Friday, July 31, 2009

The Greenhouse Effect in Cars

"Every dog has his day - but the nights are reserved for the cats" - unknown

Have you ever visited a green house and been amazed at how warm it was inside? Light waves, in particular short-wave infrared, penetrate the glass, get absorbed by objects inside and radiated back as heat (long-wave infrared). The heat waves can not penetrate the glass, so the temperature goes up inside.

Have you ever considered that your car is also a greenhouse? Each year about 40 children in the US die inside hot cars. Hundreds of dogs are literally cooked to death.

The typical excuse of parents is, “I only ran in for a second, I wasn't going to be long.” On a 78 degree day, a car parked in the shade can quickly exceed 90 degrees. A car parked in the sun can hit a scorching 160 degrees. It only about 10-15 minutes, for a child or pet left inside a hot car to suffer from heat exhaustion, heat stroke or death.

Rolling down a window doesn't guarantee protection since temperatures can still climb into the danger zone. And if the window is rolled down sufficiently, your pet may escape from the car. If your window is open and a passer-by claims he or she was bitten through the car window, you will be liable for a lawsuit. []

Some people leave the car running with the A/C blowing to keep pets cool while they’re away. Overlooking the chance of car jacking, this is still dangerous. In 2003, a police dog in Texas died after the air-conditioning in the patrol car shut down because the engine got too hot. The car automatically switched to blowing hot air to save the engine.

Bottom Line

Leaving children and pets unattended inside a car is a crime in most states. Don’t do it.

Sometimes children become trapped inside cars when playing or decide to sleep in the car. Always lock car doors and trunks and keep keys out of children's reach.

If your pet show signs of heat exhaustion - restlessness, excessive thirst, heavy panting, lethargy, dark tongue, rapid pulse, fever, vomiting, glazed eyes, dizziness, or lack of coordination - move the pet into the shade, an air conditioned area, or to the vet. Lower body temperature gradually by giving the animal water to drink. Place a cold towel or ice pack on the head, neck and chest, and/or immerse dogs in cool (not cold) water.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Nuclear or Coal?

“Diamonds are nothing more than chunks of coal that stuck to their jobs.”-Malcolm S. Forbes

When one thinks of the dangers of Nuclear power, thoughts immediately go to Chernobyl or Three Mile Island (in NY). But interestingly those are the worst and pretty much the only disasters from 50 years of nuclear power. A plant disaster can happen with any technology – an explosion at a hydroelectric dam seriously injured my grandfather in the 1960’s.

Given the rarity of “meltdowns” my concerns for nuclear power have focused upon the long-term disposal of nuclear rods and other waster. Yucca Mountain in Nevada was supposed to solve the problem but after spending 8 Billion dollars for studies and construction and fighting a decade of lawsuits to prevent the Yucca Repository from opening, the facility is now officially “dead” thanks largely to the efforts of Nevada Senator Harry Reid.

Now nuclear plants have no better option than continuing to keep waste in rusting barrels on plant property and rods in containment pools. Even if the plants were closed (unlikely since 14% of world power is nuclear with the percentage increasing) the waste and rods remain. I happen to live near the Indian Point nuclear plant which is itself only 40 miles from New York City and a population of over 12 million people. It’s amazing how politics can protect the 2.6 million residents of Nevada from a remote risk in exchange for actual risk to tens of millions of residents near active plants.

I hadn’t intended to rail against nuclear storage when I started this essay. What caught my eye was an article about coal ponds on There is much talk today about “clean coal” but in fact coal is very dirty and may be more dangerous to the environment than nuclear power. When coal is burned, 10% of the coal becomes coal ash that must be disposed of. The US alone produces about 100 million tons of coal ash a year. Some of that ash is lightweight (fly ash) and used to float out the pipe stacks into the air and eventually into human lungs (not good). When the industry speaks of “clean coal” they mean that due to government regulation they now have filters on the exhaust vents to catch the fly ash.

But the caught ash still must go somewhere. Today 46% of fly ash is recycled into cement and bricks while the remaining ash is buried in landfills or kept in sludge ponds. In 2008, the pool impoundment at the Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee broke and 1.1 billion gallons of fly ash slurry poured over 300 acres damaging homes and fields and flowing into local rivers. Since fly ash contains traces of heavy metals like arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, barium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, molybdenum, nickel, radium, selenium, thorium, uranium, vanadium, and zinc the spill was a major environmental disaster. Ash landfills also pose a serious threat should rainwater leak through the fill and into the local water supply carrying the heavy metals with it.

Bottom Line

Today coal supplies most of the electricity for the US. We may have solved “acid rain” but issues remain. Coal mining still creates giant holes and is a dangerous occupation for miners. Coal burning creates a deadly ash in huge quantities that must be safely stored forever. So which poison is better, coal waste or nuclear waste? I suspect history will show that coal, due to its vast quantity and lower level of confinement was the bigger threat.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Baking Powder & Food Science

“In France, cooking is a serious art form and a national sport.”-Julia Child

For several days after a local disaster, odds are you won’t be able to drive to the local grocery store to pick up some missing ingredients. For this reason all preparedness sites will recommend food storage and stocking up on supplies. But sometimes even the best plans have a gap and you discover you forgot something basic like baking powder. When that happens it’s nice to have a list of emergency ingredient substitutions in a good cookbook (like Joy of Cooking) or printed (in advance) off a website like

What is baking powder and how would you make it? According to Wikipedia, “Baking powder is a dry chemical leavening agent used to increase the volume and lighten the texture of baked goods such as muffins, cakes, and biscuits. … It is used instead of yeast for end products where fermentation flavors would be undesirable or where the batter lacks the elastic structure to hold gas bubbles for more than a few minutes. … Breads made by chemical leavening are called quick breads.”

Baking powder consists of an alkaline/base component (typically baking soda), one or more acid salts and an inert filler (like cornstarch). When the powder (single acting) gets wet the base and acid react producing gassy bubbles. The role of the filler is to extend the shelf life of the powder by absorbing moisture and preventing a reaction in the baking powder container. Over time the filler will be used up and the baking soda goes flat if not tightly sealed.

I used the phrase “single acting” which needs explaining. Baking powder that reacts when wet is single acting. In contrast “double acting” powder requires liquid AND heat to react. Double acting is useful when you want something to rise in the oven while cooking.

If you’re out of baking powder or find that it’s gone flat, you can make it as follows:

1 teaspoon of Single Acting Baking Powder =
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar (an acidic salt)
1/4 teaspoon cornstarch or potato starch

You can leave out the cornstarch if you’re making just enough for one recipe and using it immediately.

Bottom Line

My mother majored in Home Economics at the University of Idaho. One of her textbooks, which I found fascinating as a teen, was called the Chemistry of Cooking. It explained why things happen when you cook. Today a great source for food science facts is the TV show “Good Eats” by Alton Brown on the Food Network. Knowing the science can make one a better cook.

For example, do you know that deep fried food need NOT be greasy! Greasiness is a sign that the oil was not hot enough (perhaps from too much food put in the oil too quickly) or that the food was left in the fryer longer than necessary. Under the right conditions, the food being fried emits steam from the heat of the oil and the steam prevents oil from going into the food.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

One Year Anniversary

“The powers in charge keep us in a perpetual state of fear keep us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant sums demanded. Yet, in retrospect, these disasters seem never to have happened, seem never to have been quite real.” Douglas MacArthur

One year ago I started this blog while unemployed. It was fun to start a new hobby (blogging) and there was the hope that Google ads might make me some money (it didn’t). I’ve learned a lot preparing the daily topics and can use my archive as a resource for many common emergency situations.

I’ve also learned that there are many, many preparedness blogs out there. Some better written, some worse. Some more interesting, some less. I’m proud of my blog but sadly it never caught on with the public. Comments have been very few.

Bottom Line

It takes time to blog properly and now that I’m employed I need to focus on my job. At this point I'll only post only when I find new topics worth covering. I’ll try to ensure that there are at least three articles a week. Perhaps a M-W-F schedule.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Bank Fees

“A bank is a place where they lend you an umbrella in fair weather and ask for it back when it begins to rain.”-Robert Frost

Banks are in the business to make money. It used to be that they borrowed your money (via deposits) and made profits loaning that money out to others. But banks got greedy and wanted even higher rates of return through risky loans and risky investments. We saw how this imploded last year. Now banks are looking for alternative ways to make up their losses and one method is higher banking fees. In 2008 banking fees generated 53% of banking-industry income; up from 35% of income in 1995. Last year the average bounced check fee was $1, this year it is $29. Credit card fees have risen 80% from 2003 to 2008.

Here are 10 fees to watch out for:

  1. Checking Accounts
    Banks are bringing back minimum balance fees and maximum number of transactions fees. Less obvious is the “fee” of lower interest rate in checking accounts vs saving accounts.
  2. ATM
    If you use an ATM from a different bank, BOTH banks (yours and the ATM bank) can charge a fee of $2-4.
  3. Overdraft
    If you overdraw your ATM or write more in checks than you have cash, banks will hit you hard for each overdraw and charge interest on the debt.
  4. Bounced Deposit
    If you deposit a check from someone else and it bounces, you will be charged a fee. And it often happens that you assumed the money was good and wrote your own checks against the deposit that are now bouncing resulting in overdraft fees too.
  5. Tellers
    Banks may charge to speak to a teller or charge if you make “excessive” use of teller (i.e. more than two visits a month).
  6. Phone Inquiries
    If you speak to a bank rep by phone, you may be charged for the exchange.
  7. Closing Accounts
    Some banks will charge you to close an account that is less than 90 days to 6 months old.
  8. Currency Conversion
    You can use your credit card or ATM in foreign countries but your bank will charge you a fee of 1-3% for currency conversion.
  9. Credit Cards
    Grace periods are getting shorter; late fees and rates are higher.
  10. Annual Membership
    Some credit cards are bringing back a yearly fee for using the card.

Bottom Line

Examine your bank statement and credit card bills closely each month. Look for any new fees and call to complain. If the bank does not waive the fee, consider moving to a different bank or changing your banking habits.


Here's a story about an attempt to trick customers into paying higher fees:

"Yesterday, my fiancee received an envelope from Chase (her bank). Inside was a brand new debit card with a stick on it that says it is replacing her old card and to activate it immediately. The two cards looked almost identical. The only difference between her old card and the new one is that the new one had the phrase "leisure rewards" in small letters on it. My fiancee immediately called Chase to find out why she was sent a new card when her old one hadn't expired yet. The Chase rep, who my fiancee says was kind of rude (and attempted to upsell her on a credit card while helping her out) told my fiancee that she did not have to activate the new card, it was optional. By activating the new card, my fiancee would be enrolled in a new debit points program where she would gain four points for ever dollar she spends (except that the program will not award points for any transaction that uses the PIN, effectively ruling out most uses of a debit card). On top of that, there is a 25 dollar a year fee for using the new card."

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Water damage

“Seventy-five percent of our planet is water - can you swim?” - unknown

If your house is damaged by water, how you respond and cleanup is determined by whether the water is clean or contaminated. Clean water accidents include rain through a hole in the roof, a water tank leaking, a burst pipe, a burst swimming pool or water bed, etc. Contaminated water is typically floodwater. You have no idea what the floodwater may have mixed with before entering your house – sewage, dead animals, toxic chemicals, and so forth.

For dirty water damage the CDC recommends:

  • Keep children and pets out of the affected area until it is cleaned
  • Wear rubber boots, rubber gloves and goggles while cleaning
  • Clean all hard surfaces (such as flooring, concrete, molding, wood and metal furniture,
    countertops, appliances, sinks, and other plumbing fixtures) with hot water and laundry or dish detergent. Some sites recommend using bleach.
  • Discard anything absorbent that got wet and cannot be disinfected (mattresses, carpeting, carpet padding, rugs, upholstered furniture, cosmetics, stuffed animals, baby toys, pillows, foam rubber items, books, wall coverings, drywall, insulation, and paper products).
  • Affected clothing can be saved by washing in hot water and detergent.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke while cleaning. Don’t let the germs into your mouth.
  • After cleanup, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and CLEAN water.

For clean water damage, here are some housecleaning tips from “Servpro”, a professional Fire & Water – Cleanup and Restoration company.

  • Remove excess water by mopping and blotting
  • Wipe water from wood
  • Remove cushions and pillows for drying
  • Place foil or wood between furniture and wet carpet to prevent water seeping up the furniture legs
  • Remove oriental and throw rugs to dry. Don’t try to remove a wall-to-wall carpet.
  • Move artwork and painting to a dry location
  • Don’t leave wet fabric in place. Dry them as soon as possible.
  • Don’t leave books, newspapers, or magazines on wet floors. The ink may run and stain the floor.
  • Don’t use a regular vacuum to remove water. You need a special wet-vac.
  • Have wet appliances checked for safety. Don’t turn one on while standing on a wet carpet! Shock!
  • Don’t work in a room if the ceiling is sagging from water. It may fall at any time.

Bottom Line

Save what you can but be prepared to toss a lot of stuff. In college I had to toss most of my vinyl record collect when my basement apartment was flooded by an inch of water. I might have saved the records if I had acted quickly but by the time I got to them, there was mold all over the jackets and on the albums.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Healthy Swimming Pools

“If one synchronized swimmer drowns, do all the rest have to drown too?”~Steven Wright

One of the joys of summer is swimming in the town pool. But after reading the CDC site on Healthy Pools I’m not sure I want to go into the water. “Be afraid, be very afraid.”

The past two decades have seen a rise in Recreational Water Illness (RWI). RWIs are illnesses that are spread by swallowing, breathing, or having contact with contaminated water in pools or lakes. The cause may be germs, bacteria or viruses and the most frequent symptom is diarrhea.

Diarrhea is also the most likely cause of RWI. If someone has “an accident” in the pool, millions of germs are released. Chlorine (assuming the proper level has been maintained) will kill most germs in under 30 minutes but some, like Crypto, can survive for days in pool water. Another source of germs is dirty bottoms – how many people wash their butt when taking the mandatory pre-pool shower? Yet another source is dirty diapers from infants in the pool or diapers changed at poolside and the germs carried into the water on someone’s feet.

Here are the CDC’s recommendations to prevent RWIs:

  • Don’t swim if you have diarrhea (especially children & infants)
  • Takes kids to the bathroom frequently. Change diapers in the bathroom.
  • Don’t swallow pool water
  • Wash your child’s behind in the shower and practice good hygiene.

Bottom Line

How can you tell if a pool is clean and safe? Here are some signs of pool cleanliness:

  • Sight: Clean water is clear and blue. You should be able to see the drain and painted stripes at the bottom of the pool. Dirty water is cloudy.
  • Touch: Tiles should not feel sticky or slimy or slippery. The water should not stick to your fingers.
  • Smell: If you detect a strong “chlorine” smell then the pool is full of chloramines and the actual chlorine level may be low (i.e. used up). The smelly chloramines are created when chlorine combines with body oil, urine, sweat and other contaminants brought in by swimmers. This indicates that the water is not circulating quickly enough for the volume of swimmers in the pool.
  • Sound: Ask your pool operator how often the chlorine and pH levels are checked.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Oh Canada

“Canadians have been so busy explaining to the Americans that we aren't British, and to the British that we aren't Americans that we haven't had time to become Canadians.”-Helen Gordon McPherson

Since my wife and I will be driving to Canada to visit my sister for her 40th birthday, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned about driving and traveling in Canada:

  • U.S. driver's licenses are valid in Canada but you’ll need proof of auto insurance. My insurer provides a yellow card upon request showing that I’m covered in Canada.

  • Effective June 1, 2009, Passports are required for all cross border travel.

  • Distances and speeds are posted in metric units. 100 kilometers equals 62 miles. The maximum speed limit in Canada is 50km/hr in cities (31mph), 80km/hr on urban highways, and 100 km/hr on rural highways.

  • Many highways do not have merge lanes for entering traffic.

  • Emergency vehicles frequently enter the oncoming traffic lane to avoid congestion.

  • Some signs, particularly in Québec, may be in French.

  • Distances will be measured in metric units. 1 kilometer is .62 miles.

  • Gas is sold in metric liters where four liters is just over one US gallon. So when you see a gas price, multiply by four and adjust for the currency conversion rate to get a US equivalent price.

  • On the Island of Montréal, right turns on red are prohibited.

  • At intersections, signs will indicate which turns are allowed; any other turns are prohibited.

  • Seat belts are mandatory for everyone. Child car seats are required for children less than 40 pounds.

  • Some provinces require drivers to keep their headlights on during the day.

  • 911 works in Canada for emergencies.

  • Many ATM cards, such as the PLUS or CIRRUS system, can be used throughout Canada to obtain Canadian funds on your U.S. bank account. US credit cards can also be used in Canada. The card company will charge you a 1-3% fee for handling foreign currency.
    Your US cell phone most likely will NOT work in Canada. The frequency used is different.

Bottom Line

A US plate in Canada just screams tourist. To avoid being ripped-off, keep your car locked and leave valuables at your hotel. When I lived in Italy, a friend had his car window smashed with a brick and the contents stolen while we had dinner in Rome. Canada is usually better behaved but during a trip to St. Johns, someone did steal our US flag Mickey Mouse antenna decoration. We don’t know if the thief was anti-American or wanted the decoration for him/herself.

Happy Birthday Lisa!


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Recommended Books

"The worth of a book is to be measured by what you can carry away from it." ~James Bryce

The SurvivalBlog has posted a list of reader recommended survival & preparedness books at ...

The readers' favorite book is The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery. It sells for $18-20 on Amazon and is described as, "invaluable practical advice on all aspects of growing and preparing food. ... how to cultivate a garden, buy land, bake bread, raise farm animals, make sausage, milk a goat, grow herbs, churn butter, catch a pig, make soap, work with bees and more."

Many of the books in the list cover gardening and farming. The rest are a mix of general principals, health (dentistry, first aid), guns, religion (bible), food storage, and cooking.

Bottom Line

While I love the internet and all the information that is available, I would not count on it to be working after a major emergency. First - many disasters knock out the electricity. Second, that might be a break in your phone line or cable. Third, if you do have power and a working line, the servers may be overwhelmed or just incredibly slow.

Do yourself a favor and buy a few good books:

  • first aid
  • old fashioned cooking skills (e.g. Joy of Cooking, 1965 edition)
  • general survival guide
  • farming/gardening (if you have the land)

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wood Fire Cooking

“What my mother believed about cooking is that if you worked hard and prospered, someone else would do it for you.”-Nora Ephron

For years my wife & I have been looking for the right equipment for wood fire cooking. After a long search, just last weekend we finally found an affordable ($18) Dutch oven with legs and a lid at a flea market. (Legs easily allow one to put coals under the pot.) We have also been looking for the ideal outdoor fire pit ( We had a great time cooking hotdogs and S’Mores over a portable fire pit at a friend’s house. And recently visited another friend with a built in fire pit. But what we really want is an advance system with grills, shelves, arms, etc.

And yet, good equipment is only the beginning. In an excellent blog post, Learning to Cook on a Wood-Fired Stove, Deborah describes that no book held the secret to successful food fire cooking. She had to learn by trial and error:

The biggest challenge is keeping the oven heat even. Unlike a gas or electric stove, when you put something in the oven to cook and the temperature drops as the food absorbs the heat, nothing kicks in to compensate. What to do? Feed the fire wood that will burn quickly and offer more heat. As the food begins to cook and its internal temperature rises, a longer, slower-burning piece of wood will maintain the heat. Open the oven door if it gets too hot - but not for long. Your oven may even have "hot spots" like mine.

In addition to equipment and practical experience, a cook needs supplies and recipes. In Baking and Simple Cooking After a Disaster the author considers a time when “cooking as you once knew it, from cabinets bulging with a variety of packaged items, store bread and cookies, or a quick trips to the store for box cereal and meat in a neat packages, with an armful of deli tubs and rotisserie chicken – just ended.” Would you know how to cook using flour, salt, lard and other basics?

Bottom Line

If you want to learn survival-cooking skills, purchase or download some old-fashioned cookbooks. The Cooking After a Disaster post recommends …

We have several 1940 era cookbooks, Mennonite/Amish cookbooks and a thin book of ingredient substitutions as well as good, basic ones at least 30 years old. They’re priceless for simplicity, economy and few ingredients. This will mean going to the used bookstore or surfing Amazon. Avoid modern cookbooks that assume access to lots of ingredients and avoid cookbooks from the 1800s because they do not have standard measurements and assume things you might not know about like how to assemble ingredients, cooking times, pans and temperatures.

One of my favorite books is The Joy of Cooking (1965 edition). The Joy of Cooking has been in print continuously since 1936 and with more than 18 million copies sold. The older editions cover everything from butchering meat, ingredient substitution, simple sauces to complex dishes. It includes a lot of practical advice on techniques.

Another source that can be useful is modern versions of pioneer recipes. Check out Amazon’s Best Pioneer Cookbooks.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Flash Floods

“The only thing that stops God from sending another flood is that the first one was useless.”- Chamfort (French playwright)

When I picture death by weather, I can imagine tornadoes and lightning but the number-one weather killer is not so obvious: drowning in flash floods. The national 30-year average (1977-2006) for flood deaths is 99. That compares with a 30-year average of 61 deaths for lightning, 54 for tornadoes and 49 for hurricanes

A flash flood can occur quickly –within minutes of heavy rain, a dam/levee break, or ice jam break. A flash flood is also fast moving – you cannot out run it. Your best bet is to move upwards to high ground above the flood level. If the police or radio issues a flood warning – move immediately.

When driving remember the slogan, “Turn Around, Don’t Drown” when you see water covering the road. Half of all drowning occur inside a car. Don’t park your car next to a river if you can avoid it. I had a friend attend a wedding and, upon leaving the church, discover that a nearby river had crested and the car of every guest was flooded.

When camping, pitch your tent away from rivers and streams on higher ground. You never know what will happen while you’re sleeping. Once, when the sky was crystal clear, I decided there was no reason to put the rain cover over my tent. I awoke with rain falling upon me. Another time my wife & I were surprised to find that rain or dew had frozen to the outside of our tent overnight. We had no idea it was that cold or wet.

Bottom Line

Water is a powerful force – eroding mountains along river valleys like the Grand Canyon; but it can also move in mysterious ways. I was once surprised while attending a party at a boat club on the Hudson River. The river reached an unusual high tide and I found the clubhouse completely surrounded by water when it was time to leave. We were able to keep our shoes dry by climbing over some planks.

P.S. A camping joke…

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson go on a camping trip, set up their tent, and fall asleep. Some hours later, Holmes wakes his faithful friend.

'Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.'

Watson replies, 'I see millions of stars.'

'What does that tell you?'

Watson ponders for a minute. 'Astronomically speaking, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Timewise, it appears to be approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, it's evident the Lord is all powerful and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you?'

Holmes is silent for a moment, then speaks.
'Watson, you idiot, someone has stolen our tent.'

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Exercising on Hot Days

“Laughter is as good as jogging for our heart, lungs, and brain” - unknown

Exercising in hot weather can be dangerous for your and your dog.

Pets need exercise, but on very hot days it is best to limit walks or exercise to early morning or evening hours when it’s cooler. Hot asphalt and beach sand can burn pet paws. Pets can get sunburned too, and may require sunscreen on their nose and ear tips.

With people, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and dehydration are real possibilities when the temperature is greater than 70 degrees with humidity of 70% and above. High humidity means sweat doesn't evaporate very well because the air is already saturated with moisture. So you're losing fluids but not cooling down.

1. Stay hydrated. Take a drink every 15 minutes when exercising and consider a sports drink like Gatorade to replace lost salts and electrolytes.

2. Avoid the peak heat between 10am and 3pm.

3. Dress in light, comfortable clothes in light colors

4. Know the symptoms of heat illness: headache, nausea, dizziness, and light-headedness. Stop your fitness workout routine immediately, start replacing fluid, and find shade or spray your body with cool water.
Signs of heat stroke include confusion, rapid pulse, difficultly breathing, and dry skin with no sweat. If you suspect heat stroke, it's important to seek medical attention immediately as this can be a life threatening.

5. Wear sunscreen.

6. Cut yourself a little slack on extra hot days. This is NOT the time to maximize your workout. The good news is that you’ll be burning extra calories just coping with the heat.

7. When the temperature hits 80 with humidity consider moving your workout to an air-conditioned mall or gym. An increase in your body’s core temperature reduces the endurance capacity of your muscles.

8. If you insist on working out outdoors, build up to it slowly with short workouts in the heat for two weeks before your body is ready for the full routine.

9. Train with other people when it’s extra hot. Remember confusion is a symptom of heat stroke so a friend may notice if you’re in trouble, even if you don’t.

Bottom Line

If you live in a city, high heat can also mean poor air quality with ozone or smog. Long term exposure to smog can reduce the immune system's ability to fight off respiratory infections and can damage lung cells.

See Also

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Flat Tire

“I may be a living legend, but that sure don't help when I've got to change a flat tire.”- Roy Orbison

According to it is possible to fix a flat car tire in 15 minutes, far faster than it takes for a tow truck to arrive. Here are the steps:

1. Turn on your flashers and safely pull off the road. You want a shoulder that is not “soft” (the car jack will need a hard surface so it won’t sink or become unstable). You also want a spot where other cars can see you from a long distance away (i.e. don’t park on a the back side of a curve).
2. Apply the hand brake and turn off the car (transmission in Park) so the car won’t roll. Also prevent car rolling by chocking the tires with large rock or logs (same idea as door stopper wedges).
All family members should get out of the car now and stay away from the edge of the road. You don’t want kids inside rocking the car when it’s jacked up!
3. If you have flares or triangles, place these at 10-foot intervals behind your car to warn other motorists.
4. Open you trunk and hopefully you’ll find your spare tire, jack, and lug-nut wrench. Do you have a flashlight in your trunk for tire changes at night?
5. Remove the hubcap (if necessary) to access the lug-nuts.
6. Loosen the lug-nuts but don’t remove them yet. Turn them counterclockwise (lefty-loosy, righty-tighty). Some cars have locking lug-nuts to prevent tire theft and require a special key to remove (check your glove compartment).
7. Once the nuts are loose, jack up the car. Check diagrams in your owner’s manual for safe places under your car that can bear the weight for the jack. Make sure the jack is perfectly vertical and on a stable surface. Jack the car up a little more than is needed to remove the flat because the spare (filled with air) is likely to be slightly larger.
8. Now remove the loosened lug-nuts with your hand and put them in a pocket so they don’t become lost.
9. Remove the flat tire
10. Put on the spare. The air-value always faces out.
11. Turn the lug-nuts clockwise (right) to tighten. Tighten them in a crisscross pattern to prevent the tire from going on cockeyed. They don’t have to be super tight at this stage.
12. Lower the car and remove the jack.
13. Tighten the lug-nuts again – as tight as you can now.
14. Put the hubcap back on.
15. Put the flat tire, jack, safety triangles and all other equipment back in the trunk.
16. Remove the chocks from the tires and drive slowly to a tire store or mechanic.

Bottom Line

To become familiar with the process, practice changing a tire in your driveway.

Spares can go flat in your trunk so check the air pressure of the spare every few months.

Some spares are “temporary” tires and not designed for high speeds. Which kind do you have? has a favorable review for “Fix-a-Flat”. You spray the can contents into the tire (via the air valve) and it plugs small holes and restores some air pressure. The fix is temporary so get to a mechanic for a permanent fix. Be sure to tell the mechanic that you used “Fix-a-Flat”. Some places will refuse to repair a tire filled with “Fix-a-Flat” and you’ll have to buy a new tire.

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Saturday, July 18, 2009


“Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day; teach that person to use the Internet and they won't bother you for weeks” – unknown

I come from a family of fisherman – my grandfather, father and two uncles love to fish. I don’t. All the bad things happen to me. For example, one of the risks of fishing is throwing a bad cast and catching the hook on yourself or a friend.

Most fishhooks are barbed and designed NOT to come free from a fish once hooked. If you’re lucky and only the tip of the hook has pricked your skin, then it can be pulled out easily. But if you’re unlucky and the barb has become embedded in your flesh, DO NOT pull! You could tear a deep, ragged hole by pulling against the barb.

A fishhook embedded in skin should be removed by a doctor. However, if you are in a remote area and a doctor is not available, remove the fishhook by cutting the eye (the round part you tie the line to) off the shank (the long straight bar) of the hook. If you have ice you might want to numb the wound area. Then PUSH the hook through and out of your skin. Flush the wound thoroughly with running water, clean it with soap and water, and cover it with a bandage. See a doctor afterwards about a Tetanus booster shot.

Bottom Line

Never try to remove a fishhook that is embedded in the eye or face; seek medical attention immediately to have it removed.

See for more advanced methods of hook removal.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Love of Money

“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” – King James Bible, 1 Timothy 6:10

It should come as no surprise that no one is immune to the temptations of money. Not even the Amish.

My wife and I have long admired the Amish for their family values, self sufficiency, community cooperation, and marketing of back-to-basics goods (like quilts). One of our favorite general stores to visit is Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio. It stocks everything the Amish and do-it-yourselfers could ever want. Last time we visited we bought wicks for our oil lanterns and root beer flavoring to make our own soda.

But lately I’ve seen several stories of troubles in the Amish community of northern Indiana. The traditional Amish life revolves around farming but when you have large families and new farm land is either very expensive or unavailable, something has to give. Many families have started businesses in furniture, wood crafts, quilting, buggy making, etc. In northern Indian, Amish men found they could earn high wages ($30-50 hour) in factories for the recreational-vehicle and modular-homes industries. The flush of cash created a "keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality,” Amish style.

Local bishop began allowing the use of telephones, fax machines and web sites for businesses. [When shopping for a quilt in Pennsylvania at an Amish home business we noted that the room was lit by a gas lantern but they did have a modern credit card reader.] "People wanted bigger weddings, newer carriages." The WSJ states

it became common practice for families to leave their carriages home and take taxis on shopping trips and dinners out. Some Amish families bought second homes on the west coast of Florida and expensive Dutch Harness Horses… Others lined their carriages in dark velvet and illuminated them with battery-powered LED lighting. … Instead of asking neighbors for help, well-to-do Amish began hiring outsiders so they wouldn't have to reciprocate.

But the “good times” came crashing down last fall when the recreational-vehicle industry began layoffs and shutdowns. Traditionally the Amish would help each other, but nearly half the households had become dependent on the manufacturing income, so for the first time ever, local bishops allowed followers to seek unemployment benefits. Fears of an Amish mortgage crisis resulted in a run on an Amish owned bank.

Bottom Line

No one is immune from overspending and unemployment. Everyone needs to live within their means and have an emergency savings. Beware the love of money. No exceptions.

Ironically the AARP has published a guide to managing your money called "50 Ways to Love your Money"

On the lighter side

Something else I've long admired is the work of Weird Al Yankovic. The video for his song "Amish Paradise" is one of his best. See if you can spot the lyrics he borrowed from Gilligan's Island.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Customer Complaints

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”-Henry David Thoreau

Getting money or satisfaction out of a company is like David vs. Goliath or getting blood from a turnip. You get put on hold, disconnected, rudely treated by customer service or just plain ignored. Here are some ideas to help.

Step 1: When you need to challenge a charge, fix an error, return a defective product, or reject shoddy workmanship, keep a diary of each and every phone call and letter. Record the date, time, and whom you talked with (the department or name) and for how long. What you said, how they replied and any “promises” they made. Ask to speak with managers.

If this route fails, proceed to step 2: the Executive Email Carpet Bomb (EECB). Finding contact information for executives at most companies can be difficult to impossible. Fortunately one mission of the is to collect and publish the names of executives and how to reach them. Look for the search box in the black menu bar and type the name of the company you need. I typed “Sears” and the top article was Contact Sears Executive Customer Service. At this stage do NOT write an angry letter. Calm down and write a polite letter stating what you want and what’s happened according the diary you’ve kept.

For example, “Dear Sir, I’ve been a happy customer of X for 20 years and have never had a problem until this year. I purchased TheAmazingToy and it broke the moment my child opened the box. I tried to return it on Feb 23 at your MyTown store but the representative said the product was discontinued and no refunds were allowed. I called customer service the same day but after being transferred to three different departments I was disconnected. I called again the next day with the same results.
My child is broken hearted over the broken toy. If you no longer have this toy in your warehouses, it would really help us to obtain a refund or store credit of the $200 I spent so I can buy my child a different toy.
Your phone and email (very important so someone can reach you)”

Here is a letter template that may help.

Here's an example of a letter to Chase Credit Cards that got results

Step 3. If the executives in charge say no, then get creative and take the problem public. Call your local news stations- most have a Fraud reporter who reports on cases where someone feels they’ve been taken advantage of.

I read about the owner of a Hummer who was upset that his vehicle had numerous problems, but since the warranty had just expired, he was responsible for all repair costs. In response he had the side of his Hummer professional lettered saying “Don’t buy a Hummer. After only X,000 miles this lemon has the following problems…” He then parked his car in front of the Hummer dealership. They objected but the police refused to tow the car since it was legally parked on a public street. The dealer agreed to make a deal.

Canadian folksinger, Dave Carroll, alleges that United Air Lines broke his custom made, $3,500 Taylor guitar and refused to pair for repairs. After nine months and an official “no”, he asked himself, “What would Michael Moore do?” He decided to write three songs about the incident. Song 1, a charming video called “United Breaks Guitars” was put on YouTube July 6 and quickly reached over 1 million viewers. Since the video's boom in popularity, Carroll has released a statement saying United “has generously, but late, offered some compensation.” However Carroll is “no longer looking for compensation,” and would rather see the money go “to a charity of their choice.” He still has two songs to publish for an eager public.

Bottom Line

Part of dealing with companies is deciding exactly what you want and what you’ll settle for. Will you settle for a replacement item, a full refund, store credit, air miles, a coupon or an apology? Flexibility helps. Note that Dave Carroll decided to forego compensation but in exchange has gained fame online, in news articles, blogs, and TV interviews. His anti-United songs are boosting his popularity and his career.

Keep in mind also that your time is worth money. Don’t spend hours, days, and weeks trying to get back $10.

Above all, be honest. Don’t exaggerate or stretch your claim. One falsehood exposed will completely destroy your case with the company and the public.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009


“The best way to appreciate your job is to imagine yourself without one.”-Oscar Wilde

Here is some bad news from a WSJ article, The Economy Is Even Worse Than You Think, written by MORTIMER ZUCKERMAN, editor in chief of U.S. News & World Report.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 7.2 million people have lost their jobs since the start of the recession. Job losses over six months are the worst since WWII. The total jobs lost are now equal to the jobs gained over the past nine years, making this the only recession since the Great Depression to wipe out all job growth from the previous expansion.

The WSJ gives reasons why unemployment is worse than the official rate of 9.5% with 7.2 million people:

  • Many companies (and states like California) are asking employees to take unpaid leave. These people don't count on the unemployment roll.
  • 1.4 million unemployed people were not counted because they did not look for work in the 4 weeks prior to the most recent government survey.
  • The WSJ estimates that 25 million workers are under-employed. 9 million workers (5.8%) are “employed” in part-time jobs because they cannot find full-time jobs. Another 11% of the workforce had their working hours reduced. The average workweek has slipped to 33 hours, the lowest level in 45 years. Factories are running at an average of 65% capacity.
  • The prospects for new job creation are dim. When the economy does pick up, it is cheaper to assign additional work to the underemployed until they are full-time again. For many large companies, job cuts are permanent as entire divisions and plants have been closed.
  • The average length of unemployment has climbed to 24.5 weeks (again the highest since numbers were first tracked in 1948). My own unemployment was about 25 weeks.
  • State budgets are doubly hit as tax revenue is down and expenses are up assisting the unemployed. State and local governments, representing about 15% of the economy, are beginning the worst contraction in postwar history.

Bottom Line

So how is the government responding to the failed stimulus plan and record unemployment?

Option 1. Spend yet more money on a second stimulus plan.
Obama recently declared that the first stimulus “has worked as intended.” But Republican Minority Whip Eric Cantor says, “Let’s remember the context that we took this so-called stimulus bill up in. It was passed almost in the dark of night, 1,100 pages. No one in the House read that bill because the urgency was such that the president said we had to act now and if we acted now, we would stave off job loss and we’d get America back to work. That hasn’t happened.” The whole point of spending a trillion dollars (with interest included) was to keep unemployment below 8% and now it’s 9.5% and climbing.

Option 2. Let’s save the environment now with a “Cap & Tax” bill that places new burdens on struggling factories. “Job losses are so certain under this new cap-and-tax plan that it includes a provision accommodating newly unemployed workers from the resulting dried-up energy sector, to the tune of $4.2 billion over eight years.”

Option 3. Raise taxes now to provide Health Care for everyone
Another editorial in the WSJ looks at the Rangel plan to pay for Health Care by taxing small businesses. It ignores the fact that, “A new study by the Kaufman Foundation finds that small business entrepreneurs have led America out of its last seven post-World War II recessions. They also generate about two of every three new jobs during a recovery.” The current chief White House economist once wrote, "tax increases appear to have a very large, sustained and highly significant negative impact on output." In other words, tax hikes are an antistimulus. If the plan were adopted as written, the U.S. would have close to the most punitive taxes on small business income anywhere on the globe. How's that for biting the hand that feeds you?

Take to heart President Obama’s own words from February: “I expect to be judged by results and … I’m not going to make any excuses. If stuff hasn’t worked and people don’t feel like I’ve led the country in the right direction, then — you’ll have a new president [in 2012].”

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Car Engine Overheating

I know a lot about cars. I can look at a car's headlights and tell you exactly which way it's coming.-Mitch Hedberg

Years ago during a cross country college trip, smoke would come out of my engine whenever I stopped moving. A mechanic realized that the sensor for the engine cooling fan was broken. He didn’t have a spare sensor so instead he rigged the fan to continuously run with a switch I could use to turn it off and this got us across the country and back.

[eHow] Engine overheating is usually a symptom of another car problem--usually low coolant level caused by a leak, a thermostat that is stuck closed, an inoperative cooling fan or a clogged radiator. The most important thing is to turn off the car before the overheating does any damage.

Turn both the heater setting and the heater blower to high to divert heat from the engine. This may help, but only if the problem is a broken fan or fan belt (it's always worth a try).

Check the coolant level by looking at the coolant reservoir, a plastic tank. Do not open the radiator cap when the engine is hot. The radiator is under pressure, and hot coolant could seriously burn you.

[wikihow] If you must remove the radiator cap to add water or coolant, place a towel over the cap and radiator, grip the cap through the towel, twist and pull away quickly. It is better to open the radiator cap while the engine is idling rather than turning it off. Do not turn the engine off to add water. If the cold water you are pouring in comes in contact with the very hot engine it will crack the block and it's then time to replace the engine! It ensures that no steam will pour out when you twist open the radiator cap because hot water is still circulated by the water pump.

If a low coolant level is not the problem, you have a more complicated cooling system problem and should call a tow truck.

Bottom Line

How to prepare your car for summer:

  • Replace worn wiper blades and refill windshield washer solvent.

  • Check coolant levels; a 50-50 solution of water and antifreeze is usually recommended. The system should be flushed and refilled at least every two years.

  • Belts and hoses endure a lot of wear and tear during the winter. Look for worn or cracked belts and damaged, blistered, or soft hoses and replace them.

  • Use a gauge to recheck the pressure of your tires and your spare. Proper tire pressure maximizes gas mileage and prevents some wear and tear on your tires.

  • Motorists should always carry an emergency kit in their vehicles. The kit should be stocked with a flashlight and extra batteries, jumper cables, warning devices such as flares or reflective triangles, a first-aid kit and a cellular phone.

See also

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Emergency Essentials

“Helping People Prepare…for over 20 years." - Emergency Essentials

One catalog that I like to shop from for food storage and supplies is "Emergency Essentials". (website It reminds me of the fun I had as a kid looking at the old Sears Wish Book. I recommend signing up for a free monthly catalog and then looking at their monthly "Group Special". These "Specials" give low prices and free shipping within the continental US for orders of 12-20 of select items. For example the July group items are "Whole Egg Powder" (min 12), "Instant Mashed Potatoes" (min 12), and Leather Gloves (min 20). When my wife was the Emergency Coordinator for our church she would bundle orders from other families to reach the minimum order size.

One reason I'm discussing Emergency Essentials is that they have launched a new blog, I was hoping it would be informative about food storage but mostly what I see are daily/monthly sales and product pitches. The only educational article I found there was How Long Does Dehydrated or Freeze-dried Food Last After Opening?

Bottom Line

The website is a great resource with recipes, preparedness articles, 72-hour kit lists, and more. Check out the tabs at the top of the web page for topics. I'm not yet convinced that the new blog will be a great resource - perhaps they'll improve with practice.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Personal Day

"The time has come," the Walrus said,"To talk of many things: Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--Of cabbages--and kings--And why the sea is boiling hot--And whether pigs have wings." - Lewis Carroll

Several times in my life people have said I look like Bill Gates. Too bad my career in computing programming was not as successful financially. I've also been called a geek many times. In defense I've never used a pocket protector (but have lost some shirts to ink pens overflowing)!

There is a video by Weird Al Yankovic that I find hillarious but also scary for accurately capturing my lifestyle. It's called "White and Nerdy".

Chess team, yes
Collect comics, yes
Star Wars, yes (movies, not the collectibles)
Stephen Hawkings, yes
Math equations and Calculus for fun, yes
Pascal (yes), Java (yes), Klingon (no)
Star Trek, yes
MC Escher, yes
Pi (7 places)
Renaissance Fair, yes
D&D, yes
Mine sweeper, yes
Ping Pong, yes
Monty Python and the Holy Grail, yes
Bowling, yes
Donny Osmond!

Bottom Line
July 28 will be the one year anniversary of this blog. Please let me know if you find it helpful and worth continuing. Given the lack of comments and readership I may cut back to weekly updates.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Extreme Heat

“Some people change their ways when they see the light; others when they feel the heat”-Caroline Schoeder

My friends and colleagues in New York have been grumbling about the lack of “summer”. We’ve had weeks of rainy days and cool temperatures with rare glimpses of sun. So it was somewhat shocking to have a “hot” day earlier this week with 91 Fahrenheit.

Some may adore summer heat but it is also a potential killer (175 Americans die of heat exposure in a normal year. 1,250 died in the heat wave of 1980.) With extreme cold you can protect yourself with layers of coats, gloves, scarves, etc. But you can only strip so far (without getting arrested) in extreme heat. Here are some recommendations to avoid Dehydration, Heat Exhaustion, and Hyperthermia(Heat Stroke).

  • Stay hydrated by drinking more fluids
    This is not as easy as it sounds. First off, fluids with caffeine, alcohol, or sugar will dry you out. So this eliminates ice coffee, ice teas (unless herbal), most sodas, and all alcoholic drinks. Second, the drink should not be icy cold – this can cause stomach cramps. Third, you need to remember to drink regularly even if not thirsty. Forth, your doctor may place a limit on how much you may drink; for example if you’re taking water pills to lower your blood pressure.
  • Find cool places to hang out
    If you don’t have an air conditioner then seek out other “cool” places during extreme heat. My wife and I will go grocery shopping and linger in the frozen food aisles examining all products closely. We’ll get some exercise walking in an air-conditioned mall. Or catch up on magazine reading at our library. Or eat out (we immediately walked out of one restaurant when we realized their A/C was broke). Or go for a long drive in our air-conditioned car. During heat emergencies the Red Cross may open “cool” down shelters that you can sleep at. Electric fans won’t help when the air is hotter than your body (98.6 F). When the air is high 90 and above you’re just blowing heat at your body and making things worse.
  • Take precautions when outside
    Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing and a wide brimmed hat. Wear sunscreen and seek out shade. Move slowly and stop frequently to rest and cool down.

Bottom Line

Be creative when the going gets hot. Take cold showers or baths. I like to wrap up an ice cube and apply it to the back of my neck letting the melt water run down my back. Wet your hair or shirt or a hat. Stay out of the sun as much as possible.

Recommended Links:
For Athletes:

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Friday, July 10, 2009


“I have no idea what my body feels like when it's not bruised, sore of stiff...” - Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

While researching cuts yesterday, I came across many interesting facts about bruises on With both cuts and bruises, blood vessels have been damaged and are leaking. But because bruises (and their potential partner, swelling) don't break through the skin, there is a difference in first aid treatment.

First Aid for a Bruise

  1. Immediately apply an ice pack to the bruise to reduce swelling. You can make an ice pack by wrapping ice cubes in a cloth or clean towel.

  2. Elevate the bruised area so that it is higher than the heart to keep blood from “pooling” in the affected area.

  3. Keep the bruise elevated for approximately 15 minutes if the wound is minor. Keep a large bruise elevated for at least an hour. If the bruise is severe or it covers a large portion of the body, seek medical help.

  4. If the bruise doesn't appear to be getting any better after 24 hours, see your physician.

Bottom Line

Seek prompt medical help if there is any swelling around the bruise, especially if it occurs at a joint. This can signal danger to nerves, muscles, and bones, all of which require a trained physician's attention.

Heavy internal bleeding is serious and can be fatal. Go to a hospital if you see these symptoms of internal bleeding or shock from blood loss:

  • Major swelling at the injury site
  • Major or immediate black and blue marks at the wound
  • Pale, clammy skin
  • Chills
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Dilated pupils
  • Rapid, weak pulse

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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Scrapes & Cuts

“Only those who get into scrapes with their eyes open can find the safe way out”-Logan Pearsall Smith

When children play or ride bikes, it is inevitable that they will fall and scrape a leg, knee, elbow, etc. Usually the crying will be worse than the actual injury. Most minor cuts and scrapes don't require a trip to the emergency room but proper care at home is essential to avoid infection or other complications. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Stop the bleeding
    If the blood flow is heavy or spurting (indicating a deep cut), see a doctor immediately. If the cut is more than ¼ inch deep, is gaping, has jagged edges, or has fat or muscle sticking out, go to a hospital.
    Minor cuts will stop bleeding own their own within a few minutes. If bleeding continues then apply pressure with a clean cloth for 10-20 minutes. Do not lift the cloth early and peek. This may pull off any scab that is forming. If light bleeding continues after 20 minutes, seek medical assistance.
  2. Clean the wound
    Rinse out the wound with clear water. Since soap can irritate raw flesh, apply soap to the skin around the wound but keep it out of the actual wound. If dirt, rocks, grass or other debris remains in the wound after washing, use tweezers cleaned with alcohol to gently remove the particles. DO NOT dig with the tweezers as this may push items deeper into the wound or restart bleeding. If debris remains embedded in the wound after cleaning, see your doctor.
  3. Apply an Antibacterial Cream
    Antibiotic ointments like Neosporin and Polysporin help keep the wound moist and prevent infection. Some people are allergic to antibiotics so stop using ointment if a rash appears. First aid books today are split on whether to apply hydrogen peroxide or iodine. These can kill the cells trying to heal the injury and may cause scarring. In my experience, hydrogen peroxide prevents scars from cat scratches. Cat claws are very dirty and a mild infection is guaranteed if the scratch is not thoroughly cleaned.
  4. Cover the wound
    Apply a clean bandage to keep the open wound clean and prevent infection or reinjury.
  5. Replace the dressing
    Replace the bandage daily or if it gets wet or dirty.
  6. Remove the bandage once a scab has formed
    Skin heals best in open air and light. Keep the bandage on only long enough for the body to create a solid scab or seal over the wound so nothing gets inside.
  7. Get a tetanus shot
    Doctors recommend a tetanus shot every 10 years. If the wound is deep, a puncture, or caused by a dirty/rusty object and the last shot was more than five years ago, your doctor may recommend a tetanus shot booster. Get the booster within 48 hours of the injury.

Bottom Line

The steps above should suffice for minor cuts and scrapes. Continue to check the wound daily for signs of infection, such as redness, increased pain, pus, warmth, or swelling. See a doctor if an infection develops.

With a minor cut, psychology may matter more then physiology. Stay calm and assure your child that all will be well once the wound is clean. Be comforting but please don’t kiss the “boo-boo” or blow on it. This adds germs to the wound.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Actions have consequences

America is a land of taxation that was founded to avoid taxation.~Laurence J. Peter

As I wrote on July 4, many (most?) of our state and federal congressional leaders have no real business experience. When expenses rise the solution to balancing the budget is rarely ‘spend less’. Instead the answer is more often ‘raise taxes’ or make the rich pay more. But politicians forget that money is mobile. The wealthy can move and businesses can relocate to another state or overseas if local conditions become unfavorable.

The Wall Street Journal looks at an attempt by Maryland to “soak the rich” which resulted in “Millionaires Go Missing

Politicians in Annapolis created a millionaire tax bracket, raising the top marginal income-tax rate to 6.25%. And because cities such as Baltimore and Bethesda also impose income taxes, the state-local tax rate can go as high as 9.45%. Governor Martin O'Malley … declared that these richest 0.3% of filers were "willing and able to pay their fair share." The Baltimore Sun predicted the rich would "grin and bear it."

One year later, nobody's grinning. One-third of the millionaires have disappeared from Maryland tax rolls. [Down to 2000 from 3000 filers] … On those missing returns, the government collects 6.25% of nothing. Instead of the state coffers gaining the extra $106 million the politicians predicted, millionaires [combined] paid $100 million less in taxes than they did last year -- even at higher rates.

The WSJ in “Soak the Rich, Lose the Rich” notes that California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Oregon are also trying to raise taxes on the wealthy. The rich respond by moving:

We found that from 1998 to 2007, more than 1,100 people every day including Sundays and holidays moved from the nine highest income-tax states such as California, New Jersey, New York and Ohio and relocated mostly to the nine tax-haven states with no income tax, including Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire and Texas. We also found that over these same years the no-income tax states created 89% more jobs and had 32% faster personal income growth than their high-tax counterparts.

Do low-tax states lack key services. No, they just budget better.

[New Hampshire] the Live Free or Die State has no income or sales tax, yet it has high-quality schools and excellent public services. Students in New Hampshire public schools achieve the fourth-highest test scores in the nation -- even though the state spends about $1,000 a year less per resident on state and local government than the average state and, incredibly, $5,000 less per person than New York. And on the other side of the ledger, California in 2007 had the highest-paid classroom teachers in the nation, and yet the Golden State had the second-lowest test scores.

Bottom Line

Some states have learned this lesson. Maine just reduced state taxes in the hope of drawing people to it.

Other states are still in the dark. North Carolina just passed a bill to tax online sales. In response Amazon has shut down the affiliate program in NC.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Don't drive through flood waters

“We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Almost half of all flash flood deaths happen inside vehicles because drivers think they can drive through “shallow” water. Just six inches of moving water is deep enough to knock people off their feet and for small cars to loose control. One foot of water can carry away the average car. Two feet of water will float most vehicles including SUVs and pickup trucks.

The video here shows how quickly moving water can destroy a road. Fast forward through the first minute. By minute two the road is collapsing. If the water level were higher and covered the road after the collapse, you’d have no idea that a piece of the road was gone if you tried to drive thorough it.

Flooded River Destroys Road In Minutes

Bottom Line

For more information on driving through flood waters, check out

If your car stalls or begins to drift while driving through water, do not stay in the car. Get out immediately. If your car becomes submerged you may have to wait for the car to fill with water before you’re able to open the car door. (Water is heavier than air and pushes against the car doors.) Don’t panic, hold your breath, and swim out.

If you are swept into moving floodwater, float on your back and try to point your feet downstream and protect your head from collisions.

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Monday, July 6, 2009

Lightning Myths

“There are only three things that can kill a farmer: lightning, rolling over in a tractor, and old age.”-Bill Bryson

According to the National Weather Service, “lightning kills on average more than 70 people and injures at least 300 each year in the U.S. Most people assume they will never get hit and yet they pour money into lotteries where your chance of winning is less likely than your odds of being struck by lightning. So the “Hey, you never know” lottery philosophy needs to be applied to lightning too.

Much about lightning that people think they know is false. Here are some common myths:

  • Lightning never hits the same place twice
    False. The top of the Empire State Building is hit a hundred times a year.
  • I’m safe if there’s blue-sky overhead
    False. Lightning can easily travel more than three miles from the thundercloud. 10-15 miles is rare but can happen. So distant clouds can be a local concern. Don’t wait for rain to stop a sports game. If you see dark, angry clouds approaching, call the game.
  • A car is safe from lightning because of the rubber tires
    False. After traveling several miles through air, lightning will laugh at two feet of rubber. It is the metal body of the car that directs lightning around you and keeps you safe. This also means that fiberglass cars, bikes, motorcycles, and open cabin tractors will NOT keep you safe. Likewise rubber sneakers or a rubber rain jacket offer NO protection.
  • Lightning is attracted to metal or take off anything metal
    False. Metal does not act as a lightning magnet; bolts are just as happy to hit trees and stony mountains. HOWEVER, when lightning does strike, it can travel over 100 yards through metal fences, cars, bleachers, etc.
  • You can become electrified by touching a lightning victim.
    False. Humans are not batteries and do not store electricity. Give CPR immediately.
  • Trees will protect you from lightning
    False. Anything tall attracts lightning and being under a tree is the second leading place for lightning deaths.
  • I’m safe from lightning inside my house
    Yes, But… A lightning strike on the house can cause current to run through phone wires, electrical cords, metal window frames, water pipes (even plastic), etc. Stay away from windows and away from phones and appliances.
  • A surge protector or UPS will protect my computer against lightning strikes
    False. A surge protector is great for normal, everyday spikes in electricity but lightning is off the scale. The only sure way to protect computers, TVs, etc during a storm is to unplug them.
  • If lightning is about to strike you outdoors, lie flat on the ground
    False. Lightning can travel over 100 feet though the ground so you maximize your exposure by lying flat. Instead use the ‘Lightning Crouch’ – feet together, crouch low, head tucked, ears covered. You want to be low down with minimal ground contact.
  • Lighting won’t strike water
    False. Lightning can strike water so boaters and swimmers are not safe in a storm.
  • Stand near a tall object so the lightning will strike it instead of you.
    False. Lightning is very fickle. It prefers tall objects but it can and does strike anything it wants to. Even if the tall object is hit, you can still be fried if within 100 feet of the strike.
  • Most lightning injuries occur to golfers
    False. Common victims include postal workers on foot, telephone repairmen, farmers in large fields, joggers, hikers, campers and of course, golfers.
  • A lightning strike is always fatal
    False. A strike will instantly kill 20% to 30% of the time. Sometimes the heart is stopped and immediate CPR is needed. Sometimes lightning just flashes over the outside of a victim, blowing off the clothes but leaving few external signs of injury and few, if any, burns.

Bottom Line

This myth list is for information only. There is still much about lightning that is not understood. No guarantee of lightning safety is stated or implied.


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Sunday, July 5, 2009


“How long a minute is depends on what side of the bathroom door you're on” – unknown

According to, normal constipation is defined as fewer than three bowel movements per week. Severe constipation is less than one bowel movement per week. There is no medical reason to have a bowel movement every day. In fact going without a bowel movement for two or three days usually results in more mental distress than physical discomfort.

A frequently overlooked cause of constipation is medications. Narcotic pain meds (like Tylenol #3), antidepressants, anticonvulsants, iron supplements, Calcium channel blockers and antacids with aluminum can slow the bowels. Another cause is too little hydrating liquids in your diet. Alcohol and caffeine pull water out of your body so think of coffee, tea, and soda as negative fluids. Calcium can harden stools so drink milk in moderation and avoid huge quantities of cheese, ice cream, etc.

Lack of exercise and prolonged bed rest can slow the passage of food through the bowels and cause constipation. The day after my wife had surgery, the nurses made her walk up and down the hallway to get the intestines restarted. She was not allowed to leave the hospital until a bowel movement was made.

Ironically the best way to avoid constipation is MORE fiber in the diet. Many types of fiber bind to water and help retain water within the intestine. Fiber adds bulk (volume) to the stool and the water softens the stool. Natural fibers can be found in fruit, vegetables and whole grains. At least five servings of fruits and vegetables are recommended. If this is not enough, there are fiber supplements (like Metamucil) you can buy at grocery stores and pharmacies.

One side effect of fiber is gas. Since each person is unique in how their digestive system will react to different types of fiber, you should experiment to see what works for you. Try different sources of fiber one at a time; starting with a low dose and increasing the dose every week until your bowels return to normal or troublesome flatulence interferes. (Fiber does not work overnight.) If gas or bloating occurs, either reduce the dose of fiber or switch to a different fiber.

If fiber is not working for you, check out MedicineNet’s description of laxatives, enemas, drugs, etc – their use and side effects. Prunes are a safe and natural laxative but cause gas or cramps with some people. Long term, continuous use of some laxatives can harm the colon and actually cause constipation.

Bottom Line

It is important to distinguish recent onset constipation from recurring, long duration constipation. If you’re suddenly constipated with no prior history, then see a doctor to rule out serious medical illnesses like tumors or cancer of the colon. If you experience constipation with rectal bleeding, abdominal pain and cramps, nausea and vomiting, or involuntary loss of weight then see a doctor.

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Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Independence Day

There's the country of America, which you have to defend, but there's also the idea of America. America is more than just a country, it's an idea. An idea that's supposed to be contagious.-Bono

I love America and am very proud of the accomplishments of our country. We've had a glorious 233 years. But I am also worried about America's future. Our founders created a constitution to limit the powers of national government and to prevent abuse. But in the past 100 years the federal government has chipped away at its restrictions and collected vast authority that was never intended. We also suffer from a permanent elected class (thanks to Gerrymandered districts) that are largely immune from censor and an ever growing civil service bureaucracy. People who blow the whistle are fired like the current Inspector General. People who protest are belittled or ignored: Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) Runs from Constituents

One problem with our congress today is that many of the elected have no experience in the real world. They are elected young (with no experience but politics) and then stay for decades. These are the people who then make the laws controlling business and the economy based upon the requests of paid lobbyists or upon social ideals about how things "should" work.

Philip K. Howard raised the following concerns in The Atlantic:

Year after year, Congress makes laws but almost never repeals them. Washington is like a huge monument to legacy costs. Laws from the Depression will send tens of billions in unnecessary subsidies this year to farmers, organized labor and other groups thought to be in need–80 years ago. Bloat is also notorious–it’s nearly impossible to fire anyone under civil service laws, so layers of middle management have grown exponentially. Professor Paul Light found 32 levels in some agencies (compared to 5 levels in most well-run enterprises). All this accumulated law–about 300,000 pages of federal statutes and regulations–operates as a form of central planning. It bogs people down in bureaucracy.

Bottom Line

Watch this video for an example of government grown out of control.

See also: The Spirit of ‘76: The Cancer of Congressional Corruption Betrays Our Founders’ Sacrifice.

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Friday, July 3, 2009


You may be a redneck if... your lifetime goal is to own a fireworks stand. Jeff Foxworthy

When I was a child in Idaho, my uncle purchased two large grocery bags filled with fireworks. He set these near the base of a tether ball pole. Then he attached a sparking wheel to the top of the pole and lit it. Some sparks fell in to the bags and started a chain reaction of explosions as everything went off. It was exciting for all of 60 seconds but not what he intended.

Tomorrow is July 4 and you may be setting off some fireworks of your own (legal or illegal?) Here are some safety tips:

  • Use fireworks outdoors only

  • Don’t combine fireworks or try to build your own from the powder. Light one at a time.

  • Light the fireworks with a long match or torch and get away quickly.

  • Never relight a "dud" firework. Wait 20 minutes and then soak it in a bucket of water

  • The shooter should wear safety glasses

  • The shooter should be an adult and sober

  • Only light fireworks on a smooth, flat surface away from the house, dry leaves, and flammable materials. If lighting fireworks on grass, lay down a flat wooden board for a shooting surface.

  • A minimum clear radius of 30 feet for fountains and other ground based items and 100 yards for any aerial product is recommended.

  • Do not carry fireworks in your pocket or on your person.

  • Never smoke when working with fireworks

  • Keep a bucket of water or fire extinguisher on hand, just in case

  • If you allow young children to use a sparkler (min age 12 is suggested), then warn them never to touch the sparking end. The tip of a sparkler burns at over 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to cause third-degree burns and melt glass.

  • Children should never pick up firework fragments or duds that may be left over, they may still be active.

Bottom Line

Each year about 10,000 people are injured by fireworks in the US. It’s important to put the most space between you and the firework when lighting. Never use short matches. You don’t want your fingers an inch from a possible explosion.

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