Boy Scouts of America: Over 100 Years Later

My First Edition Copy of the Handbook for Boys

I bought this original Boy Scout Handbook, and another, two years ago. The one in better condition I gave to my father as a Christmas present and a reminder of all the great times we shared in the Scouting program. I’ve been flipping through mine recently and noticing some things.

Boy Scouts have been around for a long time. Here, in the United States they were incorporated on February 8, 1910.  The oldest Scouting organization, in the United Kingdom, was founded in 1907. I ‘m somewhat surprised how much of Scouting has been retained over the past 1oo hundred years. The Boy Scout oath, law, and motto have not changed since that time but many other things have, from rank requirements to merit badges. I thought I’d share a some of the ones I found just flipping through the book.  (I wish I had my old Boy Scout Handbook from when I was in the program, as well as a current edition just to compare, I’m doing this from memory… If you want a good, cheap resource for outdoor and first aid skills a Boy Scout Handbook isn’t a bad choice, by the way.)

Some of the Merit Badges one could earn then but no longer:

 

The Cement Working merit badge

Cement Work, handicraft, beekeeping, blacksmithing, foundry practice, invention, pathfinding, signalling, and taxidermy.

 

A few requirements that didn’t make it into this millennium, They probably didn’t make it through the ’70s: make a round trip alone (or with a fellow scout) to a point at least seven miles away going on foot, or rowing boat. Or, construct a raft which will carry two people and their duffle safely, and demonstrate his ability to make practical use of it.

 

An Early Birthday Present: the Amazon Kindle

the new "shiny"

I convinced my wife to get my birthday present two months early this year. Why? Because I couldn’t wait any longer for an Amazon Kindle. The Kindle had been on my wishlist for over half-a-year and we had already discussed getting it for my birthday. I didn’t see the point in waiting until then, though. To tell the truth the wait was slowly driving me crazy!

When we got our tax return I set aside some of it and in late February ordered a Kindle.  Three days later it arrived. They do this neat trick with the packaging where they put a protective sheet of plastic over the Kindle’s screen with text on it, except when you peel it off you discover that the text is on the actual screen of the Kindle.

Why do I need an ebook reader? I don’t really. Why did I want one? Several reasons, here are the big ones:

Space

I want to take books with me on vacation but am tired of how much room they take up in luggage. I know, you’re thinking one paper or hardback book isn’t that bulky. That is true. I don’t take one book, in general, I bring along four to six books ranging in size from 150 to 1,000+ pages. That many books take up a lot of space. Now those books take up less space than a single paperback.

I have three floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in my house and three more that go up half as high. All of them are overflowing with books. I have a box of books in my garage, two more at my parent’s house and I gave away five or six boxes of books last time I was visiting my parents. I get anywhere from three to ten books (free) each month. I no longer have the space (real or mental) for so many books. The Kindle can hold hundreds of books (thousands if the advertising is to be believed) on its hard drive and an infinite amount more on Amazon’s servers with out me ever having to wonder where I’m going to find room for all of them.

Portability

I’m reading the collected works of Josephus right now. This is a book that is 6″ x 10″ x 3,” weighs nearly three pounds,  has tiny text, and is printed in double column. It is not an easy book to read sitting down in a chair. It is impossible to read on the go, or in little snatches. The complete works of Josephus on the Kindle is single column, print as large as I want, and never weighs more than 8.7 ounces.

I can also put pdfs onto the Kindle which is a nice feature to have when I attend game nights or sessions with friends. I have all the rule books at my fingertips on the Kindle without carrying around numerous rule books, print-outs, and FAQs.

Free Wireless

D got me the more expensive version of the Kindle that comes with free wireless for life. The Kindle doesn’t have a full featured web browser or a touch interface but it’s UI works well enough when you need to connect to the Internet in a hurry. Not just for purchasing books but for checking or sending emails, reference work, or reading the news. I’ve found Instapaper to be a wonderful application for the Kindle. As I see stories on-line through out the day that interest me I click a single button on my browser and when I get home at night I have a nice digest of them waiting for me on the Kindle.

Price

This isn’t the most important point, I should be borrowing more books from my library as opposed to purchasing them. I can’t deny that the reduced price of ebooks makes justifying a purchase easier.  The two to five dollars off an ebook is the difference between an impulse purchase and a “maybe I’ll look into it later.” Compulsive and impulse buying isn’t a plus if it’s done merely to consume. But, it does make me willing to take a risk on unknown authors and books  and I see anything that exposes me to more writing as a good thing.

I don’t see the Kindle as a replacement for my books and I will certainly always love a nice worn hardback book with dog-eared pages and notes in the margins. Nor, will I tire of discovering these in used books. The written word will always be an important part of my life and I am too much of a Luddite to ever fully give up material objects.

But, it will be nice to sit in the hammock in the backyard with a 2,000+ page book without having to worry about throwing my back out.

Fixing My Playstation 2

12 years and going strong!

I don’t recall when I picked up my PS2. If I recall correctly, and as time goes on that becomes harder and harder, I picked it up in 2002 which makes my console nine years old. Through those nine years it has faithfully played every CD, DVD, and PS2 game I’ve put into it. Well, that was the case until last month or so… Then it started giving me intermittent “disc read errors” that slowly, but surely devolved into complete inoperability.

I have a slim PS2 that has been sitting in a box for years. But, I was not ready to give up on my old one, especially since one of my goals this year was not reduce the amount of waste I generate. It is not easy to recycle advanced electronics and companies are not (yet) taking them back to recycle.

I poked around on the internet and found a guide at ifixit.com that guided me through the process and all it cost me was an #00 phillips screwdriver.

The bottom of the PS2 with the screw caps removed.

The opened case, the optical drive is on the right.

Optical drive with its cover removed. All it took was a little rubbing alcohol.

The whole operation only took 30 minutes or so… and I’ve been running the PS2 through its paces and it is working fine. I hope to get another nine years out of the console before I need to take a look at it again!

What’s in this Nestle Ice Cream Sandwich?

Yummy?

I was hungry for a donut the other day but couldn’t find one anywhere near the Capitol the other day. I ended up settling for A Nestle King Sized Sandwich (only now do I realize that no where are the words Ice cream to be found on this wrapper.) As I was eating the sandwich I turned over the wrapper and looked over the nutritional information and list of ingredients, as is my want. I noticed that for the vast majority of them I had no idea what they were… Considering that monoglycerides don’t sound that appealing I decided to investigate!

For those of you who can’t make out the list in the picture above this “frozen dairy dessert” contains:

Whey, sandwich wafers (bleached white flour, sugar, caramel color, dextrose, palm oil, corn flour, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, baking soda, modified corn starch, salt, mono and diglycerides, soy lecithin, cocoa), sugar, corn syrup, cream, tapioca maltodextrin, propylene glycol monostearate, skim milk, guar gum, monoglycerides, sodium carboxymethylcellulose, carrageenan, annatto color, artificial flavor, caramel color, salt.

Good lord, some of those are a mouthful aren’t they? Now let’s see if I can find out what they all are? And if you didn’t know ingredients on food are listed by the quantity in the product, so the first item is the most, and the last item is the least.

The Ingredients

Ice cream:

Whey – is the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained. It can be used to make ricotta or brown cheeses but is most often used as an additive in many processed foods, such as this ice cream sandwich

Sandwich wafers – see below

Sugar – this is a fairly generic term, I’m assuming that it is referring to sucrose hear, as it is the most common and popular.

Corn syrup – made from the starch of maize. Corn syrup is mostly glucose. According to Wikipedia it is used, “in foods to soften texture, add volume, prevent crystallization of sugar, and enhance flavor.”

Cream –  skimmed from the top of milk; this is butterfat. This is a common ingredient in ice cream.

Tapioca maltodextrin – a modified food starch that thickens and stabilizes fatty compounds. It is produced from tapioca starch by a natural enzymatic process to give desirable fat-like and stabilizing properties. Van be used as a fat-replacer in desserts, cheese products, and ice cream. Some of the benefits include the neutral flavor which makes it an excellent flavor release with improved smooth texture. The off-white color and low application rate of 2% to 10% makes it a great substitute for fat, milk, gums and other stabilizers.

Propylene glycol monostearate (PGM) – ss a colourless, viscous, colorless liquid. It is mixable with water alcohol, and many solvents. PGM has a wide range of applications including industrial solvents, paint and coating solvents, polyester and alkyd resins, antifreeze coolants, heat transfer fluids, deicing fluids, plasticizers, detergents and surfactants, and bactericide (YUM!) Pharmaceutical grade PGM is used in foods, pharmaceutical, and personal care products. Propylene glycol monostearate can be used as a lipophilic emulsifier and emulsion stabilizer in food.

Skim milk – milk with all of its cream removed.

Guar gum – the ground endosperm of guar beans. Typically produced as a free-flowing, pale, off-white colored, coarse to fine ground powder. Guar gum has man applications from the explosives to mining industry. Most likely its use here is to help maintain the homogeneity and texture of the dessert.

Monoglycerides – a common food additive used as an emulsifier, to help  blend certain ingredients together such as water and oil. When you bake or make ice cream at home you use an egg yolk.

Sodium carboxymethylcellulose (SCMC) – Commonly used in pharmaceuticals. SCMC is a gummy substance that is a sodium salt of carboxymethyl cellulose; used as a thickening or emulsifying agent. It is also used in paints, detergents, and most disturbingly the oil drilling industry (as part of the mud they use to plug wells.)

Carrageenan – derived from seaweed carrageenan gel increases viscosity.

Annatto color – derived from the achiote tree. Annatto is used to produce a yellow to orange food coloring.

Artificial flavors – through the magic of science we can create volatile (how else would you be smelling them?) compounds which mimic the complex chemicals that give flavor to the foods we eat. The flavor business is a cut-throat one which is why manufacturers don’t have to tell use what they are using.

Caramel color –  another food coloring. Caramel color is one of the oldest and most widely-used food colorings, and is found in almost every kind of industrially produced food.

Salt – you should know already

Sandwich wafers:

Bleached white flour – white flour that has been chemically treated, usually with the same chemicals used to age the flour, to remove the light yellow color caused by xanthophylls, a variety of carotenoid also found in potatoes and onions.

Sugar – see above

Caramel color – see above

Dextrose – is glucose how this is different from fructose and sucrose is beyond my grasp of chemistry.

Palm oil – edible plant oil derived from the fruits of palm trees. Palm oils are high in saturated fat. Common in processed foods because of how cheap it is.

Corn flour – A powdery flour made of finely ground cornmeal. White corn flour is used as a filler, binder and thickener in cookie, pastry and meat industries.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – According to Wikipedia, HFCS “comprises any of a group of corn syrups that has undergone enzymatic processing to convert some of its glucose into fructose to produce a desired sweetness. In the United States, consumer foods and products typically use high-fructose corn syrup as a sweetener.” This is because it is usually cheaper than sucrose, or table sugar.

Corn syrup – see above

Baking soda – sodium bicarbonate. Baking soda is used in baking because it facilitates the rising of dough.

Modified corn starch – created by physically, enzymatically, or chemically treating native starch, thereby changing the properties of the starch to enhance their performance in different applications. Most likely used here to prevent the wafers from dripping while they defrost.

Salt – see above

Mono and diglycerides –  see monoglycerides above

Soy lecithin – a yellow-brownish fatty substances occurring in Soy beans. Its use here is probably for its emulsifying properties since it reduces fat and egg requirements. It also acts as a releasing agent to prevent sticking and simplify cleaning (important in mass production.)

Cocoa – the low-fat component of chocolate.

Thoughts

Before carrying out this exercise I had no idea what the majority of these items were (outside the ones with common household names and the various sugars) or how they were made.  Now that I do know I’m only slightly perturbed (disturbed.) The idea that many of these items are produced in chemistry labs instead of grown on a farm, while alarming, doesn’t seem to indicate that they are  actively harmful.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for the industry that uses and creates them. HFCS is no more harmful than common sugar but, the system that created that made  HFCS viable as a substitute is quite harmful.

I enjoyed the sandwich but I don’t think I’ll make eating them a habit. I continue to follow Michael Pollan’s advice from In Defense of Food, “don’t eat anything that your great-great grandmother would not recognize as food.”