Hello and good morning. It’s Thursday again, so I return to my traditional weekly blog post, after having taken off last Thursday for Thanksgiving. I’m still mildly under the weather, but I’m steadily improving. It’s nothing like a major flu or Covid or anything along those lines, just a typical upper respiratory infection, of which there are oodles. Most are comparatively benign, especially the ones that have been around for a while, because being not-too-severe is an evolutionarily stable strategy for an infectious agent.
An infection that makes its host too ill will keep that host from moving about and make itself less likely to be spread, to say nothing of an infection that tends to kill its host quickly. Smart parasites (so to speak) keep their hosts alive and sharing for a looong time. Of course, “smart” here doesn’t say anything about the parasite itself; viruses are only smart in the sense that they achieve their survival and reproduction well, but they didn’t figure out how to be that way—nature just selected for the ones that survived and reproduced most successfully. It’s almost tautological, but then again, the very universe itself could be tautological from a certain point of view.
It’s an interesting point, to me anyway, to note that today, December 1st, is precisely one week after Thanksgiving. Of course, New Year’s Day (January 1st, in case you didn’t know) is always exactly 1 week after Christmas. It’s unusual for Thanksgiving to precede the first of December by a week, because the specific date of Thanksgiving varies from year to year (and, of course, if Thanksgiving were to fall on the 25th of November, December 1st would not be exactly one week later). It’s an amusing coincidence; there’s no real significance to it, obviously, but I notice such things.
My sister asked me to write something about the vicissitudes of sugar (not her words), and though I don’t mean to finish the topic here today, I guess I’ll get started. Apologies to those who are waiting for me to finish the neurology post, but that requires a bit more prep and care, and I’m not ready for it quite yet. Life keeps getting in the way, as life does, which is one of the reasons I think life is overrated.
It’s hard to know where to start with sugar. Of course, the term itself refers to a somewhat broad class of molecules, all of which contain comparatively short chains of carbon atoms, to which are bonded hydrogen and hydroxyl* moieties.
Most sugars are not so much actual free chains as they are wrapped up in rings. The main form of sugar used by the human body is glucose, which is a six-membered ring with the rough chemical formula C6H1206.
This is the sugar that every cell in the body is keyed to use as one of its easy-access energy sources, the one insulin tells the cells to take up when everything is working properly. Interestingly enough, of course, though glucose is the “ready-to-use” energy source, it only provides about 4 kilocalories** per gram to the body, as compared to 9 kilocalories per gram for fats.
But the sugar we get in our diets is not, generally speaking, simple glucose. It tends to be in the form of disaccharides, or sugars made of two combined individual sugars. Sucrose, or table sugar, is a dimer of glucose and fructose, joined by an oxygen atom.
Okay, I’m going to have to pick this up tomorrow. I’ve gotten distracted and diverted by a conversation a few seats ahead of me.
There are two guys talking to each other at the end of this train car, and they are each seated next to a window on the opposite side of the train, so they’re basically yelling across the aisle to each other. Their conversation is perfectly civil, and though they’re revealing a certain amount of ignorance about some matters, they are mainly displaying a clear interest in and exposure to interesting topics, from history to geography and so on.
At one point, one of the men started speaking of the pyramids and how remarkable their construction was, and I feared the invocation of ancient aliens…but then he followed up to say that, obviously, there were really smart people in ancient Egypt, just like we have smart people today who design and build airplanes and rockets and the like. Kudos to him!
These men are not morons by any means. They clearly respect the intellectual achievements of the past and present, and that’s actually quite heartening, because I think it’s obvious that neither one is extensively college-educated, if at all.
But why do they have their conversation from opposite sides of the train, so that everyone nearby has to hear it? It’s thrown me off my course.
I’ll close just by saying that yesterday I finished rereading The Chasm and the Collision, and I want to note that I really think it’s a good book, and to encourage anyone who might be interested to read it. The paperback is going for I think less than five dollars on Amazon, and the Kindle edition is cheaper still. If you like the Harry Potter books, or the Chronicles of Narnia, or maybe the Percy Jackson books, I think you would probably like CatC.
I’d love to think that there might be parents out there who would read the book to their kids. Not kids who are too young—there are a few scary places in the story, and some fairly big and potentially scary ideas (but what good fairy tale doesn’t meet that description?). It’s a fantasy adventure starring three middle-school students, though I’ll say again that, technically, it’s science fiction, but that doesn’t really matter for the experience of the story.
Most of my other stuff is not suitable for young children in any way—certainly not those below teenage years—and Unanimity and some of my short stories are appallingly dark (though I think still enjoyable). If you’re old enough and brave enough, I certainly can recommend them; I don’t think I’m wrong to be reasonably proud of them. But The Chasm and the Collision can be enjoyed by pretty much the whole family. You certainly don’t have to be a kid to like it, or so I believe.
With that, I’ll let you go for now. I’ll try to pick up more thoroughly and sensibly on the sugar thing tomorrow, with apologies for effectively just teasing it today. I’m still not at my sharpest from my cold, and the world is distracting. But I will do my best—which is all I can do, since anything I do is the only thing I could do in any circumstance, certainly once it’s done, and thus is the best I could do.
Please, all of you do your best, individually and collectively, to take care of yourselves and those you love and those who love you, and have a good month of December.
*Hydroxyl groups are just (-OH) groups, meaning an oxygen atom and a hydrogen atom bonded together, like a water molecule that lost one of its hydrogens. This points back toward the fact that plants make sugar molecules from the raw building blocks of carbon dioxide (a source for the carbon atoms and some of the oxygen) and water (hydrogen and oxygen) using sunlight as their source of power and releasing oxygen as a waste product. This was among the first environmental pollutants on the Earth—free oxygen—and it had catastrophic and transformative effects on not just the biosphere of the Earth but even on the geology. The fact that the iron in our mines, for instance, is mainly in the form of rust is largely because of this plant-born presence of free oxygen in the atmosphere.
**A kilocalories is defined as the amount of energy needed to heat a kilogram of water by one degree centigrade. We often shorten this term just to “calorie”, but that is actually only the amount of heat needed to raise a gram of water one degree centigrade (or 9/5 degrees Fahrenheit). It’s worth being at least aware of the fact that what we tend to call calories are actually kilocalories.