Sunday, July 29, 2012

Ghana Life: Soap in the Seventies

In most of the Western World in the 1970s, almost every household owned a washing machine or put their dirty linen into a machine at a launderette. Expatriates assigned to work in Third World countries on long-term contracts usually included their washing machine in the advanced shipment of essential household appliances. These Westerners had been assailed for decades by advertisements praising the miraculous cleaning and stain-removing properties of the latest washing powders, and many may have included copious quantities of these products in their advanced shipment. To these people who attributed the whiteness and brightness of their clothes to the wonders of modern technology it came as a shock to find that the locals were achieving equal or better results using traditional bar soap and hand washing.
One thing that impressed foreign visitors to Ghana in the 1970s was that from the meanest and most dilapidated houses people emerged every morning in clothes that were spotlessly clean and colour bright. Most expatriates employed a house-girl or boy to help with their household chores, including clothes washing, and it came as a surprise to many that their helper preferred hand washing to the use of a machine. It came as a further shock to realise that through the propaganda of the washing machine manufacturers and the detergent producers, people had been persuaded to accept a decline in quality of performance as an advance.
In Ghana in the 1970s, the popular laundry soap was made in country from locally produced palm oil and imported caustic soda and perfume. It was supplied unwrapped in bars roughly 5 cm x 7 cm in section and 35 cm long. The bar could be purchased whole or cut to a length to suit the buyer's resources, and was cheap enough to be within the reach of most people. Valued and trusted, with a long shelf life, it was used nationwide by rural streams and in urban basins and buckets.
As the 1970s progressed, soap became very scarce in the local markets, largely due to Ghana's inability to import the basic raw materials. People complained about the difficulty in obtaining soap almost as much as they complained about the shortage of beer caused by the restricted import of barley. The meagre supply of one locally-produced soap powder also dried up and expatriates who succeeded in finding some locally-made bar soap, grated it to use in their washing machines with excellent results. There were times, however, when there was no electricity and all washing machines became redundant.
As the Ghanaian economy under the Acheampong Regime continued to decline in the mid and late 1970s, many opportunities arose for local small-scale soap manufacture that has been documented elsewhere. The soap crisis only came to an end in 1985 when a deal with the IMF by the Rawlings government provided credit to flood local markets with imports. No doubt, the new middle class of Ghanaians emerging in the twenty-first century take pride in owning a washing machine, but in a country where a former Vice President proclaimed, 'We still have slaves in our houses,' the advantages of clothes washing by hand should not be lightly cast aside.

Monday, July 23, 2012

5 Ways to Fail in Applying for Grad School

The process of applying to grad school can be tricky if you don't careful steps. You should be thinking about the decision just as seriously as the decision to get married or buy your first home. The effects of the graduate program choice will be long-lasting and life-altering. Now that you're sufficiently spooked, let's discuss the five things you want to avoid when beginning the grad school application process.
1. Taking the Easy Road
As humans our natural inclination is to seek the path of least resistance in much of what we do. There are some trailblazers among us but they are certainly in the minority. This thought process can't carry over into your grad school application process.
Are you sdarching for an easy graduate school curriculum? If so, you're searching for failure. Don't get caught up in the wordy descriptions of courses or the esoteric topics that the faculty researches. Work to identify what areas of specialty the program offers and whether any of them match what you're searching for. Increased difficulty will only be an advantage to you when you emerge as a graduate of the program.
2. No Plan for Application Fees
Applying to grad school can become quite expensive in a hurry. While every university will not take you to the cleaners, be prepared to invest a significant amount of money (>$50) into each grad school application.
If you have financial hardship, call the graduate admissions office for the university or program and ask about fee waivers or other options for individuals who are facing difficulty paying application fees. Sometimes waivers are not possible but if you don't ask, you won't find out.
3. Deciding on A University Before Selecting A Program
Never pick a university before selecting the graduate program. This is a doomed strategy. There is little harm involved in being drawn to the name brand laundry detergent at Walmart but it's a huge mistake to assume that a prominent university will offer the type of graduate program that you need in your field. This poor strategy might lead you to settle on a program without the correct specialization to match your interests or, worse, you might settle for an entirely different program than you originally intended just to say you attended Big Name University.
Yes, you can find things to reassure you that Big Name University is right for you (rock star professors, D-1 athletics, and famous alumni) but you might also learn that your faculty is too busy out of the classroom to adequately advise you, student aid is pretty low in the list of financial priorities, or that none of the alumni from your program have gone on to do anything significant in the field.
4. Forgetting Faculty Fit
Faculty fit is perhaps the most important part of selecting a graduate program. The concept is simple. If you get admitted to a graduate program where the faculty does not teach anything that you're interested in, you will fail and/or waste precious money and time.
The admissions process is the time when most faculties assess applicants' fit for the program and weed out misguided individuals. But, you might get lucky and strike the right tone in your personal statement to fly under the faculty fit radar. Insurgents don't thrive in most graduate programs so don't celebrate if this happens to you. Choose the program where you share interests with the faculty.
5. Ignoring Your Goals
Your ultimate enrollment decision should be aligned with your medium and long term career goals. Finishing a graduate program is a great accomplishment but if you regret committing the time afterward, you didn't do yourself any favors. Identify where you would like to be professionally five years from now and then identify which programs have the potential to get you there based upon alumni success, areas of specialization, faculty fit, and financial reasons. Using this approach, you can virtually guarantee that you are making a wise choice. Think Grad School can help. Subscribe today!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Story in Your Staircase: The History of Wood Balusters

Whether they are called balusters, spindles, or wood columns - it doesn't change the fact that they are a wood product you frequently see but seldom think about. Today, columns, balusters, and spindles (all names for the same thing) can be metal, stone, or wood - but for the purpose of this article, we will focus on wood. Regardless of material, the variation available when it comes to manufacturing balusters speaks to their widespread appeal and utility.
While balusters are popular wood products today, their story goes much deeper than that. They are also a piece of history. From the present day to antiquity, balusters, spindles, and wood columns have been molded and turned into the sleek and uniform shafts used for decoration, stability, and support in everything from the parapets of ancient fortresses to the stairways and porches of your own home.
The shape and style of balusters is rooted in the etymology of the word, which comes from the Italian word balaustra, meaning 'wild pomegranate flower'. Balusters were named this because of their resemblance to the half-open pomegranate flower.
While the etymology of the word points to Italian origins where balusters were eventually popularized in the Renaissance, they actually date all the way back to the early Assyrian Palaces of ancient Mesopotamia. Here, they were used as window balustrades (a row of balusters). As time passed, even though balusters were generally overlooked by the Greeks and the Romans, they were brought into architectural prominence in the early Renaissance where they were used in balconies of palaces in Venice and Verona, where they can still be found to this day.
Architectural historians can't credibly pinpoint an inventor of the modern baluster or column. However, much of the credit for the baluster's prominence goes to Giuliano da Sangallo, the architect of the Medici Villa in Tuscany. Because of the baluster's connection to the Medici family, it also received a great deal of exposure in the works of Michelangelo, whom the family patronized for many years. With time, balusters also came to be referred to as columns and spindles.
For years, wood columns and balusters of all sizes and complexities have been used as porch posts, cabinet accents, newels, spindles, and railing supports. Today, Balusters continue to be used in these applications and more, in both homes and commercial buildings alike - proving the utility, appeal, and timeless aesthetic of balusters in general. So make a point to look around, you may notice the smooth flower-like shape of the baluster somewhere you never even realized, a piece of history in your daily life.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Da Vinci's Last Supper

The next time you see Da Vinci's painting of the last supper; take a closer look. The shape and design of the table is Medieval and not correct for the time and culture of Messiah. It is no stretch of the imagination to detect all the people appear to be Caucasian. An observant eye will also notice that there are no prayer shawls or a tallit visible, or much of anything else that is Jewish in appearance.
According to the Bible, there could have been fifteen or more people present; (Mark 14:19, 20) but the painting only shows thirteen. Technically, it was not His last supper, it was the Passover meal. The gospels relay the Lord ate meals or suppers after His resurrection too.
Let's look at the most glaring discrepancies displayed in this famous painting. If it was the Passover meal, look at the food on the dishes. There should be roast lamb for the meal, but Da Vinci's artwork displays fish on the plates. If it was the Passover meal, the bread would have been unleavened, like a big flat saltine cracker. But the artist pictured puffy bread rolls made with yeast or leaven on the table.
The painting appears to have a nimbus or a halo around the Lord's head, which originates from a pagan symbol of sun-god worship. Da Vinci used these to identify holy people in many of his paintings.
It is probably true that Da Vinci used townspeople to pose for the different faces in the painting, which would be why they appear to be European and do not look Jewish. But it may be only a rumor that the person who posed for Jesus' face, was the same one who also posed for Judas' face.
I also noticed Da Vinci's paintings usually portray angels with wings. Most people think that angels have wings because of all the pictures, paintings, movies and Valentine cards we see today.
As I researched all the Bible references, they have angels appearing in male form, but never in a female form. They are spirit beings that take human form, have male names, but are never described with wings. Would a spirit need wings to fly?
Cherubim are not little fat babies with wings and a bow. They are described by Ezekiel as being ten cubits tall with four faces, four wings and a ten cubit wing span. (Eze. 10:1-22) They have a semblance of human hands, feet like a calf and a sparkling wheel within a wheel that seems to accompany them wherever they go. (Eze. 1:5-25) These creatures are not called angels.
Seraphim are beings described by Isaiah as having six wings and flying around the throne of the Lord saying, holy, holy, holy. (Is. 6:1-3) John describes six winged ones as covered with eyes and having four faces. (Rev. 4:6-10) These beings are not called angels either.
So, it turns out the common depiction of big fluffy feathery wings on angels comes more from imagination and artistic license than from any information the Bible actually provides.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Do You Have an Impractical Major? Never Fear!

Let me first preface this post by saying that I am a Painting/Drawing Major, meaning I probably won't have a job when I graduate. This thought used to discourage me until I discovered some information that really showed me the light: There are practical things to do with an "impractical" degree.
First of all let me mention that I honestly believe that no degree can really be that impractical. Maybe you won't go down the path that you had intended, but you will get something. Often time's employers are looking for people with degrees because earning you degree is an arduous, expensive, and tiresome process. Having your degree shows determination and the ability to accomplish long term tasks. For me this means, that even if I don't have a job somewhere in the art field or just don't cut it as a painter, that I will have a degree that will look good on a resume that will get me a job.
Also, with every degree there are hundreds of possibilities. For instance you may get a degree in English and fall into a job that requires a lot of writing or reading that you never expected. Or you may find that you want to become a lawyer. English majors have a very nice base of education for becoming lawyers.
My advice: find what you truly love. For example with my art major I was able to get an internship at an art museum. I once thought that I might be interested in earning my doctorate and becoming a museum curator. Alas, when the internship was over I couldn't wait to get out of that museum. Then and there I decided that I wanted to paint.
I believe that if you follow your dreams you will find something that you love to do. Who knows what will happen, and who knows if I will ever be the self employed painter that I want to be. But I do think that following what you love is commendable and you can learn so much about yourself in the process.
I knew a girl once that was an art major like me that started working as an accountant to get through school and found that she absolutely loved it. You never know what will happen, the best you can do is to do what you love. I don't know about you but if I gave up painting for a degree for a job that I was sure to have financial security and good money I may be better off, but I wouldn't be completely happy. I think that is what is important.