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My apologies — again — for taking so long between posts.  I got swamped at work.  Well, to be accurate, I chose to swamp myself.  We have an issue with trying to gather data from spreadsheets that are sent via email.  If the data can’t be accurately ingested into the company databases through some kind of software intelligence, people end up having to type it all.  That’s one big @#$%load of tedious typing.

Although this wasn’t technically my problem to solve, I had a flash of inspiration on how to solve it.  So I wrote code until the wee hours several evenings in a row (including weekends) and proved I could indeed solve it — for one major supplier of the spreadsheet info.  Now I’m attempting to take what I learned and apply it to multiple suppliers, all of whom seem to have their own opinions about where the data should go on a spreadsheet and how it should be formatted.  It’s a ginormous task.

But I’m close.  Really, really close.

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My weekend on the farm consisted of fixing stuff, hacking down stuff, and blowing stuff up.  Or as I like to call it, Getting In Touch With My Inner Male.

The fixing-stuff phase started on Saturday.  After Chareva and I spent part of the day working on the book, she reminded me that one of the big drawers in her dresser had fallen apart.  The pieces were sitting on the bedroom floor.

My initial reaction was @#$%!! Now we have to replace that dresser!  Then I remembered that I’ve become a born-again Tool Guy.  I don’t panic when things fall apart.  I fix ‘em if they’re fixable.  So I took the pieces of the drawer into my workshop and started tinkering.

I had attempted to fix the drawer once before, and it actually held together for a few months.  Trouble is, I used the same skinny nails the manufacturer had used.  Probably not a good idea, since those nails had already demonstrated a talent for working themselves loose.  So this time I decided to use wood screws.  I figured if the screws split the wood, well, I’m no worse off.

The wood managed to take the screws without splitting, and at the end of the job, I had a solid drawer in my hands.  I high-fived myself and considered beating my chest while doing a Tarzan yell, but thought better of it.  I moved on to re-installing a toilet-paper dispenser that had fallen off the wall in the girls’ bathroom.  You know, real guy stuff.

On Saturday night, I blew stuff up … namely, the fireworks we didn’t get to set off on the Fourth of July because of thunderstorms.  I had hoped to post a video like this on the Fourth, but better late than never.  The other adult male you see and hear in the video is our neighbor Brian, who came over to enjoy the show with us.

Back in March, I wrote about tilling the ground in the old chicken yard with our new tiller.  The yard looked like this when I was done:

After tilling, I pretty much ignored that patch of ground.  Oops.  Here’s what a patch of ground in rural Tennessee looks like if you ignore it for three-and-a-half months:

Clearly, it was time to feed The Beast.  So on Sunday afternoon, I cleaned up the mess from the fireworks show, then played 18 holes of disc golf, then steered The Beast into the old chicken yard.

I’d knocked down about a third of the jungle when The Beast started smoking and refusing to whack any more weeds.  I shut it off and smelled burned rubber.  That meant the belt that turns the blades had snapped.

My initial reaction was @#$%!! Now I have to hoist this heavy @#$% into the van and take it to a repair shop!  Then I remembered that I’ve become a born-again Tool Guy.  I don’t panic when things fall apart.  I fix ‘em if they’re fixable.  In fact, I was pretty sure I’d changed the belt once before and even had the good sense at the time to buy a spare.  So I wheeled The Beast back to the garage.

I believe in giving manufacturers props if they build a good product, so I’m going to post a few pictures to explain how impressed I am with the Swisher Predator – a.k.a. The Beast.

Actually, I’ll start by explaining why I’m not as impressed with my Toro lawn mower.  Yeah, it cuts the grass just fine, but changing the belt (which I’ve only had to do once, thankfully) is a royal pain in the @$$.  You have to turn the thing over and unscrew screws that can barely be reached.  Then you realize it’s impossible to change the belt without using four hands.  I had to recruit Sara to hold back a spring-loaded part with a screwdriver while I worked the new belt into place — which was no easy task.  I’m pretty sure I expanded Sara’s vocabulary during the process.

The Beast, on the other hand, was designed for easy access.  To get to the belt drive, I just had to unscrew a few bolts – which are right there on the top of the thing, no less – and remove a cover.  (As you can see, the belt had definitely snapped.)

To release the old belt, I only had to unscrew one clip that holds it in place. And then, easy peasy, I wrapped the new belt around the belt-drive assembly and screwed the clip back into position.  (The clip is surrounded in red in the picture below).

The whole job took maybe 15 minutes – including the five minutes I took to sit inside and drink a glass of ice water.

So with The Beast back in Beast mode, I finished taking down the jungle in the chicken yard.  I got as close to the barn as I dared, since it’s become a condo building for wasps.  Then I gave the yard a once-over with the lawn mower to knock it down another few inches.

This is the chicken yard afterwards:

With that out of the way, Chareva and I took the garbage and recyclables to the county recycling center, then went to the hardware store to buy another couple of belts for The Beast … because I’m a born-again Tool Guy now, and I know enough to keep some spare parts around.

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Hard to believe it’s already July. The month sneaked up on us so quickly, Chareva and I both forgot our anniversary on July 1st, at least until my mom called to wish us a good one. We can both plead extra busy-ness as an excuse. I worked a lot of overtime in June. Chareva spent two weeks in Chicago (along with Sara), helping to care for her parents, who both had medical issues.

That left me to look after the dogs, the cat, the chickens, the egg stand and the garden in addition to working overtime. Fortunately, I had a helper for the chickens and the egg business.

Back in April, we installed arches in one of the chicken moats (using cattle panels, of course) so we can walk around in there without ducking. The arches are now covered with netting, and the chickens love running around in the moat and finding fresh bugs to eat.

Unfortunately, we have four fewer chickens now. Some critter found its way into the chicken yards and killed three of them within a week. I set up and baited my raccoon trap, only to learn that whatever was killing our chickens wasn’t particularly interested in sardines. The bait sat there untouched for a few days, then disappeared one night … with the trap door still open.

Two days later, Chareva found our last remaining rooster torn up near the fence. My guess is that he was doing his rooster duty and trying to take on the predator to protect the flock. Chivalry isn’t dead, but the chivalrous rooster is.

@#$%!!

So I moved the trap, tested it, and baited it with a can of chicken-liver pate cat food. Two days later, the pate was all gone, the trap door was closed, but nothing was inside except some critter poop. I was half-expecting to find a note reading Thanks for the chicken-liver pate. For future reference, I prefer the turkey giblets.

After experiences like that, I have visions of sitting out by the chicken yard in a camouflage tent at midnight, my hands gripping a rifle with a night-vision scope. Come on, critter, I dare ya. It’s you or me. Then rationality kicks in and I decide I should probably get a good night’s sleep and go to work the next day.

So for now, the chicken-killing critter is still at large. Chareva reinforced a couple spots where she thought a critter might have burrowed under the fence. So far, that’s worked. No more dead chickens.

Her garden has wilted somewhat under the 90-degree heat of the past few weeks, but we’re still harvesting some good stuff.

We’ve had several good bunches of kale, and Chareva has turned me into a fan of roasted okra – which I didn’t think was possible. I’ve always suspected okra was created by a mad scientist who didn’t think were enough slimy creatures in the world and thus decided to create slimy vegetables. Roasting the okra removes the slime factor, and what’s left is actually pretty tasty.

Chareva had some zucchinis growing, but they became infested by squash beetles, so she had to yank them up and feed them to the chickens. This made the girls happy, because during a typical summer, we end up eating fried zucchini, roasted zucchini, zucchini bread, zucchini stew, eggs with zucchini, zucchini surprise, etc. My dad once warned me that if I left my car unlocked in the summer, people would leave zucchini in the back seat.

Chareva and Alana harvested some potatoes last week. Just like with greens and tomatoes, the difference in flavor between what we buy at a grocery store and what we pull from the garden is amazing. All these potatoes need to be delicious after cooking is a little salt … not that I’m averse to adding butter and sour cream now and then.

Fresh food is one benefit of living on a small farm. Another benefit is being legally allowed to shoot off fireworks on our own property. Last year we set off a bunch of little bottle rockets and two bigger rockets. This year we decided to put on a more impressive show for ourselves and stocked up on some big boom-boom makers.  Unfortunately, it’s raining as I write.  I guess we’ll save the show for next weekend.

To our American readers, Happy Fourth of July. To everyone else, Happy Monday.

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I’ve mentioned this story a couple of times before, but given the topic of this post, it bears repeating:

The Older Brother and I had a conversation some years back as our dad was fading from Alzheimer’s.  The Older Brother noted that while our great-grandfather was sharp until nearly age 100, our grandmother developed Alzheimer’s in her 80s, and our dad had (in retrospect) started succumbing in his late 60s.  Seeing the progression, The Older Brother said, “Well, we’re screwed.”  (That’s the family-friendly version of his analysis.)

I replied that Alzheimer’s is probably a form of diabetes, not a genetic destiny.  We can avoid or delay it for decades by eating a good diet.

Turns out a good diet might even reverse the condition to an impressive degree.  Here’s part of the abstract of a 2014 pilot program published in the journal Aging:

This report describes a novel, comprehensive, and personalized therapeutic program that is based on the underlying pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease, and which involves multiple modalities designed to achieve metabolic enhancement for neurodegeneration (MEND). The first 10 patients who have utilized this program include patients with memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD), amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI), or subjective cognitive impairment (SCI). Nine of the 10 displayed subjective or objective improvement in cognition beginning within 3-6 months, with the one failure being a patient with very late stage AD.

Six of the patients had had to discontinue working or were struggling with their jobs at the time of presentation, and all were able to return to work or continue working with improved performance. Improvements have been sustained, and at this time the longest patient follow-up is two and one-half years from initial treatment, with sustained and marked improvement.

Sustained and marked improvement?  Six of 10 patients able to return to work?  Why wasn’t this all over the news?!  Perhaps because there’s no miracle drug involved.  The therapeutic program employed here was mostly about diet and other lifestyle changes.

The paper opens with a long discussion of the biology of Alzheimer’s and the history (not an impressive one) of drug therapies.  Let’s skip those and get into the therapies employed with these patients.  Here are two examples:

Patient One

A 67-year-old woman presented with two years of progressive memory loss. She held a demanding job that involved preparing analytical reports and traveling widely, but found herself no longer able to analyze data or prepare the reports, and therefore was forced to consider quitting her job. She noted that when she would read, by the time she reached the bottom of a page she would have to start at the top once again, since she was unable to remember the material she had just read.

She was no longer able to remember numbers, and had to write down even 4-digit numbers to remember them. She also began to have trouble navigating on the road: even on familiar roads, she would become lost trying to figure out where to enter or exit the road. She also noticed that she would mix up the names of her pets, and forget where the light switches were in her home of years.

Sounds a lot like my dad around the same age.  Long before we realized he was suffering from Alzheimer’s, my mom complained to me that my dad just wanted to vegetate in front of the TV at night and didn’t read anymore – which seemed odd, given that he used to devour books and could quote facts from them years after reading them.  His driving also became so erratic, we had to talk him into giving it up before he killed someone.  Later, of course, we realized he’d stopped reading because he couldn’t remember what he’d just read.

Here’s the therapy for Patient One:

As noted above, and following an extended discussion of the components of the therapeutic program, the patient began on some but not all of the system: (1) she eliminated all simple carbohydrates, leading to a weight loss of 20 pounds; (2) she eliminated gluten and processed food from her diet, and increased vegetables, fruits, and non-farmed fish; (3) in order to reduce stress, she began yoga, and ultimately became a yoga instructor; (4) as a second measure to reduce the stress of her job, she began to meditate for 20 minutes twice per day; [5] she took melatonin 0.5mg po qhs; (6) she increased her sleep from 4-5 hours per night to 7-8 hours per night; (7) she took methylcobalamin 1mg each day; (8) she took vitamin D3 2000IU each day; (9) she took fish oil 2000mg each day; (10) she took CoQ10 200mg each day; (11) she optimized her oral hygiene using an electric flosser and electric toothbrush; (12) following discussion with her primary care provider, she reinstated HRT (hormone replacement therapy) that had been discontinued following the WHI report in 2002; (13) she fasted for a minimum of 12 hours between dinner and breakfast, and for a minimum of three hours between dinner and bedtime; (14) she exercised for a minimum of 30 minutes, 4-6 days per week.

No simple carbs.  Ditch the gluten.  Exercising, some over-the-counter supplements, more sleep and more exercise.  Now here are the results:

She began System 1.0, and was able to adhere to some but not all of the protocol components. Nonetheless, after three months she noted that all of her symptoms had abated: she was able to navigate without problems, remember telephone numbers without difficulty, prepare reports and do all of her work without difficulty, read and retain information, and, overall, she became asymptomatic. She noted that her memory was now better than it had been in many years. On one occasion, she developed an acute viral illness, discontinued the program, and noticed a decline, which reversed when she reinstated the program. Two and one-half years later, now age 70, she remains asymptomatic and continues to work full-time.

Big Pharma, eat your hearts out.  No drug has come close to those results.

Let’s look at one more case history.  Here’s what the paper says about Patient Two:

A 69-year-old entrepreneur and professional man presented with 11 years of slowly progressive memory loss, which had accelerated over the past one or two years. In 2002, at the age of 58, he had been unable to recall the combination of the lock on his locker, and he felt that this was out of the ordinary for him…. He noted that he had progressive difficulty recognizing the faces at work (prosopagnosia), and had to have his assistants prompt him with the daily schedule. He also recalled an event during which he was several chapters into a book before he finally realized that it was a book he had read previously. In addition, he lost an ability he had had for most of his life: the ability to add columns of numbers rapidly in his head.

Here’s his therapy:

The patient began on the following parts of the overall therapeutic system: (1) he fasted for a minimum of three hours between dinner and bedtime, and for a minimum of 12 hours between dinner and breakfast; (2) he eliminated simple carbohydrates and processed foods from his diet; (3) he increased consumption of vegetables and fruits, and limited consumption of fish to non-farmed, and meat to occasional grass-fed beef or organic chicken; (4) he took probiotics; (5) he took coconut oil i tsp bid; (6) he exercised strenuously, swimming 3-4 times per week, cycling twice per week, and running once per week; (7) he took melatonin 0.5mg po qhs, and tried to sleep as close to 8 hours per night as his schedule would allow; (8) he took herbs Bacopa monniera 250mg, Ashwagandha 500mg, and turmeric 400mg each day; (9) he took methylcobalamin 1mg, methyltetrahydrofolate 0.8mg, and pyridoxine-5-phosphate 50mg each day; (10) he took citicoline 500mg po bid; (11) he took vitamin C 1g per day, vitamin D3 5000IU per day, vitamin E 400IU per day, CoQ10 200mg per day, Zn picolinate 50mg per day, and α-lipoic acid 100mg per day; (12) he took DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) 320mg and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) 180mg per day.

And his results:

He began on the therapeutic program, and after six months, his wife, co-workers, and he all noted improvement. He lost 10 pounds. He was able to recognize faces at work unlike before, was able to remember his daily schedule, and was able to function at work without difficulty. He was also noted to be quicker with his responses. His life-long ability to add columns of numbers rapidly in his head, which he had lost during his progressive cognitive decline, returned. His wife pointed out that, although he had clearly shown improvement, the more striking effect was that he had been accelerating in his decline over the prior year or two, and this had been completely halted.

Ditch the processed foods, eat real foods.  Exercise and get enough sleep.  Take some supplements to replace the nutrients that were plentiful in hunter-gatherer diets, but are missing in modern diets.  Next thing you know, the guy can add columns of numbers in his head again.

I think we’re seeing why Alzheimer’s was rare in hunter-gatherer societies.  It isn’t some harsh sentence handed down by fate or genes.  It’s a condition caused by (in many cases, anyway) the same garbage diet that makes people fat and diabetic.

So no, I don’t believe The Older Brother and I will succumb to the disease that caused our dad to fade away in front of our eyes.  I expect to be blogging and making wisecracks at age 97 … with The Older Brother sitting in when I need a vacation.

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I recently wrote a couple of posts explaining that over the years, I’ve revised my explanation of “the alternative hypothesis” from this:

More Carbohydrates => Higher Insulin => Fat Storage

to this:

Damaging Diet => Hormonal Disruption => Fat Storage

It’s not the biologically beneficial rise in insulin after a meal that makes people obese, I said in those posts. It’s chronically high insulin (along with other hormonal disruptions) resulting from a bad diet.

In comments, a few of you suggested I read Dr. Jason Fung’s book The Obesity Code because it expresses similar ideas. Good suggestion. It’s an enlightening and very readable book – meaning it passes my “Aunt Martha” test. Your Aunt Martha could read this book without giving up because she doesn’t want to keep a medical dictionary on her desk.

As I expected, insulin is still front and center in Fung’s explanation of why we get fat. In fact, the book’s cover includes the subhead Why your body’s own insulin is the key to controlling your weight. After citing plenty of research to effectively dismiss the “it’s all about consuming too many calories” explanation of obesity in the early chapters, Fung begins chapter seven like this:

I can make you fat. Actually I can make anyone fat. How? By prescribing insulin. It won’t matter that you have willpower, or that you exercise. It won’t matter what you choose to eat. It’s simply a matter of enough insulin and enough time.

Wait … hasn’t Dr. Fung read on the internet that we mustn’t blame insulin because it’s actually a wunnerful, wunnerful appetite suppressant? Well, perhaps he has … but if so, I’m sure he laughed. He has years of clinical experience with the stuff, as he explains in the book’s introduction:

I’ve often watched patients start insulin treatment for their diabetes, knowing that most will gain weight. “Doctor,” they say, “you’ve always told me to lose weight. But the insulin you gave me makes me gain so much weight. How is this helpful?”

… Like many doctors, I believed that weight gain was caloric imbalance – eating too much and moving too little. But if that were so, why did the medication I prescribed – insulin – cause such relentless weight gain?

Fung answers his own question in chapter seven:

Everything about human metabolism, including the body set weight, is hormonally regulated. A critical physiological variable such as body fatness is not left up the vagaries of daily caloric intake and exercise. Instead, hormones precisely and tightly regulate body fat. We don’t consciously control our body weight any more than we control our heart rates, our basal metabolic rates, our body temperatures or our breathing.

But it isn’t just about insulin. Fung includes chapters on cortisol (which triggers weight gain partly by raising insulin) and other hormones, such as leptin, that are involved in weight regulation.

And insulin isn’t just about how many grams of carbohydrate we consume. As Fung writes in chapter nine:

The carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis, the idea that carbohydrates cause weight gain because of insulin secretion, was not exactly wrong. Carbohydrate-rich foods certainly do increase insulin levels to a greater extent than the other macronutrients. High insulin certainly does lead to obesity.

However, the hypothesis stands incomplete. There are many problems, with the paradox of the Asian rice eater being the most obvious.

… Indeed, many primitive societies that ate mostly carbohydrates have low obesity rates. In 1989, Dr. Staffan Lindeberg studied the residents of Kitava, one of the Trobriand Isands in Papua New Guinea’s archipelago – one of the last places on Earth where people ate a largely traditional diet. Starchy vegetables, including yam, sweet potato, taro and cassava, made up the basis of their diet.

It isn’t foods that raise insulin that make us fat, Fung explains in the following chapters. It’s foods that lead to insulin resistance. Once we become insulin resistant, the entire hormonal system goes out of whack. Fung spends the next few chapters describing the foods that likely make us insulin resistant (sugar being a primary culprit) and how insulin resistance makes us fat.

Insulin resistance is largely about what we eat. But rolling back the effects – and perhaps preventing insulin resistance in the first place – is also about when we eat. That was the most useful message in the book for me, since I’ve already read rather a lot about the effects of foods.

As Fung explains, insulin is supposed to rise after meals. But then it’s supposed to drop and stay low for several hours. Back when few Americans were overweight, that’s what happened — because we ate three meals per day, period. Now we add constant snacking into the mix. When I was shooting interviews for Fat Head, Dr. Eric Oliver, author of Fat Politics, said that while people like Morgan Spurlock want to blame obesity on restaurants for serving larger meals, the real problem seems to be how often we eat between meals. Fung explains why that’s such a problem:

The balance between the fed state (insulin dominant) and the fasted state (insulin deficient) has been completely destroyed. We are now spending most of our time in the fed state.

… We are taught to eat the moment we roll out of bed. We are taught to eat throughout the day and again just before we sleep. We spend up to 18 hours in the insulin-dominant state, with only six hours insulin-deficient.

A lousy diet, of course, makes snacking irresistible. Refined carbs jack up your blood sugar, and your body responds by flooding your bloodstream with enough insulin to give you low blood sugar. If you work in an office, I’m sure you’ve seen exactly what Fung is describing. I see people eat their white-bread sandwiches at noon, and by 3:30 they’re back in the cafeteria, trying to decide if they should raise blood sugar with a candy bar, a bag of chips, or some microwaved popcorn.

Fung describes this as the vicious cycle that leads to insulin resistance. When insulin is too high, too often, cells down-regulate their insulin receptors. Then the body cranks out more insulin to try to lower high blood sugar. Then we get fatter. And hungrier. And snack more often.

Part of the cure is real food, and Fung devotes a good chunk of the book to the topic. But another part of the cure is to dial back insulin resistance through intermittent fasting. As you know, I’m a fan of the Wisdom of Crowds. Fung reminds the reader that in nearly all ancient cultures, periodic fasting was considered a boon to good health. It was part of their wisdom.

In the final chapter, Fung lays out the why and the how of intermittent fasting. Here’s part of the why:

To break the insulin-resistance cycle, we must have recurrent periods of very low insulin levels. But how can we induce our body into a temporary state of very low insulin levels?

We know that eating the proper foods prevents high levels, but it won’t do much to lower them. Some foods are better than others; nonetheless, all foods increase insulin production. If all foods raise insulin, then the only way for us to lower it is to completely abstain from food. The answer we are looking for is, in a word, fasting.

In the rest of chapter, Fung describes the hormonal effects of fasting and dispels the many myths about going without food … such as “it will depress your metabolism.” Interestingly, the research he cites here and in other chapters shows that while living on a low-calorie, low-fat diet will indeed slow down your metabolism, periodic fasting doesn’t. Apparently we’re built for it. Given that paleo man’s hunts weren’t always successful, that makes sense.

Jimmy Moore and Dr. Fung are co-authoring a book titled Fasting Clarity that’s scheduled to be published later this year. I’m looking forward to reading the expanded version of this topic.

In the meantime, The Obesity Code is definitely worth adding to your library of diet and health books.

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Yup, still working overtime at the job.  They want me to use up the hours budgeted for fiscal year 2016 (which ends July 1st) because any unspent dollars go POOF!  (And then some unidentified programmer’s PC turns into a pumpkin.  Or his shoes turn into glass slippers.  Don’t remember exactly, but something bad happens.)

I couldn’t possibly put in enough hours this week to soak up the entire balance, but I’m doing my best.  So it’s long days of coding for me … for a few more days.

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