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March 26, 2009


I was talking with Renee the other day about homemade bread, and a recipe that I used to make nearly every week when Jean and I were 'poor'. It was a hybrid of a recipe I got out of Laurel's Bread Book. Counting rise times, kneading, baking and cooling, it was an all-day affair, but resulted in two loaves of whole-wheat bread that had a coarse crumb and terrific taste. Two slices with a bit of tomato made a meal.

Turning on that subject, I mentioned that some of the heavier hand-crafted beers of today resembled colonial beers which were rich enough in calories that a pint might as well be a meal (don't know how many vitamins you can count on from a dark beer, though). Then of course I mentioned the salutory effect of alcohol on limiting water-borne diseases. I mentioned how the classical Greeks mixed water with wine, which might have reduced the antibacterial properties somewhat, but at least led to a less inebriated populace.

So how does this feed into the quote of the day? Whilst laid up with a bad back, I took advantage of Amazon's introduction of Kindle for iPod to download a couple of books for my iPod Touch. One of them was The Ghost Map, which I'd partially read from the library when it came out, but never finished. So I'm reading it now, and what should I see, but:

The search for unpolluted drinking water is as old as civilization itself. As soon as there were mass human settlements, waterborne diseases like dysentery became a crucial population bottleneck. For much of human history, the solution to this chronic public-health issue was not purifying the water supply. The solution was to drink alcohol. In a community lacking pure-water supplies, the closest thing to "pure" fluid was alcohol. Whatever health risks were posed by beer (and later wine) in the early days of agrarian settlements were more than offset by alcohol's antibacterial properties.

And the money quote:

Dying of cirrhosis of the liver in your forties was better than dying of dysentery in your twenties.

He goes on to discuss the theory that selection pressures actually favored descendents who could "hold their liquor", or beer, actually, as those who could not, either died of alcohol poisoning or dysentery before bearing children. The majority of the human race, therefore, now has genes which produce enzymes called alcohol dehydrogenases, allowing the ingestion of 'large' quantities of alcohol.


I now have an indictment of some aspect of the Kindle toolchain, I don't know where. In reading the book, I remember that Johnson earlier spoke about how the adoption of tea drinking in England also contributed to the health of Londoners:

Brewed tea possesses several antibacterial properties that help ward off waterborne diseases: the tannic acid released in the steeping process kills off those bacteria that haven't already perished during the boiling of the water. The explosion of tea drinking during the late 1700s was, from the bacteria's point of view, a microbial holocaust. Physicians observed a dramatic drop in dysentery and child mortality during the period.

However, in trying to locate this passage, I ran into a roadblock (I eventually used Amazon's own "Search Inside This Book" facility). On the iPod Touch, at least, while the index for the book is included, and there is an entry, bacteria, tea and, the index entry does not link back to the relevant text! Really??? I don't know if this is a limitation of the Kindle conversion of this book, a limitation of the Kindle conversion for iPods, or what, but it renders the index a cruel joke. Now if I wanted to drop big bucks on the actual Kindle e-book reader, I could use search:

Kindle makes it easy to search across your library. To use the Search feature, simply type in a word or phrase you're looking for, and Kindle will find every instance across your Kindle library.

But I don't intend to drop that kind of money, and I actually like reading on the much more portable iPod. The upcoming summer release of iPhone OS 3.0 holds out some promise:

Search capabilities will be expanded, allowing customers to search within Mail, iPod and Notes or search across all key apps by typing a key word or phrase into the new Spotlight search, conveniently accessed from the Home screen.

The only question here is, what are "key apps"? I sure hope I'll be able to use Spotlight to search my Kindle books, but I'm skeptical that that will happen...

And of Course, Illustrations...

Don't get a book if the illustrations are critical to understanding the text. They might be large enough on a Kindle, but not on the compact screen of an iPod Touch. Fortunately, though both the books I bought have a small set of illustrations, they are not critical to the understanding of the books.

Posted by dpwakefield at March 26, 2009 09:25 PM


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