Sunday, 31 March 2013

Baby head injuries for dummies

Well, it finally happened. After about 9 months of Ryder sleeping in our bed (somewhere around 10 months old he started refusing to go back into his cot at night, and I was too tired to care...), he fell off.

It wasn't the way I expected it to happen: accidentally rolling off the bottom of the bed in the middle of the night. Instead, he threw a little tantrum when he woke up from a nap in Sri Lanka and I wouldn't let him proceed to rip the mosquito net to shreds. His favored type of tantrum involves flinging himself with much gusto onto his back and kicking wildly. In this instance, he started out too close to the edge and flung himself off the bed and onto the tile floor.

Almost immediately, a big bump swelled up on his scalp. I knew three things:
(1) I should put an ice pack on his head.
(2) There was no way in hell he would let me put an ice pack on his head.
(3) I was supposed to do something involving looking at his eyes to check for serious problems.

Instead, because we were all hungry and I didn't really know what to do, we went out to lunch. There was another little toddler at the restaurant to play with, but instead of his normal behavior, Ryder became clingy, possessive, and mean to the little girl. When she took his toy car, he pulled her hair. When her mom picked him up for a cuddle, he cried and kicked and reached for me like the world was ending. But then he was fine for a while, introducing himself to everyone at the restaurant as usual.
Making new friends, even while super grumpy

Still, his extra-grumpy behavior and my lack of knowing what I was supposed to keep an eye on made me worried. After giving him a dose of Panadol (not sure why I didn't do that first), I walked a few blocks to the local doctor.

I was happy that he spoke excellent English, gave me a fantastic explanation about head injuries, and a drawing to take home. Here is what I learned (for less than $2):

(a) There is a network of thin blood vessels between the brain and the skull
(b) If the head is hit hard enough, the brain sloshes around and can pop these blood vessels
(c) If blood starts to collect, it doesn't have anywhere to go, since the skull is rigid, so it presses into the brain
(d) That is not good
Cross-section of the head. The hashed bit is the brain, and the scribbly bit is blood pushing on the brain.
So, what to do?

Apparently, look for these signs:

(a) Vomiting = not good, go to hospital
(b) Other extreme problems (difficulty walking, etc.) = not good, go to hospital
(c) If the kid seems otherwise relatively normal (aside from likely headache [Panadol is useful for that, duh]), check that both pupils respond to light by getting smaller, approximately every 30 minutes for 24 hours. If they stop behaving properly = not good, go to hospital

Happily, Ryder didn't have (a) or (b), so I only had to do (c)...but it was kind of a lot of work, and I have to admit I didn't do it every 30 minutes. But I did manage a check every hour or so during the day and even several times at night (you can pull open his eyelid and shine a light in my baby's eyes in the dead of night without waking him up! creepy!).

I hope that is helpful next time your child slams his own head with the door (yes, he did that this morning), or otherwise injures his head to the point where you are worried about concussion. Just remember that I am not an actual medical doctor, so the best thing to do if you are really worried is to go see your local GP or hospital.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

How to be a kook

This is a joint blog post from me, Vanessa Janss, and Brett Menke, inspired by our recent surf trip to Sri Lanka (oh my goodness, so amazing!), and our combined years of teaching surfing at La Jolla Shores.

A kook is a special term used for irritating surfers; usually it is reserved for people who can’t surf very well (but often think they can), but it is totally possible to be a beginning surfer and not a kook, and to be a good surfer, yet still a kook. If you’ve been trying to improve your kook-skills, these tips are for you!

One of the most important aspects of being a kook is looking the part. It really doesn’t do to just blend in with the everyday crowd.
In the water
  •  Wear your leash (legrope) on your front foot
  •  Even better, wear your leash on your wrist (especially if you surf at La Jolla Shores)
  • Wear boardshorts over the top of your wetsuit
  • Wear too much rubber: full suit in summer is the sign of someone who aims to be out there all day long, shredding the gnar
  • Conversely, wear cold-water booties with your boardshorts to stay warm in winter
  • Wear lots of bright, attention-getting colors. All the better for the photogs to catch your sick moves on film
  • The 80s are totally back: rock that neon zinc pasted all over your face
  • The more stickers on your board, the more sponsors people will think you have. Also best to mix and match rival brands, like Quiksilver and Billabong, to cover your basses
  • The smaller and newer the board, the more awesome a surfer you are: so go out a buy a 5’10” Channel Islands pin-tail immediately after you learn how to ride white-water on a soft-top
  • Attach your fins backwards to show that you aren’t constrained by tradition
  • You must attach a Go-Pro camera to the front of your board. Just in case all of the swarming photogs miss your sweet air, you’ll have a back-up copy to show your friends
  • Two words: surf leggings 

Out of the water
  • All articles of clothing must have a large surf-brand logo displayed prominently
  • You must wear flip-flops (thongs) at all times of the year, unless you live somewhere with cold water; then Uggs are Ok (except if you live in Australia)
  • If you have dark hair, you should peroxide the ends to get that sun-bleached look without all the effort of being out in the sun all the time
  • Carry around some sort of surfing paraphernalia at all times: Surfer magazine, the most recent surf videos, your board
  • One must never remove ones sunnies. Ever
  • Strap your board to your brand-new roof racks…wax side up
  • To give the impression that you just got out of the water and didn’t have time to shower, use some of the awesome “surf hair” products now available
  •  Give yourself an authentic surf nickname, like “shredder”

You can’t really pass for a kook unless you sound like one, too.
  • In general, it’s best to aim for a totally awesome California accent. Second best is Hawaiian and third is Australian. Study up by renting classic videos like North Shore
  • Talk up your surfing skills to anyone who will listen. It’s best to mention the length of your sessions as well (longer is obviously better)
“Dude, I'm super tired from my 4-hour surf sesh. I was totally throwing so much spray, it was sick!”

This is probably my worst nightmare
  • Use awesome surfer terminology so that other surfers can tell you are one of the insiders, and people who don’t surf can’t understand you, and feel lame. 
“I totally… 
    shredded the gnar” 
    did a filthy lip smack” 
     got shacked” 
    was in the green room” 
     did a sick floater, bro” 
     ripped it up out there” 
     pulled into a super sucking pit, man”
  • Don’t talk about anything but surfing. Other topics are super lame
  • Blame all bad surfing on either the wave conditions, the wind, the tide, or your equipment (“I’m so not used to this brand of wax, dude”)
Behavior in the water
Once you look like a kook and talk like a kook, it’s time to act like a kook.
  • Paddle for every single wave 
  • When paddling out, be sure at least half of the board is out of the water in front of you, blocking your forward view
  • When paddling to catch a wave, scoot forward so that the nose of the board is fully submerged
  • Call people off your waves (“I got it!”), and then miss them, or fall instantly
  • Try to fall or miss catching a wave far enough inside (close enough to the beach) that no one else can catch that one
  • When wiping out, aim and shoot your board towards the closest person. This shows them that you mean business, and they should give you a wide berth*
  • When paddling out to the lineup, forget duck-diving or turtle-rolling; that shit is hard. Instead, just ditch your board and swim with it trailing behind you by your legrope. No need to check whether other people are behind you that will be killed by your flailing board**
  • Paddle around (“snake”) people who are patiently waiting for a wave to come to the location they have chosen to sit. When you see one coming to them, quickly get between them and the peak of the wave so that you have priority. See above for what to do next
  • Even when you are not closest to the peak, go on any wave you catch, anyways. This provides more excitement for the surfer you have dropped in on, because they now have an obstacle to avoid
  • If the 5’10” you bought just sinks most of the time, instead ride the largest board possible. This will allow you to sit farthest from the beach and catch the waves earliest, before anyone else gets a chance
  • Some options for stylish pop-ups:
          -    The Jessica-esque Extreme Butt-Bob – jump up with both feet on board and butt touching the deck before slowly standing up
          -     The Proposal – get your back knee and your front foot on the deck, then helicopter your arms as you try to get up onto your back foot
          -     The Wrap-Around – instead of bringing your legs up between your hands, wrap the front leg around the outside of your arm
          -     The No-Hands – use your forehead instead of your hands. There is no actual way to stand up from here but it looks impressively awkward
  •  No sense in learning to surf at a safe, sandy beach with long lines of white-water on which to practice. Those places are full of other beginners. It’s best to go directly to the best waves: preferably those breaking over a shallow, sharp reef, where you can jostle for priority with people who know what they are doing (the better not to get yourself run over)
  • No smiling or joviality allowed. Surfing is serious business!

We hope you've enjoyed today’s tips, and look forward to being maimed by you during our next surf session! Stay tuned for a future blog post about how to be a good surf instructee…

*In case you are taking this literally, please, please, please do not do this.
**Please, please, please do not do this, unless you are me and you are really scared because you concussed yourself duck-diving under a wave that broke on your head, smashing it into your board, at Blacks and so you are forever terrified of waves breaking on your head. In this case, you should probably just go get a coffee instead of surfing, if you are tempted to ditch your board.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Some confusing facts about corals

I love coral reefs. I also love news articles about coral reefs, especially when they mention the problems corals face today that challenge their survival: mostly pollution, overfishing, and climate change. But I hate when somewhat minor inaccuracies undermine the strength of the articles. Today I came across just such an article, on one of National Geographic TV's blogs. First, I griped about it on Twitter. A few hours later, DNLee tweeted and suggested writing up corrections to news articles and sending them to the author. So, here goes my #scisplain.

The quotes below come from the National Geographic blog post, and my gripes about them follow.

"Coral Is Smaller than a Tea Cup"

Well, yes, some coral colonies can be smaller than a tea cup. But many coral colonies are huge, the size of cars and tables. The author, Rebecca O'Connor, clarifies in the next paragraph that she means individual coral polyps are smaller than a tea cup. Well, that is often true, but some coral polyps (especially those of solitary corals, which are only composed of a single polyp), are larger. To be more accurate then, this sub-headline above should say something like Individual coral animals are often smaller than a tea cup. 

Ok, my red lines are really faint...but this is a picture of a bunch of skeletons of solitary corals (and some Tridacna clams). Some of these corals, which are comprised of single polyps, are 15 cm in diameter. Maybe your tea cups are really big?

O'Connor goes on: "The animals that make up a coral reef are called polyps and they can actually live on their own, but are primarily associated with the spectacularly diverse limestone communities or reefs, they construct."

Ack! Ok, first, many different types of animals make up a coral reef, not just corals--sponges, algae, soft corals, bivalves...etc. So, no. The animals that make up a coral reef are not called polyps. Instead, this sentence could read something like: Corals are typically colonial animals; each colony is made up of many individuals called polyps, which are usually smaller than a tea cup. I'm not sure what she means by the rest of that sentence. Does she mean that some corals are not colonial, and are just single polyps? Or does she mean that sometimes corals live relatively far away from other corals, for instance in places like São Tomé where individual corals grow on rocks?

I kind of like the "spectacularly diverse" part but why are the communities limestone? Fish, sponges, and many types of algae are not limestone, yet are part of the diversity of reefs. If nothing else, a comma is desperately needed after the word "communities."

(Also, for the record, polyp is a rather general term, and can refer to an individual anemone, hydroid, or jellyfish; saying "polyp" does not specify coral.)

The other four sub-sections are also frustrating.

"Coral Reefs Are Colorless"
Each of the other sections start with "Coral Reefs" and then say something only (mostly) about coral animals. Here, "reefs" should be removed, and the headings should read Corals blah blah blah...

The article continues: "When you think of coral reefs, you imagine their vibrant colors, but coral polyps are actually translucent animals." Yes, mostly. But some corals have their own pigments as well - for instance the coral Siderastrea siderea appears blue, not white, when bleached.

Belize, October 2005: bleached Siderastrea siderea appeared bright blue on our transects

"Reefs get their wild hues from the billions of colorful zooxanthellae (ZOH-oh-ZAN-thell-ee) algae they host." No. Reefs get their wild hues partially from the zooxanthellae hosted by corals and other organisms (for instance, Tridacna clams and anemones also host "zoox"), but other colors on the reef are thanks to other organisms: sponges, algae, etc. To be accurate, this could read Corals get their wild hues... or Reefs get their wild hues partially...

"These algae use photosynthesis to survive and then this process adds nutrients to the environment which benefits the coral..." Sort of, but photosynthesis does not create nutrients, it uses them up (nitrogen, phosphorus, etc.), and produces organic carbon (sugars). The coral benefits from organic carbon translocated from the algae to the coral fully inside the tissues, not leaked to the environment and then recaptured.

"Coral Reefs Are Carnivores"
Yes, corals are carnivores.

"The stomach cavities corals in a reef system are interconnected. Food obtained by one polyp can be passed to other polyps in the colony." That first sentence is weird...maybe it should have an "of" before "corals"? Even still, it's not accurate: the stomach cavities of corals in a particular colony are not connected, and different colonies in a reef system are definitely not connected at all. Instead, corals have connective tissue called coenosarc between each polyp. Sugars and nutrients can move between coral polyps in a colony through this interconnected tissue.

"Coral Reefs Are a Map to Climate Change"
Ok...I'm not sure what this actually means but it's not hugely weird right off the bat.

"Corals are so sensitive to changes in the world climate that scientists study coral reef fossils to construct highly detailed chronologies of prehistoric climate patterns." Well, yes, that's pretty much true. One way that we do this is by analyzing the chemistry of coral skeletons to reconstruct past environmental conditions. Another way is to actually map the locations of fossil reefs, then date them (using other geochemical techniques) and figure out where that bit of Earth's crust used to be (like by using paleomagnetism of nearby rocks). This can give hints as to what the climate was like in that location during the time those fossil reefs flourished.

"When corals experience increased water temperatures, mass coral bleaching can occur.  When coral polyps, stressed by temperature or a variety of other environment factors, they expel the symbiotic algae that live within their tissues. When the algae are expelled, the coral appears white or “bleached.”" Yes, if you can skip over the grammar issues with the middle sentence, this is on track...but it doesn't really build on that first sentence about fossil corals above. What does coral bleaching have to do with fossil corals? Well, we could use old corals to estimate the occurrence of bleaching in the past...but that would require much more explaining than the article seems to want to provide.

Some non-coral reef inhabitants: sponges (orange) and algae are also colorful and important parts of the reef.

"Coral Reefs Have Showy Sex Lives
Some species of coral reproduce by coral spawning. This means that in unison and in some cases on one particular night a year, the coral eject large quantities of eggs and sperm into the surrounding water. This always happens at night and just after the full moon. Trillions of eggs and sperm are released all at once. When this occurs, the eggs and sperm fertilize in the water and then if the larvae that grow survive, they settle back to the ocean floor, attach themselves to a hard surface and grow."

I actually like this last mini-section. Coral spawning does sound pretty amazing, from my colleague's accounts (do read that article, it is gorgeous). Of course, the article doesn't want to end on a depressing note, since it is geared towards increasing viewership of a particular Nat Geo TV program (which looks amazing). But that last sentence holds a lot of importance - if the larvae that grow survive. That critical stage is one of the most delicate, where environmental impacts that might not kill adult corals can be the most problematic. Then the baby corals have to attach--where they choose to do so can also be critical.


Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Cooking with a toddler

Jamie Oliver is sort of my hero, throwing together gorgeous meals in half an hour. The husband gifted me with one of his cookbooks for Christmas, and I’ve been enjoying making some of the recipes (though invariably missing an ingredient or three). In his organized kitchen filled with useful gadgets and without tiny people underfoot, J.O. can whip up a main dish, three sides and a dessert in 30 minutes. Here is how it works for me:

Meal: Trapani-style rigatoni, griddled endive salad, arugula & parmesan salad, ciabatta, limoncello kinda trifle. (I didn’t even bother with the endive salad or the dessert; maybe if we had company over, but I’m not normally that ambitious)

Ingredients, in case you’d like to try this out:

1 lb dry rigatoni
2 oz parmesan cheese (how the hell much is that, anyway?)
¾ cup whole skinned almonds
2 cloves garlic
1-2 fresh red chiles
2 large bunches of fresh basil
4 anchovy fillets in oil
3 cups grape or cherry tomatoes
Arugula salad
5 oz arugula (J.O. calls for prewashed, but I think that stuff is a rip-off)
2 oz parmesan cheese
½ lemon
1 ciabatta load
1 heaping teaspoon dried thyme
Also need
olive oil
salt & pepper
Try not to break your neck while cooking
This is what you are supposed to do (and what actually happened):

Begin: Prepare all of the ingredients (dump out shopping bags on counter. Give toddler keys because he’s been clamoring for them since you returned from the store). Boil a pot of water. Put the oven on 350F (or somewhere in the middle of the dial if it’s in C and you are like me and too lazy to convert this properly). Get out your food processor (or, in my case, the blender. Then search entire kitchen and living room for top to blender, which child has hidden under the couch).

Ciabatta: Pour some olive oil over the top, then rub in the dried thyme, sprinkle on some salt and place in the oven. (Make sure toddler is engrossed in activity far from oven while opening the door).

Pasta: Put in the boiling water and cook. You can read the directions on the pasta package if you need to. (Then retrieve keys from toddler, who is trying to use them to remove screws from the furniture, and redirect him to draw on the balcony tiles with chalk instead).

Arugula salad: Put the lettuce in a bowl, shave over the parmesan, then whisk up 3 tablespoons olive oil with juice from the ½ lemon, plus salt and pepper for dressing. (This also would have gone faster if I could find the citrus reamer. This one was eventually located in the toy box).
To be extra amazing, first harvest all of your ingredients yourself
Pasta: Put the parmesan, almonds, garlic and chiles into the food processor (then retrieve the chalk from child’s mouth, and offer instead some pots and a wooden spoon for drumming practice) and blend into tiny bits. (Stop to comfort the child, who has started crying in the corner because he is scared of the blender). While the machine is running, add the basil, anchovies, 2/3 of the tomatoes, and some olive oil. (Turn on the blender in short bursts while singing and attempting to reassure the child that the blender is not scary). It should all blend up to a thick paste. (This might work in a food processor, but is very difficult in a blender, necessitating lots of blender-shaking reminiscent of working at Jamba Juice, and prolonging the unhappiness of the child). Drain the pasta (which you have forgotten about and is now very well cooked) and return it to the pot, chop the rest of the tomatoes in half, and then throw the paste and the tomatoes (those that the child has not demanded, then chewed and spit on the floor) and a little of the reserved pasta water into the pasta and stir it all up.

You’re then supposed to put the pasta into a nice bowl with some lovely remaining basil and a few tomatoes for attractiveness, before bringing it to the table. But that means more dishes, so I think you can skip that part. So just throw the pot of pasta, the salad, and the bread on the table (which hopefully has not burned to a crisp. Remember it will be hot so don’t just grab it out of the oven). At this point you’re supposed to have enough time remaining that you can whip up another salad featuring cooked endive and a fancy dessert and still be done in 30 minutes (but in reality, it’s already been 37 minutes, and you are busy redirecting the child, who is intent on getting into the oven to see what other treasures await).

Eat up! It’s delicious.