Monday, November 30, 2009

RSNA 2009

Today I'm away on my first business trip for FujiFilm Medical System and attending a conference in Chicago. The convention is sponsored by the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) comprising 42,000 radiologists, radiation oncologists, medical physicists and allied scientists. It provides an opportunity for medical professionals to see new equipment and to attend courses on techniques and best practices.

I'm attending the show as an exhibitor. Fuji has a long history with film, not just for cameras, but also with medical devices like X-ray machines. FujiFilm Medical Systems was quick to recognize the importance of computers and was the first company to offer digital X-rays by providing a specialized cartridge that fits inside the film slot of existing X-ray machine and can then be uploaded digitally to a PACS.

PACS stands for Picture Archiving and Communication System. It's a storage and retrieval system for digital x-rays and other medical images. FujiFilm created a PACS called Synapse and I'm part of the development team that supports and enhances Synapse.

Bottom Line

I suspect I'll be a fish out of water at this show. Will let you know how it went when I return.

Did you know? Since most hospitals use digital images now, you can ask the radiology department to download your x-rays to a CD for you to take home and view on your computer.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Winter Insulation

“I like these cold, gray winter days. Days like these let you savor a bad mood.”- Bill Watterson (Calvin & Hobbes)

Popular Mechanics has some ideas to reduce your Winter heating bill...

1. Plug the gap into your attic (shows pictures of how)
2. Stuff your Chimney (to block the inflow of cold air)
3. Upgrade your windows (or cover them)
4. Put a blanket on your hot water heater
5. Wrap your hot water pipes
6. Fill cracks and gaps in the house walls

Bottom Line

Check out Popular Mechanics for a cost estimate on these ideas. Most pay for themselves in the first year.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

A Happy Thanksgiving Day to all.

My wife and I plan to visit an old friend, a teacher who taught us how to Round Dance.
Round dancing is a bit like square dancing - the moves are choreographed and the dancers follow the instructions of the "Cuer". But instead of Western songs, round dancing uses ballroom music and the steps being followed are foxtrot, waltz, tango, etc. Think of Dancing with the Stars with a coach calling out the steps.

Update - I'm glad I took a moment to look at past posts. The danger of scheduling posts to publish automatically is forgetting to update them when something changes. Our trip to Virginia was canceled but we hope to get down there someday soon. Instead a wonderful family in our Church invited us to share Thanksgiving with them. We had a great time. Thanks to Swedish Mom who reads this blog and is the #1 commenter.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Holiday Food

“Celebrate the happiness that friends are always giving, make every day a holiday and celebrate just living!” - Amanda Bradley

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and if you’re a normal person, you’ll look back at the end of the day and think, “I can’t believe I ate all that!” In college I met with a dietician to lose weight and she said that best I could hope for during the Holiday season was not to gain weight. No one loses weight over Thanksgiving and Christmas.

So in the hopes of not gaining weight – here are some food tips from me and,
The Best and Worst Holiday Foods.

Eggnog – this tasty concoction of milk, cream and eggs has 350 calories per glass, equal to three cans of soda. Hot Chocolate can have one-third the calories if you make it yourself at home. If you order Hot Chocolate at Starbucks for example, ask that it be made with skim milk and skip the whipped cream. For even fewer calories, try an herbal peppermint tea spiked with a cinnamon stick.

Crab Cakes – a healthy crab is made much less healthy with mayo, breadcrumbs, and cooking in a vat of bubbling fat. Try a shrimp cocktail instead but go light on the dipping sauce. It is loaded with salt.

Mixed Drinks – these pack a lot of calories; a Gin and Tonic or a beer has 210 calories. And consume these slowly (if at all). A simple drink (beer, wine, one shot of alcohol) raises the blood alcohol content (BAC) by .02% and takes one hour to dissipate. A policeman told me that he’s arrested people during the morning commute with BAC above the legal limit (.08% in NY). The four to five hours of sleep after a late party were not enough to burn off all the alcohol consumed.

Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip is loaded with mayo, sour cream and cream cheese (and oh so yummy). Try melon balls with Prosciutto instead.

As a fourth generation Idahoan, I’m disappointed to see Backed potato with butter and sour cream on the list to avoid. The potato is OK, just be careful of what you put on it.

Prime Rib – my favorite cut of meat is also the fattiest cut. There is no escaping that fat = flavor. Men’s Health recommends a Tenderloin cut but I find most tenderloin to be flavorless (unless wrapped in bacon which adds the fat back in.)

Worst Dessert – Pecan Pie a la Mode at 800 calories a slice! You could enjoy a chocolate fondue with fruit and angel food cake for just 340 calories.

Bottom Line

The holiday foods with the most flavor are most likely those with the most fat and sugar and salt. Stick to simpler, natural foods and avoid gorging out on the deviled eggs and other appetizers. Take small samples and eat in moderation.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Safe? Deposit Boxes

“Ah, this is obviously some strange usage of the word 'safe' that I wasn't previously aware of”- Douglas Adams (British Writer, 1952-2001)

We all have important papers that we want preserved; life insurance, house title, car title, birth certificates, and so on. Losing these in a house fire just makes your loss and burdens even worse. So for generations, the advice of planners and preparers has been to keep your important papers off-property in a bank’s safe deposit box. But not anymore…

Many states, like California, are desperate to find money to pay for bloated budgets and they have discovered that unclaimed public property is a great revenue source. According to an ABC investigation, How Safe Is Your Safe-Deposit Box?, the California courts have issued injunctions barring the state from seizing any more property (like safe deposit boxes) until it made reforms. In a conflict of interest, California has changed the “no contact” period that triggers seizure from 15 years to 7, then to 5 and currently 3. (They even tried to reduce the waiting period to a single year.) On top of this, the state had not bothered to inform anyone that your safe deposit box is about to be taken by the state and IMMEDIATELY auctioned off or destroyed. It stopped sending notices to rightful owners because, "It could well result in additional claims of monies that would otherwise flow into the general fund."

Read the full story of How Safe Is Your Safe-Deposit Box? for tales of lost stocks, land rights, and valuable heirlooms. Family fortunes sold for a pittance at auctions to feed the state general fund.

Bottom Line

How do you protect yourself?

  1. Make contact with your bank, your brokerage firm, etc. at least once a year, in a way that creates a paper trail. Make sure they have your current address.
  2. If you own stock, occasionally vote your proxies or take other steps to keep your stock ownership active. Stay in touch with your broker or brokerage company.
  3. Write a list of all your accounts and keep it with your will, so your heirs will know where to look.
  4. Consider insuring valuables even if you keep them in your safe-deposit box. That way, you're covered financially if the bank or state makes a mistake and empties your box. Plus, safe-deposit contents have been known to be destroyed by fire or flooding.

If you want to search for unclaimed property in your name, check out the following links for more information:

National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Induction Stovetops

“God will provide the victuals, but He will not cook the dinner”- Proverb

There are five primary ways to cook food in a home:

  1. Fireplace cooking (rustic but fun)
  2. Gas stove/oven (same principle as a fireplace but you control the flame)
  3. Electric stove/oven (using the “waste” heat of an electrical circuit)
  4. Induction (magnetic field)
  5. Microwave (waves vibrate food molecules)

Of these methods only a Microwave cooks the food directly. Typically all other methods first heat a cooking vessel and the vessel then cooks the food. Think of the times you wait for a skillet to warm up or burn something because the pan is too hot.

In this post I want to discuss Induction stoves. My wife & I were looking at new stoves the other day and most of the stoves on display were Induction. Neither of us has ever used one. How do they work? [The numbers below match the picture]

1. The “burners” (or more accurately called the “elements”) pulse electricity through copper coils to create an oscillating magnetic field.

2. The field extends just above the element and into the metal of the cooking vessel. This creates an electric current INSIDE your pan/pot, which generates heat. Essentially the cooking vessel becomes an electric heating element.

3. The heat of the pan/pot cooks the food.

4. Nothing outside the cooking vessel is affected by the magnetic field.

In order for Induction to work, the cooking vessel must react to magnetism. That’s yes for iron and steel, no to materials like aluminum, copper, and Pyrex. If you’re not sure, try the magnet test. A vessel is ferrous (i.e. subject to magnetism) if a magnet will stick to it.

Induction Pros
  • Heat faster with the fine control of gas cooking.
  • More energy-efficient than traditional cooktops (90% vs 70% for electrical units)
  • Safer. The hottest thing is the pan itself, not a flame or an electrical element which can be quite hot.
  • Cleaner – ever try to clean a spill on an electric element? The induction element surface is perfectly flat and wipable.
  • In Consumer Reports, 2008, induction appliances outscored gas and electrical ovens.


  • Won’t be able to use your copper, aluminum or Pyrex pots
  • Pot & pans need to have a flat base to make contact with the magnetic field. A rounded Wok won’t work so well. (I did read that China makes rounded induction elements just for woks!)
  • Pans heat really fast! Say 10 seconds. This would normally be considered a plus but it also means you’re likely to burn some food until you get used to it. It is suggested that you always put some oil or liquid in the pan before turning on the heat – this will help buffer the heat.
  • The Induction magnetic fields could interfere with a pacemaker or defibrillator.
  • Metal jewelry like rings and bracelets can become hot if your hand hovers over an active element. Many modern induction units have sensors and only activate the magnetic field when a “lot” of metal is detected – a pot’s worth instead of a ring or bracelet.
  • Noise – some induction stovetops have an internal fan to keep the electrical parts of the elements cool. Some pot and pans will hum or buzz on an induction stove.

Bottom Line

While there is no “flame” with Induction cooking you still have to take precautions. The metal pan will become hot and will still burn you. When you pick the pan up, the stovetop that was directly under the pan is still hot from the heat of the pan and needs a moment to cool before the stovetop is safe to touch.


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Friday, November 20, 2009

Christmas Ghost Stories

"There'll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago" - lyrics from It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

My wife volunteers her time one day a month by telling stories to school children. She does this as a member of Spellbinders, an organization dedicated to oral storytelling.

In October she was worried about telling Halloween stories that might be too scary for third graders but they said, "nah, we can handle it", and they did. They loved the scary stories. During her November visit the children asked for scary Thanksgiving stories but she didn't know any. So she called me up afterwards and asked me to find out if there were any scary Christmas stories available. My wife is not the only one asking this question. Check out the post by a "Good Morning Carolina" TV co-anchor who ponders why "Scary ghost stories" are mentioned in the Christmas song It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year.

There is clearly a British tradition of Christmas ghosts. The English story, "A Christmas Carol", is filled with ghosts who scare Scrooge to a better life. There was a Dr Who episode that begins with Charles Dickens reciting "A Christmas Carol" and then seeing an actual ghost in the audience. The classic novel, A Turn of the Screw, begins at Christmastime and there is mention of telling ghost stories. In the 1970s the BBC aired ghost stories at Christmastime.

Karen Michelle Nutt explains that there is a connection between Christmas Ghost Stories and Celtic Spirits. December 21 is the longest night of the year and the second most haunted day (Halloween being #1). The Celtic Yuletide season originally represented the death and rebirth of the sun and became associated with death and spirits in general. In modern times the Catholic Church substituted Christmas Eve, Dec 24, for the Winter Solstice with Christ bring light to the world and ending darkness.

Bottom Line

Perhaps Tim Burton's, A Nightmare Before Christmas, is no so far off the mark? With stores celebrating Christmas now the day after Halloween, why not let some Halloween invade Christmastime?

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

What does a Trillion dollars buy?

"The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'" - Ronald Reagan

For this post, I'll let a picture be the star. What has the one trillion dollar stimulus package achieved?

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

While the news in this graph is very bad for the US and for Obama, I'll switch hats from government cynic to mathematician for a moment.

I've always associated the phrase, "Lies, damned lies, and statistics" as a favorite quote of Mark Twain but Wikipedia claims it was first used by British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. While the chart above is accurate, it uses three techniques to exaggerate the message and editorialize.

1. This chart does not prove a "swindle". That's just the artist's opinion. I do agree however with the byline, "Reality Trumps White House Promises".

2. I doubt very much that the Obama's sad face is related to the stimulus. The artist wants us to assume that Obama has acknowledged his "guilt" in the "swindle". To my knowledge Obama is still claiming with a smile that the stimulus is a success.

3. The vertical scale of the chart is approximately 7 to 10.5%. By not starting the vertical scale at zero, differences are exaggerated. The White House predicted 8% but got 10%. This is an actual error of 1/4 or 25%. But the graph shows the red line climbing to 4 times higher than the White House "promise" for a perceived error of 400%.

Now here is a more honest graph of the same numbers.

Bottom Line

I'm now putting my government cynic hat back on...

Recall how this stimulus package was passed in Congress. It was urgent to prevent an economic disaster. There was no time to read the details. We were asked to trust our leaders that they knew best how to solve the crisis by throwing lots of money at it. I hope Americans never make that mistake again.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What NOT to do after a disaster

"There's no disaster that can't become a blessing, and no blessing that can't become a disaster"-Richard Bach

From MSN Money I spotted these after-the-disaster do's and don'ts. I'm going to focus on the DON'T in this posting.

  • Don’t travel if you can avoid it. Roads and conditions may be dangerous.

  • Don’t cross moving water by car or foot.

  • Do not try to repair damaged gas or electrical lines yourself

  • Do not use tap water until it is announced safe. Boiling may kill bacteria in the water but won’t remove any contaminants like sewage.

  • Do not eat food in boxes or cans that have touched floodwaters
    Never use a power generator inside the house, the carbon monoxide may kill you. Do not plug it into the main house power lines.

  • Don’t assume the insurer or government will take care of everything

  • Don’t turn on water-damaged appliances without having them inspected

  • Make emergency repairs as needed but don’t remove evidence of damage. The insurer needs to see the damage before they’ll pay for it.

  • Don't accept the services of companies that drive through damaged neighborhoods immediately after a disaster – these may be scam artists

  • Don't open the door to an insurance adjuster or inspector without an ID badge. Thieves use this ruse to gain entry to homes after disasters.

  • Don’t sign away your rights. Some insurers may offer quick cash up front from emergency repairs but require that you sign away all future claims. Read carefully anything you’re asked to sign and don’t sign if you don’t understand it.

  • Don’t assume the insurer is giving you their best offer. Read your policy and see what your rights are. If you think the insurer is acting unfairly, contact your state insurance department.

  • Don’t miss deadlines for filing claims.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Have you ever wondered why gold is an expensive and valuable commodity? Yes it is a very pretty metal, easy to work with, great for making decorative work. But the quote below from gives the answer...

"How rare is gold? If you could gather together all the gold mined in recorded history, melt it down, and pour it into one giant cube, it would measure only about eighteen yards across! That's all the gold owned by every government on earth, plus all the gold in private hands, all the gold in rings, necklaces, chains, and gold art. That's all the gold used in tooth fillings, in electronics, in coins and bars. It's everything that exists above ground now, or since man learned to extract the metal from the earth. All of it can fit into one block the size of a single house. It would weigh about 91,000 tons - less than the amount of steel made around the world in an hour. That's rare." - Daniel M. Kehrer

Bottom Line

A few years back one of the museums in New York City held a special exhibit on gold. They built a room the size of the world's gold cube so you could stand inside and experience the total amount of known gold in the world. It's amazing how so little gold can go a long way.

Many survivalist get excited about gold as a hedge against inflation and protection against a currency crash. Personally I wouldn't know real gold from fake, so I worry about being swindled when gold is exchanged. I'd rather stockpile food. You can not eat gold.

Yet there are times when gold can be useful. When friends of ours lived in Saudia Arabia, they discretely wore some gold jewelry. If they ever had to evacuate the country quickly, the gold would help bribe their path to escape.

Here is a recent story online about gold...

GOLD HITS RECORD HIGH ON LOSS OF FAITH IN DOLLAR: “Gold prices on Tuesday surged to an all-time high after India’s central bank bought 200 tonnes of the precious metal, swapping dollars for bullion as the country’s finance minister warned the economies of the US and Europe had ‘collapsed’. India’s decision to exchange $6.7bn for gold equivalent to 8 per cent of world annual mine production sent the strongest signal yet that Asian countries were moving away from the US currency.”

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Monday, November 16, 2009


“Marriage has no guarantees. If that's what you're looking for, go live with a car battery.” - Erma Bombeck (U.S.
humorist, 1927-1996)

If you’ve ever owned a laptop computer, you’ve discovered that the batteries don’t last very long. And the amount of charge they hold, the length of time they last, goes down over time. Is this caused by overcharging or undercharging? Is there anything you can do about it? For answers, interviewed Isidor Buchmann, the CEO of Cadex Electronics, a Canadian company that makes battery-testing equipment. Buchman also runs Battery University, a website for battery enthusiasts and engineers.

Rule #1: No matter what you do, your battery will become more useless over time. One day it will no longer charge up and is officially ‘dead’. “It will die if you charge it too much. It will die if you charge it too little. You can pull the battery out of your camera, stuff it under your mattress, and come back for it in five years. Guess what? Your battery will be dead.”

Rule #2: You can prolong battery life.
The typical lifespan of a lithium-ion laptop battery is about 18 months to 2 years. But these batteries will last much longer if you avoid undercharging, overcharging, and heat. Temperatures inside a laptop can reach more than 110 degrees Fahrenheit, which is ruinous to a battery.

Buchmann recommends
- Charge the battery only when the laptop is turned off.
- When the laptop is on and plugged in, remove the battery avoid the heat.
- Don't charge beyond 100% nor let the charge drop to zero.
Keep the charge between 80% and 20%.

Yes these rules are a nuisance but supposedly they work. They also apply to rechargeable camera batteries, etc. Keep the batteries cool and charged between 80-20%.

Rule 3: If you won’t be using your lithium battery for a while, be sure to charge it to at least 40% before putting it away. The charge will fall naturally over time and you want to avoid hitting 0%. But wait you say, don’t some batteries work better when drained to 0%. Yes. Older nickel-cadmium batteries used in cordless phones, electric toothbrushes and other cheap electronics do have a memory charge effect that works best when allowed to drain to zero.

Rule 4: Don’t rely on the battery life meter. As a battery degrades over time, the meter becomes less and less accurate about the remaining charge.

Bottom Line
Rechargeable batteries are an example of cost over convenience. Is it worth the extra time pulling batteries out to prolong life and avoid buying replacements? Are they worth using at all?

My wife was really frustrated with her new digital camera. The new rechargeable batteries would die in no time at all, in just hours. Then a friend recommended using non-rechargeable batteries and carrying a spare set to replace them when they die. This worked wonderfully well. On a two week vacation with a thousand pictures taken, we changed the disposable batteries just once in the second week.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Tax Breaks

“I'm proud of paying taxes. The only thing is--I could be just as proud for half the money.” - Arthur Godfrey has some ideas for lowering the federal taxes you owe. But you must act before Dec 31 to take advantage of these tax incentives:

· New-car sales tax deduction: you can deduct the state and local taxes you paid for a new car purchased between Feb 17 and Dec 31 up to a vehicle price of $49,500 and if you earned less than $125,000 single or $250,000 as a couple.

· “First-time” homebuyers: there is a credit for anyone buying a new house who has not owned a house in three years.

· Green Appliance rebates: see (click on Tax Credits for Energy Efficiency)

· Use your stock market losses: if you sell a deadbeat stock with a loss, you can subtract that loss from profits made on other stocks sold. If you have more losses than gains, you can deduct up to $3000 from ordinary income. For losses to count you cannot buy a new “substantially identical” stock within 30 days of the sale.

· Watch out for the AMT penalty. See the article for details.

· Deduct any gifts you give to charity: this is the last year you can do a direct rollover from an IRA to a tax-exempt organization.

Bottom Line

Be careful with any financial advice. The tax law is full of holes and tricks and it’s easy to make a mistake. See a professional.

We got burned once with bad advice from our estate lawyer. He suggested cashing in the IRA of my wife’s deceased mother over two years to minimize the financial impact on our tax bracket. However he overlooked that there is a one-time partial IRA exemption that is not taxed with an inheritance. By splitting the IRA in two we did not get the full benefit of the exemption and ended up paying more taxes.


I also liked an article at but there wasn’t enough there for a full post so I’ll tack it on here. How much money can you safely withdrawal from your retirement account without draining it dry before you die? The recommendation is 4.1% to 4.6% annually. At a rate of 4.6%, in order to withdraw $50,000 in the first year, your retirement account needs to exceed $1.1 million dollars. Ouch!

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wise Eating

A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand” - anon

The Internet is full if advice lists for good health. One list that just caught my eye is 6 Rules of Good Nutrition by Men’s Health magazine.

6. Never Skip Breakfast – if you skip you’ll just eat more later to compensate.

5. Choose healthy snacks – snacking is not evil, it helps maintain blood sugar levels between meals. Some health lists every recommend eating something every 2 to 3 hours to avoid a sugar crash and the munchies. But skip the potato chips and try string cheese or peanut butter on celery or fruit. I’ve also read about thinking of your snack as a mini-meal that MUST contain meat and a starch/fruit and fat to provide a feeling of fullness. It takes more time to prepare but makes you think about what you’re eating and requires that you’re serious about eating that snack.

4. Downsize portion sizes – larger plates, drink cups, food servings mean a bigger waistline. We eat with our eyes so a small portion won’t seem so bad if it fills a small plate or small bowl. Downsize your chinaware.

3. Watch what you drink - Americans now slurp up nearly 25 percent of their calories in liquid form – be it soft drinks, fancy coffees, juices, sports drinks, etc. Consider water instead or herbal ice teas.

2. Eat more whole foods and fewer science experiments – read the ingredient list of what you’re eating and be afraid, be very afraid.

1. Eat together as a family – this gives you a chance to control what your children are eating and teach them healthy meal practices.

Bottom Line

After age 20, your metabolism slows down by about 10 percent every decade. This means you will gain weight if you eat the same amount of food you did when you were younger. Cut back and choose wisely.

But don’t forget that eating is just half of the diet battle, you’ve got to stay physical too. Choose the stairs over elevators. Walk instead of driving if you can. Find a fun way to exercise like joining a gym, riding a bike, taking a dance class, joining a hiking club - whatever motivates you to get moving.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day

“Peace is not a relationship of nations. It is a condition of mind brought about by a serenity of soul. Peace is not merely the absence of war. It is also a state of mind. Lasting peace can come only to peaceful people.” - Jawaharlal Nehru (Indian Prime Minister. 1889-1964)
At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 the Germans signed the Armistice at Rethondes, France, for the end of hostilities on the Western Front of World War One. This event is celebrated in many allied countries as Veterans Day, Armistice Day (France), Poppy Day (South Africa), National Day (Poland), Day of Peace (Belgium) and Remembrance Day (British Commonwealth). While the war in Europe ended on this day, hostilities continued in other regions, especially across the former Russian Empire and in parts of the old Ottoman Empire. Italians celebrate Nov 4 with the signing of the Armistice of Villa Giusti that ended WWI in Italy. Australians celebrate ANZAC Day on 25 April remembering the WWI battle of Gallipoli in Turkey.
US President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed an Armistice Day for November 11, 1919. The United States Congress passed a concurrent resolution seven years later on June 4, 1926. It was not until May 13, 1938 that congress made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday; "a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as 'Armistice Day'."
In 1953 an Emporia, Kansas shoe store owner named Al King had the idea to expand Armistice Day to celebrate all veterans, not just those who served in World War I. With the help of then-U.S. Rep. Ed Rees, also from Emporia, a bill for the holiday was pushed through Congress. President Dwight Eisenhower signed it into law on May 26, 1954. Congress amended this act on November 8, 1954, replacing "Armistice" with Veterans, and it has been known as Veterans Day since.
In 1971 the holiday was moved to the fourth Monday of October in accordance with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. It was moved back to November 11 in 1978.
In many parts of the world people take a two-minute moment of silence at 11:00 a.m. as a sign of respect for the roughly 20 million who died in the war. The Service of Remembrance in many Commonwealth countries generally includes the sounding of "Last Post," followed by the two minutes of silence, followed by the sounding of "Reveille" (or, more commonly, "The Rouse"), and finished by a recitation of the "Ode of Remembrance." The "Flowers of the Forest", "O Valiant Hearts", "I Vow to Thee, My Country" and "Jerusalem" are often played during the service. Services also include wreaths laid to honour the fallen, a blessing, and national anthems.
The poppy's significance to Remembrance Day is a result of Canadian military physician John McCrae's poem In Flanders Fields. Poppies bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders in World War I, their red colour an appropriate symbol for the bloodshed of trench warfare. An American YMCA Overseas War Secretaries employee, Moina Michael, was inspired by McCrae's poem, and made an effort to have the poppy adopted as a national symbol of remembrance, and succeeded in having the National American Legion Conference adopt it two years later. Some people choose to wear white poppies, which emphasises a desire for peaceful alternatives to military action. The Royal Canadian Legion suggests that poppies be worn on the left lapel, or as close to the heart as possible.
Bottom Line
For grammarians, please note that while Veteran’s Day and Verterans’ Day are grammatically correct, the official spelling of the holiday in the US is Veterans Day with no apostrophe.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Family Coat of Arms

“If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.” - Thich Nhat Hanh (Vietnamese Monk, Activist and Writer. b.1926)

When I first started using I imported everybody that was “hinted” as related; every spouse, every child, etc. Belatedly I discovered that this had created a mess. Consider my mother; she has a brother; he has a wife. My uncle’s wife has a twin sister who is married and he has parents. By this point I am so far off the main branch of my tree and in no way related to the persons I’m importing.

As part of my pruning effort, I thought I would assign an image for every person that I am directly descended from. This picture replaces the generic man/woman face in the tree and makes it easy to spot my main branch. For distant relatives I’m using the family coat of arms as the image.
This has been fun but exhausting. For some names multiple Coats of Arms are available. Which is correct? For others I can find no Coat at all and must find a substitute image. In this post I’ll share some of the things I’ve learned about Heraldry – the profession of managing Coats of Arms or Blazons.

Family arms are much like university logos. It makes it easy to spot who is playing on a field of combat. Once a coat of arms was adopted by a noble family, the design was placed on shields, embroidered on tapestries, carved in stone about the castle, placed on swords and even burnt into the top of breads for special occasions.

As everybody who was anybody created a Coat of Arms, heraldry became essential to keep track of the images and who was who during the Crusades. Rules were established in medieval times and a language of symbols and colors created. For instance:

Yellow = generosity
White or Silver = peace and sincerity
Blue = loyalty and truth
Red = strength and military might
Green = hope, joy and loyalty in love
Purple = royalty
A lion = courage
A tiger = one who is fierce in battle
Escallop shell = long naval journeys or naval command
A crescent = one who has been honored by the sovereign

Unfortunately this new language got carried away with specialized terms in English and French. It now requires a bit of learning to understand official Heraldry speak:

"A lion's head erased azure langued gules"

translates as

“A lion's head cut off at the neck with a flourish in blue, with a red tongue.”

Or this

“Azure a bend Guiles, fimbriated and embattled Argent, three quills or surrmounting three ink bottles Sable; separating six over seven mullets of the third.”

See How do you blazon a Coat of Arms for the description.

The earliest coats of arms were fairly simple -- bars or wavy lines, a lion rampant or an eagle displayed. The designs became more complex as the years passed, and the practice of quartering developed (i.e. adding in the arms of other families acquired through marriages).

A full Coat of Arms has several parts:
· A motto on a ribbon scroll at top
· The “crest” – an animal or item placed above the shield.
· Shield elements – this can represent two, four or even more families via quartering.
· Supporters – typically two animals holding the shield

Bottom Line

It is a mistake to call a Coat of Arms (CoA) the family crest. The crest is just one part of the complete “blazon of arms”. It also a mistake to assume that there is an official coat of arms for your surname. Often a CoA was assigned to a specific noble in recognition of a new title or lands or in exchange for favors done to the crown. The noble could pass the blazon to the heir of his title and authority. It was never meant to cover all future descendants.

Today CoAs are just a fun way to link ourselves to possible noble ancestors and hope that a little bit of that nobility rubs off on us.

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Monday, November 9, 2009


“Other things may change us, but we start and end with family” - Anthony Brandt

Every few years I’m bitten by the genealogy bug and obsessively work on family records for a month or two. When I’ve exhausted the available online records, I set my family tree aside and wait for technology advancements and new records to appear. It is wonderful that people keep scanning state and church records so more and more data are accessible as time goes by. I’m also looking forward to the release of the 1940 census records on April 2 of 2012.

My ancestor hunt was resumed last week when my mother wanted some information on the family of a great-great grandparent. We have some really old family photos that my grandmother collected of her grandparents. Now my mother is scanning these photos and making new albums to pass on to her relatives.

Over the years I’ve used many online forums and genealogy programs. A great free program is Personal Ancestral File (PAF) that was last updated in 2002 but is still available. For $30 you can buy one of the top rated programs like Legacy Family Tree, Family Tree Maker, Roots Magic, and Ancestral Quest.

For ease of use, my favorite program is the online It works in a web browser and the data is stored via the Internet. I can access my tree from anywhere in the world and share it with the public or a few private friends. The online research material is amazing but not cheap: $20/month for US or $30/month for World data. Modest discounts are available if you buy 3 months or 1year of access. I typically pay for a few months then cancel. Fortunately I can still read and update my online Tree “for free” after I stop paying. I just cannot access the online historical records.

One very good thing about genealogy programs is that you can share historical data between them. Any decent family tree software will support GEDCOM, GEnealogical Data COMmunication, which was created by the Mormon Church as a genealogy standard. But keep in mind that GEDCOM is “Text Only”; designed for preserving who begat whom, who married whom, years of birth, death, etc. It does not transfer audio files, video, photographs and other new media that enhance the modern family trees.

Bottom Line

Online genealogy is blessing and a curse. There is a lot of BAD genealogy online with parents younger than children, individuals giving birth to themselves, the location Maine, France listed as Maine, USA, and so on. I imported a lot of junk ancestry years ago and am now pruning it back. I would hope by now for one definite source for British royal ancestry but I’m not aware of it. Some people get excited about tracing their line back to Adam and Eve. Frankly this is just as reliable as my British lines linked to the Normans linked to the Vikings which link back to the Norse God Frey.

According to Wikipedia, a bogus genealogy from Charlemagne to Adam & Eve was created for Carl Springer in the mid 19th century and continues to be used online today. But the errors also go further back to European royalty who wanted to show divine descent. Read about the Charte d'Alaon genealogy that is now discredited.

I'm thinking I may have to buy a Family Tree program to edit and correct my data. I have over 7000 entries in my trees but it badly needs cleaning. lacks data cleansing tools like duplicate finding/merging, orphan tracking, relationship calculator, etc.

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Saturday, November 7, 2009


“All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter.”- Edmund Burke (British Statesman and Philosopher, 1729-1797)

Today I recommend the article, Barter for the Services You Need, on the Wall Street Journal online. It’s a tricky article to summarize; most every paragraph contains useful information.

In these cash strapped times, barter can help you obtain desirable items and services without spending money. An example given is exchanging painting or carpentry work for a week’s stay in your vacation home. I have a friend who exchanges computer repair with a Dentist for free dentistry for his family.

The article lists some online resources to find/post barter opportunities. But also warns you to get references before trusting the barter partner. My wife used to rent out rooms before we married. A well-mannered young man in her church offered to mow the law, paint the house and do other house repair in exchange for a free room over the summer while he interned. She agreed but he failed to live up to his half of the bargain and did very little real work.

References are always a good idea. We hired a painting company, the low bidder, without checking them out. They used college students to do the work with very little training. We fired them after the first day when our bricks and windows were paint splattered and the walls they had painted were peeling.

The article concludes by pointing out that the IRS taxes barter. You need to report the value of goods or services received on form 1099-B.

Bottom Line

Barter can be fun if you have a sense of adventure and are willing to stand up for yourself and not be taken advantage of. Don’t forget to pay the taxes!

And this just caught my eye - some services may not be bartered legally...
Yep, Trying To Trade Sex For World Series Tickets Is Illegal

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Friday, November 6, 2009

The danger of saying too much

"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored." -Aldous Huxley

The ending of the article discussed yesterday, 5 things never to tell your insurer, is so good that I wanted to give it a day of its own.

Here are things NOT to do after a car accident.

* Do not give a recorded statement to the other driver's insurance company. It will be used against you later on. Insurance companies must ask you for your permission in order to record an interview. Talk to your own insurer first.

* Do not make friendly conversation with adjusters. Stick to business and only tell them the "who," "what," "when" and "where." Don't tell them the how – that is just your opinion.

* Do not give out any information about your family. Do not give out the names of your doctors.

* Do not sign a medical release. Federal law protects your medical records. The insurance companies may use your release to dig through your medical history looking for a cause like dizziness.

Bottom Line

As children we are taught to be nice. To be helpful and friendly. But it can be a mistake to treat an insurance agent or any official as "a friend". I was very impressed with my wife's estate lawyer when introduced. We had a long friendly chat. Imagine my shock at learning later that our "chat" was being charged at lawyer hourly rates!

If a profressional (like a medical insurer) is super-friendly and starts asking personal questions, stop and ask yourself, "why?" Is this person actually trying to help up or are they hoping you'll let something slip that can be used against you?

When buying a house most people assume that the real estate agent is on their side. Often they are not. Some get a commission on the price of the house sold so it's in their interest for you to spend as much as you can. Others take a flat fee for their services and will put your interests first. Find out in advance whom the agent is working for - you or the home seller.

I learned this the hard way about Human Resources. I thought they existed to help employees. But they work for the company first. I once reported a concern only to have the HR person laugh at me and then blab about the absurdity of my concern to higher management.

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Watch what you say to Insurers

`When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'
`The question is,' said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.'
`The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master -- that's all.'
- Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll

MSN MoneyCentral has a great article called 5 things never to tell your insurer. They start the article pointing out that it is a criminal offense, fraud, to lie to your insurer. But the truth can go horribly wrong when the wrong words are used.

For example when your hot water heater breaks you might say your basement is flooded with water. But the word, “flood”, is a red flag for insurers – most policies do not cover flood damage. Fortunately insurers have a very specific definition for “flood” - water overflowing from a nearby lake, stream, river or other body of water. So with a pipe leak you have “water damage”, not “flood”.

Never say "experimental", "investigational" or "clinical trial" when you need a medical treatment that isn't a common practice. Just because it isn't common practice doesn't mean these insurance rejection terms apply to it. Mark O. Hiepler, a California attorney, advises clients to always say, 'It's medically necessary,' when referring to treatment. Also avoid the term “whiplash”. This is another red flag because of the many fake whiplash claims. Wait for a medical diagnoses and use only the terms in the doctor’s report.

Never guess or give an opinion in an accident. Just report the facts, don’t elaborate or estimate details like how fast the other car was moving. Did you measure the distance with tape? Did you look at your speedometer just before impact so you know exactly your speed? Your guess, if wrong, could harm your credibility and your claim. An insurer will ask and ask again for exact details like distance and speed that you cannot know with certainty. They are hoping you’ll give them an excuse to reject the claim. Suppose you say a car 40 feet ahead slammed on its brakes without warning and you hit it. The insurer might claim you had sufficient safe stopped distance so the fault is yours. Or they might decide you were tailgating and again the fault is yours.

Bottom Line

In most car accident aftermaths, all the facts are not immediately known. Don’t assume it’s your fault. Words like “I’m sorry” can be used against you as an assumption of fault. If you're not sure about how something happened, let the authorities and insurance companies figure it out. Ask your insurer about how you should respond to the other party’s insurer if they should call.

Stick to business and don’t get into “friendly” conversations with your insurer or a third party insurer. Your every word is recorded and will be used against you.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Expensive Colleges

“A university is what a college becomes when the faculty loses interest in students.” - John Ciardi

I thought college was expensive nearly 30 years ago when I attended. I also learned then that there is an “education inflation rate” that is always higher than national inflation rate. Back in the 80’s the rate of educational inflation was 10%. So it should come as no surprise that rates today are outrageous. With tuition hikes outpacing the growth of household incomes year after year. student borrowing has doubled in the past decade.

Here are the most expensive colleges by total cost for the 2009-2010 school year from

Total Cost = Tuition + Room and Board
1. Sarah Lawrence College, $54,410
2. New York University, $51,991
3. The George Washington University, $51,730
4. Bates College, $51,300
5. Skidmore College, $51,196
6. Johns Hopkins University, $51,190
7. Georgetown University, $51,122
8. Connecticut College, $51,115
9. Harvey Mudd College, $51,037
10. Vassar College, $50,875

The lowest total cost in the top 100 most expensive schools was $46,860 for just a single year of study.

Bottom Line

See The Rising Cost of Education for more information and what to do.

See also my post on Student Loans

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cars out of control

“Life's golden age is when the kids are too old to need baby-sitters and too young to borrow the family car”

You may have read recently that Toyota will recall nearly 4 million vehicles because the accelerator pedal can become stuck on the floor mat while driving. This killed a family of four and their tragedy was captured on a 9-1-1 call before they impacted a wall at 120 mph. The affected cars are:

2005 - 2010 Toyota Avalon
2007 - 2010 Toyota Camry
2004 - 2009 Toyota Prius
2005 - 2010 Toyota Tacoma
2007 - 2010 Toyota Tundra
2007 - 2010 Lexus ES350
2006 - 2010 Lexus IS250 and IS350

If you own one of these cars, immediately remove the driver-side floor mat and contact your dealer.

Because of this recall, Consumer Reports decided to look at the problem of stuck accelerators. What can you do?

They tested two cars, Mercedes-Benz E350 and Volkswagen Jetta Wagon, with German “smart-throttle” technology. These cars disable the gas flow when the brake is depressed. “Smart-throttle” cars have no problem stopping even with the gas pedal on the floor.

The next two cars they tested were not so lucky, Toyota Venza and Chevrolet HHR. Like most cars, the brake pedal does not stop the gas so the engine is fighting as you try to brake. With struggle and strength they managed to slow the cars from 60mph to 10mph at which point the brake pads were worn down and would not slow the car any further.

Bottom Line

The conclusion of the Consumer Reports for a stuck accelerator is to shift your car into neutral. The engine will rev like crazy but the power won’t go to the wheels and you can brake safely. Shifting to neutral is quite easy. A few weeks ago my wife accidentally hit the gearshift pushing it to neutral while I was driving and it took me a moment to figure out why the car would not accelerate.

Consumer Reports does NOT recommend turning off the car while driving with a stuck accelerator. Yes this will stop the runaway engine but it will also stop your power steering and power brakes. I found this out the hard way years ago when I tried to move my parked car a few feet. It was pointing downhill so I figured, just shift to neutral and coast – no need to turn the car on. The coasting part worked well but stopping – no so great. Without power the power brakes required a LOT of physical strength. I was pushing hard but couldn’t stop before bumping into the car in front of me.

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Monday, November 2, 2009

More germs

“Keyboards are a lunch counter for germs. We turn them over in a lot of studies and we are amazed at what comes out of a keyboard.”-Charles Gerba

Have you every heard the expression “filthy lucre” used to describe money. It’s truer than you think. Scientists in Geneva found that a strain of H1N1—i.e. swine flu—can live on paper money for up to 3 days. This is why I’m dismayed when I see a cook at a deli or food cart handling the money and working with food with the same hands.

The idea of dirty money is not new. I recall a story years ago about bills in California testing positive for drugs. In the 1982 novel, The White Plague, by Frank Herbert, contaminated money is used to spread a virus created by a crazed biochemist.

But there’s more to be wary of than dollar bills. lists 7 things dirtier than money.

  1. Doctors’ neck ties (Does he ever wash his ties? I don’t.)
  2. The office candy bowl (or bowls of bar snacks)
  3. Library books and keyboards (do you lick your fingers when turning the pages?)
  4. Bathroom door handles (did the person before you wash his/her hands?)
  5. Public Telephone receivers
  6. Grandchildren (Kids in the 4-to-12-age range are a notorious reservoir for germs)
  7. Shared seats like the movies, theater, opera, train or bus

Bottom Line

When mom told you to wash your hands before eating, she was right. Our hands are often less clean then we know. Check out my blog Germ Theory & Dr. Lister for a history of germs and hand washing.

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

The return of Swine Flu

“Love is a medicine for the sickness of the world; a prescription often given, too rarely taken.” - anon

At our recent Scout Pack Meeting, one family emailed to say they could not attend – the family has Swine Flu – (now called H1N1 as our top Cub told me authoritatively.) So on this Day of the Dead (Mexico) or All Saints Day, let's consider the morbidity and mortality of Swine Flu.

Here are 8 Swine Flu Myths that could endanger your life from

Bottom Line
Swine Flu is nastier than your average flu in many ways: it kills the young, it kills the healthy, it is more resistant to heat and lasts into spring and summer. It’s nothing to sneeze at.

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