Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Why they're hot

A EurekaAlert.org piece, New research reveals why chili peppers are hot, offers an interesting evolutionary explanation as to why chili peppers are hot.

Conventional thought says that the fruit of a plant is tasty so that animals will eat and disperse the seeds. Chili peppers are sort of an exception to this rule. The current theory, which is based upon research on wild chili plants in Bolivia, indicates that the capsaicin in a chili evolved to protect the seeds from Fusarium infections. Fusarium, a fungus that invades fruits through wounds, is a leading cause of seed mortality.

At higher elevations, where moisture is high and Fusarium fungus is rampant, the scientists found that 100 percent of the plants produced hot chilies. In the drier lowlands, where fungus is less of a problem, only 40 percent of the plants produced fiery fruits. The remainder spent more resources developing thick seed coats, which protect against the devastating ant populations common to lower areas.

Capsaicin in chilies, one of the first plants domesticated in the New World, may have been used to protect human food from microbial attack long before refrigeration or artificial preservatives were available. So habanero peppers must be nature's super preservative.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Does Word 2008 Suck?

I've been using the new Microsoft Office 2008 Suite for well over a year, and I've been of several minds about it. My first reaction was one of dislike -- the new interface just didn't do it for me. Although I've since adjusted to it, I still thrash around looking for some commands. Styles, which I thought I knew pretty well, also threw me for a loop in the new version.

After producing some documents in Word 2008, however, I grew to like some of the improvements, such as the improved way of working with header and footers.

Recently, however, I was helping a student with his 670-page Master's thesis, which was produced in Word 2003. I couldn't open (or thought I couldn't) his file in Word 2008. My next-cube-neighbor couldn't either, but he could open it using Office 2008 on his Mac laptop. So, he created a 2008-combatible (i.e., docx) file for me, and I got the same results. It really turned out that the file could load -- it just took 17 minutes to actually open!

In an experiment, I used VMware to open another XP session within my current one. I have Office 2003 installed under that session. Despite all of the inherent disadvantages of running Office under a virtual machine, Word 2003 was able to open it almost instantly.

Making a long story short, I think that Word 2008 had a real problem with the styles that the student was using. Most of his styles were variations of the normal tag, and I've read on Woody's that this type of "direct formatting in very large documents usually causes corruption."

Apparently this corruption only flummoxes Word 2008.