Testing Bone Broth for Lead

We have a proposal for testing bone broth for lead. We want you to join with us. There is the notion that lead contamination is widespread in the US and especially in the Northeastern US. There is no doubt that lead contamination exists in Northeastern soils.[1][2]

Also, it is known that livestock animals tend to accumulate environmental lead in their bones. That , too, seems to be established fact. People have begun using bone broths for nutritional purposes and tests of broth in the UK revealed elevated levels of lead in chicken bone broth.

Marcy L and I (Randy W) have decided to implement some serious testing to find out what is really going on. Our children eat bone broth and we think it somehow neglectful to NOT find out whether this stuff is actually safe.

We have a source of bone typically used by people following a GAPS diet or eating a-la Weston A Price. We also have connected with Sora Labs in MO and gotten quotes for testing samples for lead. Our aim is to try to refute the hypothesis that

All of PA is so contaminated with lead that it will concentrate lead in bone broth to a level that approaches or exceeds the EPA limit of 15 parts per million.

We cannot prove this hypothesis except by testing every place in the Northeast. But we can refute it by showing that even one Northeastern source does NOT produce bone broth that has lead exceeding 15 part per million.

ICP Tester

Inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry Tester

Our plan is to test two samples of chicken broth and two samples of beef broth.

We’ll be using bones aquired from Amish farmers who use no pesticides, herbicides or artificial fertilizers in their farming practices. We also know that the farms in question are distant from any EPA listed sources of lead pollution, such as smelters, lead paint factories, coal fired power plants and the like. They are also distant from major interstate highways.

We will document and publish our methods of creating the broth, the water source and the cookware involved. We will be using the chain of custody forms supplied by the lab. In short, we hope to be rigorous, yet create tests that hold up to scrutiny and are reproducible by others.

We intend to publish not only the results of our test, but the documentation of how we did it.

We are looking for supporters to help us defray the costs. Here’s the budget:

Broth Ingredients1$70.00$70.00

Item Quantity Unit Cost Extended Cost
ICP Sample Testing 4 $80.00 $320.00
Packing material and Shipping 1 $30.00 $30.00
Total $420.00 est.

We hope you’ll contribute. We will be setting up a paypal link in the near future. When the amount of funding reaches the goal, I’ll remove the paypal buttons. If we receive more than we spend, I’ll refund the person(s) whose contribution(s) took us over the goal.We welcome comments and feedback.

I saw an arilce describing the results of lead testing in California. The article did not reassure me. There is a belt of land between Interstate 5 and the Pacific Ocean that is likely to have had about the least exposure to lead in the lower 48 states. We don’t live in that belt. Kaayla Daniel was critical of the UK study and then offered results of other testing that was even less rigorous than the UK study.

In the years of leaded gasoline use, we managed to spew about a half a ton of lead per acre on the lower 48 states. It does not wash away with rain. It isn’t evenly spread around. Some farms may produce highly contaminated bones, others will show little lead in bones, so I feel we need to be a bit ore rigorous in order to be truly reassured.

In addition Marcy had this to say:

We are not reassured by the statements some health bloggers (who don’t seem to be parents) have made that any concerns of high lead in the broth are “negated” by the calcium in the broth leached, as well, from the long-cooking of the bones. There may be some validity to this claim but not enough to make us feel safe. Think about it, would you give your child a food or beverage high in lead and trust a milk chaser to negate the effects? When there is food product recall for lead, such as, for example, the lead in chocolate that occurred with the Dagoba brand, the FDA does not tell people to just drink some milk with it or enjoy their chocolate with cheese so the calcium will reduce the lead absorption to safe levels, they take the product off the market.

We are hopeful that local bone broth will not test high in lead so we may continue to feed ourselves and our children this otherwise extremely nourishing and healthful food. We are not testing to steer anyone away from making bone broth; we simply have some concerns and if they prove to have validity here on the E. Coast per testing, we may make some changes in how we incorporate local bone broth into our diets.

1 National Research Council. 1980. Lead in the human environment. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences. Report Number PB-82-117136. OSTI Identifier: 5455381; ISBN No. 0309030218.

2 Toxic Truth: A Scientist, A Doctor and the Battle Over Lead
by Lydia Denworth, Beacon, 2008, ISBN-13 978-0-8070-0032-8

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Climate Change

Climate change is called climate change. So far, it is called neither “climate disaster” nor “party-palooza in the warm sunshine.” But it appears that change is en-route and most people I know are somewhat anxious about it.

So far, the predictions include receding glaciers and more extreme weather. The dry will get dryer, the wet wetter, the storms stormier. Some expensive beach-front properties will be underwater, and not just in terms of the mortgage. Some very tiny Islands in the middle of the oceans may cease to exist. For me, sheltering in a forested Pittsburgh suburb, none of this stuff seems to be a big crisis.

That’s important. I’m not alone. In order to stop climate change, we need incredibly massive changes. I need to stop driving to work. Taking the electrically powered light rail into work wont do, as it is powered by coal fired power plants that are even worse than gasoline.

Look at it this way: As I take my cheesecake out of my natural gas operated oven, I realize the cream cheese came from California via a diesel truck, refrigerated by a diesel powered reefer. I found the recipe on my electrically driven computer connected to the electrically driven internet where some electrically driven housed a blog that has that recipe. I turn on the electrically driven light in my electrically cooled dining room.

I’ve long tried to blame this whole problem on those greedy coal barons.I jumped with joy when cheap natural gas came along and knocked coal over the head. I am still trying very hard to ignore the bankruptcy of Patriot coal that threatens to liquidate the retirement funding of thousands of elderly coal miners and families. The grandmothers, especially, just don’t make good coal barons.

I read some place that  sloganeering, like ‘drill baby drill‘ or ‘all of the above‘ are just excuses for not thinking. I have also read that we are in a real conundrum with respect to climate change; condundrums like that of of Patriot Coal’s grandmothers who’ve sold out for our mercury fishing holes.

I no longer trust those who promise a silver bullet that will painlessly stop climate change. I no longer believe them whether they are on the left promising renewable energy within a decade, on on the right promising clean coal or spill free drilling. I really hope they are right, but so far, the record does not look good.

Our government is utterly hopeless. It is much easier for it to do nothing that to do anything and it is currently gridlocked beyond redemption. Only a huge crisis that risks the political hide of a majority of encumbents could get them to act. And maybe that’s a good thing, I don’t really know.

I have friends who thought, apocalyptically, that peak oil would provide a comeuppance from the supreme being that would include contental social collapse with roving bands of thieves and warlords taking over whatever they wanted. In the face of shale gas, that crisis receded faster than any glacier on the planet.

As if that were not enough, the Japanese are desperate for energy that can’t be washed away in a Tsunami or cut off by some enemy. They are also inventive, smart people. They’ve begun drilling for methane hydrates. That’s the frozen natural gas deposits at the bottom of the oceans. The estimates I’ve seen is that there is 35,000 years of natural gas reserves in methane hydrates. Peak energy is going extinct faster than polar bears.

There are a large number of natural gas refueling depots going up along the interstate highways across the US this year. 18 wheelers can use these by converting their diesel rigs to run on natural gas. It can cost a trucker $18,000 to make the switch. But with the price difference between natural gas and diesel, the conversion costs can be recouped in as little as 14 months.

In one way, that’s great news for the environment. This conversion of 18 wheelers will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  But, the problem is, it reduces, but does not eliminate those emissions. It slows, but does not stop global warming.

I think humans have tried to stop global warming by finding and prosecuting  every possible flaw with fossil fuels. And one by one those flaws are being eliminated or mitigated by this or that technical innovation. Global warming, however, has not made it into the cross hairs. Instead, we fix immediate problems that are relatively easy to fix. Drilling fluids spills, methane leaks, poorly constructed wells can all be eliminated or rendered non-crisis producing through techniques or technologies.

I’d really be thankful if we could stop sending our children to the Mideast to protect our oil. The government has not been able to pull that off, but it appears that market forces and fracking have done so.  If you added the costs of bombers and aircraft carriers defending or oil supplies to the price at the pump for gasoline, We would probably all switch to using natural gas because we can’t afford the gasoline.

But, all that begs the question. There is now more natural gas than we can possibly use if we use all 35,000 years of it up we will probably turn global warming into a global toaster-oven. We will not be saved by peak oil, peak gas or peak anything else. Apparently, we’ll have to confront climate change on its own merits.

Some people say we are addicted to our oil, to our overconsumption of energy. It is widely believed that an addict cannot change until he ‘hits bottom’ in some sort of awful crisis that shatters his denial. They also say that those who save him from his crisis prevent his recovery. I do believe that applies to our energy consumption habit. Every time you go out and protest fracking, you cause the drillers to improve fracking. That’s a lot like getting some alcoholic to switch from cheap wine to organic whiskey. When you write a letter to your congress person about the detriment of methane leaks, and some pipleline company seals some leaks, you avoid the real crisis and the alcoholic escapes with only a hangover and a determination not to spill any more booze.

We would like to blame this on corporate greed, bureaucratic pork or just plain stupidity, but the fact is you are probably using some amount of energy to look at this post. You and I are both funding energy consumption. By doing so, we are holding that alcoholic down on the ground an pouring gin down his gullet. Trouble is, that alcoholic is you and me! That is very inconvenient.

 

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Coal Questions

William Stanley Jevons

William Stanley Jevons (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back in 1865, William Stanley Jevons wrote a book called The Coal Question; An Inquiry Concerning the Progress of the Nation, and the Probable Exhaustion of Our Coal Mines. In this book he sets forth the theory that the prosperity of a nation is tied to the level of energy available to it. At the time he wrote the book, England was very prosperous and powerful in the world, but Jevons saw that the coal supply that powered England at that time, was going to be depleted. He predicted that England’s power and prosperity would decline as the result. Apparently, he was correct though the depletion came quicker than he predicted.

In a PBS online article, there is a professor who loves his job and has found that he will get greater Social Security if he stays in his job long after he is eligible to retire. I can relate to this guy. I love my job. I work in a place where it certainly seems possible for those who wish to continue working into their 90s to do so. But in the comments to the PBS article, various writers point out that not retiring will not allow some younger person to move into a job. Other comment writers speak about how unusual it is to have this sort of love of job. I agree with both of these ideas.

I agree, however, with Jevons that our prosperity is tied to our level of energy. We have been dependent, in the US on an ever more costly oil supply. We have spent vast amounts of military money keeping the mid-eastern supplies coming in since our own supplies depleted. We have also lost many a life and limb to this need for energy.

But a game changer has just occurred. There is an absolute glut of natural gas in the US today that has driven gas prices way down. The use of horizontal drilling combined with fracking has made shale gas viable. This gas is displacing coal as the fuel of choice for power plants. Not because it is cleaner (http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/coalvswind/c02c.htmlthough it is), or produces less greenhouse effect (which it does), but because of market forces.

But the really nice effect of all this gas is that our prosperity, according to Jevons theory, will rise. And indeed, manufacturing that went overseas is beginning to come back to the US. I believe we will be able to provide prosperity to our young and we will be able to pay for the retirements of all those boomers waiting for a chance to get off the treadmill.

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Food Addiction

Today, in the New York Times there is an excellent article on The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food. The article reflects the process that I believe goes on inside the corporations that have horrible effects on the people they serve. Food addiction sickens and kills people.

Image representing New York Times as depicted ...

Nobody jumps up in the morning and says, “Today, I’m gonna give a bunch of kids cancer, ADD and all sort of other problems.” Instead, all of us just do what we have to do to make a living, like turning on the lights so that some power plant spews a little more emissions, we make breakfast out of whatever seemed like the best deal, even though it is loaded with pesticides and use a bunch of diesel getting across the country. Then we jump into the car and spew pollution into the air as we hot rod it into work.

Then at work, many of us are like food-industry legend, Howard Moskowitz, the brains behind finding the most addictive junk foods possible. The food that is accused of killing us prematurely. The foods that get us obese, diabetic, cancerous and falling over with heart attacks. “There’s no moral issue for me,” he said. “I did the best science I could. I was struggling to survive and didn’t have the luxury of being a moral creature. As a researcher, I was ahead of my time.”

At the same time Moskowitz is noted as insisting the industry could be doing far more to curb obesity.  He is not blind to the enormous problems of junk foods. But in fairness, Moskowitz is no more than a bartender in the skid row of our collective psyche.

 

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Lead in Bone Broth: a Threat or a Tempest in a Crock-Pot?

self-made bouillon de volaille (chicken broth).

self-made bouillon de volaille (chicken broth). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An article by Chris Kresser brought to my attention the idea that lead in bone broth might pose problems. Bone broth is widely used among people practicing GAPs diets and Paleo diets. Weston A Price proponents also tend to use bone broths. These broths are thought to be very healing.

English: Dense metaphyseal lines from lead poi...

English: Dense metaphyseal lines from lead poisoning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My own concern centers around my family’s use of bone broth. We’ve been using broths for some time and have really enjoyed them. To find that there may be some issues with lead accumulation is alarming, so I set out to find out what I could about that.

I could not find much in the way of good news. The study that brought this up is at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23375414. It looks to be a well done, though smallish study, done in England by Munro, Leon and Puri. published in “Medical Hypothesis” in Jan of 2013. They found elevated levels of lead in bone broth made from organic chicken. It is, apparently, well known that lead accumulates in bones. The lead concentration in the broth reached 9.5ug/L. That is the same as 9.5 parts per billion (ppb). 15ppb is the EPA’s current legal limit for lead in drinking water. The FDA considers 23ppb to be the ‘level of concern, and there is an upper limit of 50ppb. Lead and arsenic have been found in fruit juices with the lead coming is at around 5ppv. Of course, the FDA did not voluntarily find that lead in juices, rather a lawsuit forced their hand. To me, that makes every food suspect. There is no government “watch dog” for heavy metal contamination.

This chicken broth report comes a year after the CDC’s Advisory Committee for Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention (ACCLP) released its letter to the CDC. The effects of lead have been widely studied and are known to lead to developmental and mental problems at extremely small dosages.

“Because no measureable level of blood lead is known to be without deleterious effects, and because once engendered, the effects appear to be irreversible in the absence of any other interventions, public health, environmental and housing policies should encourage prevention of all exposures to lead.” ACCLP letter to CDC

Lead warning on a gas pump at Keeler's Korner,...

Lead warning on a gas pump at Keeler’s Korner, Lynnwood, Washington. Keeler’s Korner, a former grocery store and gas station (built 1927) listed on the National Register of Historic Places, listed 1982, NRHP listing #51549. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A book by Lydia Denworth entitled “Toxic Truth: A Scientist, A Doctor and the Battle Over Lead” really puts some context into this issus. In 1923, people began using lead in gasoline as an anti-knock compound. In 1924, the Ethyl corporation was created by General Motors and Standard Oil to make and market tetraethyl lead as a gasoline additive. In 1975, after being sued,
the EPA ruled that all new cars must have catalytic converters, so no new cars would used leaded gas. In 1986, the EPA removed lead from gasoline completely. But during the 43 years when leaded gasoline was in use, about 30 millions tons of lead were dispersed into the air in the US.

Lead exposure damages cells in the hippocampus...

Lead exposure damages cells in the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in memory. Hippocampi of lead-exposed rats (bottom) show structural damage such as irregular nuclei (IN) and denaturation of myelin (DNS) compared to controls (top). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The efforts to stop lead pollution were very similar to the fight to get cigarette smoke declared cancerous. The industry fought tooth and nail in courts, in PR campaigns and by controlling academic funding to keep lead in gas. For the Advisory Committee for Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention to come out an say to the CDC that there is NO un-harmful amount of lead is amazing.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Photo credit: Nrbelex)

But, there is a huge problem. Those 30 million tons of lead we spread around are not going to leave on their own. The exhaust pipe lead is everywhere. They even found it in Greenland and Anarctica. Unfortunately, lead accumulates in the top few inches of soil and just stays there. This means that grasses or grains grown in that soil will provide a source of bioavailable lead for animals that graze or which are fed grain.

I looked at some of the ways of remediation that have been attempted. Again, it is not a happy picture. One study by Rebekah Doyle at Brown University tried out remediation with compost and phosphates only to find that lead levels increased, but she did point that a group in Trail, British Columbia had has some success with remediation with HFO (hydrous ferric oxide).

Welcome to Trail BC

Welcome to Trail BC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In another article, there was an attempt at soil remediation using plants to pull the lead out of the soil. They concluded “The results from three years of research showed that plants alone do not accumulate lead fast enough for phyto-remediation to serve as a practical remediation method.”

Another possible way to remediate lead loaded soil is with electrokenesis, but it seems good only for small plots and is energy intensive.

Most recommendations are to 1) remove the contaminated soil and treat is as hazardous waste or cover the soil over with a thick layer of earth, gravel or pavement. However, that won’t work for the vast areas of the world’s farmlands.

English: Earth moving down on the farm. Seen f...

English: Earth moving down on the farm. Seen from the B7042 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It has been found that diatomacious earth (DE) can be used to bind with lead making it bio-unavailable. DE is often added to livestock feed in order to decrease gut parasites and does not seem to harm the animal. It is possible to use DE in animal feed to bind with lead, but DE binds with other minerals as well, so high levels of DE might starve the animal of needed minerals. It might be possible to use higher levels of DE in pastured animals with the addition of clean, lead free mineral supplements and get a reduced lead level in the subsequent broths.

Add fish broth

Add fish broth (Photo credit: jyri)

Another idea is that fish broth, because it is from a completely different ecosystem is unlikely to be contaminated the same way that land animals are. And it has yet to be determined if beef bones or those from lambs, goats or pigs have the same sort of lead concentrating capacity that chicken bones have shown. There still needs to be more research, but there is hope.

Another approach is to try various strategies to bind the lead in the guts of people consuming leaded foods. Alginates in seaweed and bacteria have demonstrated ability to attract and bind heavy metals of all sorts in the gut. Perhaps they can also work in the soil. And finally, detox protocols may be needed as well.

English: Seaweed at Largs The exposed shorelin...

English: Seaweed at Largs The exposed shoreline is covered in this seaweed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, do we stop giving bone broth to our children?  Children are far more susceptible to all sorts of environmental hazards including lead, than adults. But, I’ve heard tales of fantastic recoveries due to GAPs and bone broth. But, what would you give your kids instead? Certainly not fruit juice which is contaminated, as noted above. Furthermore, we don’t know what levels of contamination are in many other possible foods. Perhaps is is better to stick with the ‘devil you know?’

Here are some links to tales about the successes of GAPs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obviously, we need to find a way to clean the environment of this scourge and there is research going on about how we might do that.We could use a larger research effort.

But I’m asking people who read this to reflect their own thoughts about this topic. Given this information, would you keep eating bone broth, or feeding it to your children? Please comment.

Randy Wright

UPDATE – Feb 26, 2013: Testing for lead. You cannot use most consumer lead test kits for finding out the levels of lead in your broth. They are not sensitive enough. The EPA has a list of labs from whom they recognize lead testing. Among those labs, I was able to confirm that EMSL Analytics can test bone broth samples. It is about $35 per sample. You can call them at 1-800-220-3675.

You can also download EPA lab list here.
 

Paques01

Paques01 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Google Drive for WordPress

The integration of Google Drive for WordPress offers some great features.  A plugin for WordPress called docs to WP connects Google Drive to WordPress, allowing a person to create post and edit posts on a Google Drive account.

If you’ve never used Google Drive or its predecessor, Google Docs, I’ll describe it for you.

Image representing Google Docs as depicted in ...

Drive is like have an online, private disk drive that holds 5 Gigabytes of date. Various online applications allow you to do wordprocessing, spreadsheets, presentation slides, drawings and so on.

It allows an author to access work from just about any computer, pad or smartphone with an internet connection. The files can also be shared with others in order to do collaborations. I think it is a better way to author work that to use the WordPress editor. I like to collect a pile of source documents and URLs related to what I write.

I also like to upload my stuff into WordPress where I can run the SEO optimization tools along with content enhancers like Zemanta. This allows me to put up stories from anywhere on the web.

I have found that images I insert into a Google Drive document do not make it onto the WordPress site. The need to be added separately once the text is uploaded.

The way my set up works is that I write my copy in one of several folders. When I am ready to upload it to WordPress, I just move it to a folder I named SendToWP.  Any folder name can be used as this is part of the configuration you add to wp_config.php. WordPress queries my folder once per minute at Google. If it finds a new file, that file is uploaded as a WordPress post without any intervention on my part. The Google Drive file is then moved to the Done directory. I find that useful.

This facility is one of a number of pieces that are useful to make WordPress more useful to news gathering people. But software like this tends to be used far beyond its original intended use. My hat is off to William P. Davis and his employer Bangor Daily News.

Technical Details:

The way the plugin works is that you install the plugin with the WordPress plugin installer. The plugin is at http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/docs-to-wordpress/. Then you need to put some configuration text into your wp_config.php file. The updates to wp_config.php are shown at http://dev.bangordailynews.com/2011/06/20/quick-update-to-the-docs-to-wordpress-plugin/.

Screen Shot of plugin admin pageWhen I installed the plugin package docs-to-wordpress by using the plugin installer,it installed 3 plugins. The plugins include docs-to-WP, Docs to WordPress extender – Run on Cron, Docs to WordPress extender – clean content, strip comments.

I also added some code to the file docs-to-wordpress/extend-clean.php via the plugin editor.

This code allows you to put a Title in the text of the Google Drive file. You just need to put it first in the text and follow the titel with a pipe symbol, usually shfit+ on the keyboard. This code is is taken from the plugin author’s William Davis’s site, http://dev.bangordailynews.com/2011/12/22/setting-the-head-of-a-post-using-a-delimiter-in-your-doc/

/**** added code  ****/

/*

Plugin Name: Extend Docs to WP like so

*/

 

add_filter( ‘pre_docs_to_wp_insert’, ‘bdn_split_post’ );

function bdn_split_post( $post_array = array() ) {

 

$exploded_fields = explode( ‘|’, $post_array[ 'post_content' ] );

//Sometimes people forget a pipe, and we don’t want to put the entire post in the headline

if( is_array( $exploded_fields ) && count( $exploded_fields ) >= 2 ) {

 

//Save the old title in case you want to do something with it

$old_title = $post_array[ 'post_title' ];

 

//Set the title to the first occurance.

$post_array[ 'post_title' ] = strip_tags( $exploded_fields[ 0 ] );

//Unset the title

unset( $exploded_fields[ 0 ] );

//Now restore the post content and save it

$post_array[ 'post_content' ] = implode( ‘|’, $exploded_fields );

}

 

return $post_array;

 

}

/**** end of added code ****/

There are a number of other pieces that need to be integrated in order to produce what  believe is a truly great piece of software for professional newsrooms. I’ll talk about those in future posts.

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Websites for Mobile News

mobile devices

mobile devices (Photo credit: Hands On Support)

Websites for mobile news is a topic I’ve been working on lately. I’m pretty focused on news and technology now, as I am doing some consulting development for a newspaper. In the process of researching this topic I came across a report on the state of the media that involved a survey of mobile users. The link to the report is at the end of this article but here are some highlights:

Mobile news reading is an activity that is slanted towards younger people. Mobile readers are more likely than non-mobile users to use social media sites. More than half use 6 or more platforms to get local news and information. But, here’s a stickler: only 1 in 10 use a mobile app to get local news, even though 1/2 use mobile devices to get local news.

English: A pile of mobile devices including sm...

A pile of mobile devices including smart phones, tablets, laptops and ebok readers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My comment on that is that I 100% agree with those who use the mobile. browser to get local news. I do that too, and I avoid sites that put up mobile only versions of their websites. I have found it very frustrating to use a site on my computer and then, while out and about, to check out the same site and see a fraction of the information. I want the whole enchilada. I want a mobile device that can display the real website even though I am over 60 and my eyes are not sharp. I want a site that handle enlarging the text and pictures. I’ve seen it done. I know it can work and I suspect everyone will be doing it.

Another thing about mobile users is that they are much more active news users than

the local news, locally

the local news, locally (Photo credit: McBeth)

non-mobile users.

Mobile useage tends to rise with income and it has a non-white skew. It is also more prone toward suburban users. The longer a persons tenure in their current community, the less they use mobile devices for getting news.

So, for general news sites my opinion is that efforts should be focused on making the web site work for mobile devices rather than spending a lot of resources on an app.

 

http://stateofthemedia.org/2011/mobile-survey/

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Responsive Web Design

Responsive Web Design is another one of those ideas that has taken the web community by storm. Responsive Web Design, a.k.a.RWD, is a set of techniques that allows a web site to present content well to all are almost all users nor matter what sort of device they use. There has long been a problem associated with making a website that is usable by both a desktop computer with a high resolution monitor and a smart phone with a very smallscreen.

Web Frustrations of a Designer

Web Frustrations of a Designer (Photo credit: dailyinvention)

Perhaps you recall the days when sites had a disclaimer on the that went like: ‘This site is best viewed with X browser‘ and how annoying it was if you used some other browser. There was a time when 80% of website visits came from one or two browsers. That is not the case now and has not been for some time. Today, it is unacceptable to NOT support the most common browsers, even though it can be expensive and time consuming to test a website design across a large cross section of browsers.

There are many common browsers today operating on a lot of different devices. According to Yahoo’s Graded Browser Support pages, “There are over 10,000 browser brands, versions, and configurations and that number is growing.” Savy large scale web operation test their sites to insure that they support the most common browsers, but I haven’t heard of anyone who tries to support an exhaustive list of all or even nearly all browser.

InfoGraphic about widths of various displays

There are more problems to solve than just screen size. CSS is used in web designs to control decorations like fonts or placement of items on the screen and javascript is used to handle dynamic features of the user interface, like popup windows or folding menus. There are also proprietary or ’3rd party’ capabilities that may not be present in a browser, such as flash or rendering of non-html/xhtml documents.

Some browsers, such search engines, do not support javascript or CSS and are really only in search of the content. There are also ‘accessibility’ browsers such as those that provide an audio interface. In some security conscious environments, javascript may be turned off completely, but CSS is left on. For this the notion of Progressive Enhancement has become popular among web designers. The idea is that the content will be available to any browser that understands html and those that understand CSS will have styles applied to make the experience better and those that use Javascript can have the full blown user experience. There is no switching the user from one site to another according to the browser that is detected.

A responsive web design page can be resized on the fly. The text will reformat itself and the images will grow or shrink according to the screen size. If CSS, Javascript of both are not available on the browser, the content will still be accessible.

Progressive Enhancement (PE) involves a particular sequence of design. First the basic markup, geared to the lowest common denominators of browsers, is applied to the content, then ehnhancements available in common, widely used browsers, are externally linked into the page. The external linkage means that enhancements that are not used on a page are not downloaded and that makes the page load quicker.

I’ve been experimenting with the Skeleton WordPress theme in order to implement RWD on this site.

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Resource Plugin

RL2 Resource Plugin Development Process

I recently wrote a resource plugin for WordPress called rl2. I made this plugin to provide a database of community resources for a non-profit called Traditional Nutrition Guild (TNG). The idea is to provide listings of vendors, practitioners and businesses, individuals or organizations of interest to the users of the site. This plugin could be a database for any number of other applications with only slight modifications. I want to talk about the process of coming up with the plugin and the possibilities it exposes.

Wikinews - database size 2

Wikinews - database size 2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The idea came from the web of relationships around this community organization. It has a website and a lot subscribers who are keenly interested in a particular style of nutrition. There are vendors in the community who provide relevant food and other products as well as health practitioners, educational support and cooking services. There are also other non-profits doing related work. The members of the TNG and some of the relevant businesses asked for a way to expose community resources to the membership.

In my discussions with some of the interested people of TNG, we decided that they needed a system that had categorized display of listings. A listing could be either a physical addresses, a URL or both. The users in the community needed to be able to submit the listing and each listing needed to be reviewed and approved by a moderator before being publically visible.

I investigated to see if there was a plugin that really matched the need and I couldn’t find one I was really comfortable with. I cobbled together a sort of a mashup using a forms processor to collect information and email it to an administrator who would then create a page or post. The administrators were already overloaded, so this scheme didn’t seem right.

Another idea was to modify an existing plugin. I found one called ‘interesting links’ for which modification into what TNG needed seemed plausible. I made a modified version of it that did most of what I wanted. However, I found that this plugin modified the database by creating its own tables. I recalled discussion at a WordPress meetup that indicated leaving the database structure alone was considered a good idea.

A Entity Relationship Diagram (ERD) for the pa...

A Entity Relationship Diagram (ERD) for the part of the WordPress database schema that deals with referencing files in the filesystem. For use on Wikiversity:Web application file-reference methods. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, I started over. Over the years of programming, I’ve become much more accepting of just starting over along with the notion of prototyping and mocking up things in order to learn as early as possible if I needed to start over on a design. My earliest programming was characterized by trying to sit down and come up with a ‘perfect’ design out of the gate, one that could not only do all the possible needed things, but that would anticipate future needs. I’d have huge investments of time and energy before I ever produced a single byte of code. Because of that investment, I could really loathe tossing something it out and starting over.

It took me a long time to make peace with the idea that I couldn’t see into the future and that great unanticipated ideas would often materialize as I went along; that I should
preserve some budget for those opportunities. In agile programming research I really changed my approach. The idea was to decide upfront the most essential thing(s) the
software had to do and create a pass-fail test that would tell if the software actually did that thing. Then the programmer would work out the simplest way to do that thing and write software that passed the test, and only did that one thing. I still like that and I think it applies to much more than software development.

So, I worked on the newest resource plugin. I borrowed the display from the ‘interesting links’ package and modified it. I used WordPress’s custom post types and custom taxonomies to create a new post type called an rl2_resoure. It worked beautifully. There are was a lot that I didn’t have to program at all by relying on WordPress. The administrative tools, categorization and so on were done for me. I made a user form that uses ajax for submission. The rest of the work, really, was gluing together the pieces that WordPress offers to developers.

The whole process, including the initial discussions, the throw away versions, the building the resource plugin and testing took about about a week and a half of my time. There are some more features and options to add and WordPress itself was upgraded since I put my package into the plugin repository, so I’ll be doing more work on it.

RL2 resource plugin Development Environment

My development environment consists of my laptop which runs Ubuntu studio Linux. I run Apache and MySQL on this machine. That allows me to run my pluging locally. I use the error log for lots of debugging tasks as I can tail the local Apache error log in one window, while I run my browser in another. For front-end debugging and develpment, I use Firebug on a Firefox browser.

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The WordPress Message

What’s the WordPress message?

Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase ‘The Medium is the Message“. The medium you are currently reading is WordPress or more generically, a blog. The idea that a medium has certain characteristics to it seems reasonable. If I were talking to you on a movie screen in a theater, instead of here in text on a blog, you’d probably have a much different experience, even if I used the same words.

Marshall McLuhan caused wide irritation with h...

Marshall McLuhan caused wide irritation with his statement that the traditional, book-oriented intellectuals had become irrelevant for the formulation of cultural rules in the electronic age. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, if I were authoring this communication for presentation on a big screen, I think I would write is differently… much differently. I would also expect a different audience, a different promotional strategy and a different business model.

The WordPress blog, as a medium, is very inexpensive to produce. Almost everyone who has a computer and internet access can write a blog. The financial barrier is extremely low and the software is easy to use. Contrast that to the barriers to producing a TV station or publishing a newspaper. Freedom of the press belongs to those who have a WordPress.

People sometimes talk about the sweeping changes created by innovations in media. McLuhan spoke of how each new medium causes something to become obsolete and retrieves something else from obsolescence. WordPress, it seems to me, might render some newspaper editorial pages obsolete. Certainly, the letter to the editor and much of opinion has been replaced along with the gate-keeping function of the editorial descision makers at newspapers.

This idea of gate-keeper is an intermediary who sits between a consumer and the un-winnowed masses of consumables. This gate keeper chooses only the ‘best’ material to proffer to that person who will consumer. The better gate-keeper also finds out what that consumer wants and passes that information back to the producers. The better gate-keeper may also go to some length to cultivate and reward better products in order to insure availability. There are other valuable things an intermediary does.

The downside of intermediaries is that, as a consumer, you have to depend on someone else to select for you and they may not always serve your particular interests well. As a producer, you may not find an intermediary who is will to give you access to consumers on a desirable basis.

In the information world, the search engine has come along and given consumers a better information selector. Having a search engine is like having your own personal newsdesk editor trying to fill your personal ‘news hole’ with absolutely whatever your momentary whim might wish for at whatever level of detail you might desire. The search engine is the new editor and producers are in fierce competition jockying for access to consumers via search engines.

The Panel on Search Engine Marketing during Q&A

The Panel on Search Engine Marketing during Q&A (Photo credit: MikeSchinkel)

There are some things that the Internet have not eliminated the need for. We still need producers, journalists gathering news and organizing its presentation. We need ways to pay for that. Perhaps we don’t need fleets of delivery trucks, printing presses or even editors.

People who own gas stations found out some time back that people do not want gas jockeys. The self serve gas station came was developed over time. Now, you have the pay-at-the-pump gas station. In this gas station evolution there are a loss of jobs and a loss of social interaction between gas jockeys and customers.

Filling Station

Filling Station (Photo credit: anyjazz65)

A WordPress blog creates a ‘newshole’. The blogger must find a way to fill that hole regularly or traffic will dry up. I have found it useful to have an ‘editorial calendar’ which is just a list of topics and suggested dates when I can  do a write up on the topic.

But there is more to a blog, or any informational art form. McLuhan also said  ‘The Medium is the Massage‘ in that it massages or stimulates the intellect or the senses. WordPress, then, is also a masseuse of the brain.

 

 

 

 

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