that can make a tranquil country morning sound like the Battle of Waterloo.

“I give one of my workers a pan and a hammer, and he just pounds away to scare the birds,” said John Tenerelli, a stone-fruit farmer in Littlerock, near Palmdale.

Alex Weiser, a specialty fruit and vegetable grower in Kern and San Bernardino counties, has an employee drive up and down his fields shooing away the birds like a come-to-life scarecrow.

Recently, he tried specially manufactured inflatable yellow balloons with reflective silver patches he calls the “evil eye.” Hung on the end of a branch, the orbs are meant to spook the burglars in midflight.

Despite all that, some of his best results come from firing a flare gun in the general direction of the airborne offenders.

“Not too popular with the neighbors,” Weiser said.

Bird damage is often overshadowed by weather and water as a farmer’s chief concerns. But avian pests are a formidable challenge, raising the risk of contamination and costing growers hundreds of millions a year in damaged crop.

Recent research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that birds peck $49 million away from California’s wine-grape industry each harvest, $12.3 million from the state’s sweet-cherry growers and $2.6 million from blueberry farms.

In Washington, bird damage cost growers of Honeycrisp apples $26.7 million, blueberries $4.6 million and sweet cherries $31.9 million. Birds, like humans, prefer sugary fruit; it’s one reason tart cherries in Washington suffered only $1.8 million in losses.

“Birds are a serious problem because they tend to like the crops that are expensive,” said Stephanie Shwiff, one of the study’s authors and a researcher at the USDA’s National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins, Colo.

With a modest investment in bird abatement, farmers can protect more of their profits, Shwiff said.

The problem is choosing the right method. Putting a net over the entire bush makes sense for small farms. But at around $400 an acre, it could set a larger grower back $400,000.

Flash tape, whose shiny surface wards off the birds, speckles most of California’s wine vineyards, but even that loses its luster once birds realize it poses no threat.

“Anything that doesn’t change day to day, the birds will get used to it,” said Alaverdian, the falconer.

A killing machine like a peregrine falcon, on the other hand, will grab the attention of your run-of-the-mill finch or crow.

Alaverdian demonstrated how on a recent summer morning at a 1,000-acre commercial vineyard in Los Alamos, about a 45-minute drive northwest from Santa Barbara.

Patrolling the hilly property in his dusty white SUV, Alaverdian spotted about two dozen magpies roosting on a nearby cluster of oak trees. Although posing no danger to the grapes below, the black-and-white birds’ presence risked attracting the most prolific plunderers — starlings.

Alaverdian released Genghis, one of four falcons perched patiently in the back of his car strapped with radio transmitters just in case they fly out of sight. The 4-year-old peregrine circled over the chardonnay and pinot grigio grapes, gained altitude and then swooped with astonishing force toward his handler.

Genghis was lured by pigeon feathers tethered to the end of a rope that Alaverdian twirled with precision. Each time the falcon got close, Alaverdian pulled back the lure.

“This whole process is devastating from the prey’s point of view,” said Alaverdian, 39, who repeated the performance several times until the magpies vanished over a hill. Genghis was rewarded with a bloody pigeon carcass pulled out of a Ziploc bag in the SUV cup holder.

The constant pressure encourages unwanted birds to seek their meals elsewhere, sometimes to the detriment of neighbors. Alaverdian was once cursed out by a vineyard manager next door. He took it as another sign his falcons were hitting their stride. In the five years he’s worked at the vineyard, netting has decreased from 95% to 5%.

That makes Alaverdian’s $700 day rate a bargain by comparison, though it might take weeks or even months to take care of the problem.

Though effective, there aren’t enough certified master falconers like Alaverdian to expand beyond a niche market in the nation’s $15-billion fruit industry.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said falconry is growing in popularity. Traditionally a blood sport for the rich, it has found a second life in the world of bird abatement.

E. & J. Gallo Winery has been using falcons for eight years in Sonoma County. Kendall Jackson Winery has been doing it just as long in Monterey and Sonoma counties. The birds are also employed at airports, landfills and beaches.

Still, not just anyone can pick up the craft. The life of a falconer can be grueling.

Alaverdian, whose Armenian family fled war-torn Iran in the 1980s, said the job requires a comfort with ruggedness and solitude. He spends months without a break on a single vineyard or farm.

He hasn’t bought commercial meat in 14 years. He eats salmon, trout, elk and deer he catches in the wild. He’s so engrossed with his work, he can’t help but flinch when he sees a flock of birds even when he’s driving back to his motel.


Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times

Excitement on the Beach


Gillson Park, the sun set half an hour ago but it isn’t dark yet; surf is rolling in.

Toward the southeast, the huge, golden full moon has risen, is sliding up behind ragged clouds.

In the distant northeast, lightning explodes across the sky from behind great cloud banks.

Above the clouds the moon grows smaller, paler the higher it reaches.

The lightning bursts on the left, in the center, left again, then to the right.

A mile down the beach, the beacon glows on and off as it turns atop the lighthouse.

Airplanes float their lights through the darkening sky.


New Test for Virus / Bacteria


New test aims to better detect viral infections, cut overuse of antibiotics

Associated Press
Published September 19, 2013 Associated Press


It happens too often: A doctor isn’t sure what’s causing someone’s feverish illness but prescribes antibiotics just in case, drugs that don’t work if a virus is the real culprit.

Now Duke University researchers are developing a blood test to more easily tell when a respiratory illness is due to a virus and not a bacterial infection, hoping to cut the dangerous overuse of antibiotics and speed the right diagnosis.

It works by taking a fingerprint of your immune system – how its genes are revving up to fight the bug. That’s very different from how infections are diagnosed today. And if the experimental test pans out, it also promises to help doctors track brand-new threats, like the next flu pandemic or that mysterious MERS virus that has erupted in the Middle East.

That viral “signature could be quite powerful, and may be a game-changer,” said Dr. Geoffrey Ginsburg, Duke’s genomic medicine chief. He leads the team that on Wednesday reported that a study involving 102 people provided early evidence that the test can work.

Today, when symptoms alone aren’t enough for diagnosis, a doctor’s suspicion guides what tests are performed – tests that work by hunting for evidence of a specific pathogen. Fever and cough? If it’s flu season, you might be tested for the flu virus. An awful sore throat? Chances are you’ll get checked for strep bacteria. A negative test can leave the doctor wondering what germ to check for next, or whether to make a best guess.

Moreover, rapid in-the-office tests aren’t always accurate and can miss infections. So patients may have blood or other samples sent to labs to try to grow any lurking bacteria and tell if it’s to blame, additional testing that can take days.

“This is something we struggle with every day,” said Dr. Octavio Ramilo, infectious disease chief at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, who wasn’t involved in the new study. Particularly with children, a respiratory virus and a bacterial infection “in the beginning look completely alike,” he added.

Hence researchers at a number of universities are trying to harness a fairly recent discovery: As your immune system detects an invading bug, different genes are activated to fend off a viral infection than to fight a bacterial or fungal one. Those subtle molecular changes appear to be occurring even before you feel any symptoms. And they form distinct patterns of RNA and proteins, what’s called a genomic fingerprint.

The Duke team discovered 30 genes that are switched on in different ways during a viral attack. The test essentially is a freeze-frame to show “what those genes are doing at the moment in time that it’s captured,” explained Duke lead researcher Dr. Aimee Zaas, an infectious disease specialist.

Small studies spotted that viral signature in people who volunteered to be infected with different influenza strains for science.

For a more real-world simulation, the researchers then analyzed blood samples stored from feverish people who had come to the emergency room – and who were eventually diagnosed, the old-fashioned way, with either some type of virus or a bacterial infection.

The genomic test proved 89 percent accurate in sorting out who had a virus, and did even better at ruling out those who didn’t, Zaas reported Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

It took 12 hours to get results. The researchers hope to speed that up so that it might work as quickly as some in-office tests.

Still, “it’s a promising tool,” said Ramilo, an Ohio State University professor who is doing similar research. He called the Duke study an important step toward creating a commercial test, and predicts one might reach the market within five years.

Why would a doctor want to know merely that a virus is present and not which virus? That’s enough information to rule out antibiotics, Zaas said. Unnecessary antibiotic use is one factor in the growing problem of drug-resistant germs, which the government blames for more than 23,000 deaths a year.

Plus, if a dangerous new virus begins spreading, like MERS, this approach could help avoid quarantining people unnecessarily by telling right away which ones are virus-free, Ginsburg added.

In Ohio, Ramilo is exploring a more immediate need: When young infants have high fevers, they’re often hospitalized while doctors run a battery of tests to find the fraction who have a serious bacterial infection. He is leading a study involving 22 pediatric emergency rooms to see if a genomic fingerprint approach could separate which babies really need all that testing.

But the virus-or-not question is just the beginning, Ramilo said. His research suggests genomic fingerprints also can distinguish a flu strain from other common viruses. And the Duke team is analyzing a huge study of students living in dormitories, to see if the genomic test detected who was incubating the flu before their first sniffle – and thus might be useful in stemming outbreaks.


Forgetfulness & Protein


Age-Related Forgetfulness Tied to Diminished Brain Protein

By Elizabeth Lopatto – Aug 28, 2013 1:00 PM CT

Age-related forgetfulness may be due to a deficiency in a brain protein that helps form memories, a study found. Targeting the gene that produces that protein could lead to new therapies, the researchers said.

Scientists identified the protein, called RbAp48, in human brain cells and showed that inhibiting it in mice made the animals forgetful while raising the protein improved their memories. That suggests that age-related memory loss may be reversible, researchers said.

“All of us are living longer, and we want to stay engaged in a cognitively complex world,” said Scott Small, a study author and neurologist at Columbia University in New York. The mouse studies show that that too little of the protein is causing memory loss, he said.

The findings also confirm that age-related memory loss is different from the deficits seen inAlzheimer’s disease. The research is published today in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

The researchers took the postmortem brains of eight people ages 33 to 88 who were disease-free, and examined the function of 17 genes in a part of the hippocampus, an area that is involved in memory. That section, called the dentate gyrus, has been shown before to change with age. The strongest changes were found in a gene that expressed RbAp48, which declines in function as brains age.

When the researchers suppressed that gene in healthy young mice, the mice performed worse on object recognition and water maze tests. When the researchers allowed the gene to go back to normal function, the mice’s memory improved.

Older Mice

In another group of older mice, researchers used a virus to put extra copies of the RbAp48 gene in the animals’ brains. That led them to produce more of the associated protein in their dentate gyruses. Their performance on cognitive tests improved to the levels seen in young mice.

The results suggest that changes in RbAp48 in humans may be a cause of memory loss, Small said. The mouse models here are significant than in other brain disease, since most mammals undergo similar decreases in that gene level naturally as they age, he said.