Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cocooning: A vaccine strategy to protect infants

Son after immunizations (4 months old)
I just learned a new way to use a familiar word. Cocooning is the strategy where close family members of infants are vaccinated to protect infants who are too young to get shots themselves. Babies have to be at least six weeks old to get vaccines like TDaP and six months old to get the flu shot.

My husband and I tried to institute a smaller version of cocooning when our son was born. We asked that all family members make sure that they were current on their vaccines, with particular note paid to more rare immunizations, like the one for pertussis (whooping cough). Our request was only partially successful.

Cocooning is backed by the CDC, as evidenced in many of their vaccine recommendations that adults who have close contact with infants should also get a dose of _____ (recommended vaccine). However, not much research has been done on the practice.

One barrier to the use of cocooning is the hefty price tag. Canadian government researchers estimated that preventing one infant death would require vaccination of at least one million parents. American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports on cocooning, released in the journal Pediatrics, do not directly recommend that pediatricians start offering shots to parents. "What it says is, if you choose to do it, this is OK," said the AAP's Dr. Herschel R. Lessin, who worked on the report.
"The goal here is to get everyone immunized," said Lessin. "As pediatricians, we think immunization is the greatest thing in the history of mankind."

Lessin acknowledged that there isn't much evidence on how effective cocooning really is. "It's a relatively new concept," he said. "I don't know that anyone has looked at whether it works." The Canadian study, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, takes a stab at that, although it's based on calculations instead of an actual experiment.
From past research, Skowronski and her colleagues estimated that whooping cough in infants could be blamed on parents passing the disease along some 35 percent of the time. (from "Cocooning: Doctors Divided on Vaccine Strategy to Protect Babies")
I think it's a simple enough thing to add myself and my family to the ranks of the well-vaccinated. Each person vaccinated creates a small but important measure of protection for themselves and those around them.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Son as blogger, hives, and story structure

Proud of his decorating
Son is sitting at the computer to the right of me in our small, home office. If he had a blog it would be all about his favorite things: trucks, elephants, books, outside, and (more recently) Christmas decorations.

As I write, son is imitating my typing and occasionally pausing to scribble an imaginary note. He keeps switching the pen from one hand to the other. Time will tell whether he is a left-handed like his daddy and Papa.

The past couple of days have been hard. We arrived at day care on Tuesday to find son covered in hives. Today included a trip to son's Pediatrician, who said it was one of the worst cases of hives he had seen (75% of son's body), but he also gave us a good prognosis (recovery in 3-5 days) and a prescription. Son already looks a bit better, just hours later. Still, our family photo session tomorrow is out.

In light of this and other holiday preparations still to come, I'm going to depart from my usual detailed thoughts on what I have been reading and just insert a link. This is an interview with Rebecca Skloot, the author of one of the real gems of my extensive reading experience. If you haven't read the book, I urge you pick up a copy.

How Rebecca Skloot built The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas preparations, family traditions, and the joy of the season

Yes, I'm still here, though I'm caught up in the Christmas rush. My list might look familiar to most of you, though I feel like I'm a bit behind on a couple of things.
  • I started decorating a couple of weeks ago with Christmas garland and snowflake window clings.
  • Lights are mostly up. We still have a string of lights to add to the outside of the house, but there are color-changing stars and flickering candles in the front windows. I love Christmas lights! My son is thrilled as well; we're hearing a lot of, "iiight, iiight!"
  • The tree has been up for a while, but it only had lights and our star topper on it until last night. The photo at right is a cell phone snap of my work-in-progress. I'll be putting on the finishing touches over the coming evenings.
  • Goodies (Christmas and birthdays) packed and mailed to Korea for my parents. The postage was painful, but I like knowing that they'll have something from home to celebrate the holidays.
  • Christmas gifts and stocking stuffers went out to my sister and her family yesterday. The post office loves me!
  • We have our Christmas cards, personalized with photos of our family, but we still need to get them ready for mailing.
  • I'm working on the third edition of our family cookbook, which will be released on or around Christmas.
  • I made Red Velvet cake for an office holiday party and plan on making it again for my Newsletter Committee. The red looks so festive, particularly with the addition of green-tinted sugar crystals. More baking and cooking to come over the holiday.
I also planned a Christmas art project to do with my son. Last year we made clay ornaments with his hand and foot impression. This year it's a snowflake-shaped blank ornament for him to color. It will be more of a scribble, but he loves crayons so markers should be even more fun. I plan to make this a Christmas tradition, choosing a project each year that suits his interests and development level.

I still need to purchase a couple of gifts, but I'm almost done. The gift-wrapping frenzy will commence this weekend. It's a task I enjoy, but not all at once, so I will be working on it over several days. Hopefully I can put my house in order and get rid of the excess boxes (saved for wrapping purposes) before my husband's family arrive on December 23rd.

We will have our Christmas feast and present unwrapping on Christmas Eve night. I'll have my camera charged and ready to snap lots of pictures, particularly of my 20-month-old toddler. My son was too little to really understand last year (he fell asleep in the midst of the package unwrapping), but this year he'll be in the thick of it. Don't tell, but Daddy and Mommy are giving him red wagon for Christmas. Good thing he can't read yet (though books, "buk, buk," are one of his favorite things).

In the midst of the rush, I try to remain mindful of the true spirit of the season. Often, all I need to do is to take a look through my son's eyes. His joyful exclamations over Christmas lights and decorations, giggles and grins while reading Christmas stories, and cheerful insistence on praying after reading are all reminders of the joy of this special, family-oriented season. 

What are you doing as Christmas approaches, and what are your plans for celebrating? I'd also love to hear about your family traditions. We wouldn't mind adding a few new traditions of our own.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Searching for Kindle Fire accessories: New covers released by JAVOedge

As I mentioned in my Kindle Fire first impressions blog, I'm hunting for the perfect cover. Hopefully the search will soon be over. My beautiful teal Kindle Keyboard cover will shortly be match by a version for the Kindle Fire.

JAVOedge just announced that they are taking pre-orders for Fire covers. The flip style is what I have for my Kindle Keyboard, but I may wait until the book style is available for my next purchase. Most of the time I like to prop up my Fire resting horizontally.

I have the AYL Frameless case, which I managed to snag for about $8, but I'm still looking. Despite the ingenious stand that allows both horizontal and vertical viewing, this just isn't the optimum case for me. My problem is the attachment system. The silicone adhesion method holds securely, but it does not allow me to easily remove and re-attach my Fire. This is a problem because I prefer using the naked device while at home.

My JAVOedge Kindle Keyboard cover is a nice combination of protection without added weight, aesthetics (love the teal), and functionality. I'm hoping that I can find all of that in the new JAVOedge offerings for the Kindle Fire. I'm certainly going to give it a try.

Now if only someone would come out with an orange cover with a stand; the color seems appropriate for a tablet named Fire, and it would go so nicely with the DecalGirl Flower of Fire skin on my wish list.

Update 12/9/11
DecalGirl gave me something new for my wish list. They color-adjusted the Flower of Fire pattern to my preference. The resulting shades of teal and blue are very pretty, and I like the unique twist. A company representative replied to my question quickly and was very helpful with the customization, so consider that option if you love everything about one of their designs, except the color. I own several of their skins and my experience with them has always been positive.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Google pilot testing to compete with Amazon Prime

I'm in the midst of wrapping up final Christmas gift-giving details. With the added lead-time needed to send a care package to Korea, boxes are landing on my doorstep daily.

As I mentioned in my last blog, online shopping is a great way to avoid exposure to all kinds of germs. My personal reasons go beyond that. I prefer to avoid as much of the commercial holiday rush as possible. A recent trip to a well-known super store (after Christmas lights for our house, along with a few groceries) left me feeling exhausted. Why deal with that when I can get what I need with a few clicks from the comfort of my home computer, iPhone, or Kindle Fire? Online shopping does lack the thrill of instant gratification, but with Amazon Prime patience is quickly rewarded.

Next Christmas, Amazon's Prime service could have some hefty competition. Google appears to be feeling out various retailers to create a service to let customers receive their orders within 24 to 48 hours. Under the proposed system, when shoppers place an order on an affiliate's website, Google's system could kick in to offer them an option for same-day or possibly next-day delivery. I have used Google check-out on occasion, so I can imagine this being offered as an additional drop-down on the shipping options menu. Pilot testing of the new service is anticipated to begin sometime in 2012.

I'm all for a new shipping option. I hate paying shipping fees, but whatever Google offers will have to be both affordable and easy to use. Amazon already has a considerable lead in the ease-of-use category, particularly with their recent Kindle Fire release. It will be hard for any company to compete, but if anyone can, Google is it.

What do you think of Google's plans? What conditions would they have to meet for you to use their quick shipping service?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Shop healthy: Combatting the eight germiest places in the mall

Here's my contribution to your safe and healthy holiday season. 
Avoiding viruses and bacteria that cause colds, stomach bugs, and flu starts by arming yourself with knowledge. Stashing a few sanitizers helps too. During this hectic time of year, it pays to slow down and pay attention to a few small steps that can save you a lot of recovery time.

CNN Health ran a story on the "8 germiest places in the mall." Below are the highlights:
  1. Restroom sinks - The filthiest area in the restroom is the bathroom sink. Stay aware of the type of soap dispensers (are they refillable?) and wash your hands thoroughly. Use a paper towel to turn off the water and open the door. If any of these things are not available, follow up with at least a tablespoon of alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  2. Food court tables - Stash a pack of hard-surface disinfecting wipes so that you can clean the table before you sit down.
  3. Escalator handrails - Avoid touching handrails. If you absolutely have to, follow with hand sanitizer.
  4. ATM keypads - Knuckle ATM buttons to avoid getting germs on your fingertips, where they are more likely to transfer to your nose and mouth, and follow with hand sanitizer.
  5. Toy stores - If you make a purchase, wipe down any toy not in a sealed package with soap and water, alcohol, or vinegar before giving it to your child. Also, use your hand sanitizer after touching things in the toy isle; that goes for your child too.
  6. Fitting rooms - The clothes you try on are the germ culprit here. When trying on clothes, always wear full-coverage underwear and bandage cuts or scrapes before trying on clothes. Be sure to wash new clothes before you wear them.
  7. Gadget shops - Avoid transferring germs from the people who tested the new smartphone before you by quickly wiping it down with a disinfecting wipe. Once again, use a hand sanitizer when you're done.
  8. Makeup samples - Avoid public makeup samples. Ask for a single-use unit. If that's not available, use a tissue to wipe off the sample and then apply the product to the back of your hand. Even better, buy the product before you try. Returning is more hassle but also a lot safer.
I'll add my own tip: Shop online from the comfort and safety of your own computer. If you can't do that, or if you prefer the hustle and bustle of the holiday shopping mall experience, take a deep breath, grab your sanitizer wipes and hand sanitizer, and enjoy. Above all, don't forget to slow down enough to enjoy quality time with your family; that's what the holidays are all about.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Add tea to your Thanksgiving: Green tea prevents flu in children

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm posting this first thing in the morning so that you can make a slight modification to your Thanksgiving menu. Consider adding green tea alongside your eggnog. If you don't like drinking green tea, there are plenty of recipes, like Green Tea Lime Pie or Green Tea Cake. It might seem a bit much to make a new recipe this late in your feast preparations, but think of all the available family sous chefs you could put to work.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, green tea can help fight the flu. I just came across information on another study: Green Tea Consumption Is Inversely Associated with the Incidence of Influenza Infection among Schoolchildren in a Tea Plantation Area of Japan. How's that for a catchy title?

This study explored whether school-age children (6-13 years old) who regularly drank green tea would have fewer cases of influenza. For four months, during flu season, 2,050 children participated in the study. Those who drank green tea approximately five times per week had significantly fewer cases of flu compared to those who drank almost no green tea. Those who drank the most green tea (about one cup per day) also had significantly fewer sick days.

Less time being sick is certainly a good thing, particularly around the holidays. I think I'll see if my son would like to join me in a cup of the decaf mango green tea that I have at home.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Have robotic bear pillow... will travel?

With Thanksgiving just two days away, many of you are packing to visit relatives. Do you pack your own pillow or wait to see what you find on the other end of your journey? I'm of the pack-your-own camp. There's no substitute for your own pillow when rest is on the line. (Extra geek points to whoever can name the reference.) If I could, I'd even pack my bed, but I don't think my king-sized, fabulously-comfortable monstrosity would fit into my duffle.

"Jukusui-kun" or "deep sleep"
This year I'm hosting instead of traveling, but I am still considering pillow options—for hubby.* This snoozing polar bear lays benignly spread-eagle on its back. But wake the bear at your own peril. A snore triggers arm movement designed to let the new Japanese pillowbot gently brush your cheek. The result? You stop snoring. Immediately. Even if it means you've bolted out of your bed as the bear's arm moves toward your face.

Called "Jukusui-kun" or "deep sleep" in Japanese, the robot is designed to help people sleep better by stopping chronic snorers and those who suffer from sleep apnea, which causes breathing difficulty by sleeping. Blood oxygen levels are measured by a bear-shaped fuzzy glove while a sensor placed below the sheets detects loud noises. There is also a microphone in the pillowbot to monitor snore decibel levels. Add a wireless terminal, pre-programmed with your vital stats, and you're good to go.

Watch the video below to see how it works:

Just one problem.... Jukusui-kun polar bear and accessories will probably require a suitcase all its own.

*My husband sent me the article. I didn't promise not to blog about it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Playing with Fire: Kindle Fire first impressions

I always did like playing with fire…. Now I have a whole new reason. My Kindle Fire arrived yesterday afternoon. I have only used it for a few hours, but so far it has been a whole lot of fun.

It's heeere!
(Pardon the cheesy iPhone snap.)
The Fire is a Kindle in name only, and I hope that prefacing the name with the word Kindle doesn’t confuse too many people. The Fire is not an e-reader. Yes, it can be used as such, but the experience of that aspect in no way lives up to the experience on an e-ink Kindle. Reading is workable for shorter time periods. I set the display to sepia, which helps, but I'm still mostly using the Fire for cookbooks and children’s books, where it’s a treat to see color pictures. I’ll leave the bulk of my reading for my Kindle Keyboard.

The form factor is nicely compact and simple—perhaps too simple, because I really miss having physical buttons for home and volume. On the plus side, I felt no strain from holding my Fire for extended periods.

This is my first Internet-capable device in quite a while without 3G, so I really feel the restriction. I hope future offerings include a 3G option. Meanwhile, I’m working on planning ahead a bit more. Part of my Fire playtime last night was devoted to downloading an eclectic collection of books, music, apps, and shows from the Amazon Cloud. The Cloud-focused device should at least help me keep my Fire tidy and uncluttered with unused files. On the negative side, the Fire’s performance was sluggish during media downloads.

The screen is very sensitive. At first it took a bit of adjustment to learn where to tap for certain things, such as pulling up a book from the carousel. The item would often scroll and snap back. After a couple of hours, I mostly get it right on the first go. Typing is requiring a similar adjustment. The space bar placement catches me out because it's slightly offset to the left. It’s one of those typing quirks that I never realized until now; I almost always hit the space bar with my right thumb.

I had a lot of fun exploring everything from books to video. I set up my email without any more trouble than it took to remember my password. My Words with Friends app took up where I left off on my iPhone—nice! Videos via Netflix and Amazon loaded well. I watched a bit of a few different movies and shows and later settled in for an entire episode. There was a slight pixilation a couple of times during the show, but mostly it looked great. The sound is definitely better with headphones.

Audio books work well. I was able to access my Audible account and download a book (The Family That Couldn't Sleep: A Medical Mystery) that my hubby and I started listening to on the way to work this morning. Songs from the Amazon Cloud were there at a tap of the finger; I downloaded about 40 to my Fire. I purchased a couple of trial magazine subscriptions and was happy to see all the pictures available (National Geographic Magazine and Bon Appetit). I haven’t used the web browser much yet, but the couple of pages I looked at loaded quickly.

I still have a lot of exploring to do, but I would say that the Fire is a great first-generation device. Yes, there is room for improvement, but that will happen quickly. Meanwhile, those of us who are early adopters get a head start on the fun.

Deciding on the right case for my Kindle Fire is proving to be the hard part. (My Teal JAVOedge MiMo Flip Case for Amazon Kindle Keyboard is fabulous, so I hope that they come out with something for the Fire.) At the top of my wishlist is some kind of stand to prop up my Fire for hands-free use, and it would be even better if the stand could do both landscape and portrait. The stand could be integrated into the case, but it doesn't have to be. I also need the case/cover/skin to be protective (toddler in the house) and I would like it to be attractive. Bonus points if it's a fun color. If you have recommendations, please post them in the comments secton below.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Swabs for the Belly Button Biodiversity Project

On Friday I received a small, yellow envelope from the team at the Belly Button Biodiversity Project. A tube with culture swabs and associated paperwork were neatly packaged inside.

The instructions for How to Sample your Belly Button Biota include the following note: "Do not do anything out of the ordinary to your belly button before sampling (e.g. scrubbing, lint removal.)" Instructions noted and followed. My swabs, Informed Consent Form, and a small questionnaire are headed back in the mail today. I will post the results here when they are available.

Now to solve the mystery of what happened to the other two kits that I requested. I'd like to see how my microbiome correlates to the two people closest to me—my husband and son.

In other fun news.... I am impatiently awaiting the delivery of my Kindle Fire, which is scheduled to arrive today. I will post a review here after I have had a chance to use it for a week or so.

Friday, November 11, 2011

World's first simulation of complete H1N1 influenza virus

Happy 11/11/11 and happy Veteran's Day! Here's some food for thought, before you head off to whatever activities you have planned to celebrate the occasion.

Scientists in China have created the first computer simulation of the complete H1N1 influenza virus, down to the atomic level. This is a major break-through was announced just yesterday. Until now, studying viruses in the laboratory has been challenging because reactions occur too quickly to observe. 


Simulating billions of particles in the correct conditions was no small feat. The researchers, at the Institute of Process Engineering of Chinese Academy of Sciences, used over 2,200 Tesla GPUs to power the Mole-8.5 supercomputer.

I suspect that the technology will need fine-tuning, but the possibilities are exciting. Using the H1N1 simulation, and others like it, scientists will be able to perform new research—an important step in developing more effective ways to control epidemics and create anti-viral drugs.

With this kind of detail for a virus, I can imagine a future where computers will have enough processing power to create a realistic simulation of places and even people. Perhaps someday my son will visit a real holodeck.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Is Amazon's Kindle Owner's Lending Library a good thing?

In my last blog, I mentioned downloading a book from the Amazon Kindle Owner's Lending Library. This is a new feature offered to Amazon Prime members. Until today, I only knew how to access the Lending Library via my Kindle, but you can use the links above to reach the web version.

How does it work? Members of the Amazon Prime program who own a Kindle device can borrow up to one book per month from a select set of titles (currently 5,375). One book a month doesn't sound like much, particularly as someone who used to walk out of the library with a stack of six to eight books, but even my limited browsing of the available titles has shown a few that would have saved me (or those on my account) the purchase price.

This new option will let me try titles that I might not have purchased otherwise. My first borrow, The Nighttime Novelist, would have cost $10.79 as a Kindle edition. I tend to stick with ebooks that cost about the same as a paperback, if not less, so that's a price I'm usually not willing to pay.

The Amazon Kindle Owner's Lending Library has not been greeted with much love by the press. (Here's a example in the Wall Street Journal: "Amazon's Library Donation.") People are saying that it’s bad for investors, publishers, authors, agents, and Amazon. Predictions say that it will die by the end of the year.

Personally, I think that Amazon knows what it's doing. In the years (more than a dozen) that Amazon has been earning my loyalty, I have seen the company go from a small book seller to giant purveyor of nearly everything imaginable. They even make and sell their own line of reading devices, which now includes a multi-media platform in the Kindle Fire. As a bibliophile and writer, I can well imagine the excitement of personally making your dream device a reality.

As an author, I am glad that Amazon continues to return to its roots as a seller of books. I never considered indiependent publishing until I realized the opportunities given by book-lovers who are reading on their Kindles every day. Once I found an editor who could help me achieve the clean copy that is so important, I was sold. I would be glad to see Dormant gain additional exposure via Amazon's Lending Library.

Instead of going into more detail on the subject of the Kindle Owner's Lending Library and why it is a good thing, I'll leave you with this question.... What do you think? Is Amazon's continued expansion as a purveyor of electronic offerings good for you as a customer? What about those in other roles? If you wear more than one hat in the debate, please share!

For those who want more detail, I refer you to a fellow blogger who has one of the best in-depth discussions on the topic that I have seen thus far: Amazon’s Prime Lending Library has them in a tizzy…but it makes sense.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Does a Kindle get heavier when you add a book?

Since the arrival of my first Kindle in June 2008, I have reveled in how light and compact it is. Carrying around hundreds of books now weighs less than one of the books that used to accompany me everywhere. 

This week, I have been following a discussion on the Kindle weight debate, posted on a Discovery channel forum. Does my Kindle actually weigh more with my books loaded onto it than it did the day I removed it from its packaging?

When I download a book to my Kindle, the device is carrying more electrons than before. That means that, theoretically, my Kindle does get heavier as I add more information in the form of e-books. That said, the mass of an electron is quite negligable, though on a particle physics level this extra mass may be noteworthy and therefore calculable. However, the difference in weight would be so tiny as to not be measurable.

In other words, I didn't feel any difference in the weight of my Kindle after I added my newest e-book—The Nighttime Novelist, a writing-related read on loan via Amazon's new Kindle Owner's Lending Library.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Drinking water can help children lose weight

Son with Camelbak (9mo)
I try to make sure that my son always has a source of cold water available, just like I keep my own water supply handy. (He even has a CamelBak 0.4-Liter Kids Bottle, like Mommy's and Daddy's CamelBak 0.75-Liter Better Bottle.) Now I have an additional reason to continue the practice.

According to a study published in the International Journal of Obesity, Children who drink water demonstrated an increase of up to 25 percent in resting energy expenditure (REE). The study size was small (21 overweight, but otherwise healthy children) but the findings reinforce the concept that the increased water-induced REE could assist overweight children in weight loss or maintenance. The conclusion: adding a water-drinking emphasis to dietary guidelines could help fight the obesity epidemic.

Researchers were inspired by previous studies that "demonstrated that drinking water significantly elevates the resting energy expenditure (REE) in adults, and that low water intake is associated with obesity and lesser success in weight reduction." That's all I need to reinforce the benefits of drinking water in adults. I can use all the help I can get!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Celebrating fall and family

Fall is my favorite time of year. We are finally getting a break from the scorching Texas summer. The cooler temperatures are pleasant, without the cold bite of winter. It's the perfect setting for family adventures, particularly with my son old enough to really appreciate the fun brought by the changing seasons. His pronunciation of his favorite word (outside) is improving. "OUT-tide, OUT-tide," he says in a sweet, little exclamation; the emphasis and rise and fall of his voice make it almost a song.

Yesterday evening, son helped me carve his first pumpkin (selected during our earlier Pumpkin Patch outing). He watched, somewhat impatiently, while I cut a lid into the top of our pumpkin, and then he eagerly dove into the gooey center with his spoon. He would pause to flick the seeds off of his spoon or figure out how the pumpkin lid fit back into place. After a while, son ran into the yard to get a better look at a dog passing on the trail. He shared his excitement with an enthusiastic imitation: "awoo, awoo!" He circled back to my pumpkin-cleaning project between other investigations, such as his sand/water table, the grill, the back door, etc. Hubby snapped pictures as I turned my hands and wrists orange in the struggle to gut the pumpkin.

We eventually moved inside to do the more intricate carving. Son took a break to read a book on the couch, checked out mommy's progress in the kitchen, played music on a long-standing favorite toy, and found himself a snack in the pantry (he brought me a box of the tubes we keep around for on-the-go snacking). We have been opening our windows in the evening, and I think the cool air only ups son's energy level. We can barely keep up!

On Halloween, son will dress up as a Starfleet Academy science cadet for day care festivities. I am making pumpkin sandwiches (grilled cheese cut into pumpkin shapes) that he can share with the other toddlers in his room. Other moms are bringing their contributions in the form of fruits and sweets. The children will also parade through the rooms in the day care for goodies and participate in other Halloween-related games. That evening, his Aunt and Uncle are coming over to help son hand out goodies to the bigger kids.

Family and friends are planning to visit us in our new home in November. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law are coming up next weekend, as are some friends and their young son. Our church and community are both holding Fall Festivals, which we hope son will enjoy. We are also taking him to weekly swimming lessons (indoors). Thanksgiving brings my parents home from Korea for a short visit, so the Ripley family gathering will commence with their arrival. We are planning to ply them with Tex-Mex, Dr Pepper, and Blue Bell, but we will also savor our traditional potluck-style Thanksgiving dinner.

Please share your family traditions and adventures. Feel free to include recipes. With the weather cooling, I'm ready to make use of my oven again. I already made pumpkin bread to share with my Newsletter Committee and co-workers. What are you doing to celebrate fall and family?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Deadly Black Death bacteria hasn't changed, but we have

This is a follow-up to my previous blog, Black Death revealed and how research leads to preparedness. I recommend that you use the link above to read that blog first, for more details on the topic of this blog. If you have already done so, please proceed with your reading.

According to a journal article published earlier this month in Nature, the first genome sequence of an ancient bacterial pathogen has been completed. Yersinia pestis was extracted from the teeth of victims buried in a medieval cemetery. The results of the sequencing are really interesting.... Y. pestis, which caused the bubonic plague called the Black Death, hasn't really changed. There are only a few dozen changes among the more than 4 million DNA building blocks.

Before you get scared, you might want to refer to the title of this blog. The bacteria hasn't changed, but we have. Whew! Apocalypse averted, right?

The Black Death was deadly because of a combination of circumstances. In 1348, the climate was getting colder, the world was in the midst of a long war and horrible famine, and people were moving into closer quarters. All of these factors contributed to give the disease easy reach for infection and spread. In addition, people did not have any innate immune response; this was the first time the disease had attacked humans.

Today, simple antibiotics, such as tetracycline, can beat the bacteria. Interestingly, Y. pestis does not seem to have properties that enable other germs to become drug-resistant. Combine that with improved medical treatment, preparedness, and response by the health community, and we're set to avoid another plague-driven least where the Black Death is concerned.

Other possibilities, both bacterial and viral, remain open for speculation by science fiction writers with vivid imaginations. Take the flu, for example....

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A writer's fortune

I broke my cookie along the folded center and pulled out the slip of paper. "You are a lover of words, someday you should write a book."

That's certainly the most applicable fortune I have ever received. Despite my itch to tweak the punctuation, I'm using the reminder as the boost in the backside that I deserve. Time to get back to book re-writes. I have a few new stories steeping, but I'll let them brew up to strength while I focus on Dormant.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Debunking flu myths: Why you should get your vaccination now

I hope that you'll allow me to step back onto my vaccination soapbox for a moment.

I just read a news story that chilled this mother's heart. Four-and-a-half-year-old Amanda Kanowitz was healthy until she began to show her first symptoms—cough, low fever, and vomiting. Her doctor suspected a common childhood bug and recommended fluids and rest. Three days later, her parents found her lifeless in her bed.

Amanda had the flu. Seven years ago, when she died, doctors did not recommend shots for kids her age. That has changed. Now the CDC recommends flu shots for everyone over 6 months old.

I hate to be the one to pass along such a sad story, but I am doing so in the hope that it will help save lives. Only 43% of Americans got a flu shot last year, and that was a record year. The article that I read, on how to "Separate the facts from flu fiction," ran through several common flu myths. I'll highlight two, but I urge you to read the article for more information.

Myth 2: The flu shot causes the flu.
About 35% of consumers think the flu vaccine can cause flu, CVS found. But that's impossible, CDC says, because the viruses in the flu shot are dead. Its most common side effect is a sore arm. Mist nasal spray contains weakened viruses, so they don't cause severe symptoms, either. Side effects in kids can include a runny nose, wheezing and headache.

Myth 4: Only sickly people need a flu shot.
Half of consumers think flu shots are only for kids or sick people, CVS found. Actually, the most vulnerable members of society, such as newborns or those with weak immune systems, often can't get flu shots. The only way to protect them is to vaccinate everyone around them, keeping flu viruses out of circulation, Bergen says. Because babies can't be vaccinated until they're 6 months old, they depend on vaccinated friends and family members to create a "cocoon" of protection, Bergen says.
I'm sure that you have already read my past blogs on the flu and vaccines (right?), but on the off chance that you haven't, here's a link to my posts on vaccination. If you still need to get your flu shot, please go to your nearest pharmacy (many of them are located in your local grocery store) and take a few minutes to protect yourself and your loved ones. If you have already received your flu shot, here's a big THANK YOU from me and my family.

Friday, October 14, 2011

My newsletter: Rabies testing, flu surveillance, handwashing, and more

I just finalized another of my quarterly newsletters. While it would be hard to create a lead article as dear to my heart as the one in the July 2011 issue that featured my son's photo, I still found it fascinating. I had to ask a lot of questions to write the lead article; a couple of Rabies laboratorians were very helpful.

The second article features an ongoing influenza surveillance project. While it delves into more technical details, I hope the opening shows you why this kind of analysis is so important.

Countless times throughout the day, I reach for the Camelbak bottle perched to the right of my monitor. As I suck down a long swig of icewater, I take the safety of the contents for granted. Fortunately our Environmental Laboratory is watching out for me, as illustrated in the third article.

For those who submit specimens, we also highlighted our online results reporting, but my readers here might want to skip to the handwashing article. (Incidentally, the simple word "handwashing" was quite the topic of research during the editing process: handwashing, hand washing, hand-washing...? Which is it? We settled on the version used by the CDC in their handwashing tutorial.) I believe strongly in handwashing, as highlighted in a previous blogs. Please read the article to find out more about why it is so important.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Update from the Belly Button Biodiversity Team

This blog is an update for those who have been following my posts on the Belly Button Biodiversity Project. I hadn't heard anything further from the team, until I received the email below. Now the important question:  Did I put my new address on my request?

Dear Belly Button Biodiversity Enthusiast,

Great to hear from you!

We've had a tremendous amount of interest in our project, and well, because we're a team of humans and not robots, we've been overwhelmed by the sheer number of requests we've received for sampling kits.

Rest assured, we have your contact info and will be sending out sampling kits as soon as we can, most likely within the next few weeks. We appreciate your patience, as we're just as excited to learn about the microbes living in your navel as you are!

While you're waiting, check out some of the exciting articles and news affiliated with belly buttons and the other wildlife inhabiting our homes and bodies: And don't forget to like our Facebook page!

The Belly Button Biodiversity Team

Monday, October 10, 2011

Post-move update: New home and randomness

Sunset over the lake
Having neglected my blog for most of last week, I thought I'd fill you in on what is happening in my life. (Which means this blog will be a bit more personal than usual; I reserve the right to do this occasionally.) I keep waiting for things to slow down, but it never seems to happen. That isn't a complaint. While I wouldn't mind a few more quiet moments here and there, my life is busy because it is full and fulfilling.

Our move is almost complete. Most of the remaining delay is lack of time without toddler assistance. (Though the endeavor has not been aided by assorted colds and tummy troubles.) A few items remain at the apartment, but we're gradually clearing those out as opportunity presents to take a trip here and there. Unpacking continues at the house. At the current rate, I estimate at least a month before we dismantle the mountain of boxes. Even that may be optimistic. We take a bit of time each day just to appreciate the beauty of our new home, like the view of the sunset over the lake.

Fun in the back yard
My son is starting to settle in too. He has gone a couple of nights without waking and being unable to go back to sleep. (His parents are extremely grateful.) He delights in playing in the back yard and has taken to going to the back door asking, "ide? ide?" in the cutest little chirp of a question when he wants to go outside. Once out, he gleefully flings sand and water (from his Sand & Water Table), takes walking excursions into the back yard (stopping to wave and say "bye"), and splashes happily with the hose and bucket. He keeps up a running chatter as he points out various things, with appropriate words/sound effects. Examples: a doggy fetch stick—left out from visits by my sister's German Shepherd—ducks, people walking on the trail, and dogs. 

Fortunately, my packed weekend started on Friday. While waiting for the shop to finish repairs to our secondary vehicle, hubby and I used our primary vehicle to ran errands that resulted in the purchase of a couple of ottoman/table combos for the living room and elements for my son's new space-themed room. We also completed his Halloween costume and found bigger footie pajamas. I took my son to Sabbath School and my cat to the vet. I enjoyed an all-too-brief visit from my siblings and their families, went grocery shopping, and a stopped by the apartment for my vacuum cleaner and carefully-wrapped wedding gown.

I'm limping along on my old computer, which happened to be the one accessible when we set up our Internet, and planning to dig out the newer computer this weekend.

Currently reading:

A quote for thought, from the first-listed book above:

"...writing is all about getting happy. Writing is never a hobby. Neither is it a dilettante activity for which we salvage some leftover time from our otherwise busy days. Writing feeds those days. On the days when I don’t write, I underperform as an employee and as a human being.  

In fact, I think my boss or the U.S. government should pay me for the time I spend at home with my morning coffee and my journal. That—not the conference-room pep talks—makes me a happier, more focused employee.  

I write. Therefore I work. Simple as that."

Monday, October 3, 2011

The beginning of the end for the flu virus?

Vaccines have been the weapon of choice against viruses, and I have talked about them here on several occasions. Now research is exploring a new therapy: an antiviral drug called Double-Stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligerizer (DRACO). Catchy name aside, what does DRACO do? It targets cells that have been infected by a virus, hunting the signature mechanism by which viruses reproduce.

The majority of viruses reproduce in four steps:
  1. Fixation and entry of the virus into the targeted cell.
  2. Copy the genes of the virus using the cell’s power.
  3. Bundling of virus particles.
  4. Emergence of many copies of the new virus to spread the infection to other cells.
Dr. Todd Rider and his colleagues from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are targeting the second step in the viral reproductive process. When their genetic material is copied inside the cells, the virus produces a structure called “double-stranded RNA”; because this unique structure is missing in non-infected cells, a protein tied specifically to the double-stranded RNA allows for the specific targeting of the cells containing the virus. By combining this protein with another protein that triggers cell death through apoptosis, it becomes possible to eliminate the infected cells without any side effects on the healthy cells.

Still with me? In short, DRACO targets cells with long strings of double-stranded RNA, causing them to commit cell suicide while ignoring the other healthy cells.

Dr. Rider's research has been tested on 15 different viruses, including H1N1 influenza, and it was effective against them all. The possible catch is that this research was primarily conducted on mammalian cells cultured in a lab, which leaves the possibility that the drug might not work on living animals. More recent work on the drug's effect on mice infected with influenza has continued to yield promising results.

If perfected, DRACO could revolutionize the treatment of viral diseases. Vaccines are effective, until the virus mutates. An antiviral drug could continue to work when vaccines fail. More research and time is needed to determine whether the new treatment is safe and effective for treating viral infection in humans.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Amazon announces Kindle Fire and Kindle Touch

    Amazon just announced its new tablet, the Kindle Fire, along with two Kindle Touch models (one 3G and one WiFi only), which will be available with the re-designed original kindle. Further details and pictures are available in the Amazon Kindle Store.

I just ordered my Kindle Fire, Full Color 7" Multi-touch Display, Wi-Fi! It will arrive on November 16.

Links to the new Kindle and Kindle Touch models:

Note: All come in versions with and without "Special Offers," which are basically sponsored advertisements. Apparently these advertisements sometimes contain goodies, like free Kindle books.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Amazon Kindle Tablet will be announced tomorrow!

On your marks, get set....

Amazon invited press to a media event tomorrow. They did not give any details, but I (along with everyone else) expect that they will use the event to reveal the new Kindle Tablet. I'm waiting to click the big, yellow order button. I will take a packing break, or three, to check in on the details. (Hubby promised not to cancel the internet until then, on pain of....)

That's it. Time to get back to packing. If you want more information on the device, you can read my previous post on the Amazon Kindle Tablet.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sneak peak at real life public health virus prevention projects

I'm hard at work on finalizing the next issue of my public health newsletter, so I thought I'd make the most of my creative energy and post a couple of opening paragraphs that I wrote for included articles. Both deal with viruses.

Influenza Incidence Surveillace Project: Preventing the Next Pandemic

The deadly 1918 “Spanish” flu circulated silently in the United States for four months before anyone noticed it. As frightening as that sounds, given what we know now about the strain of influenza that killed up to 50 million people worldwide, it is actually good news. Better surveillance now means that we will have enough notice to stop the spread of a novel flu strain before it becomes a pandemic. That is why the Laboratory is working on a national surveillance project with the Emerging & Acute Infectious Disease Branch. This project will monitor the age-specific incidence of medically attended influenza-like illness and influenza.

The Rabies Laboratory: Never a Dull Day

Micrograph with numerous rabies virions
(small, dark-grey rod-like particles) and
Negri bodies (cellular inclusions)
 With 8,000-10,000 specimens received per year, work in the Rabies Laboratory is never dull. However, some days are more interesting than others. Laboratorians well remember receiving a tiger head for testing. Most specimens submitted are dogs and cats. Bats come next, in order of decreasing appearance, followed by skunks and just about everything else, including cows, horses, squirrels, armadillos, and raccoons. All mammals are accepted for testing, but everyone takes notice when the specimen is a zebra, gazelle, wildebeest, or nilgai.

What is a nilgai? The rabies team here had to look that one up too.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

$100 raised for the furbabies!

Pink Snowbunnies in Hell: A Flash-Fiction Anthology has now raised $100 to benefit local animal shelters! Thank you for helping turn our humerous anthology into something seriously good for the furbabies.