Friday, January 22, 2010

Kobolds and Argyria

This is basically a follow-up to the post on Colloidal Silver, immediately below. Read it for the details, but the main thing you need to know is that if enough silver builds up inside the body, a condition called Argyria results. This is not life-threatening; it just causes skin, tissues, or organs to turn blue, grey, or black.

I put a link to that post on Facebook, and one of my friends remarked that if her husband manages to turn blue, "we all get to vote for Smurf names!"

Well, that reminded me of something I'd read years ago, which said that the Smurfs were probably taken from a bit of germanic folklore about creatures called Kobolds, who were frequently represented as small, blue-skinned, creatures who haunted mines. (Those of you who remember kobolds as weak but exceedingly annoying cannon fodder from D'n'D, be advised: Dungeons and Dragons is a great repository for misrepresentations of folklore from all over the world, as well as other data. Two-handed swords weighed fifteen pounds? Seriously?) The wikipedia article suggests that the name "Kobold" can actually be applied to a wide number of different kind of creatures, rather like the Celtic "Faerie". In fact, judging by the descriptions, "Kobold" and "Faerie" look like two different terms for the same kind of beings. (And, now that I think of it, Faeries are sometimes referred to as the Grey Folk.)

Staying with the idea of Kobolds as small, blue-skinned beings who hang out in mines, though... I can't help but wonder if the folklore grew out of early cases of argyria. There are cases of argyria among workers in the silver industry, presumably from breathing too much silver dust; and I can easily imagine the same thing happening to people carving ore out of mineshafts.

I don't know enough about early mining practices, or the types of ore found in that area of the world, to be sure; but it certainly seems possible.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Colloidal Silver

A friend of mine recently suggest colloidal silver nasal spray to help with sinus infections. He swears by it; I think the phrase was, "It's given me my life back." Now, I have a lot of allergy trouble. Part of this - most of this - has to do with living in Dallas. Not only is Dallas a sort of black hole for allergens (they all seem to come here, and they never leave), but there's also plenty of pollution to reinforce the irritation.

(I'd move, gladly, except that I have a very good job here; both my parents and my wife's parents live nearby, as do my brother and his wife; and I'm really not enthused about searching for another martial arts school. And there are things I like about living here; there's almost always something going on. Anyway, back to colloidal silver.)

So, colloidal silver sounded pretty good. I'm generally dubious about homeopathic remedies, and the sorts of things that get marketed as 'dietary supplements', but I figured this was worth looking into. And by 'looking into', I mean that I starting looking things up and doing some research, not that I bought a bottle and tried it.

What I found was, frankly, worrisome. First of all, the advertising on this is highly misleading. Most of the claims made on websites are dubious if not completely false, and quite a few are probably illegal. (An article for the Ear Nose and Throat journal has examples. You'll have to register in order to read the whole thing, but go ahead. It's free, and you can use a pseudonym.) From the article:

Colloidal silver products are often marketed with unproven health-related claims, such as products benefiting the immune system; killing disease-causing agents such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi; being an alternative to prescription antibiotics; or treating diseases such as cancer and human immunodeficiency virus.

In a recent study of Internet marketing of the most common herbal remedies, Morris and Avorn discovered that, despite FDA regulations on the health claims of herbal products, 55% of herbal medication Web sites made claims to treat, prevent, diagnose, or cure specific diseases.

The FDA has regulations against making these claims because there's no clinical evidence to support them. Let me repeat that: there is no clinical evidence to support the claims that colloidal silver is effective. That's not to say that it never works, or that silver has no medical uses. It does, and there's a whole wikipedia article on the topic. But there's no scientific evidence that taking it internally does anything to fight disease, cure infections, or improve health. (And, by the way, if you're spraying the stuff on your mucus membranes, you're taking it internally.) Here's an article from the LA Times on the topic; be sure to read both pages, since the money quote is on the second page:
"Those studies haven't been done," says Pribitkin, who co-wrote a 2008 article
on silver nasal sprays and colloidal silver published in the Ear, Nose and
Throat Journal. In his view, just because something kills germs on contact
doesn't mean it will fight infections inside the body. He notes that sulfuric
acid kills germs too, but nobody touts it as a health tonic.
The other issue is that taking silver can have side effects. The main side effect is argyria, a condition in which the skin, tissues, and organs acquire a blue or grey coloration. This is generally considered 'disfiguring' rather than dangerous, but take note: it's permanent. The body doesn't filter or excrete the silver particles on its own, at least not in enough quantity to make a difference. Rosemary Jacobs (born in 1942) turned silver as a result of argyria somewhere around age fourteen; she is still alive today, and despite an attempt at dermabrasion, still noticeably discolored. Take a look at the pictures on her site, and read her story. She's firmly of the opinion that the people marketing colloidal silver are just a new generation of snake-oil salesmen.

The wikipedia article says that "laser therapy has been used to treat [argyria] with satisfactory cosmetic results," but that doesn't strike me as terribly encouraging.

Now, let's review the part where the human body doesn't effectively filter or excrete silver particles on its own. That means that it isn't a question of whether you take too much at any one time; it's a question of the total amount you've ever taken in. Rosemary Jacobs (linked above) acquired her condition using nasal drops "intermittently, as needed" from age eleven to age fourteen. That's a small intake, accumulating over time. Now, let me add an additional consideration. These products are not medicines. That means that they are not held to the same standards of quality control that actual pharmaceuticals are. And that means that the dosage may or may not be quite what the packaging says it is.

One final word of warning, from the The Annals of Occupational Hygiene:
Besides argyria and argyrosis, exposure to soluble silver compounds may produce
other toxic effects, including liver and kidney damage, irritation of the eyes,
skin, respiratory, and intestinal tract, and changes in blood cells.
Is colloidal silver an effective remedy? Hard to say, but the current research does not support the claims being made by its marketers. Is it a safe, natural remedy? Well, 'natural' doesn't mean much; arsenic is natural, too. Silver is, at least, non-toxic. And, yes: in small doses, over the short term, colloidal silver is fairly safe. (Apparently there are people who actually have silver allergies, but hopefully they already know better than to use something called "colloidal silver".) In larger doses, and/or over a longer term, there are some rather noteworthy risks and side effects.

Be warned. As a likely risk/likely benefit analysis, colloidal silver looks like a very bad bet.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Fake Antivirus Software

I had an encounter this weekend with a new type of virus/malware. It was particularly difficult to remove, and it did some things that I hadn't seen before.

The program is called Internet Security 2010. It's pretty easy to spot, because the first thing it does is open a big window on your screen and make a nuisance of itself. (Follow the link at the bottom of this post to see what it looks like.)

The goal, basically, is to scare or annoy you into paying for software that you don't need. Internet Security 2010 pretends to be antivirus software, and throws up warnings indicating that your computer is infected. The "infections" are fake; the error messages are generated by the Internet Security 2010 virus.

In addition, Internet Security 2010 blocks you from running several common programs. If you try to open them, it says the file is infected and prevents it from running. Some of these are meant to annoy and scare you (by telling you that Word, Excel, and/or Notepad are infected, for example), but this behavior also blocks a lot of the things you would use to shut down Internet Security 2010 (by making it impossible to open the Task Manager, or use your existing antivirus to remove the fake antivirus program). So, once it infects a system, it is very difficult to remove.

It seems to be a fairly new virus, which means that several popular antivirus programs do not catch it. I expect that within a week or two all major antivirus vendors will have updated their software to catch this thing. Until then, be cautious about your web browsing and any questionable e-mails you receive. The link below leads to the instructions that I used to remove the program, and also has screen shots so you can see what this thing looks like.

Removal Instructions & Screen Shots:

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Remember how much better things used to be?

Remember how much better things used to be when we were young? There was less crime and less corruption. It was safe to walk around at night. Kids were more respectful to their elders, and more, well, innocent.

The grass was greener, too.

Kids know more today than they did when we were growing up? They were saying that in a 1962 textbook called When You Marry. (Text selections and commentary found here.)

The world is going to Hell in handbasket, and there was so much less crime and corruption when we were younger? They've been saying that since at least 2800 B.C. (Smithsonian Magazine references the stone tablet as part of a list of apocalypses that didn't happen. Apparently people have been predicting the end of the world for just about as long as there have been people.)

So, um, yeah. Can we get over ourselves now?

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Spear is the best weapon

This was the first in a series of short articles designed to highlight different weapons. My hope was to provide general knowledge in bite-sized pieces, and encourage people to pursue new and different weapons for their characters. (It's not that I mind the katana, it's just that it's such a common choice that it's becoming a cliche.) So, I started with the best possible choice of weapon skills: the spear.

Feel free to respond with questions, comments, clarifications, or whatever. Think I'm wrong about how cool the spear is? Tell me why. Have a suggestion for a better weapon - or a weapon you want to know more about? Throw it in - it might be an upcoming article.

Spear is absolutely the best weapon you can learn. The length alone gives you a tremendous advantage over a swordsman – you can attack him while he’s still too far away to attack you. That length also gives you an advantage in leverage: you’ll have an easier time pushing his blade aside, or changing the direction of your own attacks. Finally, all that reach gives you the ability to attack the legs (particularly the shins and feet) as easily you can attack the body, arms, or face. It’s a lot easier to attack the legs with a spear than it is to defend them with a sword. The spear also has an easier time switching between low and high than a sword does.

The spear emphasizes point-work (attacks with the tip, such as stabs and thrusts) but you can chop or slice with the edges as well. For that matter, you can use the butt much as you would a staff, to strike or jab an opponent. Spears tend to be lighter than polearms*, so they don’t hit as hard with a swing… but the combination of lightness and an emphasis on thrusting techniques makes spear-work very fast (not unlike fencing). Being on the wrong end of a spear is an eye-opening experience.

If your opponent is armored, you have a nice sharp tip to use against his weak points – and, again, you can probably attack him before he gets close enough to attack you. If he gets in close, you can move to a middle grip and attack with both ends of your weapon. That keeps you on a pretty even footing with most mid-length weapons (single sword, mace, etc.) The combination of reach and the ability to brace the butt of the spear makes the weapon very effective against mounted opponents as well.

Study the spear. Learn the spear. Love the spear. Teach your enemies to fear the spear.

* It’s a little hard to generalize about polearms – there are a lot of different weapons that fall under than category. Some of them are fairly lightweight, and some spear designs are heavier than others, so take that generalization with a grain of salt.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Found this e-mail in my SPAM filter:

Hello Dear,
How are you today? I hope that everything is ok with you as it is my great pleasure to contact you in having communication with you starting from today; please I wish you will have the desire with me so that we can get to know each other better and see what happens in future.

I will be very happy if you can write me through my email for easy communication so that we can know each other, I will give you my pictures and details about me upon hearing from you. Waiting for your response as I wish you all the best.

Yours new friend,
Miss Bianca Dakira.

I have absolutely no idea what to make of this. Is it an unusual lead-in to a Nigerian Scam? An attempt to lure me to some sort of website (which would, at best, want me to pay money for something or other; or, more likely, do its best to infect my system with trojans, worms, and other viruses)? Someone so lonely that she's resorted to spamming people in a desperate effort to achieve human contact?

It's obviously not a native English speaker, and the goal (at this stage) is clearly to get me (or, well, anyone - it was sent out to "undisclosed recipients") to respond by e-mail.

I'm almost curious enough to reply.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Sword is the Best Weapon

This is part of a series I did for an online writing/roleplaying site. It may be of interest to those of you who write in historical and/or fantasy settings. I'm reproducing it here because, well... mainly because I'd like to update the blog, but I don't have time to produce something new. Most likely I will throw out some articles on other weapons in the near future.

A note on terminology: “Singlesword” in this context refers to a one-handed sword with a straight, double-edged blade. Sword classifications are a bit difficult under the best of circumstances; the modern terms aren’t very precise, and the historical usages are even more varied. For information on sword classifications and terminology, I’d suggest Ewart Oakeshott’s Records of the Medieval Sword. Christopher Amberger’s The Secret History of the Sword is also highly recommended. For our purposes here, I’m simply going to define my terms as I go.

The singlesword is absolutely the best weapon you can use. It is the sidearm of the medieval world: a versatile, dependable weapon that you can hang on your belt when you aren’t using it. You can use it anywhere: indoors, outdoors, in a battlefield formation, or in single combat. Its portability makes it an ideal backup weapon for archers and crossbowmen. The one-handed grip makes it an obvious candidate for dual wielding, with either a dagger or another sword. Using a shield or buckler in the off hand was more popular historically, and for good reason: it improved your chances of survival dramatically. (I’ll discuss the relative merits of dual wielding and shield use some other time.)

There is a common misconception that these swords were heavy, clumsy choppers. This is simply untrue. Singleswords are elegant weapons with sophisticated fighting systems attached to them. In China, the straight sword is considered more noble than the saber; it’s more subtle and sophisticated. The knightly sword of medieval Europe held a similar status. (The Japanese, by contrast, consider the katana – a curved, single-edged sword – to be the pinnacle of swordsmanship; this seems to be the exception rather than the rule.)

While different designs will favor slightly different balances of technique, all singleswords can be used for cutting, thrusting, slicing, and chopping as needed. That gives you a lot of options in a fight.

Study the sword. Learn the sword. Love the sword. Teach your enemies to fear your sword.