Monday, October 13, 2014

CAUTION: Technology may be hazardous to your health

Before I begin this rant, let’s get something straight. The word "technology" in my vocabulary means only a personal computer and a cell phone (not a smart phone whose intelligence exceeds mine!). Those two devices are the extent of my entry into the 21st century’s mysteries of domesticated electrons (or whatever it is that runs that "techy" stuff).

But even my tentative entry into that electronic world has convinced me that technology can be hazardous to your health! For many years we’ve known about wrist pain (carpal tunnel syndrome) as a result of spending too many hours keyboarding. We can develop blood clots (deep vein thrombosis) in our legs, back pain, and stooped shoulders (or should that be "stupid shoulders"?) from too much time spent sitting at the computer desk. Eye strain and hallucinations can result from uninterrupted hours of staring at a computer screen.

Fingertip numbness can occur from pounding the keys of the computer keyboard in frustration after too many hours of inability to complete a task. This can lead to hearing strange voices as your numb fingers hit incorrect keys and bring up advertising for stuff you’ve never heard of before! By this time, you have a full-blown case of computer addiction and information overload.

Cell phones have different health hazards. A pain in the neck is one of the first symptoms of overuse. That progresses to a permanent crook in the neck toward the ear accustomed to balancing the cell phone on your shoulder. Scientists are not of one mind on whether the use of a cell phone causes radiation to your brain. They all agree, however, that continuous overuse can result in an enlarged, cauliflower-shaped ear. Like the old game of "telephone," constant use can also cause the spread of inaccurate information which may lead to broken friendships.

So why do we take these health risks? Why do we endanger our well-being with these electronic boxes? Advertising has told us that they will make our lives more convenient, transactions faster and more secure, and we will be more accessible to our friends and important information.

Well, I think advertising has sold us a bill of goods! Tell me about convenience when I have just spent twice as long registering on-line than if I had used a pen and paper. Tell me about faster when I have to boot up for the umpteenth time because the wi-fi system has gone down again. Tell me about security when Chase Bank, with all it levels of security, has been hacked into and customer data has been stolen. As to better access to our friends, what about the non-friends who infect our on-line accounts with viruses, or strangers who come out of the woodwork "liking" us. Not to mention our access to scammers who promise us a fortune for the cost of only a few dollars. And, of course, there are the ads that pop up in every possible location trying to sell us stuff we don’t want. And important information? Indeed, it is there, but it’s usually buried deep under a mound of UNimportant information or appears only in the small print.

All of this is pushing me toward a health problem that I have not yet found listed in any of the medical diagnostic books. It could be that I am the only person suffering from it but I suspect more cases will occur in the future. The disease is "technology induced paranoia".

The initial symptoms are subtle; just a constant repetition of the question "Why?" Receiving no logical answer, the disease grows more serious; I’m becoming convinced that technology has been invented for the sole purpose of frustrating me! It exists primarily to make my life miserable. Otherwise, why can my husband solve a computer or cell phone problem in 15 seconds that has been bugging me for hours? The whole field of electronic devices is out to get me!

And I know that they’re coming for me! Can you hear them? They’re coming up the steps to the front door! I know what they’ll do. They’ll grab me and carry me off to a small, windowless cell containing nothing but a pencil and paper! Without a trial, I’ll be declared an enemy of the Technological State and left there in prison to scribble my life into oblivion!

Help! Can’t somebody rescue me from my suffering in technology-induced paranoia? Is there no hope? Oh, woe is me: I even had to use the electronic box to write this complaint against it!!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Cotton pickin' time in south Texas

When the roadsides in nearby Willacy County look like this,

it's cotton pickin' time in south Texas!
Usually, on our fall trip south, all we see are cotton fields that have already been harvested and disked in preparation for next year's crop. 
 But this year the cotton harvest has been late, and apparently abundant.  Harvest season appears to be quite brief and very weather-dependent.
As we have observed cotton harvest from the sidelines in our northern neighbor-county, the field work involves two large pieces of machinery.  The first is the harvester:
A four-row picker seems to be the most common in these parts but videos we have watched have shown pickers as wide as six-rows.  Since the harvest is so dependent upon good weather, it's not unusual to see more than one picker at work in order to speed up the process.
The second essential piece of equipment in the field is the "cotton module builder," also called a compactor:

A closer inspection would show you that this "box on wheels" has no bottom.  It is moved to the field on its wheels, pulled by a tractor.  When it arrives in the field where it is needed, the wheels are retracted and it sits on the ground.
The tractor that pulls the compacter to the field provides the power for its operation.  When the picker completes its load of cotton,

it approaches the stationary compactor,

and the load is dumped into the open box of the compactor.

  Nothing is wasted.  Even the bolls that overshoot the compactor are gathered up by hand and returned to the machine.
Then the compactor begins compressing the "seed cotton" into modules by use of a hydraulic device mounted on the compactor.  Numerous harvestor loads of cotton are necessary to complete the module which can weigh as much as 18,000 pounds.  The cotton module is removed from the compactor by a pulley device mounted in the compactor. The module is then covered with a tarp, and left in the field until taken to the gin.

 With the harvest complete, it's time for the  next phase of production: the processing.  Specially designed trucks with parallel chains built into the floor of the tilting truck bed, load up the cotton modules in the field and head for the cotton gin.
Modules of seed cotton await processing at the gin, covered with tarps to prevent any moisture from spoiling the quality of the crop.

Seed cotton, raw from the field before processing, contains many impurities such as the seeds, tiny branches of vegetation, and field soil which must be removed before it is useful.
After the lengthy and complex processing of the seed cotton, it is then referred to as cotton fiber and compressed into smaller units called bales.  Each bale weighs approximately 500 pounds.  They are weighed,
and stored in the warehouse,
awaiting shipping.
 Cotton fiber for making cloth, yarn, string, and other products is only part of what the cotton crop yields.  Cottonseeds removed from the fibers are stored in bins such as these:
and made into oil for human consumption, livestock feeds, and biodiesel.
Cotton does not seem to be as important in Texas agriculture as it is in some other areas of the South.   But it is one of the "three C's" of Lone Star farming -- cane, cotton, and citrus -- that we ex-Midwesterners find new, different and interesting.  We thought you might, too!