Archive for September, 2016

It’s been a bit busy around here, what with the full-time job, trying to make progress on the book and film, four extra people living in the house, etc., etc.

I thought I’d finally have time tonight to write a post I’ve had in mind, but a client discovered a little bug in a software package I sell to law firms.  Fortunately, the client is also my best friend of 40-some years, so he told me about the bug over dinner and a couple of beers, as opposed to, say, in an angry email.

Now that I know I’ve got a bug, I feel obligated to track it down and kill it as soon as possible … before a less-chummy client runs across the same issue.  So there goes my evening.


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My jungle-battling efforts on the farm require a division of labor, at least as far as the equipment employed. I use The Beast to take down wannabe-jungle areas like this:

The Beast is awesome for tearing through nasty stuff, but the lowest setting is about four inches above the ground. So for ex-jungles that have been thoroughly reformed and seeded with grass, I’d been using a Toro mower.

Trouble is, the Toro was apparently designed for tame suburban lawns. After about a year in service here on the farm, it broke apart on me. Based on looks alone, I thought the base of the engine was made from some kind of metal. Nope. I’m pretty sure it’s just hard plastic disguised as metal. Here’s the evidence:

Other parts around the engine also shook themselves loose recently:

I didn’t smack the Toro into big rocks or fallen branches. The snap-crackle-pops were caused by nothing more than running it over our bumpy back pastures and hills. So I decided it’s a case of you get what you pay for and went looking for a beefier mower engineered for rough terrain.

After reading reviews, I settled on a Cub Cadet model and ordered it online. Based on the pictures (I didn’t look for the dimensions), I figured it would be about the size of a souped-up mower with a more powerful engine and bigger back wheels. I knew I’d figured wrong when I picked it up at our local Tractor Supply. The thing just barely fit in the back of the van with the seats down. It was also way too heavy for the clerk and me to lift. He went back into the store for a ramp, and the two of us pushed the thing into the van.

I was almost home when a thought occurred to me: I’m a moron. I don’t have a ramp at home. How the @#$% do I plan to get this out of the van? I should have bought a ramp while I was still at Tractor Supply.

I finished driving home and shared my theory about being a moron with Chareva. She disagreed with the moron part, but did wonder how we’ve managed five years of small-time farming without a ramp in in our repertoire. So it was back to Tractor Supply to get one.

As you can see, the new mower is juuuuust a smidge bigger than the old one.

It’s actually about the size and weight of The Beast – which makes sense, since it cost nearly as much as The Beast.

As a red-blooded male with a new engine-powered toy, I of course had to take it for at least one spin around the back pasture right away. I turned the key …. Ohhh, yeeeahhh! Listen to that engine. We’re talking about some serious power.

Unlike the Toro, which I had to push up our steep hills despite the self-propelled mode, I simply followed this thing uphill. Those big back wheels kept right on gripping the ground.

Since I was only going once around the property for the maiden voyage, I didn’t bother wearing long sleeves or spraying myself with Deep Woods Off. I paid for that sin with several chigger bites on my hands and arms. Lesson learned.

I was impressed, but unsure what to call this new machine. Beast II? Son of Beast? Since it’s made by Cub Cadet, I eventually settled on The Bear.

Yesterday was the first weekend day where I had both the time and the weather to put The Bear into action. Compared to a wimpy ol’ suburban mower, there are pros and cons. The pros are the power, the big wheels, and the wide cutting base – 33 inches, as opposed to 21 inches with the Toro. The wide cutting area comes courtesy of two blades instead of one. That means fewer hikes around the property to get the job done.

The cons are the weight, the weight, and the weight. If I cut sideways across a hill, the thing wants to drift downhill and I have to manhandle it into holding a straight line. If I cut straight up and down a hill, the uphill part is a piece of cake. But going downhill, I have to lean back and resist with my legs to keep it from accelerating downhill. It’s also not easy to pull it out of a corner. There’s a reverse gear, but I like being able to back up by just pulling backwards.

Those cons aside, it’s exactly the kind of mower we need on this property. It rips up sticks and small branches easily and, unlike the Toro, it tears through deep grass without becoming clogged. Even though we had heavy rains on Saturday and the deep grass was still damp on Sunday, I never once had to stop and yank clumps of grass away from the blades in order to continue.

I did, however, manage to drive The Bear over a big rock hiding in some tall grass. Something went WHAM!, then I heard the blades bang against each other and stop, then I smelled burning rubber as the belts continued trying to turn blades that could no longer turn.

Since the rear wheels can turn with the blades disengaged, I steered The Bear back to the house. As I suspected, the rock had jammed one set of blades, while the other set of blades continued turning until they collided. The manual told me the blades should be at 90-degree angles to each other. It also told me if something causes the blades to collide with each other, the cure is to take the machine to a Cub Cadet dealer for service.

Well, to heck with that. I’m a born-again Tool Guy, after all.

I was pleased to discover that The Bear, like The Beast, has a top cover that lifts off to expose the drive belts and such. I was equally pleased to discover that Alex, Chareva’s younger brother, was outside and curious to give it a look. Like his dad (builder of the train line), Alex is quite adept with tools and all things mechanical.

After poking around for a minute, he pointed out the spring that keeps the timing belt tight. I loosened a nut that locks the spring in place, then Alex shoved the spring aside so he could rotate one set of blades independently of the other. Bingo, they were back at 90-degree angles to each other. Yeah, I would have figured that out. Eventually. I think.

Alex also noticed something called a “stop nut” wasn’t extended far enough to do any proper stopping and took care of that for me. Then he oiled some stuff that needed oiling to prevent rust.

Bing-bam-boom, cover back on, and it was back to the mowing while listening to an audiobook. The Cub Cadet mechanics will have to wait for something more serious to happen before getting my business … at least as long as Alex is here.


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Chareva’s parents, Alan and Nancy Smiley, sold their Chicago-area home last month and have moved in with us temporarily, along with her brother and sister-in-law. They’re looking around Franklin now for a new home. For those of you who asked in comments, yes, Alan is the one who built a train line around his property some years ago. That’s one of the things I always liked about the man: his go-go-go, get-things-done drive. That drive is the reason he was able to buy a luxury home in the same neighborhood as mobsters and movie directors at an age when most young husbands are saving for a starter home.

Unfortunately, Alan had a significant stroke in April. As a result, he can no longer move his left arm. He can walk, but has to shuffle along with a cane because he can barely lift his left leg. He’s been plagued by insomnia since the stroke and has occasional hand tremors. The doctors who treated him in Chicago said he might have Parkinson’s.

I’d hate to see this happen to anyone. I especially hate to see it happen to the bundle-of-energy guy who barely left the dance floor at our wedding reception and exhausted several dance partners who were considerably younger.  Some people are happy to retire to an easy chair.  Alan would have preferred to retire to a workshop and a string of projects that require expertise with tools.

Alan’s cousin, a neurologist with more than 30 years in the field, offered to drive down from Kentucky last weekend for a visit and a consultation. I was upstairs working on a programming project when Chareva’s mom told me the conversation was turning to nutrition, and Alan thought I might want to listen in. Nutrition? Well, of course I wanted to listen in.

On my way downstairs, I hoped I wasn’t going to hear the standard-issue advice about avoiding fat and eating those hearthealthywholegrains. I promised I’d bite my tongue if need be. After all, Dr. Mike Mayron, the neurologist, made the trip from Kentucky out of the goodness of his heart.

Imagine my relief when Dr. Mayron began by telling Alan that sugars and grains are bad for the brain. We weren’t programmed by evolution to deal with the high levels of glucose those foods produce, he said. We’re programmed to thrive on a diet in which fat is our primary fuel. The best diet to help heal your brain and give it the fuel it needs is a ketogenic diet.

Dr. Mayron explained that he prescribes a ketogenic diet as part of the therapy for a number of brain conditions, then added, “There’s a book I want you to read. I recommend it to all the patients I put on a ketogenic diet, because it was written by a layman and it’s easy to understand. It’s called—“

Holy @#$%, I bet he’s about to say “Keto Clarity.”

“—Keto Clarity, by Jimmy Moore.”

“I’ve got a copy upstairs, Doctor.”

“Oh, good!”

“Actually, Jimmy and I good friends.”

“You’re friends with Jimmy Moore? Seriously?”

“Yeah, in fact he and his wife will be visiting us for Thanksgiving. They were here last Thanksgiving too.”

“Wow. Well, be sure tell him I said thank-you for writing a book that’s helped a lot of people.”

“I will. Actually, hang on, I have a better idea. You can tell him.”

I went and grabbed my iPhone, dialing up Jimmy on FaceTime as I returned to the room. When Jimmy’s face appeared onscreen, I told him I was with a neurologist who wanted to thank him for his work. I handed the phone to Dr. Mayron, and the two of them had a nice chat.

Jimmy then mentioned that he was in Australia to give a speech, and it was 1:00 AM. He should probably try to go back to sleep. Oops. Sorry, Jimmy. It’s a credit to your character that you answered the call cheerfully instead of denigrating my manhood and/or place in the food chain.

After the call with Jimmy, Dr. Mayron continued explaining the many reasons Alan should be on a ketogenic diet, both as a stroke survivor and a type II diabetic. He explained that it normally takes a few weeks to make the adjustment, but there are drink mixes available now that help boost ketones right away. One of them, this one, was originally developed for Navy Seals. Apparently the military figured out Seals have more endurance and focus during long missions if they’re in ketosis.

I was, of course, delighted that Alan was hearing all this from a neurologist. I want him to control his diabetes and be as healthy as he can for as long as he can. After all, he just moved to the same town as the daughter and granddaughters who love him.  We’d all like for him to stick around for awhile.

But I was also delighted to see another example of how more and more doctors are catching on. I didn’t know Dr. Mayron before this weekend. He didn’t know I produced a movie called Fat Head. In fact, as he was assuring Alan that a ketogenic diet doesn’t have to be boring, he said he makes a low-carb pizza crust that taste just like real pizza crust. As he described the ingredients, I asked, “When you found that recipe online, was it by any chance called Fat Head Pizza?”

“As a matter of fact, yes, I’m pretty sure it was.”

“I’m Fat Head.”

I tried not to sound like Michael Keaton saying “I’m Batman.” I also felt obligated to explain that people call it Fat Head Pizza even though all I did was post a recipe my nephew found elsewhere online.

Anyway, my point (and I do have one) is that once again, I saw the Wisdom of Crowds effect at work. I can guarantee you that when Dr. Mayron was in medical school, he wasn’t taught about ketogenic diets as a therapy for brain issues. But thanks to the internet and the astounding ability we all have to acquire and share information, he’s quite familiar with the benefits of a ketogenic diet now. (He lost a lot of weight after going ketogenic himself.) The information gatekeepers don’t control the gates anymore, because the gates are gone. The overlords at the USDA have lost their grip on the conversation about diet and health.

Now when a neurologist wants to educate patients about a good-for-the-brain diet, he recommends a book by a blogger named Jimmy Moore.

And I believe there’s a good chance you’ll hear from Dr. Mayron on a future episode of Jimmy’s podcast show.  Let’s keep that Wisdom of Crowds effect growing.


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Follow the money.  Follow the money.  Follow the money.

If you’ve seen Fat Head, you probably remember that line.  Here’s a perfect example of why you should follow the money, as reported in The New York Times:

The sugar industry paid scientists in the 1960s to play down the link between sugar and heart disease and promote saturated fat as the culprit instead, newly released historical documents show.

Shocking, isn’t it?  Actually, no, it’s not shocking.  Arterycloggingsaturatedfat! hysteria was always about money.

The internal sugar industry documents, recently discovered by a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, and published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that five decades of research into the role of nutrition and heart disease, including many of today’s dietary recommendations, may have been largely shaped by the sugar industry.

The documents show that a trade group called the Sugar Research Foundation, known today as the Sugar Association, paid three Harvard scientists the equivalent of about $50,000 in today’s dollars to publish a 1967 review of research on sugar, fat and heart disease. The studies used in the review were handpicked by the sugar group, and the article, which was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, minimized the link between sugar and heart health and cast aspersions on the role of saturated fat.

The Harvard scientists were not only whores, they were cheap whores.  The equivalent of $50,000 in today’s dollars to steer the blame for heart disease from sugar to fat?  Man, you got taken.  Think of all those Snackwell’s sold in the ‘80s – fat-free, so they’re guilt-free!  Think of all the sugary products (Cocoa Puffs come to mind) that sported the American Heart Association seal of approval because they were low in fat.  You morons should have demanded at least $10 million each.

The Harvard scientists and the sugar executives with whom they collaborated are no longer alive.

Funny how always seems to be the case, isn’t it?  We learn about these scientific shenanigans after the shenanigators are deceased.  Back in April, I wrote about a “rediscovered” study conducted in the 1960s in which subjects who cut back on animal fats in favor of vegetable oils actually had a higher rate of heart disease.  The investigators apparently buried the study.  One of those investigators was Ancel Keys – long deceased when the data was “rediscovered.”

Anyway …

One of the scientists who was paid by the sugar industry was D. Mark Hegsted, who went on to become the head of nutrition at the United States Department of Agriculture, where in 1977 he helped draft the forerunner to the federal government’s dietary guidelines. Another scientist was Dr. Fredrick J. Stare, the chairman of Harvard’s nutrition department.

If you’ve read Good Calories, Bad Calories or The Big Fat Surprise, you know how much influence these two shenanigators had on our diets over the decades.

Dr. Hegsted used his research to influence the government’s dietary recommendations, which emphasized saturated fat as a driver of heart disease while largely characterizing sugar as empty calories linked to tooth decay. Today, the saturated fat warnings remain a cornerstone of the government’s dietary guidelines, though in recent years the American Heart Association, the World Health Organization and other health authorities have also begun to warn that too much added sugar may increase cardiovascular disease risk.

Way to go, American Heart Association!  It only took you 40 years to become sort of half-right about diets and health!  If I live to be 120 or so, I might even see you drop the nonsense about arterycloggingsaturatedfat!

The documents show that in 1964, John Hickson, a top sugar industry executive, discussed a plan with others in the industry to shift public opinion “through our research and information and legislative programs.”

At the time, studies had begun pointing to a relationship between high-sugar diets and the country’s high rates of heart disease. At the same time, other scientists, including the prominent Minnesota physiologist Ancel Keys, were investigating a competing theory that it was saturated fat and dietary cholesterol that posed the biggest risk for heart disease.

In 1965, Mr. Hickson enlisted the Harvard researchers to write a review that would debunk the anti-sugar studies. He paid them a total of $6,500, the equivalent of $49,000 today. Mr. Hickson selected the papers for them to review and made it clear he wanted the result to favor sugar.

Harvard’s Dr. Hegsted reassured the sugar executives. “We are well aware of your particular interest,” he wrote, “and will cover this as well as we can.”

I’m pretty sure as well as we can didn’t mean as objectively as we can.

As they worked on their review, the Harvard researchers shared and discussed early drafts with Mr. Hickson, who responded that he was pleased with what they were writing.

“Good job, guys.  If you meet me in the underground parking garage around midnight tomorrow, I’ll give you thick envelope full of other scientific insights I’d like to share, mostly in the form of unmarked bills.”

Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, said that academic conflict-of-interest rules had changed significantly since the 1960s, but that the industry papers were a reminder of “why research should be supported by public funding rather than depending on industry funding.”

Awww, isn’t that cute?  Dr. Willet thinks research supported by “public funding” is unbiased.  I mean, it’s not as if “public funding” was yanked away from researchers who disagreed with the Lipid Hypothesis once the U.S. government bought into the idea. And it’s not as if studies supported by “public funding” were buried when the results weren’t what the overlords at the USDA and NIH wanted to hear.

The fact of the matter is that is there is no easy answer for the funding problem.  Industries will of course support researchers who produce results the industries like.  But governments do exactly the same thing.  All we can do is try to become scientifically literate enough to separate the garbage studies from the legitimate studies – some of which are funded by governments, and some of which are funded by industries.

After the review was published, the debate about sugar and heart disease died down, while low-fat diets gained the endorsement of many health authorities.

Welcome to Snackwell’s, Slim-Fast, fat-free frozen yogurt, cereal instead of eggs for breakfast, Weight Watchers Smart Ones frozen dinners, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, chocolate-flavored skim milk in schools, and countless sugar-and-grain products proudly bearing the American Heart Association’s seal of approval – oh, and the diabetes epidemic too.

I hope those jackasses really enjoyed the $49,000.


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I had another topic in mind for tonight’s post, but I would be remiss if I didn’t post a farewell to Dr. Duane Graveline, who I consider a modern medical hero.

I don’t remember exactly how I ended up coming across, a site he created to educate people about the side-effects of statins.  I know it was during the research phase for Fat Head.  I was pretty well convinced by then that cholesterol doesn’t cause heart disease, which of course means statins are nearly worthless.  It was only after reading articles by Dr. Graveline that I began to see that statins are worse than worthless.  They cause actual damage to millions of unsuspecting people who are merely following doctor’s orders.

For those of you who don’t know, Dr. Graveline was an M.D., a flight surgeon in the Air Force, and a researcher for NASA.  In other words, the man knew his medical science.  So when he began experiencing strange side-effects after being prescribed Lipitor for his “high” cholesterol, he approached it as science problem.  He went on and off Lipitor a few times and tracked his symptoms.

Those symptoms weren’t pretty.  On two different occasions, his spent entire days in a state of profound confusion, unable to remember, say, anything since before medical school.  Then his memory would return.  The condition is known as transient global amnesia, and as Dr. Graveline discovered when he began investigating, it’s hardly an unknown experience among people on statins.

It was while reading those accounts that I had a major head-slapping, if-only-I-had-a-time-machine moment.  When my dad was in his late 50s (in other words, around my current age), he had two similar experiences.  He became confused and babbled nonsense.  He couldn’t remember my sister’s name as she talked to him and tried to figure out what the hell was happening to him.  On both occasions he was taken to a hospital … and on both occasions, doctors ran tests and told my mom they couldn’t find anything actually wrong with him.  Then the confusion cleared and his memory came back – exactly what Dr. Graveline experienced.

Naturally, it didn’t occur to any of the doctors examining my dad to ask if he was on Lipitor … which he was, and a high dose at that.  Although I can’t prove it, I’m convinced the Lipitor either triggered or accelerated my dad’s Alzheimer’s.   So instead of spending his well-deserved retirement playing golf, he spent most of it in a home for Alzheimer’s patients.

When my mom was on statins, she experienced nasty muscle and joint pains – which of course her doctor didn’t attribute to the statins.  But I did, thanks to the work of people like Dr. Graveline and Dr. Malcolm Kendrick.  Dr. Graveline, in fact, ended up with permanently damaged muscles as a parting gift from the makers of Lipitor.

The SpaceDoc site is chock-full of research on statins in particular and heart health in general.  I doubt many people in the Fat Head audience need convincing about the dangers of statins, but it’s worth visiting the site anyway just to see how much information Dr. Graveline gathered over the years in his one-man battle to educate an unsuspecting public.

Many of you have emailed or left comments to thank me for sounding the alarm about statins.  Don’t thank me.  Thank Dr. Graveline, who continued fighting the good fight all the way to age 85.  It’s largely because of his fight that some of us respond to “Your cholesterol is high.  We should put you on a statin” with “Doctor, I wouldn’t take a statin unless you held a gun to my head and I was convinced you’d pull the trigger.”

Godspeed, SpaceDoc.


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I was the guest recently on the 2 Keto Dudes Podcast show.  You can listen to the episode here.  I enjoyed talking to the hosts, Carl Franklin and Richard Morris, very much.  They’re both fellow programmers and both have a great sense of humor.  Among other topics of conversation, they had me take an impromptu trivia quiz about McDonald’s.  Turns out there’s lots of McDonald’s trivia I don’t know.

I’ll get back to posting later this week.  We spent much of last week getting preparing to temporarily double the size of the Fat Head household.  Chareva’s parents finally sold their big ol’ property on the outskirts of Chicago and arrived here on Wednesday, along with her brother and sister-in-law.  They’re living with us while searching for their next home somewhere in Franklin.


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