Archive for the ‘Texas’ Category

houston

Diabetes is so common in Patricia Graham’s neighbourhood that it has its own slang term. “At churches you run into people you ain’t seen in years, and they say, ‘I’ve got sugar,’” she says.

Graham does not quite have “sugar”, but when foot surgery in 2014 reduced her activity level, her blood sugar level soared. And there is a history of diabetes in her family: three of four brothers and her mother, who lost a leg to it.

So three times a week she comes to the smart, modern Diabetes Awareness and Wellness Network (Dawn) centre in Houston’s third ward, a historically African American district near downtown. Used by about 520 people a month, Dawn is in effect a free, city-run gym and support group for diabetics and pre-diabetics: a one-stop shop for inspiration, information and perspiration. Last Friday Graham, 68, was there for a walking session.

Not that she or the half-dozen other participants went anywhere. This was walking on the spot to pulsating music. Had the class stepped outside they would have enjoyed perfect conditions for a stroll: a blue sky and a temperature of 21C. If they had worked up an appetite, a soul food restaurant was only a 15-minute walk away, serving celebrated (if not exactly sugar-free) food that belies its unpromising location in a standard shopping mall on a busy road next to a dialysis centre.

But most of Houston is not built for walking, even on a sunny January day. There’s the constant traffic belching fumes that linger in the humid air; the uneven sidewalks that have a pesky habit of vanishing halfway along the street; the sheer distances to cover in this elongated, ever-expanding metropolis. Walking can feel like a transgressive act against Houston’s car-centric culture of convenience – and its status as the capital of the north American oil and gas industry.

It’s one reason why Houston regularly finishes top, or close, in surveys that crown “America’s fattest city”. Unsurprisingly, it has a diabetes problem as outsized as its residents’ waistlines. By 2040, one in five Houstonians is predicted to have the disease.

According to data from pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, the prevalence of type 2 diabetes in the city is 9.1% – with an estimated one in four of these being undiagnosed. Almost a third of adult Houstonians self-describe as obese, according to a 2010-11 survey. Without action, the number of people with diabetes is projected to nearly treble by 2040 to 1.1 million people, with diabetes-related costs soaring from $4.1bn in 2015 to $11.4bn by 2040.

Graham is alarmed by the damage diabetes is wreaking on her community. “I was talking to my friends and saying, so many of the people we grew up with got diabetes and lost limbs,” she says. “It’s not even so much the seniors any more, it’s the young people. But it doesn’t scare them. They act like they’re not afraid.”

Another Dawn member, Verne Jenkins, was diagnosed three years ago. “I had picked up a bit of weight that I shouldn’t have,” says the 63-year-old. “I knew what to eat, I knew what I was doing, I just got out of control.”

Jenkins loves to bake but has cut back on carbs, red meat, salt and sugar, abstaining from one of her guilty pleasures, German chocolate cake. Not that it’s easy in a city with so much choice: “All these wonderful restaurants, all these different kinds of cuisines, of course you’re going to try some. I imagine it leads to our delinquency,” she says.

Graham has watched her diet since she was in her 20s. “I eat pretty good,” she said. “‘She eats like white folks’ – that’s what they tell me!”

Time poverty

Diabetes is a major cause of death, blindness, kidney disease and amputations in the US. While federal researchers announced last year that the rate of new diabetes cases dropped from 1.7 million in 2009 to 1.4 million in 2014, in Texas the percentage of diagnosed adults rose from 9.8% in 2009 to 11% in 2014.

Houston, America’s fourth-largest city, is one of five participating in the Cities Changing Diabetes programme, along with Mexico City, Copenhagen, Tianjin and Shanghai. Vancouver and Johannesburg are soon to join the project, which attempts to understand, publicise and combat the threat through cultural analysis.

“The majority of people with diabetes live in cities,” says Jakob Riis, an executive vice-president at Novo Nordisk, one of the lead partners in the programme alongside the Steno Diabetes Center and University College London. “We need to rethink cities so that they are healthier to live in … otherwise we’re not really addressing the root cause of the problem.”

One of the programme’s key – and perhaps surprising – findings, however, is that assessing the risk of developing diabetes is not as simple as dividing the population according to income and race. The problem is broad – much like Houston itself.

The view stretches for miles from Faith Foreman’s eighth-floor office next to the Astrodome, the famous old indoor baseball stadium. It’s an impressive sight, but for someone tasked with tackling the city’s diabetes epidemic, also a worrying one: the sheer scale of the urban sprawl is part of the problem. The threat of the disease has expanded along with the city.

A low cost of living and a strong jobs market helped Houston become one of the fastest growing urban areas in the US. In response, the city loosened its beltways. Its third major ring road is under construction, with a northwestern segment set to open soon that is some 35 miles from downtown.

Once completed, the Grand Parkway – whose northwestern segment has just opened – will boast a circumference of about 180 miles. That is far in excess of the 117 miles of the M25, although about 14 million people live inside the boundary of London’s orbital motorway, more than twice as many as reside in the Houston area.

Large homes sprout in the shadow of recently opened sections, promising cheap middle-class living with a heavy cost: a commute to central Houston of up to 90 minutes each way during rush hour, with minimal public transport options.
“A lot of time in Houston is spent in a car,” says Foreman, assistant director of Houston’s Department of Health and Human Services. This informs one of the Cities Changing Diabetes study’s most notable findings: that “time poverty” is among the risk factors in Houston for developing type 2 diabetes.

This means that young, relatively well-off people can also be considered a vulnerable population segment, even though they might not fit the traditional profile of people who may develop type 2 diabetes – that is, aged over 45, with high blood pressure and a high BMI, and perhaps disadvantaged through poverty or a lack of health insurance.

“You generally think of marginalised, lower income communities in poverty as your keys to health disparities but I think what we learned from our data in Houston is that we now have to expand the definition of what vulnerable is and what at-risk means. Just because we live in an urban environment, we may all indeed be vulnerable,” says Foreman.

In other words, not only its residents’ dietary choices but the way Houston is constructed as a city appears to be contributing to its diabetes problem, so tackling the issue requires architects as well as doctors; more sidewalks as well as fewer steaks.

Urban isolation is a key challenge, says David Napier of UCL, the lead academic for Cities Changing Diabetes. “Houston is growing so quickly and also expanding geographically at such a rapid rate. When you look at how difficult it is for people just to get out and walk, or walk to work; the fact that so many people commute long distances, spend a lot of time eating out – they have a number of obstacles to overcome,” he says.

A city with notoriously lax planning regulations is now making a conscious effort to put more care into its built environment, with more public transport, expanded bike trails, better parks and denser, more walkable neighbourhoods all evident in recent years, even as the suburbs continue to swell.

Foreman’s agency has more input when officials gather to map out the future city. “That is something that has been a big change over the last two or three years in Houston,” she says. “We are at the table and we are working with city planning to make those decisions.”

But prevention is a vital focus as well as treatment. Along with his team, Stephen Linder of the University of Texas’ school of public health – the local academic lead for Houston’s Cities Changing Diabetes research – gathered data on 5,000 households in Harris County, which includes much of the Houston area.

“One way to approach this project wasn’t to focus on diabetes itself but rather to look at some of the preconditioned social factors that seemed to generate the patterns of living that then led to the clinical signs that would designate people as being prediabetic,” he says from his office at the Texas Medical Center near downtown Houston – the world’s largest medical complex.

“These were people who had neither disadvantage nor biological risk factors. They tended to be the youngest group and would normally escape any kind of assessment – we called them the ‘time-pressured-young’. They’re the ones who did the long commutes; they’re the ones whose perception was they could not manage their day’s worth of stuff, that they have no time for anything.”

For this group, obesity is so prevalent in Houston that it distorts an understanding of what a healthy weight is, Linder found. “Their perception of their health was affected by their peers as opposed to other sorts of references. If all of their peers were overweight then in a relative sense they were fine. The judgments were about one’s peers and not relative to any sort of expert standard,” he says.

Three neighbourhoods were identified as having the highest concentration of people vulnerable to developing diabetes, and a Dallas-area research company, 2M, conducted detailed interviews with 125 residents. One place was particularly surprising: Atascocita, a desirable middle-class area near a large lake and golf courses, about 30 miles north of downtown.

Houston has become, according to a 2012 Rice University study, the most ethnically diverse large metropolitan area in the US. But this cosmopolitan air – one of the qualities sought by any place seeking to become a globally renowned city – may also unwittingly be contributing to the diabetes crisis, the study found.

Some in Atascocita, Linder said, “emphasised this sense of change and transition in their neighbourhoods, that that was a source of stress for them and that they were resistant to making changes in their own lives given the flux that was around them. Because that group happened to be older, even though they were economically secure they did have some other chronic diseases and they satisfied our biorisk characteristics.

“We call them concerned seniors. They weren’t making changes because there was too much else going on for them. And so if we were to say to them ‘you’ve got to change your diet’, they’d say ‘no, I can’t handle any more changes’.”

This matters since food portions are no exception to the “everything’s bigger in Texas” cliche, while Houston’s location near Mexico and the deep south, its embrace of the Lone Star state’s love of barbecued red meat and its enormous variety of restaurants serving international cuisine combine to unhealthy effect.

“The food that had a traditional aspect to it tended not to be the healthiest food – southern food that’s fried and lots of butter and lots of starch, then there’s African American soul food and then there’s Hispanic heavy fat, prepared tamales and the like, and so we found people kind of gravitated to what the UCL people called nourishing traditions,” Linder said.

“People used food as not only a reinforcement of tradition and ritual but also as a way of connecting socially. You’ve moved here from somewhere else, it’s a way to reinforce your identity, it’s a real cultural asset to have, but in a biological sense it’s not the best thing.”

For Linder, one lesson is that generalised advice about healthy eating that has long been part of diabetes awareness efforts may not be effective locally, given the complexity and variety of Houston’s neighbourhoods and the social factors that make populations vulnerable to diabetes.

“It does make the task of dietary change a much more complex one than the simple messages about changing your diet, eat more fruit and vegetables, get more colour on your plate would suggest. Those things bounce off, it’s not a useful set of interventions then for that particular group who rely on these nourishing traditions and find some solace in the change around them,” he said.

Foreman agrees that a targeted approach is vital. “How do you change diabetes in Houston? One neighbourhood at a time, in a sense, but at the same time you have bigger things that you can change systemwide in policies and how you work together collaboratively,” she said. “But then as you narrow it and get more granular it is neighbourhood, and what works in one neighbourhood may or may not work in another.”

Patricia Graham is hoping that the Dawn programme expands to other parts of the city to combat the dangerous union of unhealthy traditional food with a modern convenience culture. “Everything is food, and I mean lots of it and all the time,” she said. “Some people don’t know how to cook without grease or butter. That’s just the way we learn.”

http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/feb/11/houston-health-crisis-diabetes-sugar-cars-diabetic?CMP=oth_b-aplnews_d-1

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

Advertisements

Texas lawmakers on Friday approved carrying handguns openly on the streets of the nation’s second most-populous state, sending the bill to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who immediately promised to sign it and reverse a ban dating to the post-Civil War era.

Gun owners would still have to get a license to carry a handgun in a visible holster.

The state, known for its Wild West cowboy history and some the nation’s most relaxed gun laws, has allowed concealed handguns for 20 years. Concealed handgun license holders are even allowed to skip the metal detectors at the state Capitol, as state troopers providing security assume they’re armed.

But Texas was one of only six states with an outright ban on so-called open-carry, and advocates have fought to be allowed to keep their guns in plain sight. Cast as an important expansion of the Second Amendment right to bear arms in the U.S. Constitution, it became a major issue for the state’s strong Republican majority.

“We think of Texas being gun-happy, but we didn’t afford our citizens the same rights most other states do,” said Rep. Larry Phillips, a Republican from Sherman, one of the bill’s authors.

The House gave final approval on a mostly party-line 102-43 vote, drawing gleeful whistles from some lawmakers. A short time later, the Senate passed it 20-11, also along party lines, with all Republicans supporting it and all Democrats opposing.

Within minutes of the bill passing, Abbott sent a Twitter message that he’ll sign it.

The bill passed after lawmakers made concessions to law enforcement groups, who had been upset by an original provision that barred police from questioning people carrying guns if they have no other reason to stop them.

The final bill scrapped that language, meaning police will be able to ask Texans with handguns in plain sight if they have proper licenses.

Before Friday’s vote, police groups had demanded that Abbott veto the bill if it wasn’t taken out.

Gun control advocates have argued that open-carry is less about personal protection than intimidation. Gun rights groups have staged several large public rallies in recent years, sometimes at notable historical landmarks such as the Alamo, where members carried rifles in plain sight, which is legal.

The open-carry debate also stirred drama at the Capitol early in the legislative session, when gun rights advocates confronted one state lawmaker in his office. The lawmaker, Democrat Poncho Nevarez, was assigned a state security detail and House members voted to make it easier to install panic buttons in their offices.

“This session has been an alarming show of politicking that caters to a gun lobby agenda,” Sandy Chasse with the Texas Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “As a gun-owning Texas mom, this is not the Texas I want for my family or community.”

Just like the current concealed handgun law, the bill requires anyone wanting to openly carry a handgun to get a license. Applicants must be 21, pass a background check and receive classroom and shooting range instruction — although lawmakers have weakened those requirements since 2011.

Texas has about 850,000 concealed handgun license holders, a number that has increased sharply in recent years.

It also recognizes the concealed handgun licenses issued in more than 40 states, and license holders from those states will be allowed to openly carry their weapons in Texas once it becomes law.

“I have great faith in our concealed license holders that they will do the right thing and carry their gun appropriately,” said Sen. Craig Estes, the Wichita Falls Republican who sponsored the measure in that chamber.

Democrats such as Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston said they fear violence on the streets.

“I hope we don’t have a host of Texans running around with a Rambo mentality,” Ellis said.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/texas-poised-to-allow-open-carry-of-handguns/

Thanks to Pete Cuomo for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community..

While investigators are stumped over the fate of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, the lack of evidence as to what happened hasn’t stopped speculation as to the fate of the missing jet and its 239 passengers and crew members.

It’s not unusual for mysterious or dramatic aviation accidents to catch the imaginations of the conspiratorially inclined – the Korean Air Lines Flight 007, Pan Am Flight 103, and TWA Flight 800 tragedies spurred all kinds of claims of conspiracy, and last week’s apparent tragedy in the Gulf of Thailand is no different.

Conspiracy theorists took to social media this week to contribute their own ideas as to why Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared.

1. Aliens are involved: Alexandra Bruce at ForbiddenKnowledgeTV points to records on the flight mapping website Flightradar24 as evidence of extra-terrestrial meddling. She goes so far as to say the “captured signals” could “only be termed a UFO.”

Her source? YouTube user DAHBOO77, who posted a video that attempts to recreate the plane’s last moments. The clip shows a quick-moving plane and other strange anomalies around the time of the MH370’s disappearance from radar.

Loading the logs directly on the site allows readers to easily click and identify the so-called “UFO,” which is clearly marked as Korean Airlines Flight 672. Its apparent supersonic speed is likely related to a glitch in the system, not alien intervention, according to the site’s CEO Mikael Robertsson.

“[Some] receivers do not provide the same data quality, so sometimes parts of the data can be corrupt [and] generate errors like the one you see on the video,” he explained. “For example if Longitude received is 120 instead of 110, that would generate such error.”

2. The passengers are still alive: Families awaiting news about lost loved ones have told reporters they are able to call the cell phones of their missing relatives, and have said they can also see their instant messaging service accounts remain active online.

The news has fueled all kinds of speculation, but phones that are turned off do not always necessarily go straight to voicemail. Factors such as location, the phone’s network type and its proximity to a cell phone tower can all affect whether a dead phone will still ring on the caller’s end.

You can test this for yourself: turn off your cell phone, remove the battery and call your number on another line – most kinds of phones will still ring before you reach voicemail.

3. There’s a Snowden connection: Reddit user Dark_Spectre posted an unusual theory on the website’s conspiracy boards, related to 20 employees of the Texas-based Freescale Semiconductor who were reportedly on the flight:

“So we have the American IBM Technical Storage Executive for Malaysia, a man working in mass storage aggregation for the company implicated by the Snowden papers for providing their services to assist the National Security Agency in surveilling the Chinese.. And now this bunch of US chip guys working for a global leader in embedded processing solutions (embedded smart phone tech and defense contracting) all together..on a plane..And disappeared.. Coincidence??”

Dark_Spectre goes as far as to suggest those chip experts may have been kidnapped by Chinese or American authorities:

“Perhaps a little fast and furious dive under the radar to a flat water landing to rendezvous with a Chinese ship or sub for transport to a black-site for advanced interrogation, scuttling the plane along with the remaining passengers.(any oceanic trenches in fuel capacity distance?) What would 200 lives be to the Chinese intelligence community for the chance to find out ‘exactly’ the depth and scope of our intrusion.”

“US intelligence got late wind that their flying brain-trust of 21 were going to be arrested/detained and interrogated upon landing in China and the US intelligence community deemed the risk too great to their Asian based espionage programs and took appropriate action to “sanitize” the plane in flight.”

So far, there is no evidence of an explosion.

4. Iranians kidnapped engineers: UFO Digest’s Tony Elliott points to revelations that an Iranian national was responsible for buying plane tickets for two passengers with stolen passports as evidence that the country was involved, possibly to extract technological intelligence from Freescale Semiconductor employees.

“If the plane is not found in the next few days, or ever, we must assume the plane was hijacked and taken to a nearby country where that government wants to keep the disappearance a secret,” he wrote. “If this is the case, the two passengers with stolen passports must be the hijackers.”

Elliott concludes that the plane is in East Timor, due to an apparent u-turn made by the plane in its final moments on radar.

“If the Iranian government wanted to hijack the plane, it would have had its hijackers make an abrupt turn and head to the nearest friendly Muslim country,” he wrote. “In this case, it would be East Timor, the most likely country, located in the opposite direction from the flight path.”

The theory doesn’t address why the plane suddenly disappeared from radar entirely – no passenger plane could drop from 36,000 feet to below radar horizon in mere seconds.

5. Passengers were taken to Pyongyang: This map is slightly deceptive – while the trip to both Beijing and Pyongyang appear equidistant, this theory would require the plane fly at extremely low altitudes to avoid radar detection, which – due to greater air density at lower altitudes – would require more fuel to travel the same distance.

6. The Illuminati is involved: “Was looking at the Wikipedia page for the missing Malaysia Airlines, and noticed that it’s was [sic] the 404th 777 Boeing produced,” Redditor i-am-SHER-locked wrote.

“An HTTP 404 error mean [sic] not found, which in this case is oddly approiate [sic] for the status of the aircraft, or just a concidence [sic]. Coincidence, i think not!”

7. There’s a new Bermuda triangle: Though the Bermuda Triangle’s status as one of the sea’s most mysteriously treacherous zones has been debunked for decades, it doesn’t stop some from seeing triangles in the Gulf of Thailand.

8. The plane is in Vietnam, where it is waiting to be used as a weapon: “Conspiracy and prophecy in the news” blogger ShantiUniverse said she has three possible theories about what happened to Flight MH370: A major mechanical error (OK), a terrorist attack (reasonable) or it was whisked away to a secret Vietnamese airport to be used in a later 9/11 style attack (…).

“Flight 370 was last contacted by another unnamed pilot 10 minutes after losing initial contact,” she writes. “He claims the plane was deep into Vietnam airspace. Its [sic] possible it was hijacked and forced to land at another airport, where passengers are being held hostage. There is a long list of former airports and proposed airports in Vietnam. Its also possible since the plane had no contact, it could of [sic] managed to get to Cambodia to a former or proposed airport…Why would terrorist want a plane intact? Though this is highly unlikely, but not impossible, the only reason I can think of is they would want the plane to use as a weapon of mass destruction like on the September 11 attacks.”

9: There was some kind of miniature hydrogen bomb controlled by an iPhone app and it created a miniature black hole: It’s hard to tell whether @Angela_Stalcup’s account is the work of a completely unhinged lunatic or a genius, masterful troll. Wading through claims that Donald Trump runs a prostitution ring through Trump University or that Russian President Vladimir Putin is one of 92 clones of Adolf Hitler, you may stumble upon this gem of a theory about Flight MH370:

10. Terrorists employed a new electromagnetic pulse weapon: Such a device snuck on board and activated would cause the plane to instantly lose power and fall into the ocean. Had this been a test run, terrorists in possession of such a device would now know that it works, and we could expect to see a multitude of such attacks in the future, perhaps in multiple planes simultaneously. This, of course, has been challenged by conflicting reports of persistent electronic communication from the plane after its disappearance.

So what really happened?: The truth is, no one really knows. The AP now cites a senior Malaysian military official who reports the country has radar data detecting the plane in the Malacca Strait – hundreds of miles from the last position recorded by civilian authorities.

*Armchair conspiracy theorists have also speculated (on Twitter, of course) that the passengers on flight 370 have landed on a remote, impossible-to-find island a la “Lost.”

<img src=https://itsinterestingdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/living-off-the-grid.jpg&#8221; alt=”living off the grid” width=”614″ height=”429″ class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-7407″ />

At a time when we carry computers in our pockets and our cars practically do the driving for us, a certain subset of people have willingly chosen to cut the cord on modern American life — for good.

Off-the-grid living — that is, using natural resources like sun and wind power to provide amenities like heat and electricity — has become commonplace in places like Terlingua, an isolated community in Southwest Texas. What was once a bustling mining town is now a veritable ghost town, tucked into the foothills of Big Bend National Park in the north Chihuahuan desert.

To Abe Connally, 34, it was the perfect place to go off the map. In 2002, Connally moved to Terlingua, leaving behind a lucrative job as a web designer in Austin, Texas in order to try his hand at rural life.

“I’ve always enjoyed rural life, and the thought of sustainability and home-scale energy production intrigued me,” says Abe, who grew up in New Mexico and Texas. “On top of that, I wanted to see how integrating systems to reduce waste and improve efficiency would affect the architecture and other components of this lifestyle.”

Within a year, he met and married his wife, Josie, a British expat who was raised in Africa, Portugal and England before she finally settled out West. They never questioned whether to build their own home or not. It was only a matter of finding the right land and the right resources.

“When we started building our first home, we figured that if we could build a sustainable homestead from scratch in the desert, then we could do it anywhere,” Josie says. “We realized that if we could reduce our needs and resources, our lifestyle would be cheaper to maintain, giving us money to save or invest.”

More than a decade, two hand-built homes and a pair of energetic sons later, they’ve dedicated their lives to maintaining their sustainable home, using their blog VelaCreations to teach others how to follow in their footsteps.

Here’s what it’s like to live really off-the-grid:

“When we built our first home, we had almost no money,” Josie says. “We bought 20 acres of pristine desert land for $1,000 and moved an old bus onto it. The bus — retrofitted with a bed, small stove, solar panel and batteries, etc. — was our home until we could build a better quality one.”

pic1

Neither Abe nor Josie were particularly experienced home builders — far from it. They relied on books, blogs and online tutorials to learn everything from bricklaying to building solar panels for energy.

Abe: “[Renowned architect] Michael Reynolds introduced us to the concepts of architecture as a group of integrated systems. From passive solar designs to using waste as construction materials, his books showed us that it was possible to live like we wanted to.”

pic2

They built their first sustainable home in 2002 near Terlingua, but they were 30 miles from the closest schools and hospitals — not exactly ideal for raising small children. In 2007, they moved closer to town and started constructing home No. 2.

pic3

Like their own personal Rome, their new home took years to complete and is a constant work in progress.

Abe: “We added to each system as we could afford it, in other words, little by little. For the house itself, we used adobe, mixing the mud with our feet and putting it into forms (made from scrap materials) straight on the walls. It took a long time, but cost almost nothing.”

pic4

For off-the-gridders, the sun is crucial. The Connallys rely on solar power for all of their heat and electricity (with help from a homemade wind generator).

“The house is partially buried in a south-facing hill [and] the thermal mass of the hill helps to keep a constant temperature inside the house year-round, like a cave,” Abe explains. “The house stays about 70 degrees for most of the year.”

pic5

Abe: “Our water is collected from the roof. We live in a desert, so rainfall is limited, and the majority of our rain comes from July through September. We store this water in large tanks we make ourselves and then filter for domestic use.”

pic6

“The first part of off-grid living is to conserve, and reduce your needs, so that it’s easier to produce your necessities for yourself,” Abe says. By using a composting toilet, which requires no water, they cut down on waste and fertilize their land at the same time.

pic7

The interior has a modern feel, with hand-laid brick floors and painstakingly carved entryways.

pic8

Their $9,600 annual budget is planned down to the dollar. They earn a small income through Abe’s web consulting business and some freelance writing, but their farm is their real paycheck.

When they decided to rebuild, they sought out more fertile land with enough rainfall to sustain a garden and livestock.

pic9

As a family, they bring new meaning to the term “farm to table”:

“We’ve had tomato plants that produce for several years, and they become these jungles of fresh food right in the dining room,” Abe says. “In fact, our youngest son, Nico, will sit there and eat every red tomato he can reach, but if you put one on his plate, he refuses to touch it.”

pic10

Josie: “We grow a wide variety of things, depending on our tastes at the time. We regularly grow tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, okra, cucumbers, squash, corn, sunflowers, melons, greens, roots and several herbs. We also have a few fruit trees (plums, apricots, peaches).”

pic11

“There is no food fresher than that, and it’s something you get kind of used to,” she says.

pic12

They’ve even got a tiny village of beehives for fresh honey.

pic13

Meat is also on the menu. The Connallys have gradually raised a menagerie of livestock, including pigs, rabbits, guinea pigs, and chickens. It’s vastly cheaper than purchasing their meat from stores.

pic14

One of their pigs just had a litter.

pic15

They’re cute now, but eventually they’ll be sold in the village or, more often than not, wind up on the dinner menu. The Connallys have become quite the bacon connoisseurs.

pic16

Everyone lends a hand in the family harvest.

Josie: “The kids collect eggs and feed all the poultry. We feed the rabbits, pigs and all the other little critters. We then all go look at any baby rabbits and the kids often get out their guinea pigs to play with.”

pic17

Nothing goes to waste.

Josie: “We sell any surplus. We often have extra meat (especially rabbit), which we sell locally. We also sell eggs, as well as trading them for raw milk. Any vegetables and such we tend to preserve (drying, canning, kimchi) as we don’t yet grow enough to fill our yearly needs.”

pic18

Even rabbit fur gets turned into cozy hats and slippers.

pic19

Josie: “Right now, we’re spending about $800 a month: $100 on fuel, $500 on [feed for the animals], groceries and other household items, and $100 on Internet and phone. We also continue to improve our homestead, which costs a little extra, depending on the task at hand.”

pic20

Their bedrooms are cozy and get a lot of natural light, which helps them conserve electricity.

pic21

Abe: “I think there’s a certain pride that comes from being able to say ‘I made that’. We are surrounded by things we’ve made ourselves, including our home and energy infrastructure.”

pic22

With two kids under the age of 5, the Connallys admit they’ve made some allowances in their off-grid lifestyle. They have games for game nights and keep a healthy stock of books and DVDs for entertainment.

pic24

But, naturally, they spend most of their free time outdoors.

pic25

They keep a car handy for trips to town and to cart the kids to and from school each day. Their goal this year is to get their car running on natural fuel supplies.

Josie: “We live about a 20-minute drive from a small village, where there’s a kindergarten, primary school, clinic and a couple of basic stores. That’s actually one of the main reasons we moved here before starting a family: still very rural, but with everything needed for small kids.”

pic26

The kids seem to dig it.

pic27

Laundry gets done the old-fashioned way.

pic28

Sunlight and fresh air are all the dryer they’ll ever need.

pic29

It’s always nice to have relatives visit, like the kids’ grandparents.

pic30

Josie: “We’re in constant contact with family and friends over the Internet (huge fans of Skype and the like). However, visits are unfortunately much less frequent. If we ever get around to building the blimp we’ve always wanted, we’ll be sure to stop by a lot more often.”

Abe: “We’ve been able to save a few years worth of income, but also, because of our lifestyle, we don’t have to earn as much. So instead of working 40-hour weeks for money, we work 5-10 hours a week. This gives us enough for savings and expenses. The real value is the 30 hours a week we gain.”

pic31

Abe: “It took a long time, but cost almost nothing. That was 12 years ago and we are still amazed by how far we’ve come since then.”

pic31

To see more from the Connallys’ off-the-grid home, check out their blog, VelaCreations: http://velacreations.com/

Read more: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/family-life-off-the-grid-abe-connally-vela-creations-144054081.html

Thanks to Ray Gaudette for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

kitna262way_sq-5eb1f04a2e62d7fc2354acb3a3bbe5d178ebc7d1-s6-c85

by Mark Memmott

Whether or not you like the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, this news may warm your heart: Jon Kitna, who is coming out of retirement to be the team’s emergency quarterback on Sunday, plans to donate his $53,000 paycheck from the game to the Tacoma, Wash., high school where he now teaches math and coaches football.

According to the Dallas Morning News:

“Much has been made of the Cowboys signing high school math teacher Jon Kitna out of retirement to figure into their quarterback puzzle against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. Almost every reference has mentioned the quarterback, who retired from the Cowboys after the 2011 season, will earn about $53,000 for his Christmas week’s work.

“Only Kitna, 41, is not keeping the money. It didn’t come up in his Christmas Day media scrum in the locker room. But later, while relaxing on a locker room couch and reconnecting with radio play-by-play voice Brad Sham, Kitna said he would be donating his NFL check to his school [Lincoln High in Tacoma]. He also told several teammates.”

Kitna has been pressed into service by the team because a herniated disc may keep starting quarterback Tony Romo from playing. Romo’s backup, Kyle Orton, is expected to start instead. Kitna has been tapped to be Orton’s backup and he’s helping at practices this week while Romo rests.

Sunday night’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles is important: Whichever team wins will get into the playoffs. NBC-TV is the broadcaster.

Lincoln High, according to The Seattle Times, is where Kitna went to high school. He guided his team “to an 8-2 record this season, but the Abes lost to eventual state runner-up Eastside Catholic in the district playoffs. Kitna is 13-7 in two seasons as head coach.”

He retired after the 2011 season. Kitna’s last three years were with the Cowboys — mostly as Romo’s backup. Earlier in his career, he had been a starter with the Seattle Seahawks, Cincinnati Bengals and Detroit Lions.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/12/26/257372387/cowboys-emergency-qb-kitna-will-give-away-his-pay

Thanks to Dr. Lutter for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

John-McKetta-in-1931

Dean-McKettas-portrait-1984

More-about-McKetta-1

More-about-McKetta-2

By Forrest Preece
West Austin News

Part 1

In 1903, a 14-year-old Ukrainian boy named John McKetta packed a suitcase and headed for Pennsylvania for $25, ($15 of which he gave to his father), a job in the coal mines, and a place to live.

That youngster had a lot on his mind – mainly how to survive in a new country and how to adjust to working deep underground for long hours. It’s doubtful he would have imagined his namesake son would become the world’s most prominent chemical engineer; receive the “International Chemical Engineering Award” in Venice, Italy; be one of the most revered professors ever to teach at The University of Texas, with a large academic department named after him; and serve as an energy adviser to five United States presidents. All of that would take a while.

When John, Jr., the subject of this column, was born in 1915, he faced the bleak prospect of finishing public school and then a lifetime of backbreaking work in the coal mines. That was the only career option – six days a week in the mines – the same as his father and uncle and the other men in Wyano, Pa., population 200. But before John could start the first grade, he and the other kids his age had to learn English. So they began a month early, were given primers, and they could all speak English when it was time for school to start. (“It can be done — that’s why I don’t like the idea of having double-language schools,” he says.)

For three years after he finished high school, John, Jr. went 475 feet underground into a seven-foot coal vein, six days a week.
”At least we could stand up! The men in Kentucky were in four-foot veins and had to stoop and crawl around all day,” he says.

During those three years, the most he ever made in a week was $3, based on 25 cents per ton of coal he brought out of the ground. In that era, the workers had no electric equipment to use. It was strictly pick-and-shovel manual labor.

“I hated every minute of it,” John says.

Then one day, he saw a book that changed his life. It was by a man named Porter about the process of carbonization that extracted energy from coal.

“There were people called chemical engineers who made this happen,” John says. “I wanted to be one of them.”

So he obtained a list of colleges in the country that had chemical engineering programs and determined to keep writing to them until one would accept him. With no typewriter or even a pen to use, he kept grinding out pencil-written letters.

”About the best I could do was three or four letters a night.”

Of the first 54 colleges he applied to, none even gave him the courtesy of a rejection letter. Finally, President Burton Handy of Tri-State University in Angola, Indiana wrote him back. His letter said, “If we admit you, we will provide you with a job that will help you pay for your tuition and your lodging. Please come talk to us.”

That was on a Friday. The next day, he put $10.20 in his pocket and hitchhiked across Ohio to Indiana.

“In those days, people would pick up a kid with a suitcase.”

When he arrived on Monday, he made a beeline for the registrar’s office. When he got there, he gave the receptionist his name. She flipped through her files, looked startled and said, “Oh yes, Mr. McKetta, President Handy wants to see you.”

John says that the president leaped out of his chair, came over and gave him a slap on the back. “He admired me for being willing to apply.”

The upshot of the conversation they then had was that John would have a job making twenty cents an hour, twenty hours a week. Of that $4.00 total weekly salary, he’d pay $2.00 for tuition and $2.00 for a room at a house off campus run by a lady named Mrs. Nichols.

After meeting Mrs. Nichols, and seeing his room that he’d be sharing, he decided to get a cup of coffee at a local diner. As it happened, the owner of the diner was just preparing a “Dishwasher Wanted” sign to put in his window. John asked about it and found out that it paid no money, but for every hour worked, it meant a free meal. He took the job and was just beaming over all his good fortune.

Then things got even better. He ran into a local bandleader named Ray Bodie who needed a second trumpet and John had played that instrument in the Wyano Volunteer Fire Department Band.

He told Bodie that he could sit in on Wednesday and Saturday nights, if he could find a trumpet to use. That was even more income. A year later, he started his own 12-piece band called JJKK – “Johnny Jay and the Kampus Kollegians” an, started playing gigs all over the thriving 3,000-person metropolis of Angola.

He paid himself $1.01 (sometimes $1.50) and hi musicians got 75 cents for their performances. All the while, he was diligently studying every night and he kept a coal miner’s cap on his desk for a very good reason.

“When some of the guy would ask me to go shoot pool, I’d just look at that cap and remember being in the mine and say ‘No, I have to study.”

Part 2
What can you say about a 98-year-old college professor who still goes to his office at The University of Texas at Austin three days a week, around 6 a.m. and stays for several hours to visit with researchers? Who still calls eight to ten of his former students a day -and laments how fast they are dying? And who still operates at a level of energy and good-hearted enthusiasm that would shame most 40- year-olds?

John McKetta, Jr. does all of that and more. In a recent interview with him at his apartment at Westninster Manor, where he has resided for eight years, John told me about his life. It has been quite a journey: from his post-high school years laboring in the coal mines of rural Pennsylvania to his career in chemical engineering, where he gained worldwide recognition for his teaching, research, publications and administrative ability.

He also told me about his family: his beloved wife Helen “Pinky” McKetta, who he married in 1943 and who passed away in 2011; his sons Charles, Mike and Randy and his daughter Mary Anne.

If you read part one of my column about him last week, you know that through dogged perseverance, he was accepted as a student at Tri-State University in Angola, Indiana, where he excelled in the chemical engineering program.

“The faculty members were so wonderful to me! And when I graduated, they got me job at the Michigan Alkali, CO. in Wyandotte, Michigan, near Detroit.”

His work there was exciting, but he started hearing about this company called Dow that was doing amazing things in the realm of producing chemicals from gas and oil.

Dr. George Granger Brown (or as he was jokingly called, “Great God” Brown), was a chief consultant to Dow and the chairman of the chemical engineering department at the University of Michigan. One day John drove his 1928 Ford up to meet this notable man. Soon he was a student again, working toward his Ph.D.

One night in an off-campus coffee shop, he met Pinky Smith, the love of his life. Who married him a few months later. Her name still crawls across his home office’s computer screen.

While he was at Michigan doing his Ph.D. research, John and one of his professors, Dr. Donald Katz, developed a set of tables relating to underground temperature and pressure in gas and oil wells that reveal the composition of the surrounding terrain. These McKetta and Katz tables are still in widespread use.

Partially thanks to his desire to be “where the oil and gas was underground,” he came to Texas. Besides that, Dow Chemical in Freeport was doing amazing things.

“God was with me when I decided to come to Texas and I got hired at the University in 1946.”

John would progress up the ladder at UT from assistant professor to professor, to chairman of the Department of Chemical Engineering to dean of the College of Engineering.

For a while, he was executive vice-chancellor for the UT system under Chancellor Harry Ransom. That was during the period when they were establishing UT Permian Basin, UT Dallas, UT El Paso and UT San Antonio and John was the key executive in that effort.

One conversation John recalls from his early days on the faculty is when, in 1948, he was having lunch with his colleagues in the College of Engineering and Professor Bill Cunningham (not the man who would later be president of UT) brought in a list of the top 50 engineering schools. UT wasn’t on it; Rice was number 26.

He laughs and says, “As of last year, we were number four on a similar list. For 40 years, he was on the payroll and taught at UT for another 20 years, he donated his time to teaching courses.

Also, with the $6,900,000 in the McKetta Fund which he established with a $964,000 personal gift, many outstanding students have scholarships so they concentrate on their studies. “It’s just wonderful for these students to have this financial support,” he says.

What changes has he seen in his field? He warms to the subject of bioengineering which is a topic that only recently has come to the fore.

“Forrest, when I wave my hand at you like this, there are something like 80,000 cells in my body involved. Your whole body is a chemical plant.”

Long story short, there are researchers at UT Austin who are zeroing in on being able to provide pinpointed medication to the parts of the body that cure certain diseases. John says that years ago, he went to the chairman of the board of directors of St. David’s Hospital and asked him to bring some of his MDs over to talk to the engineering faculty on a regular, voluntary basis about bioengineering.

Something like 80 percent of his engineering faculty members showed up for the talks, because they were all interested in this new field of research.

As a result, now there is a new $60,000,000 Bioengineering Building on the UT Austin campus. So what advice would he give to a student starting in engineering? First, they have to be interested in the field. And he says that there are two traits he looks for: curiosity and “judicious discontent.”

“I like kids who ask ‘why’ and ‘what can I do about it?’”

One last note – for many years, Dr. McKetta kept a miner’s cap on his UT office desk, as a reminder of how much better it is to be a professor than working in the mines. Oh – and being a Longhorn football fan to the max, he says that Mack Brown is going to have a terrific season this year.

http://www.che.utexas.edu/2013/09/06/a-journey-to-greatness-started-in-a-coal-mine/

Thanks to Dr. Rajadhyaksha for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

texas1

Six years ago, Michael Sorrell made a decision that threatened his reputation and maybe his job. His tenure as president of Paul Quinn College started in 2007 and, shortly thereafter, he opted to cut football in an effort to save money. The response on campus was not pleasant.

“Predictably, we had folks who were, I guess, the reaction was loud,” Sorrell says.

This was in football-nuts Dallas, only seven miles from the heart of the city. Sorrell was not anti-sports, either. He played basketball and loved football. He just felt the sport was “something economically we could not justify.”

Sorrell made an offer to the angry defenders of the sport: Raise $2 million to save football, and he would match it. “To date,” Sorrell says, “no one has raised a dollar.”

College football is dealing with an emerging financial crisis. It’s plaguing programs as large as the University of Tennessee, which was a reported $200 million in debt over the summer, and as small as Grambling, which is begging alums for donations after poor facilities led to a player mutiny earlier this month. Escalating coaches’ salaries and declining attendance have led to real concern that the entire college football complex will become insolvent, leaving only a few schools with thriving programs.

“We are standing on the precipice of an economic day of reckoning in higher education,” Sorrell says. “I think there will be more schools to do this. I think we’re just early.”

Football was eating $600,000 of Sorrell’s budget, and Paul Quinn is a tiny school of only 250 students. How could he continue to educate when so much funding was going to something that wasn’t building an academic reputation? He simply couldn’t. So the field sat vacant.

Sorrell moved on to a much bigger issue: his school is located in a food desert with neither a restaurant nor a grocery store nearby, and many of the students at the oldest historically black college west of the Mississippi are poor. Eighty percent of the students at Paul Quinn are Pell Grant-eligible. There’s a “clothes closet” on campus where students can get business casualwear for free, and money had to be raised so students could afford eyeglasses to read.

A year after the end of football, Sorrell was meeting with a real estate investor named Trammell Crow. They bandied about the idea of devoting a tract of land to producing food for the community. But where?

Sorrell joked that they should just build a farm on the football field. The jest quickly turned into a reality, and the school’s future was changed for the better. Some of the produce grown in full view of the scoreboard would go to local food banks and the surrounding community. Some of it, eventually, could be sold. Crow helped fund the farm, and slowly crops began to yield produce: kale, sweet potatoes, herbs, cilantro. In 2009, two years removed from the end of Paul Quinn College’s football life, a rather famous client struck a deal with the school for its food: Cowboy’s Stadium.

Legends Hospitality is now Paul Quinn College’s largest buyer for the “WE over Me Farm,” and the school has run a surplus of six or seven figures in four of the past five years. The money budgeted for football now goes to academic scholarships. This is a school that had one month’s worth of cash when Sorrell took over in 2007.

A potential disaster has turned into one of the most inspired decisions made at the college level. It’s not like Paul Quinn is SMU – the NAIA school is smaller than a lot of Dallas high schools – but it shows life after football isn’t necessarily bleak.

“We turned our football field into an organic farm,” Sorrell says. “It’s made us a national leader on this issue. There are no regrets. We didn’t have the resources necessary to change and really build a football program in the way we wanted to do it. This is what was right for us.”

Students who work on the farm are paid $10 an hour for overseeing the project, which will produce 17,500 lbs. of food for Cowboys fans this season.

“I’m in love with what we’re doing with the field,” says Shon Griggs, Jr., a legal-studies major who played football at his Atlanta high school. “It’s exciting and I’ve learned so much. I’ve personally gotten more out of the farm than the football field.”

Griggs spends 12 hours a week on the farm, and he considers it “a workout” that has benefits beyond sports.

“When I played football, I was able to strengthen my body,” he says. “Here, we’re impacting community, changing lives, teaching kids, and learning about nature.”
Griggs says the only downside is the coyotes that come around at night and try to break into the chicken coop.

The goalposts are still up at Paul Quinn College, and so are the scoreboard and the ticket booth, but nobody misses the sport much anymore. The treasure everyone guards most is that farm. Asked what would happen if those two acres were razed again, Griggs doesn’t hesitate.

“We would have a problem,” he says. “There would be a revolt. This is big.”

It is big. Those who work on the farm not only have experience and some take-home pay, but a built-in connection to one of the most famous buildings in America. The director of food and beverage at Legends Hospitality at Cowboys Stadium is George Wasai, who went to Paul Quinn College. He played football there.

http://sports.yahoo.com/news/ncaaf–how-one-small-texas-college-made-money-by-saying-no-to-football-065751785.html

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.