Friday, June 26, 2009

Surfing facebook & youtube at work makes you more productive

OK, let me start out by saying I do try to keep my attention on-task while I'm work. Most of my tasks involve being on the computer, unfortunately. Which means I'm gaining weight steadily at work (read my post of April 15 on the "sitting disease.") I'm not on-task 100% though. I do get the occasional email from my daughter, and sometimes from a friend or two, brief ones. And very occasionally, once a week, I'll look at Facebook for 5 or 10 minutes. Faceback is vastly entertaining to me; one of my good friends calls it the "crackbook" because he can't stay away from it when he's supposed to be working. Facebook is loaded with messages from my family, my closest friends, people I want to know better.....perusing Facebook is the equivalent of eating a bowl of ice cream for me. I don't do it that often, but it feels good. It makes those endorphins flow. And believe me, I need all the endorphins I can get.

I've been feeling somewhat guilty about this, but I came across an article this week that said Facebook and Youtube can actually increase productivity at work. (I don't do Youtube at work ever, partly because it's too loud for my particular surroundings.)

So here's the thing: is productivity about "always working"? Or is it about getting work done? As it turns out, productivity is not about "always working."

Back in 2000, a study came out noting that employees who did some personal surfing at work tended to be happier and more productive. There were a variety of reasons for this, including that personal surfing allowed for "mental breaks" that made actual working time more productive. Another study found that most employees who do personal surfing at work more than make it up. Since those studies came out in the earlier part of the decade, those issues could have been put to rest. But, no. With new online services like Facebook and YouTube, suddenly employers started worrying again, encouraged to fret by claims from internet filtering companies (it always comes from internet filtering companies) about just how much productivity is lost via Facebook and YouTube. And, of course, they have a simple solution: buy our filter and block access to these sites. And the fear mongering seems to work.

Yet, a new study, since the emergence of Facebook and YouTube, has found that people who do a little personal surfing of sites like Facebook and YouTube at work tend to be more productive. The study found exactly what previous studies had found:
People who do surf the internet for fun at work - within a reasonable limit of less than 20 per cent of their total time in the office - are more productive by about nine per cent than those who don't.

People need to zone out for a bit to get back their concentration. Another recent study I heard on Morning Edition (NPR) showed that people who doodle during a lecture tend to remember more of the lecture than people who stare at the speaker the entire time and don't doodle. Seems the doodling keeps them from daydreaming and allows them to listen as they doodle. The point is that people have trouble concentrating and focusing completely for long periods of time, with no diversion or breaks.

Short breaks at work, such as a quick surf of the internet, allow the mind to rest, leading to a more concentration over the course of the day, and as a result, increased productivity.

Now, of course, some people will abuse the privilege - and there's nothing wrong with finding out who's doing that and dealing with it. But a blanket ban on such things may actually reduce productivity for most workers. Rather than assuming that personal surfing decreases productivity, it seems to make more sense to focus on those who may abuse the privilege.

By Sally Kneidel, PhD, with quotes from the article below.

Key words::work productivity, surfing at work, Youtube, Facebook, doodling, taking breaks

Source: Accessed April 10, 2009.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The cheatin' hearts of male antbirds

The female (left) and male antbird. Courtesy of University of Oxford

Female songbirds sometimes raise their young alone, without help from the father - if they have evolved where food is abundant and a female can succeed at parenting alone. But in habitats where a second parent is needed to keep up with the brood's appetite, songbirds have generally evolved to be monogamous, and both parents stick around to raise the young. And not necessarily just for the season; some bird species mate for life.

In such cases, a mated pair may use songs to strengthen the pair bond between them, and to defend their breeding territory from rival pairs.

But it turns out, avian adultery is not uncommon. Both males and females in mated pairs may have a wandering eye.

Nathalie Seddon and Joe Tobias of the University of Oxford studied the role of song in the adultery of Peruvian warbling-antbirds. In their latest research, published in the journal Current Biology, they report that an antbird couple will sing a "simple, precisely coordinated duet" when confronted by an intruding rival pair. But if an unattached female enters the scene, the duet begins to break down as the antbird "wife" starts jamming or blocking out the notes of her mate. She interrupts her spouse with her own music, to his great frustration. Said Dr. Tobias, "Males then countered this strategy by changing their songs in an attempt to avoid interference, resulting in a more complex acoustic display."

Animal duets are often harmoniously coordinated, but there has been a long-running debate about whether they are purely cooperative, or whether they reflect conflicts of interest. The Peruvian warbling-antbird offers an ideal situation for studying this question because on one hand males and females sing together to defend shared territories, and on the other males sing ‘solos’ as part of attracting a mate.

Single females are a threat to paired females because they increase the likelihood that males will cheat on their existing partner, or abandon them in favor of a new one. As it turns out, 'divorce' is common in antbirds. And so, the presence of an unattached female leads to a kind of acoustic battle in which males and females have different priorities.

According to Seddon and Tobias, their findings demonstrate that animal duets can be cooperative or manipulative, depending on context. Their study also provides the first evidence that individuals in duets try to avoid being jammed, which can have the effect of increasing the complexity of duets. The research helps to explain the recurrent evolution of complex communication signals in many lineages of birds and social primates, and according the authors may provide a useful clue to the origins of human music.

By Sally Kneidel, PhD with quotes from the sources below

Nathalie Siddon and Joe Tobias. Rainforest duets are a battle of the sexes. University of Oxford. March 12, 2009.

Song of the antbird reveals avian adultery. March 23, 2009. Morning Edition, NPR.

Keywords:: birds antbirds Peruvian antbirds songbirds bird behavior birdsong animal adultery Nathalie Siddon Joe Tobias University of Oxford

Thursday, June 18, 2009

WFDD follows Sadie on a Food Not Bombs pickup

Ever heard of Food Not Bombs? This grassroots movement to save food and promote peace is featured today on NPR affiliate station WFDD. Listen to Sadie talk about her involvement on the radio! Click here to see more information on WFDD's website, or here to listen to streaming audio.

by Sadie Kneidel

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Article from the "Hawk Eye" about Sally Kneidel

Dr. Kneidel in her office, with a few of her books

Photo by Caroline Lowe, "Hawk Eye" staff, 2009
Article by Catherine Schepp, staff writer for the "Hawk Eye," February 2009.

Working in our school's College Center is the author of 11 books, Dr. Sally Kneidel.

Kneidel said that she began writing books after teaching her children’s elementary school classes about insects as a volunteer parent. During her lessons she would help the students conduct experiments and would compile their data. These activities reminded her of how much she had loved writing and compiling data in the process of earning her PhD in Biology/ Ecology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While volunteering in the elementary school, she kept records of all the lessons she designed and soon had enough for a book.

With an agent, she quickly found a publisher for that first book, Creepy Crawlies and the Scientific Method: More than 100 Hands-on Experiments for Children, which has won awards such as Science Books and Films' “Best Books for Children" (1992-1995). She followed that book with a number of others on science education, and on the natural history of small backyard creatures. She wrote several children’s guides to insects, such as Pet Bugs.

She said that her focus changed dramatically when her daughter, Sadie, then a junior in high school, decided to become vegetarian. Kneidel, who was a vegetarian in college herself, said that the family decided that giving up meat was truly the socially responsible thing to do. One thing led to another, and while Sadie was in college, Sadie and Sally began researching and writing together. In researching the environmental impact of livestock, the Kneidels learned that clear-cutting forests to graze livestock and to grow food for the animals contributes more to global warming than transportation does. She said that their realization that more people needed to know about the importance of decreasing their meat consumption led her and Sadie to write a new book.

Co-written by Sadie Kneidel, the book Veggie Revolution: Smart Choices for a Healthy Body and a Healthy Planet deals with their investigation of the poultry, pork and beef industries and the corporate treatment of animals. Kneidel and her daughter went to numerous factory farms and food-processing plants and talked with workers there. These visits led the Kneidels to seek more humane farms that use sustainable methods.

In researching their most recent book, Going-Green-Consumers-Shrinking-Planet, they met local farmers like Cassie Parsons and Natalie Veres, who co-own Grateful Growers Farm where they keep 25 laying hens in each spacious hen house, as opposed to more than one million hens at a Food Lion factory they visited. Going Green focuses mainly on the importance of buying local produce, on environmentally conscience ways to heat and cool homes, and on green transportation.

They also found lists of farmers markets around North Carolina. Kneidel recommends many of these for families seeking high quality organic and local products. Center City Green Market on Seventh Street is convenient for uptown families. Matthews Community Farmers Market offers a variety of foods grown by local farmers within a fifty-mile radius of Matthews. Kneidel said that buying local produce is especially eco-friendly because it minimizes the amount of travel time, fuel, and emissions involved in transporting foods.

If students or parents are interested in any of the books written on the scientific method, vegetarianism or green living written by our very own Dr. Sally Kneidel, they may find them on

Keywords:: Sally Kneidel

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A tasty vegan meat-substitute: Tofurky kielbasa

Yummy Tofurkey kielbasa vegan "sausages" - among the best of the meat substitutes

One of my very favorite vegan dinners, a very fast dinner, is centered around Tofurkey kielbasa "sausages." I eat meatless hotdogs sometimes, but really, they're kinda tasteless unless you use a buncha mustard. But these vegan kielbasa's are in a different league. We cook them in a little olive oil in a pan, with fresh rosemary from the garden sprinkled over them and cooked with them. The rosemary adds a little crunch and a lot of flavor. Diced garlic could serve the same function, if you don't have rosemary. Man, those keilbasas are good. We eat them most often cooked like this in a pan, with wild rice on the side and a salad.

But Ken slices them and uses them in soups too. This week he made a barley soup with diced turnips, sliced vegan kielbasas, diced green peppers and onions sauteed in advance, and one can of vegetable broth. I put tamari in my soup. It was too tasty. Too tasty, in that I wanted to eat too much of it. We ate rosemary-olive oil bread from Harris Teeter bakery with it. That is dadgum good too. We buy 4 loaves at a time and freeze it because they run out of it a lot.

I don't recommend specific prepackaged foods very often....but these Tofurkey kielbasas stand out, they warrant a plug. Especially for the family who might be wanting to cut back on meat consumption and is looking for new ideas. Harris Teeter carries these kielbasas in their produce section, with the meatless hotdogs and soy crumbles (a ground beef substitute).

On my stove: vegan kielbasas in the pan, with wild rice, and a salad.

The package

The back (click on the picture to enlarge it and make it readable)

By Sally Kneidel, PhD

Keywords:: meat substitutes tofurkey kielbasa sausage vegan easy vegan meals

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

UN promotes plastic bag ban

Amid concerns over terrorism, global warming, and faltering economies, the United Nations has proclaimed a surprising new public enemy: the plastic bag. “There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere” declares UN Environmental Programme executive director Achim Steiner.

As UNEP’s Marine Litter: A Global Challenge reports, plastic garbage in ocean waters presents a hazard to marine life and as well as coastal communities. As plastic breaks down, it chokes organisms at all levels of the food chain. Meanwhile, it hampers human livelihoods such as fishing, shipping, and tourism. After all, who wants to vacation on a beach congested with garbage?

A global bag ban may be a godsend for coast-dwelling humans and animals alike. Pilot fee-per-bag programs in countries as disparate as China and Ireland have already reduced bag consumption by as much 90%. A total ban could accomplish even more. San Francisco is the first city in the US to institute a successful bag ban, although measures are in progress in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

Bag advocates, such as Keith Christman of the American Chemistry Council, argue that replacing plastic bags with paper bags would actually double greenhouse gas emissions, causing even more environmental damage.

But paper bags are not the only alternative. Simply reducing the number of plastic bags per customer is a start. Any grocery shopper who’s ever bought a gallon of milk or a bottle of laundry detergent has probably seen it whisked away into a double layer of plastic bags – despite the built-in handle! “They put this laundry soap in a bag,” remarked Food Lion shopper Vicki Watts, “and the shampoo in another one. I guess they think I need [all the bags]. But I could just carry it.”

Some small businesses, such as Deep Roots Market, a natural foods cooperative in Greensboro, N.C., have taken the initiative to eliminate plastic bags on their own. Deep Roots, whose mission is “to work toward a sustainable future,” has taken what they call the “exciting and groundbreaking” step of banishing plastic bags from their checkout counters. Instead, they encourage customers to bring their own reusable tote bags, or to carry groceries home in extra cardboard boxes left over from shipments. As a last resort, a paper bag can be purchased for two cents.

As the UN publicizes the new war on plastic, environmentalists hope to see the current national rate of 90 billion bags per year decrease. Meanwhile, plastic bag manufacturers hope to increase the recycled content of their product to 40% within six years, which would save 300 million pounds of plastic per year.

by Sadie Kneidel

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The illegal trade in animals and animal parts: WHAT YOU CAN DO

Black bear. Photo courtesy of ""

For years, I was under the impression that the countries supplying and consuming the most wildlife are somewhere else on the globe. I thought Americans were too well-read, too aware to play a huge part in the wildlife trade. I worried about African primates being eaten to extinction as "bushmeat" – victims of modern guns and access provided by logging roads. I fretted about the loss of tropical rain forests to international timber companies. I stewed about traditional Chinese medicines - over 90% of wild rhinos have been slaughtered1 since 1970, due to the superstitious belief that their horns have medicinal value.

But I know now that it's not Asia or Africa or Latin America that's the world's largest consumer of wildlife. "I've seen the enemy and it is us," said Pogo, the old cartoon character. The United States! How can that be? Most of us don't eat wildlife and don't use traditional medicines made of bear bile or rhino horns. No, but we consume wild animals and threatened plants in other ways. The U.S. imports more than 20,000 primates a year, mostly for medical, biological, and pharmaceutical research. We also import thousands of birds annually for the pet trade, especially parrots, and the number increases dramatically each year. Americans' wealth is a big factor in our consumption of tropical woods such as mahogany and teak from native forests. The U.S. consumes 60% of the world's harvested mahogany trees for furniture - 57,000 trees per year.2 Because we're rich, we are also huge consumers of luxury clothing from wildlife, such as furs and exotic leathers.

The United States, and our North American neighbors to a lesser degree, are among the biggest suppliers for the global wildlife market as well. I find that particularly sickening. But why should it surprise me? Money will find its way….

North America was relatively unexploited until just a few centuries ago, while Europe and parts of Asia have been densely populated for much longer. So the European nations that established colonies here – England, Spain, France, and Portugal – viewed the New World as a larder of biodiversity, for good reason. We have a few friends from England who visit us here on the East Coast and invariably they comment on the “wildness” of our area compared to England, where nearly every square inch has been cultivated and gardened and groomed for millennia. In the little town where we lived in England during a teacher exchange, almost every single tree had been planted intentionally – very few were native species. So, even now, the United States has relatively more undisturbed areas than do the “Old World” industrialized countries. For now. At the rate our U.S. population is growing, that won't last long.

What kinds of wild animals and wild plants are being taken from our shores? Some are animals or plants that have been over-harvested in Asia and Europe. As China destroys the native bear populations of Asia to obtain bear bile for traditional medicines (which are ineffective), they are forced to turn elsewhere for bears. Where? The American black bear is the most numerous bear species on the planet, at present. These bears are plentiful in the Appalachian Mountains, as well as in Yellowstone and Colorado. We’ve seen about 30 black bears in a couple of decades of camping in these places. But they are often targeted now by smugglers who are after their gall bladders. Shooting a bear undetected in a deep forest is not too difficult. Packing its gall bladder out, full of bile, is even easier. To read more about the trade in American black bears, go to and enter black bears in the search window.

As it turns out, the consumption of Chinese traditional medicines is flourishing here in the United States too. According to TRAFFIC International, certain traditional Chinese medicine products are more available in North America than in China. A survey of 110 TCM shops in seven cities, by TRAFFIC, found that 49% of the shops offered for sale at least one product that contained a protected species.3 The market for North American caviar from sturgeon and paddlefish is growing rapidly as Asian and European sources dry up due to overharvesting . Reptiles, especially turtles and snakes, are collected from nature in the United States and sold as both food and pets. Rattlesnakes and alligators are used for entertainment, souvenirs, or expensive leather.

What you can do
Americans like to shop. Americans also travel all over the globe. We like to bring home foreign jewelry, carvings, shoes, shawls, leathers, musical instruments – all of which can be made from animal tusks, horns, wool, and skins of threatened animals. Whether you’re shopping in your hometown or across the planet, pay attention to what you buy.4

When you buy leather, fur or wool, read the label, ask questions, ask for documentation that it’s not from an endangered or threatened animal. Better yet, avoid gifts or souvenirs made from animal parts.

If you buy wood or ornamental plants such as orchids, ask the proprietor about the source. When you see anything questionable, tell the shop owner of your concern. Use your consumer power – vendors want to please their public.

For more detailed guidance about specific products, download a brochure from World Wildlife Fund. In the 1970s, WWF with the World Conservation Union (IUCN) founded TRAFFIC, the world’s largest wildlife trade monitoring network. Take the brochure with you when you shop. Their Web site has a wealth of information about global traffic in wild animals and plants.

by Sally Kneidel, PhD

1Wildlife Trade. World Wildlife Fund.

2 “Mahogany Matters: The U.S. Market for Big-Leafed Mahogany And Its Implications For the Conservation Of the Species.” Traffic Network. Mahogany and CITES.

3 Traffic North America. Traffic Network. The wildlife trade monitoring network.

4 “Be a souvenir sleuth!” Buyer Beware. Wildlife Trade. World Wildlife Fund.

Keywords:: wildlife trade TRAFFIC wildlife parts bears