Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Alcohol: What is Moderation?

“Correlation does not imply causation.” Simply put, for two variables if both change, one cannot simply conclude that there is a cause-and-effect relationship between the two. Back in the late 1980s, alcohol, and more specifically, red wine, got a health claims boost from the “French Paradox,” an observation that the French, while known for consuming a butter- and cheese-containing diet high in saturated fats, had a lower than expected incidence of heart disease. This branched into two sets of putative health claims: A) That moderate consumption of alcohol was healthier than not drinking any; and B) that chemicals in red wine had a health benefit separate from the alcohol content.
For alcohol beverages, "Proof" is
2X percent. 'Hard liquor' products
tend to be 80 to 100 proof, labeled as
such, whereas wine and beer are labeled
percent alcohol content.

The observation about alcohol in any form, i.e., wine, beer, spirits, got support from what is described as a “J-shaped curve”, meaning that the relationship between alcohol and cardiovascular or all-cause mortality was not a straight line – with more drinking linked to more deaths – but rather a curved line the lowest risk at a modest alcohol intake, higher risk at zero alcohol intake, and ever-increasingly higher risk at higher and higher intakes (visually, the line resembles an aslant letter “J”). The “sweet spot” (lowest risk) looked to be around one-half to one drink per day.

Red wine contains proanthocyanidins, large molecules that contribute to the astringency of wine. Red wine also contains resveratrol, a small molecule upon which huge health claims were heaped. All sorts of health claims were made for resveratrol dietary supplements, even though the ingredient in question was being extracted from Japanese knotweed rather than grapes. Whilst positive results were demonstrated in animal models, in the end, human trials showed no benefits for lifespan, anti-cancer, anti-dementia, and so on. There was a lot of hullabaloo about resveratrol-like compounds as drugs, but that petered out. The proanthocyanidin story was latched onto by proponents of other natural sources of these compounds, leading to some positive-finding research and a lot of market hype for dark chocolate, blueberries, purple grape juice, and so on. Research on this is still a work-in-progress. Newest thinking is that while proanthocyanidins have antioxidant activity, this is not the mechanism of action.

Back to alcohol. Clearly, there are non-benign consequences of excessive drinking, defined both as a high average per week and occasions of binge drinking, the latter defined as five or more drinks for men and for or more for women. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that alcohol consumption accounts for approximately 100,000 deaths annually in the United States. That includes motor vehicle fatalities, drownings, suicides and homicides, liver cirrhosis and at least seven types of cancer. Excessive drinking also contributes to non-fatal negative consequences (injuries, arrests, home violence…). As to the alcohol “J-shaped curve,” it turns out that in many cultures, when compared to not drinking at all, modest amounts of alcohol consumption tends to be associated with many risk-lowering behaviors, such as less absence of obesity, more exercise, better diet and being non-users of tobacco. Non-drinkers can also have mental and physical illnesses that led them to never starting to drink in the first place, or else are non-drinkers now because of past illness. Either way, their non-drinking could contribute to the higher incidence of disease and death of non-drinkers that had nothing to do with any purported benefits of modest drinking.   

All this leads up to the fact that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a document that is updated every five years, is about to revise downward the definition of moderate consumption of alcohol. Below, a summary of the proposed guidelines for consumption of alcohol-containing beverages. It remains to be seen whether lobbying by the alcoholic beverages industry will lead to a restoration of the current definition of moderation – for men – as up to two drinks per day, of if this downward revision will stick. Draft wording: A) Do not begin to drink alcohol or purposefully continue to drink because you think it will make you healthier; b) If you drink alcohol, at all levels of consumption, drinking less is generally better for health than drinking more; and C) For those who drink alcohol, recommended limits are up to one drink per day for both women and men.

Different countries, different definitions of ‘moderation.’ Back in the 1950s, France recommended that people limit themselves to no more than one bottle per day. Currently no more than two drinks a day for both men and women, recently changed from three and two.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

An Absence of Yard Sales

A bicycle race peleton in 'yard sale' mode
A bicycle race peloton in 'yard sale' mode

COVID-19 has changed our lives in many ways, including a dearth of yard sales. The evidence is an absence of signage stapled to telephone poles. Even if held outside, the thought of people gathering, people touching stuff, people touching money, and then the sellers having to handle everything that did not sell, is a strong disinclination. Maybe next year.

In the U.S., the origins of yard sales and garage sales date to the 1950s and 1960s, when American movement from cities to newly built suburbs meant that people had yards and garages, while their prosperity meant that they had a surplus of material possessions. Rather than just discard all that stuff, a Saturday morning with laden tables in the driveway and larger items displayed on the grass cleared clutter from the house and made pocket money for the family.  However, the term ‘yard sale’ has a much, much older history.

Back in the 16th century, “romage” (French) meant to arrange cargo in a ship so that it was stowed closely and securely. Romage came to apply to ships’ goods that were damaged in voyage and thus no longer wanted by the owners, or just unclaimed at the end of the voyage, unloaded, and sold at a shipyard sale. Romage in time took on a near-opposite definition of searching a ship’s cargo carefully and thoroughly, as in a search for smuggled goods. Romage also became “rummage”: “To hastily search for something in a confined space and among many items by carelessly turning things over or pushing things aside.” As in rummaging in a purse to find a ringing cell phone. By the late 1800s, a church or charitable organization would accept donated goods to pile on tables, so that buyer could rummage through to find what they wanted. And voila! – we have both (ship)yard sale and rummage sale.

Traditionally, here in Massachusetts, yard sale season was Memorial Day to Labor Day, but there has been some stretch at both ends. And while typically a solo venture, there have been innovations. Garage Sale Day, created in 2001, occurs on the second Saturday in August. “The World’s Longest Yard Sale” takes place every August along 630 miles of Highway 127, spanning five states. A yard sale as plot device has anchored several movies: “The Yardsale, Yard Sale” and “Everything Must Go.” And who can forget the scene in “Waiting to Exhale” when Bernadine (Angela Bassett) has just learned that her husband of 11 years is leaving her for another woman, and she first burns all his clothes, and then sells all of his worldly possessions for one dollar each at a vindictive yard sale.

Snow skier in mid-tumble. Internet down-
load. Click on image to enlarge.
‘Yard sale’ has an entirely different, although distantly visually related, definition for skiers and bicyclists. For both sports, gravity is your friend until it is your enemy. For skiers, a classic yard sale leaves you and your equipment scattered across the snow – you here, poles there, hat gone astray, and always the possibility that one of your skis will decide continue the descent without you.

Bicyclists have the option of a solo or group yard sale. Alone, you are swooping down a steep road into a banked right-hand turn at a PAY ATTENTION forty mile per hour. Under the shade of an oak tree, not seen until too late, is a scattering of acorns, some whole, some car-flattened. Given that your tire is only one inch wide, not much is needed to turn your line of descent into jittery panic. With luck (skill?) you lay the bike down to the right and accept a shredding of bike shorts and significant road rash, knee to hip. Alternatively, you and the bike part company, you in a bloody heap, the bike in pieces scattered roadside. Yard sale!

“Peloton” is a French word for a pack of riders in a bicycle race. Riders take turns at the front of the pack, where the air resistance is highest, allowing their teammates a rest. In famous, multi-day races such as the Tour de France, teams of nine riders compete. The team leaders are coddled along in the peloton until it is time to break out to the front. Zipping along at 25 miles per hour, scant inches from surrounding riders takes skill, and even with skill, there are multi-bike crack-ups, leaving riders and bikes scattered roadside. Yard sale!!

“Free” is often the weekends’ finale to yard sales: Saturday for selling, Sunday for adding a “FREE” sign to what is left, Monday for seeing if what’s left will fit in the trash can. “Freeboxing” refers to a community-established location – say, for example, boxes on a table at a senior center – where people can leave things for others to take. For the electronically inclined, Craigslist Free is another way find takers of what you no longer need. Or you can pay the “GOT JUNK” people to haul it away.  

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Maynard in Wikipedia

For those without access to personal computers, Wikipedia (launched January 2001) is a free, online encyclopedia. The English version has more than six million articles. Articles are created and changed (added to, subtracted from) by volunteer editors. With certain restrictions, anyone can edit any article. All that keeps this from becoming chaos is that when editors either in good faith or maliciously edit articles with not-true content, other editors reverse those edits (sooner or later). High profile articles often have a cadre of watchers who, when they log into Wikipedia, see articles they have chosen to watch if those articles have been edited since the last time they were online. There can be heated debates on the truth and verifiability of content. These take place on the Talk pages of articles – sort of a behind-the-scenes view.

Welcome to MAYNARD sign, near golf course.
Maynard, Massachusetts, population approximately 10,500 and clearly not a ‘famous’ town (say, compared to Concord), has a surprisingly large number of Wikipedia articles that in some way pertain. There are the expected: Maynard, Massachusetts; Maynard High School (Massachusetts); Maynard Public Library; Amory Maynard; Assabet River; Assabet River Rail Trail and Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge. There are locations a bit more obscure, yet articles in their own stead: Glenwood Cemetery (Maynard, Massachusetts); Presidential Village, Maynard, Massachusetts; Assabet Woolen Mill and WAVM. The Massachusetts State Police article mentions that the main Massachusetts State Police Crime Lab is located in Maynard.

Old Marlboro Road is an article because Thoreau wrote a poem by that name. It was incorporated into his lengthy essay “Walking,” published posthumously in 1862. In September 1851 he and a friend had walked through what was then Assabet Village, in part on the old Marlborough road, on his way from Concord to Boon Pond.

The reason that the town’s article is “Maynard, Massachusetts” rather than just “Maynard” is that there are articles for towns of the same name in Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio. Similarly, Maynard High School (Arkansas) is an article, and there are several Glenwood Cemetery articles.

As for businesses once or currently located in Maynard, Digital Equipment Corporation is an article, as are almost every computer model it made. Other businesses no longer in existence or moved away include H.H. Scott, Inc.; 38 Studios, Iron Lore Entertainment and Still located in Maynard are Stratus Technologies, Powell Flutes, AquaBounty Technologies, The Paper Store and Wildlife Acoustics.

Amory Maynard
Lastly, there is a list of 15 “Notable people.” Wikipedia defines “Notable” as meaning a person who has a Wikipedia article about them. What defines their association with Maynard comes from having lived here before, during or after becoming famous, or else having a significant career here. Two of these, Tantamous and Luke Brooks, predate the creation of the Town of Maynard. Amory Maynard is whom the town is named after. That occurred while he was still alive. Given that in 1871 his woolen mill employed most of the people in what was about to become a new town, the decision to name the town after him was ‘unanimous.’

Hermon Hosmer Scott and Ken Olsen are listed because of the Maynard companies they founded, respectively, H.H. Scott, Inc. and Digital Equipment Corporation. Julie Berry and William G. Tapply (are/were, respectively) authors who lived here for a time. Waino Kauppi was a renowned cornet player, John, “Red” Flaherty a baseball umpire, and Frank Murray a college football coach. Leo Mullen was CEO of Delta Airlines. Elizabeth Updike Cobblah is an artist and art teacher, Michael Goulian an airshow performer, Herb Greene a professional photographer and Jarrod Shoemaker a professional triathlete. Fifteen is a nice number, but it does not approach the 98 (!) listed for Concord.    

Wikipedia has an article quality ranking system. From the top down, Featured article, Good article, B-class, C-class, Start, Stub and not rated. The rating for Maynard, Massachusetts is B-class, there are a couple of C-class in the above mentions, and the rest are Start, Stub, or no one ever bothered to rate. The Stubs and Starts, especially, need work, so if any readers are either experienced Wikipedia editors or are willing to learn, these would make great summer projects.  

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

H.H. Scott, Inc., Maynard "Hi-Fi" company

Ken Olsen was not the only Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduate who graced Maynard with a technology company in 1957. Hermon Hosmer Scott, 17 years Olsen’s senior, had received his Bachelor of Science degree in Course 6: Electrical Engineering, in 1930, and a Master of Science degree the next year. Scott went on to earn a doctorate degree from Lowell Technological Institute, and to have a long and glorious career in the field of consumer high fidelity and stereo equipment development, including amplifiers, preamplifiers, FM radio receivers, turntables and speakers. In addition, he patented technology that made possible the invention of television.

H.H. Scott, Inc. workers at 111 Powder Mill Road, circa 1960
Click to enlarge. From Maynard Historical Society Archive.
From one source: “The Consumer Electronics Hall of Fame, created in 2000, honors consumer electronics industry leaders who have made fundamental contributions to the products and services that improve consumers' lives and are a vital part of our nation and its economy. Hall of Fame inductees include inventors, executives, engineers, retailers and journalists who are selected annually by an independent panel of industry judges.” For the inaugural year, 50 people were named. Among them, names familiar to all: Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Guglielmo Marconi, Nikola Tesla – and Hermon Hosmer Scott.

Early in his career, Scott worked on providing sound for motion pictures, and then on the broadcasting of music performances – live and recorded as record albums – to home listeners. In 1947 he founded a company he named H.H. Scott, Inc., in Cambridge. The intent was to create “high fidelity,” i.e., “Hi-Fi” equipment for consumers who wanted near-professional quality music at home. This involved developing radio receivers, record album turntables, amplifiers and speakers. The company was successful. H.H. Scott and Fisher Radio were two of the best-known brands in Hi-Fi and stereo sound systems. In late 1957, H.H. Scott built a new state-of-the-art manufacturing and research facility at 111 Powder Mill Road. The company continued to be an innovation leader during the transition from Hi-Fi to stereo, and from vacuum tubes to transistors. However, financial difficulties in 1972 led to the company filing for Chapter XI bankruptcy, and then being acquired in 1973 by Electro Audio Dynamics. Hermon Scott was not longer affiliated with the company. A few years later the company was moved to Woburn, and was subsequently acquired by Emerson Electronics. Emerson still has products branded “HH Scott.”

Advertisement for H.H. Scott stereo system
Hermon Scott lived in Lincoln from 1941 until his death in 1975, age 66. He was survived by his wife, two daughters and two grandchildren. Given MIT education, choice of career in electronics, working in Maynard and living in Lincoln, it is possible that Scott and Ken Olsen knew each other socially. And as they were both in business in Maynard from 1957 onward, their companies were hiring from the same pool of local workers.

A note on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: From the origin in 1865 to present, courses (later departments), were commonly referred to by number, despite having names. The original set was Course 1 (Mechanical Engineering), Course 2 (Civil Engineering). Course 3 (Geology and Mining), Course 4 (Architecture) and Course 5 (Chemistry). Courses 6, 7, and 8 (respectively Metallurgy, Natural History and Physics) were added a few years later. Over time, Course 6 was reassigned to Electrical Engineering (in 1975 belatedly became Electrical Engineering and Computer Science), and Course 7 to Biology. Splits occurred: 7 stayed Biology, but Course 9 is Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and Course 20 is Biological Engineering. To further compound the numerical haze, buildings are referred to by numbers despite having names, and the building numbers have no connection to the course numbers.

As for the fate of Scott’s building on Powder Mill Road, at some point in time it was acquired by Digital Equipment Corporation, and then after DEC was purchased by Compaq, occupied by Stratus Technologies from 1999 to 2015. Stratus departed, to move into Building 5 of the mill complex. The current occupant at Powder Mill is Maynard Storage Solutions, with rentable space ranging from 5x5 to 10x30 feet.