Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sunday at the Co-op

A co-operative recognizes the reinforcing roles of consumer and producer.  I discovered something of truism that at any marketplace with high cultural context, such as a hardware store or fabric store, you could take the people on one side of the counter and switch them with the people on the other side and get the same result.  Co-ops are like that.  A co-operative is a community of providers and users, buyers and sellers, all of whom share a common interest in mutual profit.  Here are the vendors whom I met last Sunday at the Wheatsville Co-operative store on South Lamar  in Austin.

In Austin, Central Texas Bee Rescue (CTBR) sells wild honey and rescued honey.  Wild honey is collected from feral bees.  
They also sell crayons.
 "CTBR has led classes in beekeeping and other agricultural sciences in two Austin Charter schools (grades 1-9) and the Austin Montessori School.  They have also led workshops with Master Gardener Associations, libraries, and other institutions dedicated to education about the environment. They have noticed that beekeeping and caring for other animals has a positive effect on kids who grew up in the city and previously had no experience nurturing and caring. It melts your heart to watch."

Karen (right) suffered several small but significant bone injury accidents
over a few years.  Having tried many products,
she became a supporter of SunWarrior

"I can't say enough good things about them," she said. 
SunWarrior mineral-rich plant proteins sells a broad and deep range of “super green”  products.  Most are glutine-free.  All are vegan.  Typical ingredients include nrown rice, quinoa, and fermented bio-barley. 
Ismar and Daniel came to Wheatsville to
run taste tests and give out drinking cups.
I first drank Topo Chico about a year after I moved to Austin.  I was guarding a residential high-rise downtown and one of the residents – a serial entrepreneur – treated me to a bottle.  As mineral waters go, I found it to be high quality, richer, more satisfying than the other brands I usually buy, Crystal Geyer, and Whole Foods’ (Italian) Mineral Water. In this product, the sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and manganese come directly from the geology of the spring.  They are not blasted in at a factory.

The legend of Topo Chico tells of an Aztec princess, a daughter of Moctezuma I who was cured of a mysterious ailment by bathing in the mineral spring.  Apparently, the entire royal troup all came home invigorated and refreshed.  
Topo Chico is great in cocktails (no surprise there) and, according to the AustinAmerican-Statesman, Topo Chico makes a heck of a coffee.  The company has its fan base, that's for sure.

"There are a plethera of records of co-operatives started out as small grassroots organisations in Western Europe, North America and Japan in the middle of the nineteenth century, however, it is the Rochdale Pioneers that are generally regarded as the prototype of the modern co-operative society and the founders of the Co-operative Movement in 1844.(International Co-operative Association.)


Monday, April 27, 2015


This year’s vernal equinox brought a solar eclipse that was visible across northern Eurasia. To view totality, you had to be on the Faroe Islands, 62° north between Scotland and Iceland, or the Svalbard group between Norway and the North Pole at 74° to 81° north.  I missed it entirely, and only saw the news the next day.  But I kept my head, unlike the drunken astronomers of ancient China.

(This is expanded and revised from an article published by The Sidereal Times (April 2015) of the Austin Astronomical Society.)

The story of Hsi and Ho came to my colleague Bradford S. Wade and me while we met often at The Tower Inn Cafe in Ypsilanti, across the street from Eastern Michigan University.  We had a class together, Ethics in Physics with Dr. Patrick Koehn.  After a few meetings or maybe only after a few beers, we took up a joint publication, a review of Astronomical Symbols on Ancient and Medieval Coins by Marshall Faintich.  We placed that in the Bulletin of the Society for the History of Astronomy, Issue 21, Spring 2011. 

As for the drunken astronomers, the stories vary and are often retold, especially by sky gazers, but the teaching point is easy.  Hsi  (also given as Hi or He) and Ho were the court astronomers.  Among their duties, they were responsible for predicting eclipses so that people could beat gongs, shoot arrows, and otherwise scare off the dragon that was eating the sun.  However, they spent most of their time drinking rice wine, so they not only failed to predict an eclipse, but they also slept through it.  Fortunately for all of us, the common people rallied and chased the demon away.  Hsi and Ho were executed. 

The story comes from an ancient manuscript known as The Book of Documents, which has been variously rendered as Shu-king, Shu Ching, Shujing, and Shangshu. (Wikipedia has an entry, of course: Book of Documents.)  The story of Hsi and Ho comes from the fourth part, fifth book, thirteenth chapter.  There, the chancellor, prime minister, or “prince” Yi Ying exhorts government officials not to be derelict in their duties as were Hsi and Ho. All of that happened in legendary times.  (The earliest attested date in Chinese history is equivalent to 831 BCE.)  The most likely date for the eclipse in question is October 22, 2137 BCE.

You can find some reliable modern detail at the Astronomy Today website.  Put “ancient eclipses” in the search box and it should come up first after the Google Ads.  The story of Hsi and Ho is in Part I. The story is embellished in Totality: Eclipses of the Sun, by Mark Littmann, Fred Espenak, and Ken Willcox (Oxford 1991; also on Google Books).  A brief note about the drunken Chinese astronomers, ending with an original poem, appeared in The Journal of the Astronomical Society of India, vol. 4. No. 3, Jan. 1914.  It was cited as coming from The Observatory for December 1913.  Indeed, it did appear in Volume XXXVI, Number 468, page 478. The author was C. Thomas Edgar

The pages below are from The Chinese Classics, Volume 3: The Shoo King or Book of Historical Documents by James Legge, first published by the author at Hong Kong in 1865, then reprinted with errata and corrigenda by Clarendon Press, Oxford 1893-1895.   Below these lines are lengthy glosses on the nuances of the grammar and syntax  of the ideograms.  A modern version (with only a few notes) was edited by Clae Waltham and published by Gateway Editions from Henry Regnery, Chicago, 1971.  You will see that at first Hsi and Ho are the family names of two sets of brothers.  Then, they became individuals.  Also, Legge's translation was before even the Wade-Giles system and is far from the modern Pinyang rules.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Hypatia of Alexandria

Two events are sign posts along the 1000-year history of ancient Rome: the death of Cato the Younger, and the death of Hypatia of Alexandria.  They point to the collapse of the republic and the waning of the empire.

Marcus Porcius Cato the Younger took his own life at Utica rather than surrender to Gaius Julius Caesar.  That act of defiance was rediscovered when Britons relearned classic literature in the Renaissance.  Cato became a symbol for British republicans John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon in the early 18th century.  The name was rejuvenated by the Charles G. Koch Foundation at the suggestion of Murray N. Rothbard to create the Cato Institute.

Two actresses, one old, the other young.
Helen Mirren and Rachel Weisz: Hypatia Re-imaged
We have no Hypatia Institute.  Hypatia is a journal of feminist philosophy.  A type font from Adobe also carries the name.  Nonetheless, the roots of Hypatia’s life story ran long and deep before her flower blossomed in the 19th century.  Like Aspasia of Miletus, she was rediscovered and then reinvented.  Artists painted her in dramatic vignettes.  Most recently, a 2009 cinematic account of her final year was created by director Alejandro Amenábar working with writer and director Mateo Gila and a team of producers headed by Fernando Bovaira.  Justin Pollard was the historical advisor. In that film, Rachel Weisz played Hypatia. However, the most reliable floruit suggests Helen Mirren as a better choice.  We agree that Hypatia died in 415. Depending on the clues you accept, she was born between 350 and 370.

Book cover shows profile of stately middle-aged Greek woman from ancient times
"Although this outrageous crime has made Hypatia a powerful symbol of intellectual freedom and feminist aspiration to this day, Deakin makes clear that the important intellectual contributions of her life’s work should not be overshadowed by her tragic death." – Hypatia of Alexandria: Mathematician and Martyr by Michael A. B. Deakin. (From the publisher’s website.) 

The facts of her life come mostly from three sources: The Ecclesiastical History by Socrates Scholasticus, a fifth-century writer in Constantinople; the Chronicle of John of Nikiu, a Coptic bishop of about 696; and the surviving letters of Synesius of Cyrene, a wealthy intellectual of the fifth century.  Synesius was a pupil of Hypatia. 

Deakin asserts – and it seems accepted – that the version we have today of Ptolemy’s Almagest is the work that Hypatia edited.  Developing his story only from English translations, Deakin also attributes commentaries on the works of Diophantus, Apollonius, and Euclid to her. The commentary on Euclid was perhaps a continuation of the edition begun by her father, Theon.

Roman, Greek, and Russian alphabets with numerals in elegant, tall type face
Hypatia type font created
by Thomas Phinney of Adobe
In addition, Hypatia probably constructed or had built for her several complex mechanisms.  Whether they were for computing time (water clock) or some other purpose (hydrometer for specific gravity) is not clear.  She apparently did create an improved astrolabe. 

In the recent movie, we witness Hypatia edging toward the heliocentric model of the solar system and even speculating that the orbits may be elliptical.  It is tempting to build sand castles on bedrock.  The blog Armarium Magnum, which is dedicated to books about ancient Western cultures, took the movie apart. We also had a brief discussion on Rebirth of Reason.  Unfortunately, the official movie company website was taken down. Of course, you can find trailers and more on YouTube.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

My Grandmother and Science

I came home from school to discover that one of my science books was out, next to the couch.  My grandmother had been reading it. She probably spent an hour a day with the book for a few days. 

Christmas 1966.
Her father's name was Covanic,
but he changed the spelling when he
moved to Hungary from Croatia.
Agnes Kovanics was born on January 21, 1896, the village of Szentkirályszabadja in the county of Veszprem in the kingdom of Hungary, within the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy.  She witnessed the advent of the automobile, airplane, radio, television, and space travel. 

When the Earth was predicted to pass through the tail of Halley’s comet in May 1910, she joined her village in church to pray for their salvation.  Of course, nothing happened…  It might have been then that a light went on. Perhaps she recalled the event much later when her experiential world expanded.  Either way, she told me that ignorant people believe anything their priests tell them.

A decade after Halley’s Comet, she was married to my grandfather, Paul Babos, and living in West Virginia.  He worked in coal mines.  She knew about the “Monkey Trial.”  She also knew that miners brought huge bones out of the ground.  To her, evolution seemed like an obvious fact of life. 
First edition, 1959.
I got it for my
ninth Christmas.
At some time about then, but before they moved to Cleveland in 1931, she was hanging up the wash and she saw a long, large smoky gray streak cross the evening sky. She said that Grandpa did not believe her.  Mom always said that Grandpa was unschooled and ignorant, but he might only have been as practical as Thomas Jefferson who also denied that stones fall from the sky.  Anyway, she said that a couple of days later, she read in the newspaper about a meteorite strike in Texas.  Checking Wikipedia now, the two likely candidates are the falls in Troup (April 26, 1917), and Plantersville (September 4, 1930).  The third, Florence (January 21, 1922), was unlikely as that was her birthday. Even if she had been outside hanging up laundry in January, she would have remembered and remarked on the date.

Many were the times that she would look out of our kitchen window and say to me, “Nez a csillag!” – Look at the star.  Typically, it was a planet setting in the morning sky. She bought me my second telescope, a 4-inch reflector.  And she was fascinated by much else, of course. 

I think that this is what brought the stories
of the fossils in the coal mines.
My grandparents retired to Florida; and the seashore was a constant source of new discoveries for her.  But time and place define much of who we are; and for a working class woman, an immigrant, radical changes late in life are rare.  Nonetheless, she was a voracious reader.  We always had at least one newspaper in the house, the Plain Dealer.  We sometimes subscribed to the Cleveland Press; and, in addition, were the thrice-weekly West Side News and the weekly Szabadsag (Freedom) in Hungarian.  The family belonged to the Book of the Month Club, often ordering books reviewed on television by Dorothy Fuldheim.   But science was something they encouraged for us to pursue, rather than practicing themselves… and, yet, there were times…


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Hopper Crunch

Getting your protein from crickets is good for the planet.  One pound of protein from crickets costs only one gallon of water and two pounds of feed.   Cows need 1000 gallons of water and 10 pounds of feed.  

Here in Austin, Jack Ceadel, John Hopper, and Marta Hudacova drew on crowdfunding to launch a line of energy bars using cricket flour.  They now market their mixture in bags as granola. 

Hopper Crunch comes in three varieties: Cranberry & Almond; Toasted Coconut; and Cacao & Cayenne.  In with the apricots, pumpkin seeds, and other ingredients is cricket flour.  The locally grown, responsibly raised, and humanely harvested herd provides about 15% of the mass of each bag.  One-half cup of granola gives you 9 grams of protein.
It was a tough sell, even at Wheatsville Co-op, but
John Tucker of Hopper Foods found positive response.
Roasted and ground into flour, the crickets are impossible to taste in the mix.  Here in Austin, we have cricket invasions.  You can smell them in the stairwells.  But you cannot taste them in these products. And these crickets are raised on a farm, not scooped up in the city.  "You would not want to eat a cricket off your lawn," John told me, "because they eat anything."

At $10.99 for 8 ounces, it is pricy, but it is a snack or treat, and in line with similar products.  Myself, I add it to oatmeal, along with hemp seeds and whatever else.  It also goes well with mixed nuts, and, clearly, other granola.

Previously on NecessaryFacts