Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World by Michael Pollan–a Book Review

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Roasted coffee beans and coffee cherries
Roasted coffee beans and coffee cherries

Coffee, java, a cup o’ joe, or sniff, sniff, the afternoon tea and scones. The world runs on the caffeine molecule in coffee and to a lesser extent, tea. Tea is the more ceremonial elixir and coffee the more blue collar but underlying of both is… caffeine. And this is the focus of Michael Pollan’s book. As a self-confessed coffee-fiend I found the historical and social angles of his story fascinating. And this is my book review of Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World.

Whether you make a daily pilgrimage to Starbucks, have a drip coffeepot, or indulge in the slow-motion popular cold-brewing coffee process, you are mainstream if you indulge in coffee or tea. You are an addict but socially and legally benign.

A Brief History of Coffee

Pollan traces the history of coffee and tea consumption from their roots to how they transformed economies, cultures, and the workplace. Coffee as we know it today can trace its heritage back centuries to the ancient coffee forests on the Ethiopian plateau.

Coffee was a social beverage. It was not only enjoyed in homes, but also in the many public coffee houses, called qahveh khaneh, which began to appear in cities across the Near East. The popularity of the coffee houses was unequaled and people frequented them for all kinds of social activity. European travelers to the Near East brought back stories of an unusual dark black beverage. By the 17th century, coffee had made its way to Europe and was becoming popular across the continent.

In the year 1714, the Mayor of Amsterdam presented a gift of a young coffee plant to King Louis XIV of France. The King mandated that it be planted in the Royal Botanical Garden in Paris. Then in 1723, a young navy officer, Gabriel de Clieu, secretly obtained a seedling from the King’s cherished plant. In spite of a difficult voyage, complete with horrendous weather, a saboteur who tried to destroy the seedling, and a pirate attack, he was able to transport it safely to Martinique.

From there, it couldn’t be stopped. Once planted, the seedling did not only thrive, but it’s credited with the spread of over 18 million coffee trees on the island of Martinique in the next 50 years. Even more incredible is that this seedling was the parent of all coffee trees throughout the Caribbean, South, and Central America. You’re welcome Juan Valdez, you imaginary Madison Avenue caricature.

Michael Pollan, an Experiment of One

To research and write this book, Pollan shunned coffee so he could write and document caffeine as, yes, a drug, albeit less harmful than say, meth. He also relates his experience of re-acquainting himself with it at the end of the experiment.

If you are like most of us, you take coffee, tea, soda, and the essential ingredient, caffeine, for granted. But a close reading (or in my case, listening to) of this book will educate and surprise you. From a war-time tie manufacturer who increased production via “coffee-breaks” to how London-coffee houses became the places to be for stock tips, you will be amazed how this caffeine molecule transformed the world. Without you noticing.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.


Who Was St. Patrick and Why Was His Holiday Invented in America?

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St. Patrick's Day Parade
St. Patrick’s Day Parade

St. Patrick’s day is one of two “foreign” beer holidays (not counting New Year’s Eve) that were actually invented here in the United States, not imported. The other, of course, is Cinco de Mayo, which celebrates the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. Other holidays, such as Christmas, originate elsewhere but we excel at making our own.

Why, other than the green beer, is St. Patrick’s Day so popular? The last Census showed that 34.1 million Americans have Irish ancestry. That’s seven times the population of Ireland. Chances are that you’ve got a wee bit o’ the Celt in you. The coronavirus is not going to stop you from celebrating, right?

Who was the Real St. Patrick?

Patrick was born not in Ireland, but in Britain into a Romanized family. At 16 years of age he was abducted by Irish raiders from his father’s villa. His abductor was Calpurnius who was a deacon and a minor local official. Patrick was carried off into slavery in Ireland. There he spent six bleak years there working as a herdsman, during which time he turned with fervor to his faith. When he dreamt that the ship in which he was to escape was ready, he escaped from his master and found passage to England. There he approached starvation and endured another brief captivity before being reunited with his family. It is thought that after that he may have paid a short visit to the Continent.

The best known passage in the Confessio speaks of a dream, following his return to England, in which one Victoricus offered him a letter titled “The Voice of the Irish.” As he read it, he heard a company of Irish folk asking him to walk once more among them. “Deeply moved,” he says, “I could read no more.” Nevertheless, because of the brevity of his education, he was reluctant for a long time to answer the call. Even on the eve of reembarkation to Ireland he was overwhelmed by doubts of his fitness for the task. Once there however, his hesitations vanished. Completely confident in the Lord, he wandered far and wide, baptizing and confirming with true zeal. In diplomatic fashion he brought gifts to a minor king here and a lawgiver there but accepted none from any.

Legends of St. Patrick

  • St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. In truth, Ireland never had snakes because they couldn’t get there for one reason or another. Other islands that don’t have snakes include New Zealand, Hawaii, Greenland, Iceland, and Antarctica.
  • Patrick raised people from the dead. A 12th-century hagiography places this number at 33 men, some of whom are said to have been deceased for many years.
  • He enshrined the shamrock, which he used to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity to the Irish. The shamrock represents three persons in one God, to an unbeliever by showing him the three-leaved plant with one stalk. Traditionally, Irishmen have worn shamrocks, the national flower of Ireland, in their lapels on St. Patrick’s Day.
  • He created the Celtic Cross which super-imposed a circle, representing the sun, onto the traditional crucifix in order to convert the Irish. There are many other competing theories as to the origin but this is as good as any.
A Celtic Cross
A Celtic Cross

St. Patrick’s Day is American?

Yes. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade happened not in Ireland but in the good old United States, that veritable melting pot. On March 17, 1762, Irish soldiers who were serving in the English military marched through New York City. Along with their music, the parade helped the soldiers reconnect with their Irish roots, as well as with fellow Irishmen serving in the English army.

Today in New York City the parade is the world ‘s oldest civilian parade and the largest in all of the United States, numbering over 150,000 participants. Ever year, nearly 3 million people line up on the 1.5-mile parade route to view the procession, which takes more than five hours. Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Savannah join them in celebrating the Celtic day with parades involving between 10,000 and 20,000 participants each.

So who isn’t ready to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day even if it’s an American holiday? Chances are that a bit of you hails from Dublin, Galway, or County Clare. I’ll take any excuse to eat more potatoes.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

8 Immune-System Strategies for Cold and Flu Season

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Cold vs flu symptoms
Cold vs flu symptoms

It just doesn’t seem fair; just when we are feeling upbeat and optimistic as we look forward to spring, songbirds, and short britches, the cold and flu season arrives. Just like clockwork many of us are coughing, enduring stuffy noses, sneezing, and worse. And to add insult to injury, this year we have to deal with the coronavirus (COVID-19). For any of these afflictions, these 8 immune-system strategies will help to avoid sickness and make life a wee bit more manageable while on the mend if you succumb.

  • Get a Flu Shot. OK, you should have gotten it some time ago but there is still time if what you’ve got is the common cold. When your immune system is already compromised the flu might see you as an easy target.
  • Cut Back on the Alcohol. Too much can leave you susceptible to dehydration and poor sleep which are the two immunity-boosters you need the most. Being a bit tipsy can also lead to unhealthy food choices, sleeping less than you need to, and a higher chance of skipping workouts, all of which will have a negative effect on your immune system.
  • Get Enough Sleep. This can’t be stressed enough. Not getting enough sleep can lower the immune response. Your body has to have the correct amount of restorative time that it needs to fight off germs of all types. Quality deep sleep is the key factor but it all counts. See the image below. This was my sleep history last night as recorded by my Garmin 235 watch. First, I didn’t get enough rack-time and my deep sleep wasn’t optimized. I still have work to do. Hey, I’m dealing with it.
Sleep pattern screenshot recorded with a Garmin 235 watch
Sleep pattern screenshot recorded with a Garmin 235 watch
  • Heft that Water Bottle. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate. Copious hydration keeps energy levels up and also allows your body to scoot toxins and other waste materials out of your system at a faster rate. This fine-tunes your immune system’s ability to fight infection. Remember that many fruits and vegetables contain both water and electrolytes.
  • Include Probiotics in Your Diet. A surprising proportion of your immune system is actually in your gastrointestinal tract. The cells lining your gut have a responsibility for producing antibodies which fight off bacteria and viruses. Foods such as yogurt with live cultures, kimchi, kombucha, and sauerkraut are your friends. Supplements are also effective for this and overall health to keep everything in balance.
  • Keep Your Hands Away from Your Mouth, Nose, and Eyes. You probably touch your face more than you think you do. Even though you might wash your hands often, germs can still build up on your hands shortly after. The CDC tells us that germs can easily enter the body via the eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Get Enough Exercise. Stick to your workout schedule. It improves the way your immune system combats germs and disease, making it more efficient at fighting subsequent infection, the National Institutes of Health points out.
  • Finally, Wash Your Hands Frequently. This one should be common sense but many people neglect it to their detriment. When it is not convenient, use a hand sanitizer. Keep a squirt pump bottle in one of your car cup-holders. Ladies, put one in your purse. Studies have shown that some of the most germ-laden surfaces are grocery store carts and restaurant salt shakers and menus. How often have you seen these items wiped down with sanitizer? That’s right. Never.

Adhering to these 8 immune-System strategies for cold and flu season may not guarantee that you won’t get sick but it will certainly shift the odds in your favor. And remember, you are not only protecting yourself, you aren’t spreading anything to others.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

A History of American Medical Insurance

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Medicare health insurance card and benefits
Medicare health insurance card and benefits

Today we are surrounded by so much high-tech medical apparatuses and procedures that we take them for granted. For example I recently had laparoscopic inguinal (groin) hernia surgery. No scalpel slashing, just 3 punctures. All the work was done microscopically and I was on my feet withing 3 hours.

But it wasn’t always that way. More than 90% of commonly-accepted medicine did not even exist in the 1950s. One of the consequences is that people, average people, not just the monied upper-crust, are living longer. A greater understanding about things like controlling high blood pressure adds years and quality of life.

The Cost of Modern Medicine

It should come as no surprise that all this progress comes with a cost. In fact, it has been rising faster than any other expenditure when looked at on a national level. Flash back if you will to 1930–we spent $2.8 billion on health care. That equates to 3.5% of the gross domestic product (GDP) or only $23 per person.

In 2015 that rose to $3 trillion. That’s $9,536 per person or 15% of GDP. During the 1980s medical expenditures rose by 117%. Of that, 43% can be attributed to inflation. 10% can be attributed to the rise in population and longer life expectancy. 23% was due to new technology, medicines, and treatment innovations. The remaining 24% is due to another instance of inflation that resides totally within the medical community. This last number tells us that there is a lack of oversight and cost transparency. There is no financial propping up as with the banking, agricultural, and auto-building industries.

The Transformation of Hospitals

It was only in the 1850s that the medical community realized that diseases were caused by microorganisms. This became known as the germ theory of disease and it was indeed revolutionary. It led to research that was to begin to focus on preventative rather than just curative treatment. Rabies was banished from human population in 1885. Diphtheria and whooping cough were brought under control. When milk began to be pasteurized the death rate of children went from 125.1/thousand to 15.8/thousand in 1925.

In 1873 hospitals, of which there were only 149 in the country, were more like hospices; the poor and and deathly-ill went there to die; those institutions were little more than petri dishes, not at all sanitary. But that changed because of the changes brought about by germ theory.

By 100 years later the number of hospitals had increased to over 7,000 and their role had morphed into medical research and clinical medicine. Exciting times. But… they cost a lot to operate and the number of patients could not be reliably estimated. The solution? Late in the 1920s hospital insurance was introduced in Dallas, Texas to stabilize cash flow. For a premium of $6 per year Baylor University Hospital would provide 21 days of care to subscribers.

Soon other hospitals adopted this model and formed confederations so that patients could choose a treatment facility. This was the business model for Blue Cross which launched in California in 1932. These were rudimentary insurance plans; they did not include co-pays or deductions, just fixed premiums meant to stabilize cash flow. One consequence is that patients gravitated toward hospital stays (expensive) rather than outpatient treatments (cheaper).

This insurance was paid directly to the hospital and not to the individual. This eliminated any opportunity to “shop around.” Since the money was not coming itemized out of the patient’s pocket, why should he or she care what the price tag was?

The Government Fails to Regulate Medical Insurance

During the mid to late 30s Blue Cross was spreading rapidly. The states moved to try to regulate them to the same standards as other types of “insurance.” But the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association lobbied to be exempt, claiming an exception due to operating on a non-profit basis. The IRS agreed and ruled that they were also exempt from federal taxation. Blue Cross and other insurance companies emerging in the field operated on a cost-plus basis. Now there was zero incentive to control costs an strive for efficiency.

Hospitals began to compete not on price but by wooing doctor referrals. Doctors were being paid “reasonable and customary” charges. If Dr. C began charging a bit more, Dr. A and Dr. B would follow suit and the standard of “reasonable and customary” inched up. No oversight.

The Modern Medical Insurance Paradigm

When World War II drew us in, two things happened. One, the labor market got tighter since more workers enlisted in the military. Two, price and wage controls were implemented. In order to attract the best employees, companies began offering employer-paid health insurance as a fringe benefit which the IRS recognized as a business expense.

The National Labor Relations Board imposed collective bargaining on health insurance plans so unions began to demand more and more, driving prices up. But a consequence was that the patient became further distanced from the medical system and they lost many choices; one must take what is offered.

In 1965 the government waded into the medical market with Medicaid and Medicare. Initially, hospitals and doctors resisted but when they began to reap the dividends they quickly changed their tune. Now state governments largely controlled the purse strings of most major hospitals and thus could influence policy.

More recently a major factor in driving up medical costs is litigation. Medical malpractice suits have exploded. Cases have increased by a 1:300 ratio in the years from 1969 to 1990 alone. A special class of lawyers have even emerged to take advantage of this low-hanging fruit; these are your ambulance-chasers and your class-action law firms where actual plaintiffs make pennies while the lawyers walk away with the bulk of the settlements.

This short history of American medical insurance should serve to put things into perspective as we have a national debate over how it really should be handled. Should we stay on our present course or model our system on Britain or Canada? Should we believe in a socialist “free for all” system as Bernie Sanders advocates? (Hint: there’s no such thing as free.) Should we adopt an Obamacare model complete with a Jacobin death panel? This will continue to be an evolving national debate.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

A Fundamental Guide to Long Runs

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Long run on an asphalt highway
Long run on an asphalt highway

Many runners, especially newbies, are of the mindset that running long is a workout done solely for preparing for a half marathon, full marathon, or an ultramarathon. In actuality, there’s quite a bit more to the story. They are an important part of a properly balanced training program for runners of all stripes. It is just one aspect of the 10 habits of highly-successful runners. By the way, the same logic applies to walkers as well.

Weekly long distance runs also supply key benefits for athletes that are preparing for a 5K, 10K, or any distance. It also keeps the body from plateauing for individuals intent on burning calories for a weight loss program.

In short, longer distance, slower workouts are just one more factor in a comprehensive workout program. Your easy and recovery runs should make up the bulk of your program in order to avoid injury.

Round out your weekly routine by adding in some interval workouts, fartlek, tempo runs, and sporadic pick-ups to activate your fast-twitch muscle fibers for developing speed. Adding in some hill training will boost leg strength and teaches your legs to handle lactic acid build-up.

Whatever type of workout you have planned for the day it’s important to stick to your workout warm-up routine. It might not seem necessary for a slow long run but in fact it is. And after all, there is something to be said for conforming to habit to keep you honest. The importance of rituals in our everyday lives keeps us balanced.

Long Distance Running Stimulates Physiological Adaptations

Running Times (sadly, a now-defunct magazine) coach and columnist Greg McMillan rightly pointed out that there are 3 distinct physiological adaptations that distance training provides us with.

  • New capillary growth. What are capillaries? These are the smallest of blood vessels; the more you have, the more oxygen-delivery your body is efficiently capable of. The end result is that they enhance your ability to do work. Capillaries are also key during the process of dissipating heat as they direct more blood close to your skin.
  • Musculoskeletal strengthening. As Arnold the Terminator would say, “I’ll pump you up!” Similar to the way lifting weights strengthens particular target muscles, when you add stress to your legs it promotes ligament, tendon, and muscle strengthening. To maintain and build bone density be sure to get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet. As far as supplements go, CoQ10 is highly encouraged for the many benefits for runners, especially us, ahem, older ones. See the graphic below.
  • Enzyme changes. Running long distance encourages an increase in the amount of enzymes in the legs.
The many benefits of CoQ10
The many benefits of CoQ10

Increase Your Running Distance Slowly but Surely

The majority of wise runners do their weekly long runs when they can allocate the time for both the run and the requisite recovery; usually this means the weekend. I’m comfortable with my long run on Saturday and my recovery run on Sunday. Just look at a marathon training schedule and you will see that two things stick out. First, run distance increases adhering to the traditional 10 percent rule.

Secondly, the 10 percent build-up happens every other week in most plans; a good distance on the alternate week is generally about 10 miles for a good maintenance-distance run if you are training for a marathon. It goes without saying is that this rule becomes even more important as one gravitates to longer and more intense endurance events. The second caveat of the 10 percent rule is to limit your total weekly mileage increase to 10 percent.

Make the Long Run a Social Event

There are good reasons for making your long run a social event. And, not because “misery loves company.” Rather because accomplishment loves company. This is one of the best benefits of running clubs. It is certainly much easier to roll out of bed in the sleepy pre-dawn hours when you know your comrades are waiting for you to start laying down the miles. In fact, distance training and comradeship is the foundation of many long-lasting friendships.

As an example, organizations like USA Fit have made a cottage industry of it, and some would say, have taken the concept too far (strongly encouraged to buy merch, etc.) They’re everywhere; in Texas alone there are at least 20 clubs.

These kinds of organizations seem to be largely responsible for the growing phenomenon of marathon walkers (sometimes called turtles). Not that there is anything wrong with that as long as the race organizers let walkers start at least a couple of hours before the gun for the runners goes off.

Hopefully, this guide to long runs has encouraged you to to insert them into your training regimen. Your heart will thank you, your bathroom scale will thank you, and of course it goes a long way towards managing insomnia.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Beat the Heat this Summer and Cold this Winter with Radiant Barrier

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Radiant barrier staple-up foil and loose fill insulation
Radiant barrier staple-up foil and loose fill insulation

The cost to air-condition you home in the summer and heat your home in the winter is absolutely insane, even if you have your HVAC sized perfectly. But what can you do? For one thing, you can install a spray-on and/or aluminum foil radiant barrier.

These are the two major distinct heat-reduction methods on the market today. And they really work. NASA uses it, as do other commercial and residential properties. And, although it is touted for summer savings, it works in the winter as well. Think of a thermos bottle. It doesn’t care if the contents are hot or cold; it just does a splendid job of insulating.

Which is Best: Spray or Foil?

This is really up to you. It really depends on your situation. But, and this is a huge but, spray-on is more versatile. It’s simply a powder mixed with paint so you can use any color latex paint you want and roll it or spray it on your walls, interior or exterior.

When I sprayed my attic, I used the bottom inch or two in the bucket that my Graco airless paint sprayer didn’t pick up to roll on my garage walls. And what a difference that has made! The garage is my woodworking shop and it is now much more comfortable.

How Much does Radiant Barrier Cost?

Uhmm, that’s a good question. There is no denying it; it is expensive. When I did my home (about 12 years ago) it was $0.50 USD per square foot for foil and about $40.00 USD per gallon for the pre-mixed spray-on product. I did the labor myself. You think that’s bad? Check out your last electricity bill. It’s all relative in the grand scheme of things.

How Does this Insulation Technology Work?

The spray-on method generally combines microscopic porcelain beads with aluminum flakes which are mixed into a latex paint base to reflect the heat. The foil is typically an aluminum product with tiny perforations to allow the material to breathe. The 2-ply versions are recommended because that provides a “dead” area that insulates much like fiberglass batt insulation does.

Common Questions About Radiant Barriers

Is it too expensive? No! This is one of the cheapest things you can do to lower the burden on your central air conditioner. Of course the initial cost may seem steep, but after it pays for itself you keep saving. Smart investment.

Is it hard to install? No! If you go with the foil, you basically need a tape measure, a utility knife, and a stapler. If you use the spray you will need to buy or rent a sprayer with the proper size spray tip. The only hard part is getting in tight spots.

Are there any precautions? Yes. If you use spray-on, you must use a high quality respirator (not a dust mask) when spraying or boxing the paint and powder.

Concerns about Cell Phone Reception

Radiant barrier foil and spray for double-effectiveness
Radiant barrier foil and spray for double-effectiveness

Well, this is everybody’s favorite question in our hooked-up and connected world. This question is still way out there as far as the responses go. From my spray radiant barrier experience, I can say that there was little or no change.

But, as far as the foil staple-up barrier is concerned (which I did not do in my home), I’ve found that the yes/no response from others is about equal. Logic dictates that it would make a difference from cell interception arriving vertically, but horizontally? Who knows?

When I added the foil to the attic floor over the rafters and the fiberglass batt insulation I did notice some cell reception degradation. But then I upgraded my cable modem/WiFi and the signal was perhaps better than it ever was.

So is radiant barrier insulation right for your home? From my experience I would say yes, absolutely. It lowers utility bills in the fiercest summer heat and the most shivering of winter weather. It will pay for itself over time if you are there for the long term and if you put your home on the market it’s a great selling point. Win-win.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

What is a Brokered Convention During a Presidential Primary?

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Preparing for a brokered convention
Preparing for a brokered convention

A brokered convention is also called an open convention and is closely related to, but not the same as, a contested convention. It can happen during a presidential election any time a political party fails to choose a nominee on the first round of delegate voting at the party’s nominating convention . Once the initial ballot or vote has happened, and no one candidate has garnered a majority of the delegates’ votes, the convention is then considered to be in brokered status; thereafter the nomination is finalized via a process of alternating political horse trading (superdelegate vote trading), and additional re-votes.

What are Superdelegates?

According to Merriam-Webster, a superdelegate, or super-delegate if you prefer, is “a person who is chosen as a delegate to a political party’s presidential nominating convention because of his or her status as a leader or official within the party and who is free to vote for any candidate regardless of the results of the popular vote in primary elections and caucuses preceding the convention. They were invented by the Democrats after the 1980 election in the expectation that in any future close nomination race, they would line up behind the establishment candidate and head off the possibility of a ruinous floor fight at the convention.”

As of this writing there has been much speculation of a brokered convention because there are still so many candidates on the Democrat side. At the moment Bernie Sanders is the top dog with a Democrat Socialist message but that could change at any moment.

The History of Brokered Conventions

From a historical point of view, before primary elections, brokered conventions happened often. This was especially of the Democrat party. But then after the advent of television ads and modern-style presidential campaigns, few brokered conventions have happened on the Republican side, due to increased voter participation, even though a couple of occurrences of contested conventions have happened. The last real brokered convention occurred in 1952, between Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and Sen. Robert Taft.

A contested convention is the first step to a brokered convention. This effectively means that no one candidate has reached the national convention with a majority of delegates. When that happens, at the convention, a vote is held.

The Republican’s last contested convention battle was in 1976 when Ronald Reagan attempted and failed to remove the incumbent Gerald Ford from the ticket after Ford failed to secure enough delegates to earn the nomination. Prior to that, a contested convention nearly occurred in 1960 when Nelson Rockefeller was competing against Richard Nixon.

So that’s what a brokered convention is. As much as voters of the losing party always laments the seeming folly of the electoral college, the brokered convention is just another step removed from the will of the people and should be avoided when at all possible.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

No-Fry Eggplant Parmesan Recipe

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Breading Eggplant Parmesan
Breading Eggplant Parmesan

Although eggplant is often considered to be a vegetable, it is actually a berry by botanical definition. I know, I know; I don’t get it either. Health-wise, it’s got a lot going for it. According to naturalremediescenter.com, ” It is said that eggplant may have effects in preventing and treating high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high cholesterol. Eggplant is rich in phenols which may inhibit an enzyme tied to high blood pressure. Thus eggplant may do your body some favors in lower high blood pressure.” And it tastes great. So what’s to lose?

This recipe is a meatless dish so if you are the kind of person who opts for a soybean-based burger rather than traditional beef, you can’t go wrong here.

Ingredient List

  • 1 large eggplant, sliced 1/4 inch rounds
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 oz. Marinara or tomato sauce of your choice
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil (add other herbs as desired)
  • 1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs, regular or your choice of flavor
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (more is fine)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (more is fine)
  • Optional: hot sauce to taste, added to the tomato sauce

Eggplant Parmesan Preparation

  • The first step is to “sweat” the eggplant rounds. Since eggplant absorbs so much water by itself, it is important to remove as much moisture from the rounds as possible. Do this by salting both sides and then placing them in a colander in the sink. Two colanders should work for one eggplant. Let them sweat for at least 2 hours. More is better.
  • Rinse the salt off and press dry with paper towels.
  • Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  • Apply olive oil to a large baking sheet pan.
  • Whisk the eggs in a small bowl.
  • Spread some panko on a dish.
  • One at a time, dredge the rounds in the egg, coat both sides liberally with panko, and arrange on the baking sheet.
  • Bake 9 minutes, flip the rounds, bake another 9 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and allow them to cool.
  • Lower oven temperature to 350°F.
Layering Eggplant Parmesan
Layering Eggplant Parmesan
  • Stir the basil into the sauce.
  • Spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of an 8″ X 8″ Pyrex baking dish.
  • Lay out a layer of rounds in the dish. Since they are round you can cut one up to fill the “gaps.”
  • Sprinkle with both kinds of cheese; the amount is up to you.
  • Top with another layer of rounds.
  • Spread sauce and sprinkle with cheese.
  • Keep layering in this fashion until you run out of rounds. The top layer should have sauce and cheese.
  • Bake for 35 minutes.
  • Enjoy!

That’s all there is to it! Of course, you can try different kinds of cheese. This really is a bonus if you are feeding picky kids. This no-fry eggplant Parmesan is very versatile for the adventurous cook. You might pair it with a Tuscan kale salad or homemade low-carb egg noodles.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

2020 National Electrical Code Changes

National Electrical Code
National Electrical Code
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The National Electrical Code (NEC), or NFPA 70, is a regionally adoptable standard for the safest installation of electrical wiring and equipment, only in the United States, although of course other countries can follow it if they wish. The NEC is a part of the National Fire Code series published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), which is a private trade association. Despite the use of the term “national”, it is not a federal law. It can be adopted as is by any state or municipality or adapted.

The 2020 version of the National Electric Code includes requirement updates in the following four significant areas: firemen’s disconnect, solar power, surge protection, and GFCI protection . To ensure providing the best, safest work possible, become familiar with the official NEC codes mandated by your state. Whether you are a professional or a DIY project person, a knowledge of electrical safety requirements is important.

Emergency Disconnects

  • Must function from outside dwellings
  • Applies to generators and energy storage systems (ESS)
  • Required for all single- and two-family dwellings
  • Must be readily accessible
  • Generators must be marked with one of the following: EMERGENCY DISCONNECT, METER DISCONNECT, NOT SERVICE EQUIPMENT, EMERGENCY DISCONNECT, SERVICE DISCONNECT, or EMERGENCY DISCONNECT, NOT SERVICE EQUIPMENT

Surge Protection

  • Must be part of service equipment or adjacent to it
  • New article (242) includes service lines to dwelling units
  • May be located at each level of downstream distribution as needed
  • As of 2020 applies to: replacements and service upgrades and line side and load side services 

Solar (Applies to California)

  • Solar panels on new construction (California requires solar photovoltaic systems for newly constructed healthcare facilities starting January 1, 2020)
  • Outdoor disconnect required for all energy storage units

Articles Removed from NEC 2017

  • Article 553 Floating Building
  • Article 285 SPDs 1,000V or less
  • Article 280 SPDs over 1,000V
  • Article 328 MV Cable Type MV

New Articles Added

  • Article 800 General Requirements for Communication Systems: consolidates the previous contents of 2017 NEC chapter 8 into one articles and addresses requirements for communication circuits, to include television and radio distribution antennae as well as network powered broadband systems.
  • Article 242 Overvoltage Protection: combines the two articles 280 and 285 and addresses surge protective requirements, devices and arresters.
  • Article 337 Type P Cable: covers 600V Type P cables that are used in industrial and hazardous areas and specifications.
  • Article 311 MV Connectors and Cable: Expands on the deleted article 328 and goes on to address medium voltage conductors and cables, their use, and their specifications.

Look for Updates Every 3 Years

The National Fire Protection Agency continues to publish official updates to the NEC every three years. These updates have run like clockwork since 1897, when the code was first introduced. 2020 NEC is the end result of more than 5,000 public inputs and comments, 18 panels, the annual NFPA meeting, and more than 2,000 revisions. Get ahead of the curve by learning about the 2020 National Electrical Code changes.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Garmin Forerunner 235 GPS Running Watch Review

Garmin Forerunner 235 GPS Running Watch
Garmin Forerunner 235 GPS Running Watch
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A high-quality running watch is even more important than the health supplements I take. The Garmin Forerunner 235 is the third Garmin I’ve worn over the years and miles. My first one was the 310 XT. Nice watch but it was the early days of GPS and the thing was huge and orange. Not something to wear to work as your default timepiece.

My next one was the 220 which was an improvement in size, aesthetics, and functionality. When it bit the dust after years of loyal service I decided to up my game and buy a 235. It was a smart move.

Garmin Forerunner 235 Features

As I said, the 235 was definitely a step up for my running needs. Here are features that stand out for me.

  • Very fast GPS acquisition. Whereas my 220 would average a minute to be GPS ready, the 235 typically takes 5 – 10 seconds. One less frustration in life, eh?
  • Tracks distance, pace, time, and heart rate. The heart rate is picked up from the underside of the watch. No more bulky chest straps!
  • Activity tracking records daily steps, distance, calories, and sleep.
  • When you are out of GPS sight you can still get your metrics. The built-in accelerometer records distance and pace data when you are running on an indoor track or treadmill. I can’t vouch for its accuracy but it feels to be within the realm of legit.
  • The ability to customize your data fields, and download watch faces, widgets, and applications.
  • For those who spend all day at their desk, the watch has a red “move bar” on the left side of the face that will appear when you haven’t moved recently (see the image at the top of the page. A trip to the coffee bar and a short leg-stretching stroll will make the bar go away. This is a nice touch for those on a weight loss program; all those steps add up.

Computer Syncing and the Garmin Connect Website

Garmin Connect Partial Screenshot
Garmin Connect Partial Screenshot

The watch uses USB to your computer to sych data, download software updates, and charge the watch, which is fast enough to avoid frustration. After synching with Garmin Express (an app on your computer), one click will bring up the Garmin Connect site. The image above is a partial screenshot of the main landing page. The various blocks give an overview of the various data modules and the menu bar on the left allows drilling down for details.

There is no charge for displaying and storing your data. The many charts and graphs are very detailed whether it’s sleep patterns, weight (which you enter manually), cumulative mileage on your shoes, and much more. Drilling down from the calendar will show workout details along with a detailed map of your course with street names, which is handy for repeating courses or planning a new one.

All in all I give the Garmin Forerunner 235 GPS watch 4 out of 5 stars. Unfortunately, the “activities” to select do not include “walking” which I could have used in the weeks after recovering from surgery (you can get that with a downloadable app which is good for walkers and hikers). But I’m back to straight-up running again so it’s all good.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.