Saturday, February 28, 2009

How to Escape Down an Airplane Slide

“We need only travel enough to give our intellects an airing.” - Henry David Thoreau
Emergency airplane evacuations happen more often than most people think; about once every 11 days in the U.S. Since most evacuation injuries occur on the inflatable slide,
here is some more advice Time magazine on How to Escape Down an Airplane Slide.
  1. Always count the rows to the nearest exit when you sit down on the plane. The cabin may be filled with thick smoke when you need to exit.
  2. Look for a 2nd exit off the plane when you get on. It is not unusual for doors to jam shut or for the slide to fail to deploy.
  3. Get out fast – DO NOT grab your luggage.
  4. JUMP onto the slide. Don’t hesitate at the doorway or try to sit down. Slides are designed to handle 70 passengers a minute so that means you have less than one second to go out the door. JUMP.
  5. Keep your heels up and your arms crossed over your chest as you go down the slide on your back. This will help prevent skin burns as you slide.
  6. Get out of the way! When you reach the bottom of the slide – MOVE. Another person is just one second behind you and will crash into you if you don’t move quickly off the slide.
Bottom Line
Speed is everything during plane evacuations. Lose the luggage and save your life. Don’t slow or stop the flow of people getting off.

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Friday, February 27, 2009

More lessons from Kentucky

Natural disasters arbitrarily bring death and destruction. They act beyond the control of mortal man and his institutions, no matter how grand and well-intentioned those institutions may be. - Jeff Taylor

The quote above comes from the article Katrina in Kentucky on The author makes several interesting points.

remember that it was not until the Clinton administration that the federal government was even expected to deal with winter storms. ... Soon enough state and local officials were petitioning Washington for any and all weather-related expenses.

... Natural disasters arbitrarily bring death and destruction. They act beyond the control of mortal man and his institutions, no matter how grand and well-intentioned those institutions may be. Furthermore, the iron law of all disasters is that it is nearly impossible to get aid quickly to people in need. Two corollaries flow from this reality. One, that it is always better to evacuate potential victims than to attempt to rescue certain victims. Two, given that outside help will be unreliable at best, local ad hoc relief efforts are almost always more effective.

Bottom Line

The last point is very important. Local help is your 2nd best source for aid. The best is yourself and your own emergency supplies. If you have a local CERT team consider joining for the training and the neighborhood support.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

House Fires

“House fires lead the nation in loss of life, property and monetary damages. Psychological damages, medical care, temporary housing, loss of pets, disfigurement and lost income result in a far higher cost than is reflected by property alone. The saddest fact of all is that nearly all house fires are preventable with fire and smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, fire escape plans and education.” –
Although home fires are the most likely accident most of us will face, there are many misconceptions and misunderstandings about fire. For example I would have predicted that cold, snowy states would have the highest risk of house fires given room heaters, fireplaces, and candles. But in fact the six “states” with highest fire deaths per person are Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia and Washington, DC.

While fireplaces and candles do cause 18% of all fire deaths, they are matched by cigarette smoking fires (18%) and exceeded by deaths caused by arson (28%). There is also a subtle point to be made about fires caused vs. fire deaths. Cooking is the leading cause of home fires (28%) but cigarette fires cause more deaths. This is because you’re hopefully awake while cooking and smell/see the smoke. On the other hand, cigarette fires are frequently started when the person falls asleep while smoking, drops the cigarette and never wakes up again.

Another misconception is that fire flames kill. Yes fire is hot and deadly, In only 3 1/2 minutes, the heat from a house fire can reach over 1100 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature can reach over 300 degrees in rooms that are not even on fire. And yet in 75% of the cases the cause of death was smoke and fumes. Fire can produce gases and fumes that can make you sleepy, weak, and confused. You can run out of fresh air (oxygen) and die of asphyxiation before the fire flames reach you. This is why it is so important to stay low to the ground when leaving a burning building – the fumes rise so the good air is near the floor.

It is also important to know that real smoke (unlike the movies) can be very, very thick very quickly. Your house can become completely dark in 4 minutes, even with all the lights on! This adds to the confusion of evacuation and rescue.

Bottom Line
Smoke alarms and sprinkler systems save lives. Don’t forget to change the battery twice a year on your smoke alarms! Many people use the Daylight Saving days (spring forward and fall back) as the time to change batteries.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Common Sense Preparedness

“Common sense is not so common.” - Voltaire quotes

Since I’ve started writing this blog, I pay more attention to the things I do. Sometimes I’ll stop and realize that I’m in an unsafe situation and that a small action on my part can make a huge difference towards my well-being:


I like to keep my hands in my pockets. This is not a good idea while walking (you want your hands free to break a fall if you trip). It is especially stupid for me to have a hand trapped in a pocket when I go down two flights of stairs after work each day.

I’d like to consider myself a safe driver. But occasionally I realize that I’ve gotten too close to another car’s bumper while on cruise control and need to back off and either pass or slow down the cruise control a bit.

Another time cruise control gets me in trouble is with tight curves in the road. Under normal conditions I can handle the curves no problem at full driving speed. But occasionally I’m surprised by black ice or water on the road from melting ice and belatedly discover that a speed that works for a dry road may cause a skid or some anxious moments keeping the car under control. A few months ago while driving to work I was surprised to come around a curve and find a disabled car parked halfway on the road & shoulder. I had to swing wide onto the opposite shoulder to avoid a collision while struggling to stay on the road.

Another danger while driving is distractions inside the car. I pass the time commuting by listening to educational CDs. When one ends I need to eject the CD, grab the next and plug it in while keeping my eyes on the road. Not always easy but I try to make this less distracting by pulling the next CD out of its case before I start driving so it’s easily available.

Years ago as a teenage driver with my mom in the car, a bee flew in the window. I was freaking out and trying to shoo the bee out of the car while still driving. My mom pointed out how stupid that was. A bee sting would hurt a lot less that a car accident.

Bottom Line

Sometimes all that is required to prepared for the worst case is just common sense. This can mean some very simple things like keeping your hands free while walking and on stairs, maintaining a safe driving speed and distance, and keeping your eyes on the road – always!

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Vitamin Pills

(Dialog in the year 2173 from Woody Allen’s movie, Sleeper)
Dr. Melik: This morning for breakfast he requested something called "wheat germ, organic honey and tiger's milk."
Dr. Aragon: [chuckling] Oh, yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties.
Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or... hot fudge?
Dr. Aragon: Those were thought to be unhealthy... precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.
Dr. Melik: Incredible.

Today about half of all adults use some form of dietary supplement, at a cost of $23 billion a year. A recent New York Times story, Vitamin Pills: A False Hope?, looks at clinical studies that have NOT found health benefits from vitamin supplements. In fact some studies show actual harm from megadoses of beta carotene (vitamin A) and folic acid (vitamin B9)
Last year, a study that tracked almost 15,000 male physicians for a decade reported no differences in cancer or heart disease rates among those using vitamins E and C compared with those taking a placebo. And in October, a study of 35,000 men dashed hopes that high doses of vitamin E and selenium could lower the risk of prostate...
“I’m puzzled why the public in general ignores the results of well-done trials,” said Dr. Eric Klein, national study coordinator for the prostate cancer trial and chairman of the Cleveland Clinic’s Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute. “The public’s belief in the benefits of vitamins and nutrients is not supported by the available scientific data.”
Bottom Line

A balanced diet typically provides an adequate level of nutrients and vitamins.
While people who eat lots of nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables have long been known to have lower rates of heart disease and cancer, it hasn’t been clear whether ingesting high doses of those same nutrients in pill form results in a similar benefit…

Scientists suspect that the benefits of a healthful diet come from eating the whole fruit or vegetable, not just the individual vitamins found in it. “There may not be a single component of broccoli or green leafy vegetables that is responsible for the health benefits,” Dr. Gann said. “Why are we taking a reductionist approach and plucking out one or two chemicals given in isolation?”

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Does Foreign Aid Help or Hurt Long Term?

"China has 1.3 billion people, only 300 million of whom live like us, if you will, with Western living standards. There are a billion Chinese who are living in substandard conditions. Do you know anybody who feels sorry for China? Nobody." - Dambisa
From the NTY story The Anti-Bono. The Interviewee, Dambisa Moyo, is a native of Zambia with advanced degrees in public policy and economics from Harvard and Oxford, who recently published the book, "Dead Aid", criticizing Africa's dependence on Western aid.

What do you think has held back Africans?
"I believe it’s largely aid. You get the corruption — historically, leaders have stolen the money without penalty — and you get the dependency, which kills entrepreneurship. You also disenfranchise African citizens, because the government is beholden to foreign donors and not accountable to its people."
If people want to help out, what do you think they should do with their money if not make donations?
"Microfinance. Give people jobs."

What is microfinance? These are mini-loans (<$1000) in poor countries for people who want to start a simple business. The loan might buy a few chickens to sell eggs or goats to sell milk. Or a computer to start on online business. Repayments rates have been very good.

Bottom Line

How can you microfinance with just $25?

"Go to the Internet and type in, where you can make a loan to an African entrepreneur. "

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fast Food Trivia

“I went into a McDonald's yesterday and said, "I'd like some fries." The girl at the counter said, "Would you like some fries with that?"”- Jay Leno
For fun, here is some Fast Food Trivia:
  • The most popular meal requested by death row inmates is Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC)
  • In 2002 there were 600 Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets in China. China is the second largest fast food market after the United States.
  • America spends more on fast food than is spent on college education, computers, software, or new cars.
  • McDonald's is the world's largest purchaser of beef, potatoes, and apples.
  • McDonald's opens a new restaurant every 4 hours.
  • McDonald's spends over 1 Billion dollars a year, worldwide, for radio, television and print advertising.
  • Americans eat about 13 billion hamburgers a year, enough to circle the world 32 times.
  • A standard pizza in Italy contains 500 to 800 calories. A medium cheese pizza at Pizza Hut has up to 2,160 calories.
  • At Dairy Queen, turning a vanilla ice cream cone into a "dipped" cone adds 13 grams of fat to a cone.
  • Sbarro, now over 1000 outlets strong, began as an Italian grocery store in Brooklyn, selling mozzarella, imported cheese, sausage, and salami.
  • There are approximately 3.5 million fast-food workers in the United States.
  • The Atlanta Bread Company has the motto "the sun never rises twice on our bread" because leftover bakery items are donated to local charities on a daily basis.
  • While many web sites say Wendy's “invented” the modern drive-thru window at their second restaurant in 1970, In-n-Out Burger claims to have invented the drive-thru in 1948. Wikipedia gives 1975 as the date for the first McDonald's drive-thru window.
  • Wendy’s offered the first “Value Menu” in 1988.
  • None of Chick-fil-A's sandwiches break the 500-calorie barrier, a rarity among fast foods.
  • In contrast, although Chipotle uses fresh, natural ingredients, most entrees break the 800-calorie, 40-fat-gram barrier.

Bottom Line
Value Menus, Dollar menus and super-sizing are now starting to look pretty good during a depressed economy. They may be bad for you, but oh what a deal! Yet beware! Obesity and poor nutrition will cost you more in sickness and poor health then you’ll save by buying cheap. See the film, Super Size Me, for the health problems of a fast food diet.

Here are two sites with recommendations for “healthier” fast foods:
The Best Fast Food Meals Under 500 Calories
Fast Food Meals Under 500 Calories by OSF HealthCare


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Can You Afford to be Cheap?

“What we obtain too cheap, we esteem to lightly.” - Thomas Paine
In the posting Why I Can't Afford Cheap, blogger Andy Budd writes,

I remember reading a story once about an octogenarian discussing her most prized possessions with a researcher. She shows the researcher an iron that’s been going for over 40 years and explains how she had to scrimp and save to buy the product and how it ended up out living even her husband. Quizzed on why she spent so much money on the iron she said, “I’m too poor to buy cheap!”
My grandparents on my father’s side shared this philosophy also. They bought very few material items but what they did buy was always top quality. Grandpa was also serious about maintaining his belongings with proper care and repairs. As a result the items he owned lasted for decades. The one exception to this rule was cars; Grandpa liked new cars. Every few years he would give the old model one of his adult children who were happy to get it since it was a quality machine and well maintained.

Twenty years my wife was given a top-of-the-line VCR that still works and that we continue to use for selecting signals from our TV antenna and DVD player. Ten years ago when it ate a tape we figured it was reaching old age and tried to replace it with the cheapest model available. We gave the new VCR away because it produced so much digital signal noise that we could not view open-air channels 2 and 4. We discovered that quality did make a difference.

Bottom Line

Going cheap means being wasteful by definition. Cheap equals flimsy & breakable resulting in repair or replacement costs. Cheap is sometimes desirable for convenience and time saving but don’t fool yourself that you’re saving money in the long run.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

How to Eat Healthy when Eating Out

“No diet will remove all the fat from your body because the brain is entirely fat. Without a brain, you might look good, but all you could do is run for public office.” - George Bernard Shaw recommends 10 Ways to Make Fast Food Healthy

  • Hamburgers & Sandwiches – skip the special sauces and mayo. Use BBQ sauce, ketchup and mustard instead. Stay away from high calorie bread like Panera Asiago Cheese Foccacia. Avoid any sandwich that says “melt” – the bread is soaked with melted butter. Try eating your hamburger or sandwich open face and toss away one of the buns.
  • Pizza – Reduce the crust calories by ordering thin crust. Skip the high fat toppings like pepperoni (yum!) and sausage. Order ham or vegetables instead.
  • Salads – omit extras like cheese, bacon, and fried chicken bits. Make sure your salad dressing is lite or fat-free
  • Burrito – split a giant burrito with a friend – most are way too big for one person. Or ask for a burrito bowl where the fillings are mixed with salad greens.
  • Breakfast Sandwich – for diet ham beats bacon and bacon beats sausage. Skip the cheese and ask for an English muffin instead of a bagel, biscuit or croissant.
  • Chicken – go for grilled or skinless. Watch out for anything fried.
  • Beverages – many “fruit” smoothies are loaded with sugar or corn syrup. For fancy coffee drinkers, ask for skim milk or milk foam. Don’t add whip cream on top. If you like a shot of syrup flavoring, use a sugar-free flavor.

Bottom Line

As mentioned in an earlier post, fast food places can take healthy food items and create a calorie nightmare with butter soaked bread, cheese, added sugar, salt, etc. Order the simplest food possible with the fewest mystery ingredients.

My wife & I went to Taco Bell recently and shared a burrito and tostada from their dollar menu for less than $2 total. We could have (should have?) spent a little more and ordered from their new “Fresco” menu which lowers the fat and calories by using salsa instead of cheese and sauces. It’s nice to see Taco Bell trying to market “healthy” items again.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Airplane Evacuations

“Evacuating a plane can be quite perilous—whether you're a real passenger or a volunteer in a certification test. A government study of airline evacuation drills in the 1970s and 1980s found that almost 5 percent of the participants get hurt.“ – Slate
Who would have thought that 1 out of 20 passengers could be injured just getting off an airplane during an emergency evacuation? But if you think about, getting off a crowded airplane is never easy even during normal days. Now add darkness, smoke, panicking people, luggage everywhere, inflated life vests, and you have a recipe for chaos.

You also may not have much time. The FAA requires that the airplane's maximum capacity of passengers and crewmembers can evacuate the plane in less than 90 seconds—the time it takes a fire to engulf a standard cabin.

Can you guess the main cause of injury during plane evacuations?

It is the inflatable slide that can be up to 26 feet off the ground. The most common injury is “slide burn” when bare skin is scraped raw going down the slide. The next danger is “hitting” the ground when the “slow down” strips fail at the base of the slide. People have broken ankles and legs from reaching the ground too fast. The worst injury occurred when a volunteer tester fell off the top of the slide and hit the pavement head first.

All the above points are occurred when a Paris flight to Toronto made a hard emergency landing, caught fire and managed to evacuate everyone in less than two minutes, 75% got off within 52 seconds

Bags were “flying down” from the overhead bins, and the plane was coming apart…. “Stewardesses started pushing everyone out,”

People near the fire at the rear of the plane panicked.

“People were tripping over each other, climbing over the seats to get to the

At a front door there was no chute to slide down and the drop was about 12 feet. A second door had a damaged chute but it worked.

“I jumped and fell onto some people,” a passenger said, “Some people broke their
arms or legs.”

Bottom Line

Stay calm and be careful when evacuating a plane and you should be OK.

“There is this myth out there that says if you’re involved in a catastrophic aircraft accident the odds [of survival] are extremely low. That’s inaccurate. The odds are extremely high,” said Mark Rosenker, the acting chairman of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

See also this YouTube of 777 evacuation test

PS - this post is appearing a day early. I accidently entered 08 for the year and it is not so easy to unpublish an article once published.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Disaster Sanitation

“He who conceals his disease cannot expect to be cured” - Ethiopian Proverb

After a disaster, act as if everything is covered with some really nasty germs.

Following a flood, tornado, earthquake or hurricane, sources of water that are normally safe can instantly become contaminated. Septic tanks, sewer systems and
water reclamation ponds overflow and contaminate wells, lakes, ponds and creeks. Refuse and animal carcasses add to this contamination. People do not dispose of human waste correctly. Waste disposal sites, fuel and oil from submerged vehicles all contribute to the contamination. Survivors end up, sometimes literally, wading through this toxic soup. – David Hardin, Ezine
  • Be super-careful with food and water by boiling water and discarding any food that got wet or damaged.
  • Wash your hands frequently but only in clean (i.e. boiled then cooled) water! You wouldn’t wash your hands in mud would you? If you use a bar of soap, give it a dip in boiling water too. Anything and everything may be germy including the towel you’re about to dry your clean hands with.
  • Likewise, it’s important to keep food equipment clean. Don’t drink from unwashed cups and bottles and always wash soda cans & water bottles before drinking from them. They could be contaminated on the outside. Make sure the water you wash dishes with is clean & safe. Otherwise you’re just moving germs around.
  • Treat any injury immediately no matter how minor. Scrapes and cuts that you would usually ignore become openings into your body for post-disaster germs. If a scratch or cuts becomes red and puffy, seek medication attention ASAP. You could lose a limb or life from infection.

Bottom Line

Sanitation is very important but often overlooked. According to the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF), an average of about 1.5 million children in the world die every year due to inadequate sanitation and polluted water.

Keep a close eye on children after a disaster. They won’t understand that blanky is NOT safe or that they could get sick chewing on their toys or by splashing in dirty water.
You can disinfect toys using a solution of one cup of bleach in 5 gallons of water.

Also keep a look-out for cuts and scrapes on children and the elderly.

Emergency alternatives to flush toilets:

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Government Money

“Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time.” - Jim Rohn quotes
Now that three years have gone by since Katrina, it's possible to look back and see how well the government spent the disaster aid money. Answer, not well. Wizbang sites an article titled The Myths of Hurricane Katrina. Is was not lack of funds (currently 100 BILLON) that is stalling redevelopment in Louisana, it is government regulations.
Talk with people on the Gulf Coast area and you'll soon learn the primary problem they face is not a lack of funding, but the mass confusion created by federal, state, and local governments about the rules of the game when it comes to rebuilding. Confusing and contradictory regulations, showboating by politicians, and stunningly complex bureaucracy have only exacerbated the problems of people who've already been through hell and have kept people from making the decisions they need to make to get on with their lives. This creates what economist Emily Chamlee-Wright calls "signal noise"--the persistent uncertainty created by uncoordinated government at every step of the recovery process.
So is the answer to hand out money freely, no regulations? That didn't work either.
Some recipients would undoubtedly squander their funds, and there would be
widespread fraud. This isn't idle speculation. According to the Government
Accountability Office, immediately after Katrina hit, about a billion dollars of
emergency aid--16 percent of the total--was lost to fraudulent claims. Even
legitimately obtained pre-paid debit cards given to aid Katrina's victims were
used to buy champagne, guns, tattoos, and porn
Bottom Line

Personally I like debit card solution but there must be accountability. No going back for a second handout because the money was wasted on alcohol, etc. Trust the people to spend wisely but DO NOT bail them out again if they don't. Why should the government award selfish and irresponsible behavior? (Will this work, probably not. There is no coordination between agencies so you can always go somewhere else and beg for more.)

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Record Unemployment

"500 million Americans lose their jobs every month."- 2009, Nancy Pelosi (US Speaker of the House) [The US population is 306 million]
More bad economic news I’m afraid. U.S. job losses accelerate says Reuters. Job losses in January 2009 were 598,000, the most in 34 years, and the unemployment rate reached to a 16-year high.

"The economy is just falling into oblivion and it will get worse," - Greg Salvaggio, vice president for trading at Tempus Consulting in Washington

“January's sharp drop in employment brings job losses to 3.6 million since the start of the recession in December 2007” and "about half the decline occurred in the last three months." - U.S. Commissioner of Labor Statistics Keith Hall

"It is just another confirmation that we are in a deep and long recession, and the bottom is not even in sight. Manufacturing is incredibly weak -- it's going to be a long haul." - Robert MacIntosh, chief economist for Eaton Vance Management in Boston
Unfortunately the Democrat plan to throw money in all directions and hope that things are “stimulated” is unlikely to work. Here a few reasons why:

A new book, Welcome to Obamaland: I Have Seen Your Future and It Doesn't Work by James Delingpole, describes how the Stimulus plan & Obama look a lot like Tony Blair’s England from ten years ago. If we follow the British path, the US can expect
“a morass of sprawling government that will slowly start suffocating our economy, our liberties, and our culture… From the socialized medicine that will make us want to avoid going to the doctor even when our hand is on fire; to eco-fascism that will have us spending millions … to protect un-endangered, man-eating polar bears; to immigration non-reform that will leave us wondering what country we're living in anyway; to a further dumbing down of an already execrable school system, with more PC inanities, such as banning "competitive
games" because it might disturb children's self-esteem”
The article, Is Britain going bankrupt?, states “Alistair Darling [Chancellor of the Exchequer ] has had to admit that the British economy [today] faces the most sudden economic collapse since World War Two, and the worst budget deficit of any major country in the world”

Japan tried to spend it’s way out of recession with infrastructure projects. The New York Times (shock!) noted that Japan’s Big-Works Stimulus Is Lesson.

“Japan’s rural areas have been paved over and filled in with roads, dams and other big infrastructure projects, the legacy of trillions of dollars spent to lift the economy from a severe downturn caused by the bursting of a real estate bubble in the late 1980s. During those nearly two decades, Japan accumulated the largest public debt in the developed world — totaling 180 percent of its $5.5 trillion economy — while failing to generate a convincing recovery.”
Bottom Line

Will the US government learn from the mistakes of others? Don’t bet on it. Timothy Geithner, Obama’s Secretary of the Treasury, “was a young financial attaché in Japan during the collapse and subsequent doldrums.” But he got the lesson backwards and believes we need to spend more and faster than Japan did!
“Economists tend to divide into two camps on the question of Japan’s infrastructure spending: those, many of them Americans like Mr. Geithner [Obama’s Secretary of the Treasury], who think it did not go far enough; and those, many of them Japanese, who think it was a colossal waste.” - NYT
Who do you think is right?

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Save Money with Coupons

“The best things in life are never rationed. Friendship, loyalty, love, do not require coupons.” - Unknown
From the Consumerist, 5 Sites for "Clipping" Grocery Coupons:

While the Sunday coupon circular in the newspaper is still No .1, many consumers are turning to the Internet to match up store sales with print-at-home manufacturer’s coupons.
  1. – print coupons at home with daily updates and a weekly email newsletter
  2. – printable coupons whose value depends on answers you give for shopping habits
  3. The Coupon Clippers will mail you coupons you want for a “modest” fee
  4. - an AOL service for print coupons OR adding them automatically to your Kroger loyalty card.
  5. – printable coupons from the company that creates the Sunday coupon supplements.

Bottom Line

Don’t let pride keep you from using coupons.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Smart Guns

“Computers have enabled people to make more mistakes faster than almost any invention in history, with the possible exception of tequila and hand guns” -
Mitch Ratcliffe
I read an interesting article on “The Volokh Conspiracy” (a legal blog – not conspiracy theory). (Why is it that some of the leading bloggers are also laywers? Volokh, Instapundit, Althouse) The topic of discussions is “Smart Guns” As I understand it, a smart gun has an embedded chip that restricts its use to the original owner (or keeper of the electronic gun “key” embedded in a finger ring). This prevents a child from firing the gun by accident. (Unless you store the “key” with the gun of course!) Newer smart guns hope to use biometrics like the shape of your hand to determine the “owner”.
The idea of smart guns is popular for those who wish to protect children and prevent stolen guns from being used by felons. Some like it so much they want the government to make smart guns mandatory for all gun sales. This is where Volokh comes in with valid questions.
A smart gun won’t work if the embedded computer chip is jammed or fried. An EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) attack or even a massive solar flare could melt the chip leaving you with a worthless lump of metal. So it’s possible your smart gun could fail when “the worst” happens and you really need it. Is this an acceptable risk?
The Supreme Court has allowed guns laws that “do not materially interfere with the right to keep and bear arms”. Would requiring you to own ONLY a smart gun be a serious interference?

Bottom Line

As I’ve said before, technology is a mixed blessing. It can make some wonderful preparedness tools (like GPS) but can also fail us when a crisis occurs. Use the best of old and new. Take advantage of modern technology but keep the old fashion tools on hand as standby.

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

911 Pranks

“I have left orders to be awakened at any time in case of national emergency, even if I'm in a cabinet meeting.” - Ronald Reagan quotes
The 911 service not prepared for new generation of pranksters with access to VoIP.
“After paying a small fee to one of the readily available caller ID spoofing services available on the Web, a prank caller with a grudge or a serious psychological problem can call 911 and tell the operator just about any story he or she wants. Since the 911 system wasn't built with VoIP in mind, these calls appear to originate from anywhere, and said hooligans take full advantage of the opportunity. The practice has been dubbed "swatting," typically because the spoofed emergency stories that these troubled individuals make up are horrible enough to send police and even SWAT teams to unsuspecting victims on the other side of town or the continent.
Here is an example of a California family raided by police with helicopters based on a prank call.

Bottom Line
Technology is rarely pure good or evil. VOIP is great for calling my sister in Canada cheaply. But what about ID spoofing? It is easy to say "ban it" based on the story above but it can play a role in protecting privacy from unwarranted government inspection. Do we have a right (or need) to be anonymous?

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Government Aristocracy

Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. - Lord Acton (Historian, 1834-1902)

I’m not a big fan of liberal papers like the L.A. Times or the New York Times. So it surprises me that I will cite an article by LAT for perfectly describing a problem with our government today. The wondrous ways Obama's Washington works--and doesn't get it

“Washington used to be a place where representatives of the people went to work temporarily before they returned back home to the states, districts and, most importantly, the people they represented. Somewhere along the way things got turned around. Once elected, the representatives moved to the Washington area …got home mortgages there and, most likely, sold their home back home. Unless they have so many they can't keep track.”
“[Congressmen] became part of a bipartisan permanent political aristocracy because they knew, even if they ever got un-elected, they'd be staying on to work in the lucrative legal-lobby-association complex”.

For example, Tom Daschle [senator now lobbyist] who was in the news recently for failing to pay taxes on consulting fees and a “free” limo and driver yet still supported by Obama for his cabinet.

Bottom Line

The LAT notes that “Nowhere is there any talk of right or wrong. In Washington's culture, unlike the lives of most normal obviously naive Americans, that's hardly ever the issue. It's about what works. It's all about [political] strategy.”

Here's another article on the same theme: District of Corruption by the New Republic.

So Damn Much Money is the title of Bob Kaiser's penetrating book on the explosion of lobbying and corruption in Washington over the past quarter century. ... In 1970, the federal budget was all of $195 billion. Today, the budget is over $3 trillion. [An increase of 1538%. Inflation for the same period was 538%. So the budget grew three times faster than inflation].

[The author next points out that while congressional salaries have risen by a factor of 4 (below inflation!), the salaries paid to lobbists has skyrocked]

... The seemingly inexplicable petty corruption of [Congressmen] can be explained, I believe, by their belief that they were making such immense sacrifices to stay in public service that a few additional perks were well-deserved--and still left them far poorer than their lobbyist friends. ... [And] who wants to alienate someone who might hold the key to a million-dollar job [when you leave office]?

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Soldiers of Fortune

"Survival kits and disaster preparedness used to be something out of the mainstream. After a brief (and heavily-mocked) period of fallout-shelter construction in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the notion of private disaster preparedness retreated from the mainstream. … 10 years ago, [Survival Kits] was the stuff of Soldier of Fortune [magazine]." – Glen Reynolds

Glen Reynolds (Instapundit) wrote the above in a 2006 article entitled “We're All Soldiers of Fortune Now”. He notes that “You know survival kits are mainstream when Costco is selling them. … Survival food buckets … were going for $110 and had about 275 servings of freeze dried vegetarian meals.”

More signs that preparedness is mainstream:

Bottom Line

Glen concludes with, “It's a dangerous world out there, and there are lots of reasons, beyond politics, for doing what we can to be ready for it.”

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Personal Information

“In a real estate man's eye, the most expensive part of the city is where he has a house to sell” - Will Rogers
Any time you fill out forms with personal information you run the risk that that information will be misused or lost. A recent story said that had its data base hacked and the passwords and personal data stolen for all its customers.
And today I see this story about a real estate office that dumped old records in the street.

What are those papers blowing down Columbus Avenue? Why, those are your tax returns, driver's licenses, credit reports, bank statements, and 401k statements. It seems that the real estate company, Citi Habitats, dumped an entire years worth of sensitive client documents in the streets of New York. - ABC7 News

Bottom Line

The real estate office claims that the papers were disposed of improperly due to their offices being renovated. But that is just a lame excuse for a serious lack of fiduciary responsibility. Don't expect others to keep your information safe.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009


“The worst bankruptcy in the world is the person who has lost his enthusiasm”- H. W. Arnold
I recommend the Consumerist article, Bankruptcy Is A Last Resort.

Bankruptcy is not a get out of jail free card for your debts, it's a nuclear weapon. If you use it, expect to be considered credit unworthy for a decade [because] bankruptcy is recorded on your credit report for ten years. …

There are two types of personal bankruptcy - Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Chapter 7 is total liquidation where all of your possessions are sold to help pay off the debt. Chapter 13 is known as the "wage earner's plan" and is used to help restructure the debts so that the debtor can work towards paying them off over the course of several years.
Bottom Line

For the ten years after bankruptcy it won’t be impossible to get a loan but it will be difficult. Rates will be higher on home and car loans because you are a “risk”.
And though it is illegal, you may find landlords rejecting your apartment application and companies that are reluctant to hire you.

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Monday, February 9, 2009

Ice Storm in Kentucky

“[The ice storm was] even worse than some of the tornadoes we've had where you have a very defined area of damage, ... The damage is so widespread, 42 of our 75 counties are under disaster declaration because of the ice.” - Mike Huckabee (Arkansas governor, 1996-2007)
After Hurricane Katrina, the Red Cross changed its recommendation from having a 3 day supply kit to have a week long food storage and supplies. Events in Kentucky are proving that three days just aren’t enough.

Thousands of people in ice-caked Kentucky have sought refuge in motels and shelters. …Some in rural Kentucky ran short of food and bottled water, and resorted to dipping buckets in a creek. … rural communities feared it could be days or even weeks before workers got to areas littered with downed power lines. … Temperatures were expected to rise just above freezing Saturday for the first time in days.

At least 42 people have died in the icy arc of destruction that began in the Midwest. Most were blamed on hypothermia, traffic accidents and carbon monoxide poisoning from generators.

Bottom Line

Kentucky is also demonstrating why you to need to care for your own family and not rely on local or federal government.

1. Local resources are quickly overwhelmed
"We can't service everybody in our shelter," said Crittenden County Judge-Executive Fred Brown, who oversees about 9,000 people who have stayed five days at the town's elementary school.

2. State Aid is often not well organized

Local officials grew angrier at what they said was a lack of help from the state and FEMA. … the 25 National Guardsmen who have responded have no chain saws to clear fallen trees [on roads].

3. FEMA is SLOW and LATE
A FEMA spokeswoman said, "We have plenty of folks ready to go, but there are some limitations with roads closed and icy conditions."

What a surprise! An ice storm has closed the roads so FEMA is unable to respond. Apparently FEMA is only able to aid disaster victims when the weather is perfect and after someone else has cleared the roads.

4. FEMA supplies can not be trusted
Story Fec 5 on FEMA rescue food sent to Kentucky, FEMA Food May Contain Salmonella Peanut Butter

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Troubled Times

“I was reminded that when we lose and I strike out, a billion people in China don't care.” - Reggie Jackson
Here are two recent articles demonstrating that the world is becoming increasingly unstable.

Unrest in China Worse Than Widely Reported
Bankruptcies, unemployment and social unrest are spreading more widely in China than officially reported, according to independent research that paints an ominous picture for the world economy.
Vladimir Putin faces signs of mutiny in own government as protests break out in east
As Russia's economy begins to implode after years of energy-driven growth, Mr Putin is facing the germs of an unexpected power struggle … Mounting job losses and a collapse in the price of commodities have triggered social unrest on a scale not seen for at least four years, prompting panic among Kremlin officials more accustomed to the political apathy of the Russian people.
Bottom Line

With stories like this, I remain skeptical that the economy has hit bottom and will soon improve. We could experience a global depression lasting many years.

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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Food Testing

“Old age and sickness bring out the essential characteristics of a man.” - Felix Frankfurter (American Jurist, 1882-1965)
In many of life’s events there is a supreme decision maker from whom we expect fair and accurate judgments. This includes referees of sports games, court judges, parents, bosses, etc. However, experience teaches that arbiters can lie, cheat, be biased, or just plain wrong.
When it comes to food safety, we assume that product-testing laboratory results are likewise fair and accurate. But the reality is much scarier as discussed in the article, How Unscrupulous Food Manufacturers Manipulate Lab Tests. Ways to cheat include:
  1. Test different sample until one passes
  2. Mix failing batches with passing batches
  3. Test a good sample with the label of a bad batch. This gives the bad batch number a passing report.
  4. Change laboratories
  5. Use a “fake” laboratory that gives passing tests for money
  6. Pressure the laboratory for better results by threatening to change laboratories

Bottom Line

“The vast majority of manufacturers and microbiology laboratories are honest and work hard to do the right things. However, money is a powerful motivator. With product batches that can be worth tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, some rogue companies will do whatever they can to prevent product loss. Some are even willing to put the health and well-being of the public at risk.” – industrial food worker, microguy07828

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Friday, February 6, 2009

Snowstorm costs London $4.3 billion?

"We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language." Oscar Wilde (British author)

On Feb 1&2, eight inches of snow fell on London, England and the city came to a halt. Blizzard of anger follows London snowstorm

An estimated 6 million people skipped work Monday when the largest snowstorm to hit London in 18 years stopped bus and subway services, grounded airliners and hobbled businesses. ...Transportation officials, business leaders and local authorities accused one another of failing to prepare for the long-predicted storm that crippled Britain's transport network.

The economic cost in lost productivity is 3 billion pounds ($4.3 billion). How did the government justify it's lack of preparedness?

"We can't change nature and if nature does this to us we have a problem"

Many of the city's authorities simply didn't have enough snow plows and the day after the storm, 1,000 British schools remained closed.

Bottom Line

If your local officials are not prepared when trouble hits, don't reelect them! Government has became way too complacent and generous with our taxes. They give money to friendly business and organizations but fail to invest in the infrastructure to keep the public safe. Don't support officials who are not supporting you.

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

A dirty Dozen

“As the soil, however rich it may be, cannot be productive without cultivation, so the mind without culture can never produce good fruit” - Seneca (Roman philosopher)
On the flip side of yesterday, here are a dozen food products that recommends you buy organic because they are often heavy with pesticides.

1. Meat
2. Milk
3. Coffee
4. Peaches
5. Apples
6. Sweet Bell Peppers
7. Celery
8. Strawberries
9. Leafy Greens
10. Grapes
11. Potatoes
12 Tomatoes

Bottom Line
These fruits and vegetables are thin skin and are frequently eaten skin and all. So any chemicals on the outside will be ingested.
In the case of meat and dairy the concern is the high amount of hormones and chemicals fed to cattle and dairy cows to make them grow faster and give more milk.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Safe Food

“The first time I tried organic wheat bread, I thought I was chewing on roofing material” - Robin Williams
At there is a list of "clean" produce that you do not have to buy organic.
1. Asparagus
2. Avocado
3. Bananas
4. Broccoli
5. Clean Cabbage
6. Kiwi
7. Mango
8. Onions
9. Papaya
10. Pineapple

Bottom Line
These fruits and vegetables are naturally safe because they either have thick skins (that you don't eat) or because they are naturally disease and pest resistant so these is little to no use of pesticides.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Good Fast Food

“One of the glories of New York is its ethnic food, and only McDonald’s and Burger King equalize us all.” - John Corry, NY Times Reporter
Since I've written a few posts on "bad" fast food, I'll balance that with a survey of the "best" fast food places. A recent survey by Sandelman & Associates, a market research and consumer-trends firm, shows that customers mostly prefer regional or smaller national fast food and chain restaurants. The winners were:

Top 10 Chains in Customer Satisfaction
1. In-N-Out Burger, Irvine, Calif., 60%
2. Raising Cane’s, Baton Rouge, La., 59%
3. Giordano’s Pizza, Chicago, 56%
4. Chick-fil-A, Atlanta, 55%
5. Panera Bread, St. Louis, 54%
6. Chipotle, Denver, 52%
7. Pei Wei, Scottsdale, Ariz., 51%
8. Firehouse Subs, Jacksonville, Fla., 51%
9. Taco Tote, El Paso, Texas, 50%
10. Qdoba, Wheat Ridge, Colo., 49%

Bottom Line
Of those listed, I've eaten at and would recommend Panera and Chipotle. I've never seen the others.

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Monday, February 2, 2009


“May you always have walls for the winds, a roof for the rain, tea beside the fire, laughter to cheer you, those you love near you and all your heart might desire.” - Irish Blessing
A friend sent me the following email. I checked it out on Urban Legends and they concluded that while the account may be fictional, the recommendation is valid.
A 36 year old female had an accident several weeks ago and totaled her car. It was raining, though not excessively, when her car suddenly began to hydro-plane and literally flew through the air. She was not seriously injured but very stunned at the sudden occurrence!

When she explained to the highway patrolman what had happened he told her something that every driver should know - NEVER DRIVE IN THE RAIN [or Snow or Ice] WITH YOUR CRUISE CONTROL ON. She thought she was being cautious by setting the cruise control and maintaining a safe consistent speed in the rain. But the highway patrolman told her that if the cruise control is on when your car begins to hydro-plane and your tires lose contact with the pavement, your car will accelerate to a higher rate of speed making you take off like an airplane.

Bottom Line

These other websites agree - only use cruise control on dry pavement! South Dakota Highway Patrol Ohio Dept of Transportation Insurance Corporation of British Columbia

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Sunday, February 1, 2009

Product Recalls

“I knew my mother had it in for me from a young age. My bath toys were an electric toaster and hair-dryer.” - Rodney Dangerfield
To get the latest news on product recalls, check out the Toy and Product Recall Finder on You can search by Product Name, Brand or Model Number. There is also a listing of the most recently announced recalls. This web site includes information from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and other sources.

Bottom Line
For more information concerning recalls, visit the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. You can sign up for a recall newsletter at

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