Friday, March 6, 2015

Shortage of Engineers is a Hoax? You Don't Say.

The only real disagreement is whether supply [of STEM* workers] is two or three times larger than the demand. -USA Today

Between mostly poor pay, variable benefits, instability (six layoffs in seven years) and lack of opportunities in engineering, and then living in a land of milk and honey in public accounting--where the Great Recession barely got my attention--I knew the "shortage of engineers" was a load of horse shit. Or as someone else described it, STEM was a lottery with a very expensive ticket. Perhaps I'm not alone here: a lot of low-carbers are scientific, analytical people who might have had trouble finding work in their fields. 

Heaven knows I've had plenty of clues that there was a glut of engineers: taking a year to find an engineering job out of college, making less than the cashiers at King Soopers when I was temping as a mechanical engineer at Bechtel, and seeing few advertisements for positions. Changing industries and learning more about business gave me more insight: companies that really do need to hire employees don't run an ad in the paper for a year, rejecting all comers, or run an ad with a mile-long list of obscure qualifications and wait while the work apparently piles up. (They might do the latter, my brother said, if they've already hired someone and they're running the ad for EEOC purposes. The former, I think, might be only for poaching employees from competitors.) Companies try to keep their employees around with good pay, benefits and other perks when they're hard to replace. And as we all saw during the tech boom and lately in petroleum engineering, employers raise wages when the workers they need are in short supply. Still, it was disheartening to constantly hear about engineering degrees being a ticket to wealth and guaranteed employment, and how all those unemployed liberal arts majors should have majored in engineering. 

Finally, though, I have proof that there's a glut. Falling Behind? Boom, Bust and the Global Race for Scientific Talent by Michael S. Teitelbaum looks at the evidence and finds no indication there's a shortage of engineers or other STEM workers except, perhaps, in a few sub-fields. He describes scaremongering and lobbying by industry, academia and immigration lawyers to convince lawmakers and the public that the US was, and is, short of STEM workers--the solutions being to get more students to earn degrees in those fields and bring in foreign workers. One effect was, of course, to flood the market with STEM labor, putting downward pressure on wages and opportunities. Tragically, some of the lobbying focused on preventing students here on visas from being tracked with an up-to-date computer system. Some students took advantage of the lax student visa system, dropping out of school, training with terrorists and attacking America on 9/11. 

But it was the US government, Teitelbaum says, that was the first to start crowing about a lack of scientists and engineers generations ago. Government sets an agenda based on little or no evidence and industry flacks make up bullshit to help their businesses and get government support. Sound familiar?

Others, too, are calling out the STEM shortage as a hoax. Professors from Howard and Rutgers Universities have, like Teitelbaum, looked at the data and say there's no evidence of a shortage. IEEE looked at hundreds of articles, reports and white papers and concluded--with a dramatic visual--there are 227,000 STEM vacancies in the US, and 11.4 million STEM degree holders who work outside of STEM. And Mark Zuckerberg, who's been lobbying for inexpensive foreign workers, got served by Sen. Jeff Sessions. Sessions now heads the immigration subcommittee in Congress.

Even though I'm not in STEM anymore, I wish well for everyone who is. In any case, maybe outing the STEM shortage as a hoax will get colleges and companies in that field to do what they're supposed to be good at: solving problems themselves.

*STEM is science, technology, engineering and math.

Fibromyalgia Relief? Yes or No?

My posts on fibromyalgia relief (which propose trying a paleo diet) have been getting a lot of traffic lately. I'm curious how it's been working out for people. Your results?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Pictures of your Fridge? I Want to See your Medicine Cabinet

My refrigerator:

Ox cheek and homemade mushroom soup in the containers. Bacon and liver sausage in the meat drawer. 
My freezer:

Black angus beef.
My pantry:

Note the coffee, jalapeno peppers and full-fat coconut milk--so-called "trigger foods" for acid reflux, which I had until I started a low-carb diet. 

My medicine cabinet:

All the medicine I own, aside from some Neosporin. I just threw out a bunch of decongestants and Pepto Bismal that expired years ago. The aspirin shown expired nearly two years ago. The toothpaste is for a cavity that started forming last year when I was stressed out and wasn't taking extra-good care of myself. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Reason to Eat Red Meat, Fat, Eggs and Salt

It looks like Reason magazine has been reading about my diet...or maybe just studies showing no associations between red meat and mortality, saturated fat and heart disease, stroke or cardiovascular disease, or salt consumption and disease. Summarizing published research from the past few years, the article calls the government's dietary advice of the past forty years a fiasco of misinformation,  even noting there's a positive association between a low-sodium diet and death. It adds that the US government's Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has dropped their long crusade against cholesterol.

The article explains,

Observational studies [which the government relied on] may be good at developing hypotheses, but they are mostly not a good basis for making behavioral recommendations and imposing regulations.

It's refreshing for the mainstream media to recognize that mainstream dietary advice hasn't been working instead of parroting the same misinformation. The comments section of the article is happily free of the usual vegan trolls, too: Reason is libertarian (a way of thinking that doesn't draw many vegans) and commenting requires registration.

See "The Red Meat, Eggs, Fat, and Salt Diet" by Ronald Bailey, Reason magazine's Hit & Run Blog, February 24, 2015. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Start Seeds for Herbs and Vegetables for Under $100

There might be nine inches of snow at my house, but yesterday was time to start gardening. Plants are expensive and it pays to start your own from seed. I've heard of people who spend an absurd amount of money to grow a garden. This isn't one of those guides. If you have some basic gardening equipment and a place outside to grow plants, you can start growing herbs and vegetables from seed for well under $100. You can re-use the most expensive equipment (a hanging fluorescent light).

Before you buy anything, though, assess your situation and make a plan. If you have a sunny porch or yard and you're willing and able to frequently tend to some plants, you can make this happen. If this is the case, first, look up your average last frost date and length of growing season (click here if you're in the US). When I plug in my location, it tells me my average last frost date is May 17 and my growing season is 132 days long. With that information, I can see what I can grow here. Artichokes, taking 150 to 240 days to mature, aren't going to make it here, but arugula and bush beans can. Keep in mind that the growing season is an average figure--half the time, the growing season is shorter. Pick plants with some wiggle room so you don't end up with frozen, unripe vegetables.

Next, make a list of what to buy: seed starting mix (I use Miracle Gro); a seed tray with a tray, pots and dome (like this one; they're five dollars at the nursery where I shop); seeds; and a hanging shop light and fluorescent tubes (regular bulbs are fine). Later on, you can get some patio pots and potting soil (if needed) and a few bags of compost if your garden will be in the ground. (If I were just growing a few plants, I'd plant them in plastic cups with holes in the bottom, set on a tray, with a small fluorescent light.)

Look at the back of the seed packets to see when they should be started inside--it's stated in number of weeks before your average last frost date. Mark on your calendar when you're going to start each kind of seed. If you start them too late, it'll be too hot when they're ready to plant; if you start them too early, they'll get limp and overgrown before it's time to plant them. Note that some seeds should be planted directly wherever they're going to grow--they don't transplant well.

When you're ready to plant the seeds, fill the seed tray with seed starting mix and water it well (it may take a few hours for dry soil to absorb the water). Read the seed packet to see how deep to plant the seeds--some of them need light to germinate; others need darkness. I use a disposable ball point pen cap to indent the soil. Plant a few seeds per cell (thin them to one after they sprout), cover them or press them into the soil as needed, and put the cover on the seed tray. To know what I have planted, I mark the seed tray with roman numerals using nail polish and make a diagram of what's planted where. Finally, put the seed tray in place and hang or set the shop light so that it's a few inches above the tray. The seeds won't get enough light if it's farther away.

Keep the tray moist but not soggy and turn off the light at night. Use something that will water the soil very gently so the seeds don't wash away (a liquid measuring cup works well).

Around your average last frost date, put the seed trays outdoors in a semi-shaded spot to harden them off. (Too much sunlight all at once will burn them--think of cubicle dweller who goes to Mexico on vacation.) Bring them in at night if there's a chance of frost. Once you think there's no chance of frost, plant them in soil that's had the compost spaded into it, or in pots (at least a few gallons for vegetables; herbs can grow in fairly small pots). Read the seed packet to see how far to space the plants.

How much the plants need to be watered depends on your weather and soil. Here in dry, sunny Denver, pots need daily watering; vegetables growing in the ground, a little less frequently. Herbs need less care (cilantro and borage grow in my lawn, which gets little care, being buffalo grass).

You reward will be vegetables that taste wonderful--nothing like what's in the supermarket--and herbs  that don't cost five dollars for a tiny bundle. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Steve Cooksey, Diabetic Paleo Blogger, Wins Free Speech Fight

From a press release sent by the Institute for Justice:

Last week, the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition voted to adopt new guidelines allowing people to give ordinary diet advice without a government license, thus settling a May 2012 First Amendment lawsuit filed by diabetic blogger Steve Cooksey of Stanley, N.C....

“Last week’s board vote recognizes that North Carolinians do not need the government’s permission to give someone ordinary advice,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes, who represented Cooksey in his lawsuit. “North Carolina cannot require someone like Steve to be a state-licensed dietitian any more than it could require Dear Abby to be a state-licensed psychologist.

More at Reason.com.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Hyaluronic Acid Results

A few weeks ago, I started using a moisturizer with super hyaluronic acid to heal my chapped lips. I used it along with Carmex. In two weeks, they were healed. Now, after three and a half weeks' use, they're as soft as they've ever been. During the first two weeks, I used the two products several times a day (even though the HLA stings a little on broken skin).

Last weekend, two of my fingers got chapped from using a carpet stain remover without gloves. The sores were small, but surprisingly painful--so much so that I couldn't stand to run water over them. I tried HLA and Carmex, and they were healed (but still tender) in two days.

Reading up on HLA, it looks like it's a natural substance that humans and other animals produce, but less so with age. It's a polymer that helps with joint and eye health, and healing. It's degraded by ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and iron. If you're using HLA topically, made sure you're not using it with a  moisturizer full of vitamin C; likewise, it may be best to avoid taking HLA orally with an iron pill.