Thursday, July 27, 2006
And You Thought Soylent Green Was Bad 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
If you're eating right now (or contemplating doing so), you might want to skip this post. Just a warning...

I'm not quite sure what to make of this "The Jungle"-esque article in the Internet Journal of Toxicology, which exposes a stomach-turning (soy-free) method for making fake soy sauce. Remember, the part of soy sauce that provides flavor-enhancing umami ["the fifth taste"] character are amino acids - and amino acids are simply broken down proteins. Unfortunately, lots of things are potential protein sources. Just ask any Chicago dumpster rat. From "Hair Soy Sauce: A revolting alternative to the conventional" - yes, hair soy sauce:
In late 2003, there was an alternatively produced soy sauce named "Hongshuai Soy Sauce" in China. The soy sauce was marketed as "blended using latest bioengineering technology" by a food seasoning manufacturer, suggesting that the soy sauce was not generated in a traditional way using soy and wheat.

The Hongshuai Soy Sauce was sold at a relatively low price in Mainland China and became very popular among the public. The people found its taste to be similar to other brands. Because of its low price, many catering services in schools and colleges decided to use this new product.
Chinese journalists went to the food seasoning manufacturer in Hubei province. They pretended to be buyers and enquired about the soy sauce ingredients. They were told by a manager that the soy sauce was made from the amino acid syrup, and mixed with water, sodium hydroxide, red sugar; hydrochloric acid and other chemical additives...

...The journalists then found the amino acid syrup manufacturer (a bioengineering company) in Hubei province. When asking [sic] how the amino acid syrup (or powder) was generated, the manufacturer replied that the powder was generated from human hair. Because the human hair was gathered from salon, barbershop and hospitals around the country, it was unhygienic and mixed with condom, used hospital cottons, used menstrual cycle pad, used syringe, etc. After [being] filtered by the workers, the hair would then cut small for being processed into amino acid syrup...[keep reading, if you dare]
[via BoingBoing] Fortunately, Chinese customs regulators stepped in and seized stocks of the ersatz sauce, but not before consumers staged a massive boycott. I hope it's a hoax, but somehow I suspect it isn't. [By the way, I love the subtitle of the ITJ article.]

Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Chicago Hot Dog Stand Gives Cons A Second Chance 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Coming soon: your next trip to a Chicago hot dog stand may help an ex-con stay on the right side of the law. From CBS2 Chicago:
...four of [Chicago entrepreneur] Jim Andrews’ five employees have been to prison. He says they’re great employees. It’s just that former felons can seldom find work. "Once they're branded as ex-offender you might as well just tattoo ‘felon’ on their foreheads," Jim said.

Enter the idea of Felony Frank’s Hot Dogs. Andrews will finance and license hot dog stores to former felons, turning ex-offenders into entrepreneurs through a foundation he set up three years ago. At the Michael Barlow Center, where formerly incarcerated men and women learn job skills to cope in the real world, Bob Dougherty knows giving them a job is important.

"(It’s) the component that really signs the deal as to whether or not they will remain on the positive side of the law," Dougherty said. That’s what Jim Andrews hopes to accomplish with the idea of his Felony Franks, where non-offenders need not apply. "It’s felons only," he said.

The Michael Barlow Center estimates that 80 percent of former felons with a job stay straight.
More on WBBM 780's website.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006
RFID Chips a Computer Virus Risk? 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
My good friend Daphne passed on a very informative link at PCWorld.com: The 10 Biggest Security Risks You Don't Know About. Among the ten, one especially caught my eye - not in terms of frequency of risk, etc., but out of curiosity. Apparently, some RFID chips and "smart cards" are vulnerable to virii:
Though highly useful, some implementations of the RFID technology have security weaknesses. For example, the information on some tags can be rewritten, and other tags can be read from an unusually great distance.

In an attempt to exploit some of these weaknesses, the Dutch university researchers conducted a controversial proof-of-concept study using modified RFID tags and a viruslike command to "infect" the back-end database that stored the tag's records. Theoretically, an RFID system could thus be made to crash or run malicious code--a scary prospect for a critical business or government technology.

Numerous computer security experts have pointed out that a reasonably well-built system with effective "middleware" between the RFID reader and the database probably wouldn't be vulnerable to such an assault. And sensitive RFID chips can use encryption and shielding covers to protect against acquiring an unasked-for malicious payload. The planned U.S. passports will use both measures.

Still, the study illustrates a basic point: Nearly every system has exploitable flaws. Keep an eye on your cat.
As the article points out, metal shielding around RFID tagged objects (e.g.R, tinfoil hats) helps mitigate the risk. However, this may not be a viable option for cats.

Friday, July 14, 2006
farkleberries Links du Jour 155: The In Space, No One Can Hear You Whiz Edition 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

How To Remove an Old Chicago City Sticker 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em.

If you're one of those people that displays a column of ancient Chicago City Stickers on their windshield - because it's easier to replace the windshield than remove the darned things - here's a relatively easy way to remove them without smashing the glass. Note to July City Sticker thieves: sorry, this method will not yield you an intact city sticker to sell on the black market. You will need:1) Very carefully, starting at the old sticker's upper corner and holding the single-edged blade at a narrow angle to the windshield glass, peel away the sticker in small sections. Place the sticker bits on a paper towel and discard. They're very sticky, but somehow the majority of the sun-hardened gluey backing will remain on your windshield. This is where the solvent comes in.

Note: the City Sticker has an "X" cut into its center, designed to make it virtually impossible to peel off a previously-applied sticker in one piece. Bad for thieves, but also inconvenient for car owners.

2) Generously dampen a section of paper towel with the Goo Gone™, and swab (don't rub - yet) at the adhesive remaining on the glass for about one minute. What you're doing right now is softening the hardened adhesive into a jellylike substance. Wait a few seconds, then use a dry section of the paper towel (or a fresh one) to rub away the old adhesive. When properly softened, the adhesive should stick to the paper towel and come off the glass in little stringy rolls. Repeat process if needed.

3) Rub the now-clean glass with a fresh paper towel, and you're ready to apply your new City Sticker. Sure, the designs through the years are interesting, but did you really want your car be a Chicago City Sticker Museum?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006
CTA Blue Line Derailment and Fire 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
This was the big news story around town (and made news around the country as well) - last night, at around 5:00pm, the end car of a CTA Blue Line train derailed and caught fire shortly after leaving the Clark and Lake underground station, forcing hundreds of passengers to evacuate through hundreds of feet of dark, smoke-filled subway tunnel. Over 150 riders were taken to area hospitals, most suffering from smoke inhalation.

Although I was passing through the south Loop on a bus at about 5:40pm (and got on the CTA Red Line shortly thereafter) I actually didn't hear about this incident until the 10:00 ABC local newscast.

I did notice an unusual number of ambulances - four, I think - making their way through traffic. Otherwise the ride was uneventful. But, by a strange coincidence, both the bus I was riding on and the Red Line "L" had minor mechanical problems that triggered operator alarms - which was strange in itself. Maybe all the CTA vehicles are revolting?* Today's Red Eye cover included this image of one of the Blue Line derailment evacuees:

In a bizarre coincidence, July 10th's Red Eye cover story was a CTA Worst-Case Scenario Survival Guide. Talk about timing.

* (Well, some of them certainly are at times.)

MORE: CTA Tattler on Lessons Learned From the Blue Line Fire
Daley Praises Response (Chicago Tribune)

Tuesday, July 11, 2006
farkleberries Links du Jour 154: The Scent of Happiness Edition 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

Wednesday, July 05, 2006
It Ain't Chicago Without Moo & Oink 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Legendary Chicago meat purveyors Moo & Oink have announced the winner of their jingle contest - rapper Kenlo Key's "Shop @ Moo & Oink" has that cool, retro soul undercurrent that screams "BBQ!" and "Chicago!" in the same breath. It's a fitting successor to M&O's classic ad jingle.

Listen to each of the 10 weeks' entries (in mp3 format), or download them all to your iPod for some meaty vibin' down at the Taste. Runner-ups include "Put It In My Mouth" by Rik Franklin, "More Than Just Meat" by Pry, and Levellton Birch's "Moo Moo Moo." [via Gapers Block]

While you're there, don't miss their online video, MooTV.

Monday, July 03, 2006
Seen (and Heard) In Chicago This Morning 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
1.) CTA Red Line, near Grand (and State!) stop: a thirty-something man in green T-shirt and jeans enters from the emergency door at the end of the car and launches into a typical "Ladies and gentlemen, I pray you never find yourselves in my position, but can you find it in your hearts to spare me some change or offer me some food..." panhandle.

This goes on for about a minute, and no one responds, except for one seated male passenger that giggles when the panhandler warns, "I will eat anything except mayonnaise or sour cream. I am allergic, as God is my witness."

2.) The Bureaucracy In Action Award today goes to a Chicago parking enforcement officer meter maid in Hyde Park, whom I observed issuing a parking ticket to a Meals on Wheels delivery van with its blinkers on, in a no-parking zone (the only available spot that I could see) in front of a senior citizen home. Nice work.