27 March 2008

Allergies

Every year since moving to Seattle I've been plagued with seasonal spring allergies. Pollen. I suspected tree pollen. At work I'm the canary in the coal mine. The last week in February my eyes turned red, itchy, mucusy and feel like someone poured sand in them. I also get a cough and congested. Medication didn't really seem to help. A little but not much. I kept meaning to get tested and see about getting shots - immunotherapy. They find out what you are allergic to and then give you a shot, starting with a small dose and gradually increasing it, of that substance until your body says,"Oh hey, yeah, we really don't have to react to this stuff, it is no harm to us." The shots start weekly, then bi-weekly, then monthly when a control dose has been figured out. At which point, as I understand, your body doesn't react anymore. Every year I get the referral, then allergy season passes and I end up not going. This year was to much. Enough is enough. I'm not going through this again if there is an alternative. Plus two people at work had bad allergies, did the shots and loved the results. I'm sold. So today I went for my testing. They tests really weren't that bad. Not the torture that everyone told me. They do them on the forearms now not the back. I had them do food allergies while I was there. I knew I'm allergic to crab, lobster, shrimp, and crawfish and you can see the results for crab here on my right arm standing out against the other allergies. Here are some pictures of the results -














On my left arm you can see all the tree pollens standing out.






So they rate the reaction on a scale of 1 - 4 with 4 being the worst. It would appear I'm allergic to a lot of fraking sh*t!
  • crab - 4 (we knew that already)
  • soybean - 2
  • walnut - 2
I'm not putting up anything with a 1, but there were quite a few. Also food allergies can't be helped with immunotherapy. You just avoid the food. On with the show -
  • 4 different types of molds got a 3 rating
  • 2 other molds got a 2 rating
Ok keep mold out of the house.
  • 2 different types of weeds got a 4 rating
  • 5 different weeds get a 3
  • and one more with a 2
Stay out of the weeds.
Now for my terrible spring tree allergies -
  • Alder - 4
  • Birch - 4
  • Cottonwood - 4
  • Elm- 4
  • Oak - 4
  • Walnut - 3
  • Pussy Willow (hee hee) - 3
  • Ash - 3
  • Maple - 3
  • Poplar - 3
They only tested one grass as usually if you are allergic to one you are allergic to many.
  • Orchard grass - 3
That one reacted after like 4 minutes and she just whipped it off right away.

  • Cats & dogs, pet dander - both a 2
Who knew?!? I've had cats all my life and Bailey had pretty bad dandruff sometimes. He said not to worry about the cat since it didn't really bother me to much. Our cat, Capella, doesn't get up on the bed anymore anyway.

  • One type of house dust (dust mite) -4
Vacuum. Get anti-dust mite covers for the pillows and mattress, wash blankets, sheets weekly in hot water. We do that washing anyway but will get covers.

I knew I had allergies but nothing like this.

24 March 2008

Smart - Fortwo


Our friend Nicole (standing) Christine in the car. This is a first generation Fortwo.


Christine has been wanting a new car for . . . well just about as long as we've been together. First we didn't have the money. Then we had the money and almost bought a Mini Cooper. What stopped us? Christine found out Smart was coming to the US. We first saw the little cars in Germany about 4 years ago. Christine fell in love with them and once she found out they were coming here she held out for one. We even got on a waiting list for a refundable 100 dollars. Christine was able to order everything she wanted and now we are one of the first to have them.

In many ways they remind me of the 1969 VW Beetle I had. It's small, the engine is over the drive wheels in the rear. The engine is a 1000cc (1 liter) fuel injected 3 cylinder in line, now produced my Mitsubishi, yielding about the same horsepower (71hp) as my '69 Beetle's 1600cc (1.5 liter) engine and getting close to twice the gas mileage. Doesn't sound like much power but the Smart weighs close to 1/2 that of a regular sedan. About 1600 pounds. My old Beetle was about 100 pounds more. A 2008 Honda Civic weighs about 2700 pounds. The suspension is stiff. The people won't like it because of the "rough" ride. Those much over 6 foot probably won't feel comfortable in it but it fits me well and I'm 6'1". Unlike my old Bug, the Smart Fortwo has front anti-lock disc brakes, a steel roll cage duel front airbags, and all the comforts of most modern autos. And these 2008 Smarts are actually 7 inches longer and 2 inches wider then previous years. They are the second generation. Smart has been in Europe since 1998 and has sold more then 770,000 cars. They are owned by Daimler AG which was Daimler/Chrysler until they sold off Chrysler sometime in 2007. They are the world's thirteenth largest car manufacturer.

Edmunds had a pretty good article here - http://www.edmunds.com/insideline/do/Drives/FirstDrives/articleId=119682#26

Another review from Automobilemag.com - http://www.automobilemag.com/reviews/hatchbacks/0704_2008_smart_fortwo/index.html

Yet another review from Newcartestdrive.com - http://www.newcartestdrive.com/sneakpreview.cfm?ReviewID=124

Yet yet another from Theautochannel.com - http://www.theautochannel.com/news/2007/11/07/069937.html

The Fortwo has lovers and haters as do all cars. One of the most common comments we hear is "I'd be afraid to drive it. I wouldn't feel safe" What I have to say to that is then don't. I would feel unsafe driving a motorcycle and for that reason I don't. But that doesn't mean I don't like motorcycles. The other big comment we get is,"Do you drive it on the highway, do trucks blow you away?" Yes we drive it on the highway all the time. No, trucks don't blow me of the road. It cruises fine at 70. I've had it up to 80 with no problems. Would I drive it across the country? Probably not. Would I drive from Seattle to Portland or Canada? Sure I would, without a second thought. If you're someone like us, living in an urban environment with narrow streets, residing in a condo not a farm, with no kids and never planning to have any then the Smart might just be for you. Personally I prefer to rent a 10 mpg pick up when I need to do some DIY work around the house and keep my nimble Fortwo for daily use.

Here are some pictures of our little car with only 100 miles on it. Already dirty.







03 March 2008

Cape Bees, Africanized Bees, European Honey Bees, Mason Bee

I saw a fascinating show on the Discovery Channel last night about bees. I caught the show about halfway through and I believe the main subject was Africanized honey bees and how they have invaded the Americas. I was drawn into the show being a fan of honey bees all my life, a mead maker, and growing up in the southwest United States where the Africanized bee has recently (last 15 years or so) invaded.

The way I understand it the African honey bee is fairly aggressive although people have been living with them and using them for honey for hundreds of years. The Africanized is a cross of the European and African Honey bee and slightly more aggressive. (See "History" in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Africanized_bees.) These Africanized honey bees were accidentally released in Brazil and have made their way up into the United States. They have dominated the European Honey hives which were previously used for honey and as a result they are now being used for honey production in Central America and in the Southwest US.

Going back to Africa - The African Honey bee is used in most of Africa but on the Cape they use the Cape Honey bee. What really blew my mind is what happened when they accidentally placed Cape Honey bees hives near African Honey bee hives. Some of the Cape bee workers would invade the African bee hives. Most would be driven out but a few would make it in and be undisturbed. Once inside the Cape bees were not under the influence of the African queen bee or their own queen and thus their reproduction organs turned on making them, in a sense, also queens. They would even get the African bees to feed them. Now I'm not sure of the specifics but all the workers and the queen in a hive are female. The hive only produces males during certain times to fertilized new queens which go out and start new hives. So the invading Cape bees could not be fertilized but they somehow produced eggs which were complete clones of themselves!! The African bees would take care of the eggs. More Cape bees would be born into the African bee hive and the problem would worsen. Less and less attention would be given to the African queen and she would eventually be driven out. Now no more African bees are being produced. All or most of the new Cape bees are acting like queens. The African bees die from old age and there are no workers to produce new comb for the eggs or to take care of the queens. Finally the whole hive collapses.

I believe the problem has been taken care off by keeping the two types of bees separate. Cape bees back on the Cape, African bees to the rest of Africa. The thought may arise could we introduce these bees to America to eliminate the aggressive Africanized "killer" bee? The answer is Yes and No. Yes we could but the Cape bees wouldn't stop with the Africanized bee. They would move on and destroy all the European honey bee hives we currently use.

Many of our European honey bees are currently suffering from CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder). As much as 25% or more of hives in the US have died because of this. No one is really sure what is causing it. The latest thing I read is possibly a virus which is been found in many of the affected hives. Although there are several factors such as poor nutrition, bees are trucked around the country to pollinate crops and only get one type of flower then the honey is removed and the bees are fed corn syrup for the winter. Fraking corn syrup. During the off season the colonies that have been trucked all over the country are stored together, thus allowing disease to spread. Plus I don't think I even have to speak about pesticides being sprayed on crops. Pollinating honey bees help produce 1/3 of all the food we eat. Which brings us to . . .

Wild bees. There were flowers in the Americas long before Europeans brought over honey bees. What pollinated them? Well, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, bats, but also wild, solitary, non-honey producing bees, such as leaf-cutters and Orchard Mason bees. These bees are non-aggressive. You can help them by building or buying their homes to place around your garden. Examples are here - http://www.pollinatorparadise.com/Solitary_Bees/mudholes.htm
Or the photo on this page. A single female bee will nest in one of the holes, lay up to 10 eggs, seal them up with mud and then die. The larvae will grow, hibernate over the winter and hatch in the spring to do the whole thing all over again, pollinating all your flowers in the process. Large be houses/boxes are used to pollinate whole orchards. Different size holes will attract different types of bees. For more information see the above link.