Shared posts

27 Apr 14:11

Bing Rewards members can get 2,000 points if they pre-order a Surface 3 this week

by John Callaham

Microsoft has launched a new promotion that will allow members of the Bing Rewards program in the US to get 2,000 points if they pre-order a new Surface 3 between now and May 4.








27 Apr 14:20

Video Upload to Instagram grabs quick fix for Lumia 830, some new features too

by Daniel Rubino

Last week, Venetasoft released a new app descriptively called Video Upload to Instagram. The app is the first standalone tool to let users grab videos from their library, crop, and upload to Instagram (the official app does not allow this, nor does 6tag).

Today, version 1.0.0.6 is out and with comes a big fix for the using a Lumia 830. Additionally, there are a few new features for editing. Let's take a look.








27 Apr 14:45

The free Windows 10 upgrade is really a 'promotional activity' for Microsoft's accountants

by John Callaham

Microsoft may be offering a free upgrade to Windows 10 for consumers who own a Windows 7 or 8.1 PC. However, for accounting purposes, the company is labeling this generous deal as a "marketing and promotional activity" in order to avoid a situation that would have normally forced Microsoft to defer revenues from the Windows division in their quarterly financial results.








23 Apr 16:43

Check out Acer's new jaw-dropping 34-inch curved QHD gaming monitor

by Daniel Rubino

Looking for a new high-end computer display? Acer may have you covered. Starting in September (yes, that is awhile away) and for a wallet-punching $1,299 you can have this mega monitor for all your gaming needs.

What makes it so special? Let's take a look at the specs.








23 Apr 19:19

What’s So Bad About Gluten?

Jessica Kendrick

this is that same article I referenced at the end of andrew's post.

Nearly twenty million Americans now say that they regularly experience stomach problems after eating products that contain gluten.
Nearly twenty million Americans now say that they regularly experience stomach problems after eating products that contain gluten. Credit Illustration by Paul Rogers

Just after Labor Day, the Gluten and Allergen Free Expo stopped for a weekend at the Meadowlands Exposition Center. Each year, the event wends its way across the country like a travelling medicine show, billing itself as the largest display of gluten-free products in the United States. Banners hung from the rafters, with welcoming messages like “Plantain Flour Is the New Kale.” Plantain flour contains no gluten, and neither did anything else at the exposition (including kale). There were gluten-free chips, gluten-free dips, gluten-free soups, and gluten-free stews; there were gluten-free breads, croutons, pretzels, and beer. There was gluten-free artisanal fusilli and penne from Italy, and gluten-free artisanal fusilli and penne from the United States. Dozens of companies had set up tables, offering samples of gluten-free cheese sticks, fish sticks, bread sticks, and soy sticks. One man passed out packets of bread crumbs, made by “master bakers,” that were certified as gluten-free, G.M.O.-free, and kosher. There was even gluten-free dog food.

Gluten, one of the most heavily consumed proteins on earth, is created when two molecules, glutenin and gliadin, come into contact and form a bond. When bakers knead dough, that bond creates an elastic membrane, which is what gives bread its chewy texture and permits pizza chefs to toss and twirl the dough into the air. Gluten also traps carbon dioxide, which, as it ferments, adds volume to the loaf. Humans have been eating wheat, and the gluten in it, for at least ten thousand years. For people with celiac disease—about one per cent of the population—the briefest exposure to gluten can trigger an immune reaction powerful enough to severely damage the brushlike surfaces of the small intestine. People with celiac have to be alert around food at all times, learning to spot hidden hazards in common products, such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein and malt vinegar. Eating in restaurants requires particular vigilance. Even reusing water in which wheat pasta has been cooked can be dangerous.

Until about a decade ago, the other ninety-nine per cent of Americans rarely seemed to give gluten much thought. But, led by people like William Davis, a cardiologist whose book “Wheat Belly” created an empire founded on the conviction that gluten is a poison, the protein has become a culinary villain. Davis believes that even “healthy” whole grains are destructive, and he has blamed gluten for everything from arthritis and asthma to multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia. David Perlmutter, a neurologist and the author of another of the gluten-free movement’s foundational texts, “Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar—Your Brain’s Silent Killers,” goes further still. Gluten sensitivity, he writes, “represents one of the greatest and most under-recognized health threats to humanity.’’

Nearly twenty million people contend that they regularly experience distress after eating products that contain gluten, and a third of American adults say that they are trying to eliminate it from their diets. One study that tracks American restaurant trends found that customers ordered more than two hundred million dishes last year that were gluten- or wheat-free. (Gluten is also found in rye and barley; a gluten-free diet contains neither these grains nor wheat.) The syndrome has even acquired a name: non-celiac gluten sensitivity. “I’ve been gluten-free these last four years, and it has changed my life,’’ Marie Papp, a photographer, told me at the expo. “I would have headaches, nausea, trouble sleeping. I know that I’m intolerant because I gave it up and I felt better. That explanation is probably not scientific enough for you. But I know how I felt, how I feel, and what I did to make it change.” She went on, “I’m a foodie. It’s been five years since I had biscotti. And I just had one here, gluten-free. And it rocks.”

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Sales of gluten-free products will exceed fifteen billion dollars by 2016, twice the amount of five years earlier. The growing list of gluten-free options has been a gift for many children, who no longer have to go through life knowing that they will never eat pizza, cookies, or cake. As with organic food, which was at first sold almost exclusively by outlets with a local clientele, the market is controlled increasingly by corporations. Goya and ShopRite both had booths at the expo; so did Glutino, which was founded in 1983 and has grown into a gluten-free conglomerate. “There were a lot of smaller gluten-free companies that were mom-and-pop-type shops,” Steven Singer, the co-founder of Glutino, said in an interview last month with the Globe and Mail. “So they had, like, a baking mix or a cookie mix, and they were all great people, but there was no business. And that is what drove us, the idea of being that one-stop shop in gluten-free, the category leader, the category captain.”

For many people, avoiding gluten has become a cultural as well as a dietary choice, and the exposition offered an entry ramp to a new kind of life. There was a travel agent who specialized in gluten-free vacations, and a woman who helps plan gluten-free wedding receptions. One vender passed out placards: “I am nut free,” “I am shellfish free,” “I am egg free,” “I am wheat free.” I also saw an advertisement for gluten-free communion wafers.

The fear of gluten has become so pronounced that, a few weeks ago, the television show “South Park” devoted an episode to the issue. South Park became the first entirely gluten-free town in the nation. Federal agents placed anyone suspected of having been “contaminated” in quarantine at a Papa John’s surrounded by razor wire. Citizens were forced to strip their cupboards of offending foods, and an angry mob took a flamethrower to the wheat fields.

“No matter what kind of sickness has taken hold of you, let’s blame gluten,’’ April Peveteaux writes in her highly entertaining book “Gluten Is My Bitch.” (Peveteaux maintains a blog with the same name.) “If you want or need to get gluten out of your diet, bravo! Kick that nasty gluten to the curb. . . . Not sure if gluten-free is for you? Perhaps gluten simply causes you some discomfort, but you’ve never been diagnosed. Then eff that gluten!’’

Wheat provides about twenty per cent of the world’s calories and more nourishment than any other source of food. Last year’s harvest, of seven hundred and eighteen million tons, amounted to roughly two hundred pounds for every person on earth. In the United States, wheat consumption appears to fluctuate according to nutritional trends. It rose steadily from the nineteen-seventies to about 2000, a reflection of the growing concern over the relationships between meat and saturated fat, cholesterol, and heart disease. Since then, the number of people who say that wheat, barley, and rye make them sick has soared, though wheat consumption has fallen.

Wheat is easy to grow, to store, and to ship. The chemical properties of flour and dough also make wheat versatile. Most people know that it is integral to bread, pasta, noodles, and cereal. But wheat has become a hidden ingredient in thousands of other products, including soups, sauces, gravies, dressings, spreads, and snack foods, and even processed meats and frozen vegetables. Nearly a third of the foods found in American supermarkets contain some component of wheat—usually gluten or starch, or both.

The most obvious question is also the most difficult to answer: How could gluten, present in a staple food that has sustained humanity for thousands of years, have suddenly become so threatening? There are many theories but no clear, scientifically satisfying answers. Some researchers argue that wheat genes have become toxic. Davis has said that bread today is nothing like the bread found on tables just fifty years ago: “What’s changed is that wheat’s adverse effects on human health have been amplified many-fold. . . .The version of ‘wheat’ we consume today is a product of genetic research. . . . You and I cannot, to any degree, obtain the forms of wheat that were grown fifty years ago, let alone one hundred, one thousand, or ten thousand years ago. . . . We have to restrict other carbohydrates beyond wheat, but wheat still stands apart as the worst of the worst.’’ Perlmutter is less restrained: “As many as forty percent of us can’t properly process gluten, and the remaining sixty percent could be in harm’s way.”

Although dietary patterns have changed dramatically in the past century, our genes have not. The human body has not evolved to consume a modern Western diet, with meals full of sugary substances and refined, high-calorie carbohydrates. Moreover, most of the wheat we eat today has been milled into white flour, which has plenty of gluten but few vitamins or nutrients, and can cause the sharp increases in blood sugar that often lead to diabetes and other chronic diseases.

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Donald Kasarda, a researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has studied wheat genetics for decades. In a recent study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, he found no evidence that a change in wheat-breeding practices might have led to an increase in the incidence of celiac disease. “My survey of protein content in wheat in the U.S. over approximately the past one hundred years did not support such an increase on the basis of historical data in comparison with recent data,’’ he subsequently told an interviewer.

Joseph A. Murray, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic and the president of the North American Society for the Study of Celiac Disease, has also studied wheat genetics. He agrees with Kasarda. “The wheat grain is not a lot different than it was fifty years ago,’’ Murray told me. “Chemically, the contents just have not changed much. And there is something more important to note. Wheat consumption is going down, not up. I don’t think this is a problem that can be linked to the genetics of wheat.”

But something strange is clearly going on. For reasons that remain largely unexplained, the incidence of celiac disease has increased more than fourfold in the past sixty years. Researchers initially attributed the growing number of cases to greater public awareness and better diagnoses. But neither can fully account for the leap since 1950. Murray and his colleagues at the Mayo Clinic discovered the increase almost by accident. Murray wanted to examine the long-term effects of undiagnosed celiac disease. To do that, he analyzed blood samples that had been taken from nine thousand Air Force recruits between 1948 and 1954. The researchers looked for antibodies to an enzyme called transglutaminase; they are a reliable marker for celiac disease. Murray assumed that one per cent of the soldiers would test positive, matching the current celiac rate. Instead, the team found the antibodies in the blood of just two-tenths of one per cent of the soldiers. Then they compared the results with samples taken recently from demographically similar groups of twenty- and seventy-year-old men. In both groups, the biochemical markers were present in about one per cent of the samples.

“That suggested that whatever has happened with celiac disease has happened since 1950,’’ Murray said. “The increase affected young and old people equally.” These results imply that the cause is environmental.

Nobody can say for sure why the rise in celiac disease has been so rapid. The modern diet may be to blame. And there is also growing evidence, in animal studies and in humans, that our microbiome—the many bacterial species inhabiting our gut—can have a significant impact on a range of diseases. None of that, however, explains why so many people who don’t have celiac disease feel the need to give up gluten.

Gluten anxiety has been building for years, but it didn’t become acute until 2011, when a group led by Peter Gibson, a professor of gastroenterology at Monash University and the director of the G.I. unit at the Alfred Hospital, in Melbourne, seemed to provide evidence that gluten was capable of causing illness even in people who did not have celiac disease. Gibson and his colleagues recruited thirty-four people with irritable-bowel syndrome, all of whom had complained of stomach ailments that largely disappeared when they stopped eating gluten. He put them all on a strictly monitored gluten-free diet, but, unbeknownst to the subjects, about half got muffins and bread with gluten. It was a double-blind study, so neither the doctors nor the patients knew which muffins and bread contained gluten. But most of those who ate the gluten reported that the pain returned; for most of the others it did not. The study was small but meticulous, and the results were compelling. Several similar studies are now under way, but dietary research is notoriously time-consuming and difficult.

Gibson published his findings in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, but, along with other experts, he urged restraint in interpreting data from such a small study. Nevertheless, millions of people with vague symptoms of gastric distress suddenly found something concrete for which to blame their troubles. The market boomed, but the essential mystery remained unsolved: Why was gluten suddenly so hazardous? Perhaps, researchers thought, farmers had increased the protein (and gluten) content of wheat so drastically that people could no longer digest it properly.

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But there is more to wheat than gluten. Wheat also contains a combination of complex carbohydrates, and the Australian team wondered if these could be responsible for the problems. Gibson and his colleagues devised a different study: they recruited a group of thirty-seven volunteers who seemed unable to digest gluten properly. This time, the researchers attempted to rule out the carbohydrates and confirm gluten as the culprit. Gibson put all the volunteers on a diet that was gluten-free and also free of a group of carbohydrates that he and his colleagues called FODMAPs, an acronym for a series of words that few people will ever remember: fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. Not all carbohydrates are considered FODMAPs, but many types of foods contain them, including foods that are high in fructose, like honey, apples, mangoes, and watermelon; dairy products, like milk and ice cream; and fructans, such as garlic and onions.

Most people have no trouble digesting FODMAPs, but these carbohydrates are osmotic, which means that they pull water into the intestinal tract. That can cause abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea. When the carbohydrates enter the small intestine undigested, they move on to the colon, where bacteria begin to break them down. That process causes fermentation, and one product of fermentation is gas. In Gibson’s new study, when the subjects were placed on a diet free of both gluten and FODMAPs, their gastrointestinal symptoms abated. After two weeks, all of the participants reported that they felt better. Some subjects were then secretly given food that contained gluten; the symptoms did not recur. The study provided evidence that the 2011 study was wrong—or, at least, incomplete. The cause of the symptoms seemed to be FODMAPs, not gluten; no biological markers were found in the blood, feces, or urine to suggest that gluten caused any unusual metabolic response.

In fact, FODMAPs seem more likely than gluten to cause widespread intestinal distress, since bacteria regularly ferment carbohydrates but ferment protein less frequently. Although a FODMAP-free diet is complicated, it permits people to eliminate individual foods temporarily and then reintroduce them systematically to determine which, if any, are responsible for their stomach problems. FODMAPs are not as trendy as gluten and not as easy to understand. But, biologically, their role makes more sense, Murray says.

“That first paper, in 2011, blew our minds,” Murray told me. “Essentially, it said that people are intolerant of gluten, and it was based on a well-designed, double-blind study. When people were challenged with gluten, by eating the muffins, they got sick. We just couldn’t figure it out. But then came the second study. By then, it was almost too late to put the genie back in the bottle. You have millions of people out there completely convinced that they feel better when they don’t eat gluten—and they don’t want to hear anything different.”

The FODMAP research, while influential and highly regarded, involved fewer than a hundred people, not enough to account definitively for the number of people who have abandoned foods that contain gluten. Several groups are trying to repeat those results. But studies like that take time. At present, there are no blood tests, biopsies, genetic markers, or antibodies that can confirm a diagnosis of non-celiac gluten sensitivity. There have been a few studies suggesting that people without celiac disease have a reason to eliminate gluten from their diet. But most of the data are unclear or preliminary. Doctors rarely diagnose non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and many don’t believe that it exists. Few people seem to have been deterred by the lack of evidence. “Everyone is trying to figure out what is going on, but nobody in medicine, at least not in my field, thinks this adds up to anything like the number of people who say they feel better when they take gluten out of their diet,” Murray said. “It’s hard to put a number on these things, but I would have to say that at least seventy per cent of it is hype and desire. There is just nothing obviously related to gluten that is wrong with most of these people.’’

About a month ago, in an attempt to gain a better understanding of the role that gluten plays in our diet, I flew to Seattle, then drove north for an hour, to Mount Vernon, where Washington State University’s Bread Lab is situated. The lab is part of the university’s wheat-breeding program; by studying the diversity of the grains grown in the Pacific Northwest, researchers there hope to determine which are most suitable for baking, brewing, and making pasta. Dan Barber, a chef and the co-owner of the Blue Hill restaurants, in Manhattan and in Pocantico Hills, had suggested that I visit Stephen Jones, a molecular cytogeneticist and the lab’s director. Barber, in his recent book “The Third Plate,” describes Jones as a savior of traditional wheat in a world that has transformed most crops into bland industrial commodities. I was more eager to hear what he had to say about the implications of adding extra gluten to bread dough, which has become routine in industrial bakeries.

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Jones, a strapping man with an aw-shucks manner, has spent the past twenty-five years trying to figure out the best way to make a loaf of bread. The amount of gluten added to industrially made bread keeps increasing, and Jones has become acutely interested in whether that extra gluten may be at least partly responsible for the gastrointestinal distress reported by so many people. “My Ph.D. was on the genetics of loaf volume—looking at chromosomes and relating them to the strength of the dough in bread,’’ Jones said, as he greeted me at the entrance to the research center. The inviting, if somewhat incongruous, aroma of freshly baked bread filled the building. Jones’s lab is unique; few bakeries have Brabender farinographs, which Jones and his team use in their search for the ideal ratio of gluten to water in dough, and to measure the strength of flour. Nor can there be many labs with a Matador deck baking oven, which can accommodate more than a dozen loaves at a time, and which circulates heat uniformly, at hot enough temperatures, to insure a voluminous loaf and the strongest possible crust.

For all the high-tech gadgets on display in the Bread Lab, the operation is decidedly old-fashioned, relying on stone mills of a type that have not been used for more than a century and on a philosophy that all it takes to make genuine and delicious whole-wheat bread is time, talent, flour, a little salt, and lots of water. There are essentially two ways to turn flour into bread. The first is the way it was done for most of human history: let the flour absorb as much water as possible and give it time to ferment, a process that allows yeast and bacteria to activate the dough. Kneading then binds the two proteins that come together to form gluten. Most of the bread consumed in the United States is made the other way: in place of hydration, fermentation, and kneading, manufacturers save time by relying on artificial additives and huge industrial mixers to ram together the essential proteins that form gluten.

Until the late nineteenth century, when steel rollers and industrial mills came into use, wheat was ground on stones, a slow and imprecise process. Steel was fast, efficient, and easy to maintain, and it permitted millers to discard the germ and the bran in the wheat kernel and then rapidly process the starchy endosperm. This made white flour. Almost nobody seemed to notice, or care, that by tossing out the rest of the kernel industrial bakers were stripping bread of its vitamins, its fibre, and most of its healthy fats. White bread was seen as an affordable luxury. Like many Jews arriving from Russia at the turn of the twentieth century, my great-grandfather had never seen white bread before, but when he did he immediately made what was referred to, at least in my family, as an “American sandwich”: he took two pieces of the black bread that he had always eaten, and carefully placed a piece of industrially made white bread between them. He is said to have been delighted.

The Bread Lab team, which includes the patient, inventive baker Jonathan Bethony, uses whole grains, water, salt, and yeast. Nothing else. Whole-wheat bread, even when it’s good, is usually dense and chewy, and rarely moist; Bethony’s bread was remarkably airy and light. It contains only the natural gluten formed by kneading the flour. Most bakers, even those who would never go near an industrial mixing machine, include an additive called vital wheat gluten to strengthen the dough and to help the loaf rise. (In general, the higher the protein content of wheat, the more gluten it contains.)

Vital wheat gluten is a powdered, concentrated form of the gluten that is found naturally in all bread. It is made by washing wheat flour with water until the starches dissolve. Bakers add extra gluten to their dough to provide the strength and elasticity necessary for it to endure the often brutal process of commercial mixing. Vital wheat gluten increases shelf life and acts as a binder; because it’s so versatile, food companies have added it not only to bread but to pastas, snacks, cereals, and crackers, and as a thickener in hundreds of foods and even in some cosmetics. Chemically, vital wheat gluten is identical to regular gluten, and no more likely to cause harm. But the fact that it is added to the protein already in the flour worries Jones. “Vital wheat gluten is a crutch,’’ he said. “It’s all storage and functionality. No flavor. People act as if it were magic. But there is no magic to food.”

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Jones is a careful scientist, and he said more than once that he had no evidence that a growing reliance on any single additive could explain why celiac disease has become more common, or why so many people say that they have trouble digesting gluten. But he and his colleagues are certain that vital wheat gluten makes bread taste like mush. “Flour that is sliced and packed into plastic wrapping in less than three hours—that’s not bread,’’ Jones said. He and Bethany Econopouly, one of his doctoral students, recently published an essay in the Huffington Post in which they argue that the legal definition of the word “bread” has become meaningless and ought to be changed: “FDA regulations state that for bread to be labeled as ‘bread,’ it must be made of flour, yeast, and a moistening ingredient, usually water. When bleached flour is used, chemicals like acetone peroxide, chlorine, and benzoyl peroxide (yes, the one used to treat acne) can be included in the recipe and are masked under the term ‘bleached.’ Optional ingredients are also permissible in products called bread: shortening, sweeteners, ground dehulled soybeans, coloring, potassium bromate . . . and other dough strengtheners (such as bleaching agents and vital gluten).”

Could millions of people simply be eating too much vital wheat gluten? There are no real data to answer that question, but Jones is not alone in seeking to gain a better understanding of the potential physiological impact. Joseph Murray, at the Mayo Clinic, has begun studying its effect on the immune system. Murray says, “This is a major component of the bread we eat, and we don’t know much about it. It’s very important that we figure out what effect, if any, there is when we add all that extra gluten to bread.’’

Paradoxically, the increased consumption of vital wheat gluten can be attributed, at least in part, to a demand for healthier baked goods. It is not possible to manufacture, package, and ship large amounts of industrially made whole-grain bread without adding something to help strengthen the dough. Jones refers to these products generically as “Bob’s groovy breads.’’ Look closely at labels of “healthy” whole-wheat breads, and it’s easy to understand what he means. (After my trip to Seattle, the first bread I saw that advertised itself as having been milled from hundred-per-cent whole grains contained many ingredients. The first four, listed in descending order of weight or volume, were whole-wheat flour, water, wheat gluten, and wheat fibre. In other words: gluten, water, more gluten, and fibrous gluten.) In the promotional videos for Dave’s Killer Bread, a popular brand, the founder, Dave, speaks glowingly about the properties of gluten. Pictures of the factory show pallets stacked with fifty-pound bags of vital wheat gluten. “I just wonder how much of this additional gluten our bodies can digest,’’ Jones told me when I was at the Bread Lab. “There has to be some limit.”

I was having trouble visualizing vital wheat gluten as a discrete substance. When I said that, Jones nodded at Econopouly, and she left the room. Two minutes later, she returned and handed me a shard of vital wheat gluten. It looked like a prehistoric weapon, or the hardened bone marrow of a small mammal. “We put a plug of gluten in Coke and it foamed for a while, then became a glob that sat there for weeks,’’ Jones said. “It didn’t disintegrate into slime and mush. It just stayed there.’’ He took the plug out of my hands and slapped it on the lab counter. Nothing happened. “The stuff is simply indestructible,’’ he said.

The next morning, before leaving Seattle, I stopped by the offices of Intellectual Ventures, the patent and invention factory run by Nathan Myhrvold, the former chief technology officer at Microsoft. Myhrvold has long been a serious amateur chef and has also served as a gastronomic adviser to the Zagat Survey. Three years ago, he published “Modernist Cuisine: the Art and Science of Cooking,’’ a six-volume, twenty-four-hundred-page set of books that quickly became an essential guide for chefs around the world. Since then, Myhrvold and his team have been working on an equally ambitious follow-up project, tentatively called “The Art and Science of Bread.’’ The book won’t be ready for at least another year, but Myhrvold has said that it will be both a comprehensive history of bread and an exhaustive guide to baking it.

The project’s chef, Francisco Migoya, asked me if I had ever eaten gluten by itself. I shook my head. He placed a small ball of raw gluten in a microwave and pressed start. After about twenty seconds, the gluten puffed up like a balloon, at which point it was removed, set carefully on a plate, and served. It had the texture of pork rind. Gluten has a long culinary history, and has become a common substitute for meat and tofu. In Asia, where it is particularly popular, gluten is called seitan, and it is often steamed, fried, or baked.

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Myhrvold wasn’t in town that day, but I caught up with him later. He is highly opinionated, and delights in controversy; saying the words “gluten-free” to him was like waving a red flag at a bull. “When I was a kid, I would watch National Geographic specials all the time,’’ he told me. “Often, they would travel to remote places and talk to shamans about evil spirits. It was an era of true condescension; the idea was that we know better and these poor people are noble, but they think that spirits are everywhere. That is exactly what this gluten-free thing is all about.” He stressed that he was not referring to people with celiac disease or questioning the possibility that some others might also have trouble eating gluten. “For most people, this is in no way different from saying, ‘Oh, my God, we are cursed.’ We have undergone what amounts to an attack of evil spirits: gluten will destroy your brain, it will give you cancer, it will kill you. We are the same people who talk to shamans.

“To find out the effect something like gluten has on people’s diets is complicated,’’ he said. “We’ll need long-term studies, and there won’t be a useful answer for years. So, instead of telling everyone you are going on a gluten-free diet, what if you said, ‘Hey, I am going on an experimental regimen, and it will be years before we know what effect it might have.’ I don’t know about you, but instead of saying ‘Eat this because it will be good for you,’ I would say, ‘Good luck.’ ’’

Fad dieting is nothing new in America; it’s what we do instead of eating balanced, nutritiously wholesome meals. Scarsdale, Atkins, South Beach, Zone, flexitarian, pescatarian, and paleo have all been awarded their fifteen minutes of fame and then shoved aside for the next great diet. They are rarely effective for long. Some nutrition specialists say that the current preoccupation with gluten-free products reminds them of the national obsession with removing fats from foods in the late nineteen-eighties. “Low-fat” foods are often packed with sugar and calories to make up for the lack of fat. The same is true of many products that are advertised as “gluten-free.”

While there are no scientific data to demonstrate that millions of people have become allergic or intolerant to gluten (or to other wheat proteins), there is convincing and repeated evidence that dietary self-diagnoses are almost always wrong, particularly when the diagnosis extends to most of society. We still feel more comfortable relying on anecdotes and intuition than on statistics or data. Since the nineteen-sixties, for example, monosodium glutamate, or MSG, has been vilified. Even now, it is common to see Chinese restaurants advertise their food as “MSG-free.” The symptoms that MSG is purported to cause—headaches and palpitations are among the most frequently cited—were initially described as “Chinese-restaurant syndrome” in a letter published, in 1968, in The New England Journal of Medicine. The Internet is filled with sites that name the “hidden” sources of MSG. Yet, after decades of study, there is no evidence that MSG causes those symptoms or any others. This should surprise no one, since there are no chemical differences between the naturally occurring glutamate ions in our bodies and those present in the MSG we eat. Nor is MSG simply an additive: there is MSG in tomatoes, Parmesan, potatoes, mushrooms, and many other foods.

Our abject fear of eating fat has long been among the more egregious examples of the lack of connection between nutritional facts and the powerful myths that govern our eating habits. For decades, low-fat diets have been recommended for weight loss and to prevent heart disease. Food companies have altered thousands of products so that they can be labelled as low in fat, but replacing those fats with sugars, salt, and refined carbohydrates makes the food even less healthy. “Almost all of this has proved to be nonsense,’’ Myhrvold said. “Research shows that the total amount of fat in the diet isn’t really linked to weight or disease. What matters is the type of fat and the total calories you consume.” Bad fats increase the risk of death from heart disease and good fats lower it.

Margarine is a bad fat. Yet for decades doctors encouraged consumers to eat it, instead of butter, because butter is laden with saturated fat, which was considered even more dangerous than the fat in margarine. The assumption was not tested until the early nineteen-nineties, when researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health began to analyze data from the Nurses’ Health Study, which had followed the health of ninety thousand nurses for more than a decade. The study showed that women who ate four teaspoons of margarine a day had a fifty per cent greater risk of heart disease than those who rarely or never ate margarine. Yet again, the intuitive advice followed by so many people had been wrong.

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Peter H. R. Green, the director of the celiac-disease center at the Columbia University medical school and one of the nation’s most prominent celiac doctors, says that the opposition to gluten has followed a similar pattern, and that it is harming at least as many people as it is helping. “This is a largely self-diagnosed disease,’’ Green said, when I visited his office, at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. “In the absence of celiac disease, physicians don’t usually tell people they are sensitive to gluten. This is becoming one of the most difficult problems that I face in my daily practice.”

He went on, “I recently saw a retired executive of an international company. He got a life coach to help him, and one of the pieces of advice the coach gave him was to get on a gluten-free diet. A life coach is prescribing a gluten-free diet. So do podiatrists, chiropractors, even psychiatrists.’’ He stopped, stood up, shook his head as if he were about to say something he shouldn’t, then shrugged and sat down again. “A friend of mine told me his wife was seeing a psychiatrist for anxiety and depression. And one of the first things the psychiatrist did was to put her on a gluten-free diet. This is getting out of hand. We are seeing more and more cases of orthorexia nervosa”—people who progressively withdraw different foods in what they perceive as an attempt to improve their health. “First, they come off gluten. Then corn. Then soy. Then tomatoes. Then milk. After a while, they don’t have anything left to eat—and they proselytize about it. Worse is what parents are doing to their children. It’s cruel and unusual treatment to put a child on a gluten-free diet without its being indicated medically. Parental perception of a child’s feeling better on a gluten-free diet is even weaker than self-perception.”

The initial appeal, and potential success, of a gluten-free diet is not hard to understand, particularly for people with genuine stomach ailments. Cutting back on foods that contain gluten often helps people reduce their consumption of refined carbohydrates, bread, beer, and other highly caloric foods. When followed carefully, those restrictions help people lose weight, particularly if they substitute foods like quinoa and lentils for the starches they had been eating. But eliminating gluten is complicated, inconvenient, and costly, and data suggest that most people don’t do it for long.

The diet can also be unhealthy. “Often, gluten-free versions of traditional wheat-based foods are actually junk food,’’ Green said. That becomes clear after a cursory glance at the labels of many gluten-free products. Ingredients like rice starch, cornstarch, tapioca starch, and potato starch are often used as replacements for white flour. But they are highly refined carbohydrates, and release at least as much sugar into the bloodstream as the foods that people have forsaken. “Our patients have jumped on this bandwagon and largely left the medical community wondering what the hell is going on,’’ Green said.

“You know, people are always dropping off samples of gluten-free products at our office. And when I eat them I regret it. I get heartburn. I feel nauseous. Because what are the things that sell food? Salt, sugar, fat, and gluten. If the makers take one away, then they add more of another to keep it attractive to people. If you don’t have celiac disease, then these diets are not going to help you.” People seem to forget that a gluten-free cake is still a cake.

I have been baking bread for more than thirty years, and there are few things I find more satisfying than turning a pound of wheat into something that I can feed to my friends. But it’s not always easy to believe in gluten these days. A couple of years ago, having learned that the nutrients and vitamins in wheat berries begin to degrade soon after they are processed, I bought a home mill and began to make my own flour. I started ordering wheat, in fifty-pound buckets, from places in Montana and South Dakota. I bought books that explained the differences between hard red winter wheat, which is good for whole-grain bread, and soft white wheat, which has a lower protein content and is used mostly for cookies, cakes, and pastries. I acquired sourdough starter from a friend, and treat it like a pet.

Cartoon
“I hope you like sports metaphors.”May 18, 2009Buy the print »

I have run into a couple of problems, however. The first was technical: I couldn’t make the wheat rise. I decided early on to bake only whole-wheat bread, but there just wasn’t enough protein in any combination of the grains I used. The bread often looked like brown matzoh, so I began to root around the Internet, and soon stumbled on the solution: vital wheat gluten. (“If you want to keep your bread 100% whole wheat, vital wheat gluten is your new best friend,’’ a message on one bread forum said. “This stuff is super-concentrated gluten flour, and it really helps to give low-gluten doughs better structure.”) That turned out to be true. It was like pumping air into a flat tire. A few tablespoons mixed into my flour, and the bread became elastic and chewy, and it looked like a normal loaf of bread; vital wheat gluten became my magic wand. Gradually, another problem arose, as more and more of my friends began to say, “Thanks, but I am staying away from gluten these days.”

I told Jonathan Bethony, the baker at the Bread Lab, about my gluten issue. Then he told me about his. “I went into baking because I thought it was a wholesome form of expression,’’ he said while kneading a loaf he would bake the next day. “I kept hearing about this gluten thing all the time. How gluten was so dangerous, and it was really getting me down in my heart. I started to ask myself, Am I making people sick? Have I become this spear of death?’’ He began to think about a different profession.

“It came to a head one day while I was working at a groovy natural health-food store in the Bay Area,” he went on. “My wife came home from work and said, ‘Sweetie, there is something I have to tell you. The doctor said that I am gluten intolerant. I can’t eat bread anymore.’ ” Bethony looked up from his dough. “I held it in as long as I could, but I just lost it. I had brought a loaf home with me, and I went charging up the stairs as fast as I could and launched that loaf from the balcony like a football.’’ Now Bethony wondered whether he ought to quit. But a famous baker lived nearby, and encouraged him to stick with it. He taught him to bake with nothing but whole grains and lots of water, and to leave plenty of time for the bread to ferment. The results have been sublime.

Later that week, I flew back to New York, went home, and dumped my vital wheat gluten in the trash. I have returned to baking whole-wheat bread the way it is supposed to be made: water, yeast, flour, and salt. I will try to live without the magic wand. But I am certainly not going to live without gluten. That just seems silly. ♦

22 Apr 16:43

Microsoft will pay you if you identify a security issue in Project Spartan for Window 10

by John Callaham

If you are a security researcher, you may be able to get some extra money from Microsoft if you identify a previously unknown security issue in "Project Spartan", the web browser that will be included in Windows 10.








22 Apr 18:34

The CyberPower Trinity, and its three-blade case, is one strange looking Windows 8.1 PC

by John Callaham

Gaming PC maker CyberPower may have created one of the oddest-looking cases we have ever seen from a well-known OEM. The CyberPower Trinity is a Windows 8.1 machine with three blades connected to a central spoke, with each blade containing parts of the hardware.








22 Apr 18:01

Microsoft to sell unique 32GB version of Surface 3 just for schools

by John Callaham

Microsoft will sell a unique version of its upcoming 10.6-inch Surface 3 tablet just for schools. This version will only have 32GB of storage and 2GB of RAM, which should make it more affordable for educational institutions. In addition, Microsoft is extending its 10% school discount to include the Surface 3, along with its Type Cover and the Surface Pen.








23 Apr 10:06

VLC for Windows Phone picks up a responsive layout, several new features in latest update

by Harish Jonnalagadda

VLC media player for Windows Phone picked up an update to version 1.3 that includes a more responsive layout along with features such as the ability to browse for content stored in a folder directly from the app, updated design for the video player and much more.








23 Apr 13:13

AutoCAD 360 for Windows 8.1 adds new tools with latest update

by John Callaham

Autodesk has released its latest update for the AutoCAD 360 app for Windows 8.1, adding some new tools for users of the 3D model creation and viewing app.








23 Apr 15:07

Windows Phone users can now upload videos to Instagram with this new app (Update)

by Daniel Rubino

Free code for the first 200 posted below!

Although 6tag is the de facto Instagram app for those using Windows Phone due to its advanced and unique features, one thing it cannot do is upload pre-recorded video. Instead, users need to open the app and record directly. This limitation is problematic if you recorded a video earlier and wanted to add it to Instagram at a later date, or perhaps did not have free internet connectivity for the upload.

Today, we are excited to announce a new third-party app dedicated to this single task. It is appropriately called 'Video Upload to Instagram' and Venetasoft makes it. If that name sounds familiar, it is because they also publish the excellent Band Sensor Monitor, Find My Band, and the excellent Movie Maker 8.1.








14 Apr 15:07

Best Buy will give you at least $200 towards a Surface Pro 3 when you trade in your old tablet

by John Callaham
Jessica Kendrick

So is that a deal? this is the offical verbage on the best buy website:

Valid in store only 4/12/15-4/18/15. Coupon redemption valid until 4/25/15. When you trade in a working tablet, get a minimum $50 Best Buy gift card and a $150 coupon good toward purchase of a new Surface Pro 3. Excludes Outlet and Marketplace items, special order, clearance, demo and open-box items. E-readers and Boogie Boards ineligible for trade-in. Not available in all locations, and some stores may have additional limitations. Trade-in value may vary. Condition, documentation and accessories may affect value. Device must power on to be considered working. Water-damaged devices and devices with cracked screens are not considered working devices for purposes of this offer. Warranty seals must be intact for trade-in. Not compatible with other trade-in offers. You are responsible for removing any data from your product before providing the product for evaluation. You will be required to agree to the Terms & Conditions. Best Buy Trade-In is intended for private, non-commercial use. Limit of 2 trade-in tablets per person. Limit 1 coupon per transaction. Best Buy reserves the right to refuse any trade-in or limit quantities for any reason. See a Customer Specialist for details.

I wonder if we could trade in our very old (but still kinda working) tablets-- I have an original iPad and Arthur has a... arthur what is that thing you bought from Paul?

Best Buy is currently running a promotion in its retail stores that offers potential buyers of Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 at least $200 towards the purchase of the 12-inch device if they trade in any old, but still working, tablet.








13 Apr 18:41

Take a look inside the Microsoft Garage, the home of 'Doers, not talkers'

by Richard Devine

The Microsoft Garage is an interesting place where some generally awesome ideas develop and grow into products we may or may not get to see. A large organization like Microsoft has many labs, like that totally secret development of HoloLens, and in a pretty detailed post, the doors to the Garage have been opened for us all to have a peek inside.








07 Apr 16:12

Goodbye, Lumia 1520 as AT&T and Microsoft Stores stop selling the aging phablet

by Daniel Rubino
Jessica Kendrick

boo hoo. it's a great phone, and I can only hope it's successor is just as awesome.

Of all the Lumia phones to get a SIM card installed, the Lumia 1520 goes down for me as the longest running device to date. This is saying a lot considering I own pretty much every Lumia made. So with that news, it is sad to note that AT&T and even the Microsoft Store have discontinued selling the esteemed large-screened Windows Phone.

Reports of the Lumia 1520 fading into the sunset have been circulating for months now. Third party retailers have been running low here and overseas, hinting that the Lumia 1520 was getting retired.

Heading to AT&T's and the Microsoft Store web reveal that only the Lumia 830, Lumia 635, and Lumia 640 XL (coming soon) are listed as available Lumia phones. The HTC One (M8) is also still listed as well.








07 Apr 16:15

Deal Alert: Amazon is selling one year of Office 365 Personal for just $26.77

by John Callaham

Amazon has cut the price down for a one year subscription to Office 365 Personal to just $26.77. That's a massive 62% reduction compared to Microsoft's normal price of $69.99 a year.








07 Apr 22:48

Own a piece of history: Lumia neon scooters up for sale!

by Daniel Rubino

Back in early 2013, Nokia and Verizon were teaming up to launch the new Lumia 928. This was the first PureView device for Verizon and with it came an exciting ad campaign highlighting the camera's low light capability.

In the video that aired on US television, you can see some electroluminescent scooters at the 18 second mark. They were certainly eye catching, but we thought nothing more of it.

Until now.








02 Apr 19:26

“I Formed a ‘Resolution Club’ with Three Friends. We Each Had Different Resolutions.”

by gretchenrubin
davidlat

Interview: David Lat.

I got to know David Lat through our connection as being combination lawyer/writers. He founded and is the managing editor of Above the Law, a site which covers law firms and the legal profession (in an edgy way).

David recently published his dishy first novel, Supreme Ambitions. It’s the story of a woman who graduates from Yale Law School and wants to clerk on the Supreme Court. As a Yale Law School grad who clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, you can see why this intrigued me.

I was curious to hear how David manages his novel-writing habits, work habits, and health habits.

Gretchen: Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

David Lat: Procrastination. I postpone difficult, unpleasant, or challenging tasks until they can’t be postponed any longer. Running a widely read, commercial blog like Above the Law has been good for me because I can’t indulge my procrastination habit; I constantly need to be writing and editing. But procrastination was a major problem when I was trying to write my novel, Supreme Ambitions, which was a much more long-term project.

Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

I managed to pick up a healthy habit (walk at least 15 miles a week) and break an unhealthy one (excessive consumption of desserts and sweets) by forming a “resolution club” with three friends. We each had different resolutions we brought to the group. Every Monday, we’d check in with each other: did we keep our resolutions over the prior week? Those who failed to honor their resolutions had to pay $20 to the other group members — and also had the shame of acknowledging failure. [If you’d like a “starter kit” for launching a group of people who work on their habits together, click here.]

Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?  [Readers, to learn more about this framework, or to find your own Tendency, look here.]

I’m definitely an “Obliger.” When I was in school, I would do assignments to meet the expectations of my professors. When I worked as a law clerk and then a lawyer, I would complete projects to meet the expectations of my bosses. Now that I basically work for myself, running Above the Law and doing outside writing, I struggle more with getting things done. When I was working on Supreme Ambitions, I would have a hard time sitting down and producing pages. I didn’t start making real progress until, acknowledging my “Obliger” personality, I told my editor Jon that I would send him some pages every Monday. He didn’t have to read them immediately, but I committed to sending them to him every Monday, which at least kept me writing so I could meet Jon’s expectations.

Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties)

Travel interferes with my healthy habit of going to group fitness classes at my gym. I’ve been traveling a lot over the past few months on book tour. I try to exercise in other ways while on the road, but I do miss my classes. What’s great about classes is that they occur at fixed times, and I make an “appointment” with my friend and workout buddy Jen to go to certain classes, ensuring that I actually go. But when I’m traveling, that’s not possible.

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

Generally I resist habits. I enjoy spontaneity, novelty, and excitement; I like every day to be different. So I have relatively few habits, since I associate habits with routine, and routine with a lack of freedom. But maybe I’m overlooking the way that good or healthy habits “free us” to be our better selves.

30 Mar 20:42

Microsoft goes on hiring blitz for HoloLens designers, engineers, artists and more

by Daniel Rubino

Microsoft has been a bit quiet on the HoloLens front since its surprise announcement back in January. The future of holographic computing and Windows 10 is expected to get more attention later in April when Build kicks off in California.

In case you were worried though that Microsoft was not 'all in' on HoloLens, you do not have to look much further than their jobs listing for the project. Going through the listings, and we can see dozens and dozens of job requests for the now-open project for future computing. From engineers (software, electrical) to system architects, producers, and technical artists, Microsoft is hiring as many holographic experts as they can.








30 Mar 23:35

Microsoft brings super-fast WiFi to Seattle Center using TV 'white space'

by Dan Thorp-Lancaster

Microsoft is using Seattle Center — home of the iconic Space Needle — as a testbed for a super-fast WiFi network.

Announced today, the technology Microsoft is testing takes advantage of "TV white space" — frequencies that have typically been reserved as television broadcast space.








31 Mar 09:50

Bing search logs show just how enthusiastic cricket fans are

by Harish Jonnalagadda
Jessica Kendrick

cool visualization. I was surprised they didn't even cover the US though-- there appeared to be WAY more cricket fans that I ever thought.

A program manager from the Bing team took anonymous search logs generated throughout the Cricket World Cup 2015, and then fed the data into Excel's Power Map feature. Interested in what he found? Check out the video above.








31 Mar 11:38

Gallery: Project Spartan in Windows 10 technical preview 10049

by Richard Devine

With the release of build 10049 of the Windows 10 technical preview, Microsoft finally lets us take a look at its all new, Project Spartan web browser.

To make it easy to find Spartan is automatically pinned to the task bar after the update. Inside you'll find Cortana (or not, as the case may be), the distraction free reading mode, the ability to draw and write over web pages and more.








29 Mar 19:06

What’s Your Favorite Quotation About Coming Home?

by gretchenrubin
LittleHousecover

When the fiddle had stopped singing Laura called out softly, “What are days of auld lang syne, Pa?”

“They are the days of a long time ago, Laura,” Pa said. “Go to sleep, now.”

But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa’s fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the firelight gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting.

She thought to herself, “This is now.”

She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.

— Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods (last paragraphs)

This is one of my favorite passages in all of literature. I think of it often, especially when I come home after a trip. “This is now.

I was just away for ten days for my book tour — which may be the longest time I’ve been away from my family at a single stretch. I’m home for the weekend, then I leave again.

It’s a good example of how habits affect us: when I’m home, I take all the little things for granted, but when I come home after a trip, I feel everything keenly, for a time.

While I was traveling, my older daughter had a birthday and my younger daughter got a retainer.  I love getting the chance to talk to readers, but I do miss being home. Nothing happens, and everything happens. The days are long, but the years are short. (Of everything I’ve ever written, I think this one-minute video resonates most with people.)

Does some passage from literature, or some song, or something else, remind you of home? A friend says that every time he returns from a trip, he thinks of the scene from The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy is repeating, “There’s no place like home.”

27 Mar 04:00

UHeart Organizing: Florals for the Home

by Jennifer Jones
Spring and summer have always been my favorite seasons, and one of the many reasons I adore them is because they allow me to head to the garden and yard to pick fresh greenery for our home.  Florals, branches and plants add so much life to a room; plus they look and smell great!  During our colder months, I find myself heading to the grocery store frequently to pick up a small bouquets of pretties.  I sprinkle them around our home so that I can enjoy a little bit of color and life all year long.  I truly believe that flowers and plants are food for the soul.

My fantastic friend and contributor, Serena of Pretty Fluffy blog, is joining us today to share some of her floral arranging tips.  Considering I typically just chop and plop my flowers into nearby vase, I am super excited to soak up her advice.  Now, if someone could figure out scratch and sniff computer monitors, we would be extra lucky today!



How To DIY Floral Arrangements At Home

When you look at any home magazine shoot you’re almost always guaranteed to see a bunch of fresh flowers in the shot.

In fact, editors are often known to turn up to home tour shoots armed with bunches upon bunches of flowers to brighten up the spaces they’re shooting.

But for most of us, ordering fresh flowers every week is not making it into our household budget. Eating tinned spaghetti all week to buy a bunch of roses retail? Grumpy cat says no.

But with just a few tools, and some easy tricks, you CAN have beautiful blooms at home – no tinned spaghetti required!

(Pictured: ‘Like a Boss’ Coffee Mug by Saffron Avenue, ‘All You Need is Love & a Dog’ Print by Pretty Fluffy, Diamond Notepad by Kikki K, Vintage Vases)

YOUR KIT

Just like an artist, you need the right tools to get the best results. To start up your first floristry kit you’ll need…

1.  Floral Scissors – These are specialty scissors designed to cut through the stems cleanly while being easy on your hands. You can also use a florist knife instead of scissors, but frankly for those of us just starting out, I’d stick to the scissors to save your fingertips from some American Psycho level damage.

2.  Rose Stripper – A pre-Rock of Love Bret Michaels told us that, "Every rose has it’s thorn"… and unless you want those thorns embedded in your palms, you’ll want to grab a rose stripper. You just wrap it around the stem and pull down. As you pull all those pesky thorns and foliage comes with it.

3.  Secateurs – These babies are for heavy-duty stems – like thick foliage – that just can’t be tamed by your scissors.

4.  Buckets – Any kind of vessel will do, but it’s handy to have 2 buckets or bins on hand. One filled with water to keep your blooms nourished as you create. The second as a waste bin so you can work straight into it and avoid a lot of mess.

(Pictured: Oasis Rose and Stem Stripper, Oasis Secateurs, Koch Florist and Craft Heavy Duty Scissors)

Depending on what floral arrangements you want to make you can also add these additional items at any time:
  • Florist ties and/or string for tying bouquets
  • Florist wire for decorative elements and displays
  • Cellophane, raffia, brown and decorative paper for bouquets
  • Florist pot tape and parafilm for securing arrangement elements
  • Apron to protect your clothes! I love these ones by Oatmeal Lace Design on Etsy.


DIY AT HOME BOUQUET

Bouquets make a perfect gift for a friend (or for yourself).  Here’s how to be totally that annoying person who goes, “Oh this little bouquet? I just whipped it together while I was watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”


1.  Prepare your work area. You’ll need a clean workspace, your scissors and floral tie/string handy. On the floor place your bucket of blooms in water, as well as your empty bucket for off-cuts.

2.  Prep your flowers. Grab your rose stripper and strip all leaves/thorns below water level. Usually leave only a few leaves up near the top of the stem – depending on the flower and the look you’re going for.


3.  Prep your foliage. Greenery usually comes off hedges, bushes and trees in great big chunks. Using your secateurs cut it down to more manageable pieces that will fit into a bouquet.

4.  Start your bouquet using a floristry technique called ‘Spiraling’ or ‘Swirling’. Have you ever noticed how a professional bouquet has a circular shape to the base? That’s what florists do to make the flowers sit safely and gently together to form the beautiful bouquets they do. Here’s how you do it…

  • Start with one strong stem and hold it upright in your left hand.
  • Grab your second stem and place it on TOP of the first stem with the bottom of the stem pointing at an angle to the LEFT.
  • Keep on adding your foliage and flowers this way twisting the bunch in an anti-clockwise direction – your left hand will continue to hold the bouquet and your right hand will select each bloom and place it where it needs to go.
  • Keep an eye on the top of your bouquet as you work through. How is it looking? Is there enough color variation, are all the flowers sitting at a similar height?
  • When you get to nearing the end (and your left hand is about to go numb!) take a tie or your piece of string and wrap as close to the base as possible to hold your bouquet in place. Congratulations! You’ve spiraled like a boss.


5.  Finally, using your floristry scissors trim each stem at an angle and either pop your bouquet straight into a vase - or, if it’s a gift, wrap in cellophane/decorative paper.


AT HOME VASE ARRANGEMENT

Ever gotten a bunch of flowers only to have them fall in to a hot mess once you placed them in a vase at home? Yep, we’ve all been there. Here’s how to avoid this floral fail.

1.  Start with a clean vase filled with fresh, lukewarm water. Any dirt or bacteria in the container or water will shorten the length of your flowers, so you want to keep it clean.

2.  Create a grid with tape across the top of your vase. Using long strips of tape, place them horizontally and vertically across the top of your vase leaving you with a grid in which you can place your flowers. No more falling over flowers!


3.  Prep your flowers. Grab your handy stripper and strip all leaves/thorns below water level. Cut each stem at an angle and place it directly back into your bucket of clean water. It can only take a few seconds before the ends start to seal.


4.  Working one by one, arrange your flowers by placing them in the grid in groups. Experiment with different heights, textures and color groupings as you go. Voila! You’re done.



HANDY TIPS

  • To literally cut half or quarter of your flower spending, always go to your local market to get flowers direct from the supplier. Even better, why not start growing your own flowers and foliage in your own garden?
  • When it comes to flowers, the early bird gets the worm. Some florists get to the flower markets at 4 a.m. to ensure they get the best flowers! If you would prefer to be snuggled up in bed at that time, never fear. Simply find a grower at the market that you can pre-order your blooms with. If you pay in advance or leave a deposit you can then pick them up later in the morning.
  • Want to get the freshest flowers at the market? Old flowers will often have browning stem ends (where they’ve been cut) and yellowing leaves – steer clear of these ones.
  • When choosing your flowers stick to two to three main colors that work together and don’t be afraid to add foliage for depth.
  • If you’re after a particular type of flower always check that it’s in season to avoid disappointment (or paying through the nose for it).  A lot of florists have handy guides (like this one) where you can see when flowers should be available. Remember, if you’re using an Internet resource for flowers, make sure it is one local to your area – knowing when peonies are blooming in New Zealand isn’t going to help you unless you’re in New Zealand!
  • Get creative with your arrangements. You don’t need an expensive, fancy vase to make your flowers look good - old jars make a great vessel for flowers. Break up big bouquets into little arrangements and scatter around your house to enjoy your flowers in every room.
  • Do a course! I learned all of the above tips and skills taking a course, but check with florists in your area to find a local class – trust me, it’s a lot of fun!



"I am Serena Faber Nelson, a television producer, writer and fluffy dog owner. Obsessed with home décor, fashion, lifestyle and dogs – I set about creating Pretty Fluffy as a go-to guide for the modern pet owner. Featuring a range of stylish products, celebrity pooches, DIY projects and handy hints, Pretty Fluffy is a daily stop for smiles and inspiration, giving readers the tools they need to enjoy full and happy lives with their furry friends. My greatest loves include fresh peonies, Dirty Dancing (Nobody puts Baby in a corner), Banoffe Pie, spending waaay too much time on Pinterest, and hugging random dogs at the park. I currently live in Sydney, Australia with my husband, Andy, and my 11 year old Border Collie, Soda. As a long time fan, I am super excited to be joining the IHeart Organizing Team!"

23 Mar 01:21

Halo 5: Guardians teaser turns out to be a fictional expose on Master Chief

by John Callaham

Microsoft has launched a new viral marketing campaign for the upcoming Xbox One first person shooter Halo 5: Guardians. The "HUNT the TRUTH" page on Tumblr that launched a few days ago has turned into a site that will serve as the basis for an expose on the central character in the Halo series, Master Chief.








22 Mar 23:36

Track your favorite TV shows with PushTV for Windows Phone

by Mark Guim

If you watch a lot of TV shows, it can be overwhelming to track which episodes you've seen and what days they air on TV. PushTV app on Windows Phone can help you with that. It tracks your favorite shows and notifies you when there are available episodes for you to watch. Check out our hands-on video to see it in action.








24 Mar 19:34

How to back up all of your Instagram photos automagically using IFTTT and OneDrive

by Daniel Rubino

The first video in a series of "60 Second Productivity Hacks, Tips and Insights on How to Get more Out of Our Everyday Technology Tools and Platforms" appeared today on the official Microsoft Lumia youtube channel.

The series of BrainCandy videos is being produced in partnership between Microsoft and CrowdCentric. Each week, BrainCandy will release a new Microsoft video featuring little-known tech tips, tricks and hacks to help digital professionals and consumers live better and work smarter.








24 Mar 18:16

Futurology 1.1: Smaller, higher-capacity batteries are closer than ever before

by Shen Ye

Recent advancements in Lithium Sulfur and Lithium metal anodes pave the way for smaller, safer batteries with higher capacities.

Back at the start of the year in our Smartphone Futurology series, we discussed the technology behind the battery in smartphones and what's to come in the future. This article is a quick update to that piece, looking at some of the recent developments in batteries based on Lithium chemistry — like the ones powering the vast majority of smartphones.

We'll take a closer look at what reduces your phone's battery life over time, and how high-capacity technologies like Lithium Sulfur batteries and Lithium metal anodes are closer than ever to becoming practical. Join us after the break.








23 Mar 22:49

Thousands gather along English Channel to witness 'tide of the century'

Thousands of people gathered on beaches in northern France and south west England on Saturday to watch what is being called “the high tide of the century”.

The exceptionally high spring tide, swollen by a “supermoon” effect linked to the solar eclipse on Friday, sent huge surge waves crashing onto beaches and along estuaries on both sides of the English Channel, to the delight of surfers and tourists.

The most dramatic effects of the day’s supertide were witnessed at the picturesque island of Mont Saint-Michel, off the coast of Normandy, where a wall of water as high as a four-storey building momentarily cut it off from the mainland.

For a few minutes, Mont Saint-Michel was completely encircled by the sea by a ‘supertide’ caused by the Moon’s extra-strong gravitational pull on the sea. The phenomenon is linked to the alignment of the Moon, Sun and Earth following Friday’s solar eclipse.

Spotlights illuminated the island’s medieval walled town and gothic abbey during the high tide, with visitors jostling to take photos of the phenomenon.

As the surge began to make its way along the coast and tidal estuaries, surfers took to the water in the north west town of Pontaubault and waves crashed onto seawalls along the coast, drenching onlookers.

Surfers ride the "mascaret" in Pontaubault, northwestern France (CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP)

Police had difficulty holding back the 20,000-strong crowd eager to get pictures of the scene in the final minutes before the surge on Saturday morning. Similar numbers had gathered to watch the high tide on the previous day, with the tourist hotspot lit up with 60 spotlights for the occasion as night fell.

Among the crowds was France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius.

Mont Saint-Michel, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979, is situated one kilometre off the coast of Normandy. The rocky outcrop is home to the famous Norman Benedictine Abbey of St-Michel.

Michael Dodds, the director of the regional tourism committee, said: "This natural phenomenon is an incredible opportunity for tourism in Brittany at this time of year."

People look on as the supertide hits Saint Malo ( REUTERS/Stephane Mahe)

The bay on the coast of Normandy has some of the strongest tides in the world.

Hotels were full along the coast and car and caravan parks were packed. Patrick Gaulois, the owner of several restaurants and hotels, said: “Everything was booked on Mont Saint-Michel as early as October.”

France is the world’s most visited country and Mont Saint-Michel attracts some three million tourists a year.

Eleven departements along the coast of northern France are on alert for fear of flooding and residents have been told to stay away from beaches and coastal areas.

Claude Renoult, mayor of Saint-Malo in Brittany, said: “Concrete blocks and sandbags are there to protect against waves and also to mark out safe areas where people can enjoy the spectacle without any danger of being swept away.”

Similar surges are predicted along the coast of Britain and the Netherlands over the weekend.

Surfers turned out to catch a rare high wave, or ‘bore’, on the River Severn yesterday caused by the tidal surge, while hundreds of others took to their boards off the coast of Devon.

Ben Howe, 31, a surfer at Croyde, said: “I have never seen the beach this packed down here this early in the season, the conditions are ideal. I think Thursday night’s supermoon may have affected tidal conditions too as the waves were absolutely mammoth on Friday.”

The last ‘tide of the century’ was on March 10, 1997 and the next will be on March 3, 2033, making the description something of a misnomer.

The predictions are based on the tide coefficients used by scientists to forecast wave size. With 120 being the highest, they project a 119 on Saturday. On February 21 it reached 117.

Until 1879 Mont Saint-Michel was cut off from the mainland during each high tide. That year a permanent causeway was built to prevent the tide from scouring the silt around the island.

The coastal flats were reclaimed for pastureland, reducing the distance between the shore and the island. The effect was to encourage the silting-up of the bay.

In 2009 work began on building a hydraulic dam using the waters of the river Couesnon and the tides to help remove the accumulated silt, and make Mont Saint-Michel an island again.

Last year a new 2,500ft bridge was opened to the public. The bridge allows the waters to flow freely below and around the island at high tide.

18 Mar 22:35

Microsoft patents hinge for dual-screen mobile phones, computers

by Jez Corden

Microsoft are one of the most prolific patent holders in the US. The Redmond firm are well and truly raking it in from licenses relating to the Android OS, and are not shy to slap a patent on just about anything, from augmented reality bananas to emotion sensing smart bras.

Many of these inventions may never see the light of day and are simply intended to fend off rivals, but these latest patents when combined with recent comments from Lumia marketing VP Tuula Rytilä create an intriguing possibility.








19 Mar 08:01

Microsoft announces the new 'super affordable' Lumia 430 for just $70 USD

by Daniel Rubino

Just how low can Microsoft's Lumia series of Windows Phone go? Evidently, very low as the company this morning is unveiling the 'super affordable' Microsoft Lumia 430 dual-SIM Windows Phone. The announcement was teased yesterday and now it has become a reality.

The ultra-budget dual SIM Lumia is destined for select emerging markets this April including India, the Middle East and Africa, Asia-Pacific, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus all for just $70 USD.

Although the specifications are on the low side, Microsoft did not cut back in the crucial areas that make smartphones important these days. Accordingly, the Lumia 430 has 1 GB of RAM, 8 GB internal storage (micro SD expansion) and both rear and front-facing cameras for video calls. Even better, the device is slated to get Windows 10 later this year when that OS is released.