Friday, January 29, 2010


Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what's for lunch.”- Orson Welles

If you bring your own lunch to work like I do, you'll enjoy the article, Sex Up Your Sandwich: Ideas for Budget Conscious Brown Baggers with dozens of ideas for a more exciting sandwich.

  1. Use spreads with zest like avocado, guacamole, Dijon mustard, hummus, and hot buffalo wing sauce.

  2. Add tasty extras to the sandwich like banana pepper rings, basil leaves, pre-cooked bacon, leftover cranberry sauce and stuffing. Be imaginative.

  3. Bored with ham & cheese? How about meatballs, grilled vegetables, or meatloaf?

  4. Wonder bread? No way! Buy artisanal breads, bagels, tortilla wrap or rolls. Why pay Panera good money for a fancy sandwich you can easily make?

  5. Pack tasty (and healthy sides) like tomato soup, apple wedges, carrot sticks. Or go unhealthy with potato chip, potato salad, coleslaw, pudding, yummmmm.....

  6. Don't eat that sandwich cold! Try an open face tuna melt, a hero warmed in the oven, a grilled cheese, etc. You might have to bake or grill at home and reheat in a microwave at work.

Bottom Line

Break out of the rut. Look at a diner menu for sandwich ideas and try to make them yourself. Or surf the web for new sandwich recipes.

Be creative. As a teenage baby sitter, I was feeding one child that wanted a baloney sandwich, the other P&J with grape jelly. For myself I combined the two and discovered I really liked it.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wind Chill

"I've got to go home - Oh, baby, you'll freeze out there
Say, lend me your coat - It's up to your knees out there"
- song lyrics from Baby It's Cold Outside recently published an article, "It's time to get rid of a meaningless number", that is opposed to the idea of "Wind Chill factor". The columnist believes that "no amount of tweaking will make wind chill more comprehensible."

Let's start at the beginning. In 1945 two Antarctic explorers, Paul Siple and Charles Passel, realized that a bottle of water would freeze faster on a windy day than on a calm day. This is because the wind is more efficient at carrying away the heat in the water. They carefully recorded wind speed and freezing times to create a chart and formula uniting wind and temperature. So given 5 F and a wind speed of X, you could calculate that a bottle would freeze in the same amount of time as a calm day of -40 F.

The concept of wind chill was first used by Canadian Weather men in the 1970s. The Siple-Passel formula was used for 30 years before two researchers, Randall Osczevski in Canada and Maurice Bluestein in the United States, decided to retest the numbers. They found that the Siple-Passel formula was too extreme in its predictions. So instead of -40F above the same 5F and wind would feel more like -19F.

So this is confusion #1 - the system of wind chill was changed at the turn of the century.

Confusion #2 - If it's a windy day at 35F, the wind chill might "feel like" 20F but no bottle of water (or anything else) is going to freeze. The coldest anything can get in this example is 35F - safely above freezing. All wind chill does is tell you how quickly you'll cool down to the outdoor temperature - not how cold you will become. Wind does not make things colder than the air temperature - it just makes them as cold, faster.

Confusion #3 - Your results may vary. The actual rate at which your body cools will depend upon the clouds & sun, how much skin you have exposed, how insulating your coat is, how exposed you are to the wind, and so on. The modern Wind Chill model is based upon people who are 5 feet tall, somewhat portly, and walk at an even clip directly into the wind.

Bottom Line

Wind Chill is useful as a reminder about the dangers of a cold wind but keep in mind the limitations mentioned above. Also remember that wet clothes draw out heat and will cool you down faster than dry clothes. Stay dry and out of the wind.

Check out one of my early blogs for more details on Hypothermia.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Middle Age Weight

Inside some of us is a thin person struggling to get out, but they can usually be sedated with a few pieces of chocolate cake. ~Author Unknown

As a teenager I was skinny. In college my weight was stable although I ate a lot. But when middle age hit, it seems everything went to the waistline regardless of how carefully I ate. My appetite now is less than college - I can no longer eat half a pizza, BUT I'm still gaining weight with the lesser amount of food.

With every calorie sticking to my stomach, it becomes more important to choose wisely what I eat. My wife has a great expression that helps, "It's not worth the calories". For example, at work today someone left a plate of home baked cookies. I picked a small one and ate it slowly while making some herbal tea. Then I was tempted to get a second cookie and my wife's words came to mind. The cookie was OK but not great. It just wasn't worth the calories to eat a second one.

I love to sample foods. To try as many new flavors as possible. The trick is keeping the portions small. Fortunately I've learned that the thrill of a new food taste is rarely as good when I go back for seconds. So at a buffet, the first few bites of Item X are WOW! But if I refill my plate with more, the experience just isn't the same. Hence I try to limit myself to one small serving of items that look interesting and no repeats.

Bottom Line

Portion control is very important. We fill large plates and are served giant multi-serving servings. One effective diet I read about was the 1/2 diet. Eat only 1/2 of your plate or just 1/2 of anything you order. Save the other half for another meal. For some people this makes a big difference.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Living within Your Means

“Unemployment is capitalism's way of getting you to plant a garden.”- Orson Scott Card

Last year I was laid off and unemployed for the first time in my life. My job hunt for a new job lasted six months. During that time my family was naturally concerned but not panicked. We did OK and suffered no long-term harm.

Looking back I ask myself – what did we do right? (The wrongs are easier: not keeping job skills up-to-date, not job hunting at the first sign of trouble, trusting managers to care about my welfare)

So what did we do Right? Minimizing expenses and avoiding debt. My wife and I are both debt adverse. In order to graduate college without a loan I had to work at the university and every summer (night shift for extra pay). My wife worked two jobs and rented out the basement to a boarder to pay the bills before we met & married. After we married, some of the money from my job went towards extra payments on the mortgage so that it was paid off a few years later. We drive our cars until they fall apart and then buy a used car paid in cash or financed as little as possible. Our credit cards are paid in full every month. We do not tolerate debt.

The formula for debt avoidance is quite simple – spend less than you make. In order to make this work you need to have a budget. The evening I was laid off, we sat down at our computer and looked at our budget for anything and everything that was nonessential and could be cut out. No magazine subscriptions, no online-computer game fees, no eating meals out, no movie rentals, no new clothes, and so on. It helped a lot that we had no debt to pay off.

A debt-avoiding budget has two parts- Earnings and Expenditures.

For Earnings look at how much money you take home after taxes and payroll deductions. Don’t forget to subtract out town & school taxes, water bills, and other local government expenses. What remains is your spendable earnings.

For Fixed Expenses add up your monthly bills for electricity, oil or gas, telephone, cell phone, cable TV, Internet, tithing, mortgage or rental payments, car lease payments, credit card minimum payments, etc. If your bills exceed your spendable earnings you’re in real trouble and need serious financial help.

Discretionary cash. If you subtract your fixed expenses from your spendable earnings, what’s left is discretionary cash. This needs to cover food, gifts, clothes, school supplies, and everything else you will buy at a store or online or at a restaurant. This is where modest living and a budget really helps. If you know you have just $100 available to spend this week, will you buy new shoes or food?

When I was unemployed, we tried to lower our discretionary cash spending to as close to zero as we could. We used our Food Storage and bought very little at the grocery store. We fixed old clothes. We did not vacation or travel. By doing this we could almost (but not quite) get by with the amount of the weekly unemployment checks.

Often times discretionary spending, either with cash or credit cards gets out of control. Each year my wife and I fill out a spreadsheet with the money we spent. We look at checks and the credit card bills and assign expenses to categories to determine how much we spent on food, clothes, meals, etc. The hardest thing to categorize is cash spending, for this we try to keep receipts. When we did this for 2008 we found that I was spending way too much cash for breakfast and lunch in New York City. So we agreed on a new plan for my new job – I would eat out once a week and bring lunch to work the other days.

While I was unemployed, my wife used our budget in a clever way. She calculated the minimum we could expect to pay on bills and food with some money set aside for emergencies like car repair, vet bills, etc. We then doubled that amount to calculate the minimum salary I would have to earn to continue living in New York State. We doubled the amount because we assumed half the money would be spent on taxes, church tithing, and a tithing paid to our retirement account. We were quite surprised at how much I had to earn to pay for a modest lifestyle in this area.

Bottom Line

Spend less than you make. Tally up your expenses to discover your spending habits. Create a budget and adjust your expenses to fit within your spendable earnings.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

"They had me on the operating table all day. They looked into my stomach, my gall bladder, they examined everything inside of me. Know what they decided? I need glasses."-Joe E. Lewis

I am amazed at the number of people I know (including a baby) who take Nexium or Prilosec for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). I have the misfortune of inheriting this from my mother and the past few days have been really bad.

What is GERD? When you eat, millions of tiny pumps in your stomach produce the acid that helps you digest food. The stomach walls are protected against this acid but for some people the acid leaks upwards into esophagus because the valve (the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES) does not close as tightly as it should. This Acid reflux damages the delicate lining of esophagus (food tube) esophagus, causing heartburn, a burning pain in the center of the chest.

Now heartburn in itself is not uncommon or a cause for worry. But for people with Acid reflux disease or GERD, the reflux is frequent; 2 or more days every week despite popping antacid pills and Pepto-Bismol. Over time acid reflux can scar the esophagus and may cause throat cancer. Only a doctor can see if you have damage in your esophagus. You can’t tell solely by how you feel.

The most common symptoms of GERD are heartburn, a sour or bitter taste, and difficulty swallowing. Other symptoms include persistent cough, hoarseness, burning in the throat, upset stomach, regurgitation of foods, and waking up from heartburn attacks.

An estimated 5 to 7 percent of the population experience heartburn daily due to GERD and an estimated 19.8 percent of the population experience heartburn or acid regurgitation weekly due to GERD, according to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD). In 2004 more than 60 million prescriptions for GERD were filled at retail pharmacies, representing 48 percent of all prescriptions for digestive system disorders.

Why is GERD so common? Perhaps it is the food we eat.

  • Fatty foods and Fried foods: High-fat foods tend to relax the LES muscle allowing acid to escape the stomach. Fatty foods also digest more slowly; leaving food and acid in the stomach much longer. Chocolate is high in fat and is trigger for some people.

  • Acidic Foods: these increase the acid level of the stomach
    Tomato-based foods (eg, pizza, pasta sauce, salsa)
    Citrus fruits and juices
    Onions: these foods increase the acidity of the stomach

  • Irritants: these irritate the stomach walls
    Mint & Peppermint: long thought to aid in digestion, but bad for GERD
    Spicy foods
    Caffeine in coffees, teas, sodas, and even hot chocolate. Even decaffeinated coffee can aggravate heartburn with some people.

  • Alcoholic drinks: is a triple danger. It can irritate the stomach lining, increase acid production AND relax the LES muscle.

  • Certain medications – such as sedatives, tranquilizers and calcium channel blockers (medication to treat high blood pressure) – may contribute to reflux. Recent research also indicates that taking a certain type of sleeping pills may also increase the risk of developing nighttime heartburn.

There are lifestyle factors other than food that can make acid reflux worse, including

  • Being overweight

  • Smoking

  • Stress

  • Overeating (eating too much at one time)

  • Wearing tight clothing that puts pressure on your stomach

Bottom Line. Living with GERD:

  • Antacids work by neutralizing stomach acid. They can provide fast short-term relief from occasional heartburn.

  • H2 blockers reduce acid production in the stomach by blocking a signal that leads to acid secretion.

  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) turn off some of the "acid pumps" in the stomach's acid-producing cells. Nexium is prescription only but its predecessor, Prilosec and generics of Prilosec can now purchased at drug stores.
  • Identify your trigger foods. Try eating them in isolation – tomatoes or OJ but not both in the same meal.

  • Eat your last evening meal or snack at least 3 hours before bedtime. Most of the food in your stomach is digested within 3 hours. Once food is digested, it cannot back up into your esophagus when you lie down

  • Have smaller meals. Eating large meals creates pressure in your stomach. This pressure can force acid from the stomach into your esophagus, causing heartburn or other acid reflux disease symptoms

  • Breathe better. Concentrate on breathing deeply from your abdomen, not your chest

  • Stretch and relax. Stand up and stretch each of your muscle groups. Focus on releasing the tension in every part of your body

  • Exercise and enjoy. Staying active can help you feel much better

  • Have fun. Try to do things that make you smile and laugh. This can relieve stress

  • Elevate the head of your bed. Nighttime heartburn is largely a gravity problem; when you lie down, acid can move up into the esophagus more easily. Try elevating the head of your bed 4 to 6 inches by placing wooden blocks under the bed's legs. Or you could place a foam wedge under the mattress to lift your head about 6 to 10 inches. Note: Piling up pillows behind your head doesn't help prevent reflux.


Nexium Resources


National Health Institute paper on GERD

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Expensive Ink!

Whoever said money can't buy happiness simply didn't know where to go shopping.”- Bo Derek

Today I'll let a graph do most of the talking. One of the worst overpriced items ever is computer printer ink. Nearly twice as expensive as human blood. It dwarfs the cost of crude oil and bottled water. Bottom Line

Sadly there are not many options here. I've seen one case where it was cheaper to buy a new printer with a "free" ink cartridge instead of buying a replacement cartridge.

At my home we use a generic brand substitute ink cartridge. The printer vendors try to scare you off - "This may harm your printer"! But it hasn't yet. Another option is ink refills with a syringe and generic (printer appropriate) ink. I've never tried this.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Record Unemployment

"We have walked a substantial distance back from the economic abyss and are on the path toward economic recovery. Most importantly, we have seen a substantial change in the trend of job loss."-Sept. 2009, Larry Summers, Obama's top economic adviser

The Obama White House keeps saying the recession is over and their recovery plan worked but the real numbers tell a different story. The White House is pleased that December unemployment stayed at "only" 10% and did not climb. But this ignores two facts.

1. The Holiday Season is a peak time for employment (lots of late hours and Christmas crowds require temporary staff)

2. The official unemployment number does not count "discouraged" workers who have given up trying to find a job. When everyone truly unemployed is counted the value is 17%.

Here is graph that also shows reality quite plainly. The total number of people working continues to fall despite the 1 Trillion dollar stimulus. In fact 3.2 million jobs have been lost since the stimulus was approved.

Bottom Line

Do not expect the economy to recover quickly in 2010. We have not yet seen the bottom of this recession.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A kit for all occasions

“Failing to plan is planning to fail”

My wife and I are reconsidering the value of the traditional 72-hour kit. The problem is that they so rarely get used and the contents are wasted or forgotten or out-of-date. In case of fire will you remember to grab your kit and will you be able to access it?

Instead we favor a decentralized collection of emergency stashes.

  • A well stocked home with First Aid supplies, food storage for at least three months, at least one week of water, and an alternative fuel for warmth in winter.

  • A mini-kit for your purse or briefcase or backpack that you regularly carry. This should include some aspirin, Band-Aids, cell phone, emergency cash and flash drive with copies of all your important documents. I’d also include a power bar and bottled water.

  • A go-kit for your car. The contents may be quite similar to a 72-hour kit (or this could be your 72-hour kit). You’re most likely to need the contents of a kit when away from home. Or if you’re fleeing home, the kit is already in the car.

  • If you have a go-kit in your car and the mini-kit in a briefcase you won’t need anything extra for the office. But if you’re a train commuter, consider storing extra supplies kept at the office – like good walking shoes. During 9-11 a lot of people were forced to walk in uncomfortable dress shoes. The office is also a good back-up location for important photos and personal documents.

  • A remote stash. If a hurricane or terrorist attack disables one or more states, you and your office will likely both be in the danger zone. Have a friend or family member keep an emergency packet for you containing photos, documents, and anything else you want to ensure is never lost.

Bottom Line

In mid-December 2000 people were stranded for up to 16 hours inside the Chunnel when the Eurostar train broke down. The train broke down again Jan 6. The riders were trapped in a dark, 24-mile long tunnel with no food, no water, and little help. It is cases like this were your go-kit at home or in the car won’t help you and when your really, really want it. Hence a mini-kit of power bar, water and other basics that you carry with you always.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010


"Twelve highlanders and a bagpipe make a rebellion."-Scottish Proverb

Have you ever been in a foreign country and felt so lost because you don't understand the language? I feel that way with music. It seems that everyone in my church is an excellent singer and/or piano player. Our 10-year-old cub scouts play better than I. Years ago in grade school I spent one year learning the violin but gave it up for art class the following year.

So to make amends I've been commuting while listening to lectures on music by Robert Greenberg of The Teaching Company. Some lecture series I've liked more than others:

great: Listening To Great Music
not so great: Great Masters: Beethoven—His Life and Music (too much life and too little music)

One series I had high hopes for was How to Listen to and Understand Opera. Opera inspired so much that we take for granted today like instrumental symphonies and modern orchestral musical instruments. But alas, I did not not learn to appreciate listening to people contort their voice in foreign languages.

A series that pleasantly surprised me was The Concerto. Lots of music was played and much of it I recognized and enjoy like the Bach Brandenburg Concertos. I'd love to find an online radio station that plays mostly concertos.

Bottom Line

While attempting to find Concertos online I stumbled upon free music theory lessons by the Scottish educational system called "Learn Listening Online". It looks like fun and includes bagpipes!

Other resource I found is Classical Online Radio with 160 classical radio station on the Internet. The first station I checked was Iceberg Radio (Canadian) which has a Soloist Instrumental channel that is mostly Concertos.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Earthquake in Haiti

"Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself" - Luke 4:23 KJV

Last week a devastating earthquake hit Haiti. The resulting aftermath was a complete breakdown of civilization as we know it. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, understatedly said: "The authorities that existed before the earthquake are not able to fully function." [Actually they weren't functional much at all.] Days after the event, victims started stacking bodies along the roads as a sign of protest over no one coming to their rescue.

The earthquake in Haiti hit the government just as hard as the population. Bodies piled up and rotted at the morgue attached to Hospital General in Port-au-Prince because the Hospital Administrator had had no contact with any government officials to see what to do with them. He said, "I'm awaiting the decision of the government. What else can I do?" But as one Latin American expert noted, "The sad truth is that no one is in charge of Haiti today."

A shop owner figured out the problem, "There is no one in our country capable of sorting this out. Everyone is looking after their own families." Even President Rene Preval lost his home. He told CNN, "My palace collapsed. ... I can't live in the palace, I can't live in my own house." The 9,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in Haiti, instead of coming to the rescue, it looked after its own dead after its headquarters were destroyed in the quake.

Bottom Line

A 19-yr-old survivor said, "Look at us. Who is helping us? Right now, nobody." That's right! During an emergency you have to help yourself and your family. You can not count on government or outside rescue, especially not in the first 3-days, the famous 72 hours. Three days after the earthquake international organizations had yet to arrive in the country to help.


Here's an article dated this morning, Jan 18, that describes how after 6 days, the first food and water is reaching a village of 10,000 people in Haiti.

Update 2

The U.N. World Food Program plans to start feeding 1 million people in two weeks and 2 million people in one month, the secretary-general said....With an estimated 3 million to 3.5 million people in need of aid, Ban was asked whether it would be enough to avoid riots.
"I sincerely hope and appeal to Haitian people to be more patient," he said. "We do not want to even imagine that kind of situation."

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Martin Luther King, Jr.

"I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law."

"It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important."

"I submit to you that if a man hasn't discovered something he will die for, he isn't fit to live."

"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."

In 2010 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day will be observed Monday, Jan 18. But his actual birthday is January 15, today.

Bottom Line

May we all have the strength to stand up for what we believe despite the obstacles. Dr King was imprisoned, criticized by fellow ministers, and assassinated. But he refused to yield. He made a difference and we remember him today (and Monday).

I'm also struck by his first quote above. There are many willing to protest the law. But Dr. King recognized that part of protesting was to "willingly accept the penalty of imprisonment". Many today wish to forget that part and as a result all respect for government and law is lost.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Roth IRA's in 2010

"If stock market experts were so expert, they would be buying stock, not selling advice."-Norman R. Augustine

In 2010 the law for Roth IRA's changed (for the better). But you ask, what the heck is a Roth IRA?

With a normal IRA you put in "tax-free" money now and pay taxes when you cash it in during retirement. You get a credit on current taxes for the money deposited and will pay taxes on the money invested and all the interest earned at time of withdrawl. Hopefully you'll pay from a lower tax bracket in retirement.

With a Roth IRA you invest money and get no up-front tax credit. You're investing after-tax dollars. But once invested, there are no further taxes (provided you follow the rules and wait until age 59 1/2, have a disability, or are a 1st time home buyer). You can withdraw the money and interest tax free!

This may sound like 6 one day, half-a-dozen the other, but Roth has some clear advantages.

1. You can withdraw the principal (but not the interest) early if you're strapped for cash.

2. You can invest in Roth and have a company 401k at the same time

3. With a normal IRA you must withdrawl by age 70 1/2 or face a 50% penalty. With Roth there is no age limit for required withdrawls.

Bottom Line

So what is the good news for 2010? In prior years there were restrictions on Roth IRA's for anyone earning more than $100,000. Now those restrictions are lifted and anyone can convert a normal IRA to a Roth (by paying the taxes now).

Why convert now? If you're unemployed part of the year, you'll be in a lower tax bracket and will pay less tax during conversion. If the stock market collaspe took a big bite out of your IRA, there will be less money to convert and tax.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Oh no! My cell phone got wet.

"We're the phone company. We don't care. We don't have to." - comedian Lily Tomlin

We all know (or should know) that electronics and water don't mix. You try to be careful but eventually you spill coke or coffee or some other beverage on your keyboard. In my case it was orange juice that permanently disabled some keys on a company laptop years ago.

Another device that often gets wet is cell phones (falls in toilet, caught in the rain, falls off your sailboat, ...) Fortunately the Consumerist has a useful article on what to do if your cell phone gets wet and won't start. The advice is probably good for keyboards also.

To dry a cell phone, place the phone in...

  1. a ziplock bag of uncooked rice and let it sit for a few hours
  2. a bag with some silica packets
  3. a hearing aid dryer for a few hours [I didn't know hearing aids had custom dryers]
  4. an oven with just the oven light on for a few days
  5. A bag with clay-based absorbent
  6. out in the sun (but not too hot a day)

If your phone falls in salt water or is soaked in orange juice, you'll need to use distilled/deionized water first to remove the salt and other minerals. If the phone fell in hard water, this too could have enough minerals to short circuit the phone and require a distilled water rinse. Be sure the phone is OFF if you decide it rinse it with pure water.

Bottom Line

Do not turn on a cell phone until it is completely dry. If you damage the circuits while it's wet, you may be out of luck forever.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010


“When the itch is inside the boot, scratching outside provides little consolation”-Chinese Proverb

I suppose, as one gets older, it’s only natural to experience new diseases and conditions. For myself, the newest experience is Eczema, also called dermatitis, a dry skin condition that can result in recurring rashes, itching, flaking, etc. Apparently scratching can lead to permanent scarring.

Eczema covers a wide range of dry, red skin situations and is perhaps over used as the diagnoses of skin rashes. My case could be Contact dermatitis – perhaps our cat rubbed against something that then rubbed onto me, or Xerotic eczema – a dry skin that worsens in dry winter weather affecting mostly arms and legs, or Discoid eczema – rounds spots of dry rash on the lower legs in winter weather.

Sadly, there is no “cure” for dermatitis. It is often treated with corticosteroids which suppress the symptoms but it never goes away completely. If the condition is extreme with skin cracks, the normal protective barrier of the skin is disrupted which allows easy entry for bacteria. Scratching can introduce infection and spread it about which just makes the eczema flare up more, causing more cracks, more scratching, more infection in a nasty deteriorating spiral. If this occurs a doctor should perscribe an antibiotic and an anti-itch drug like antihistamine.

The best way to avoid or limit eczema is to prevent dry skin. My dermatologist asked if I used skin creams. No, I said. Well you will from now on, he replied. Here are some skin care recommendations:

  1. Soap removes oil and will dry out skin. When showering, use a moisturizing body wash on dry areas like arms & legs instead of soap.
  2. Don’t use a washcloth, sponge or loofah on the dry area. These will abrade the skin.
  3. Pat the dermatitis area dry, never rub it dry with a towel.
  4. Apply skin creams (emollients) twice daily. Look for a heavy cream that is recommended for eczema. Light creams may be too weak to be effective.
  5. Use the skin cream within 3 mintues after taking a bath/shower to trap in the moisture.
  6. There is a disagreement whether baths are desirable or a necessary evil. For example, the Mayo Clinic advises against daily baths to avoid skin drying. while the American Academy of Dermatology claims "it is a common misconception that bathing dries the skin and should be kept to a bare minimum" and recommends bathing to hydrate skin.
  7. Hard water is harsh on the skin. Try using a water softener.
  8. Avoid scratchy materials like wool.
  9. Avoid environmental factors that trigger allergies (for example, pollen, mold, dust mites, and animal dander) [Right, shall I live in a bubble?]
  10. My dermatologist said I should avoid long, hot showers. [Rats, that’s one of my favorite parts of the day]

Bottom Line

The exact cause of eczema is not known. Although it is activated by the immune system and is related to allergic reactions, it is not the same as other allergic reactions. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, the prevalence of atopic eczema is increasing and affects 9 to 30% of the U.S. population [20% of children and 2% of adults]. For some, the disease will improve with time. For others, however, eczema is a chronic or recurrent disorder that will last a lifetime.


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Monday, January 11, 2010

Getting away from it all?

Sometimes as the saying goes, a picture is worth a 1000 words. The image above is part of a series available on that depicts the accessibility of places around world. The brighter the color, the faster that spot can reach a city of 50,000 or more people by land or water. The model combines information on terrain and access to road, rail and river networks. It also considers how factors like altitude, steepness of terrain and hold-ups like border crossings slow travel. The world's most remote place is the Tibetan plateau - it is a three-week trip to the cities of Lhasa or Korla - one day by car and the remaining 20 on foot.

The rest of the world now is very connected with less than 10% of the land surface MORE than 48 hours from the nearest city. Most of the map depict hours of travel: white-yellow is 0-4 hours, orange is 4-8 hours, red is 9-24 hours, with black over 1 day. Naturally this is the best possible time assuming you're not lost and head for the closest city.

One reason the world is so connected in an amazing system of roads, pictured here:

The map of global river travel is nearly as dense as the road map.

Bottom Line

One thing the human race excels at is travel. Be it by plane, train, car, boat, horse, bike or on foot. Yet travel speed is quite variable as the chart here shows. A car can travel one kilometer in just 30 seconds. But the same distance on foot in a deciduous forest can take an hour. 48 minutes if trekking through snow or ice on foot. 24 minutes under favorable hiking conditions.

It pays to know the terrain when traveling. For example, a car trip can be delayed by dirt roads. Last summer our GPS put us several dirt roads as we crossed the country. Fortunately we have a new GPS for Christmas which gives us the option of excluding dirt roads from route planning.


A GPS leads a couple over a remote forest road where they get stuck in a snow bank. Three days later a signal from the GPS allows rescuers to find them.

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Friday, January 8, 2010

Safe Driving Distance

"I would like you all to give me a round of applause as I have not crashed my car in over 15 months"-Matthew Perry

When I was in High School and took Drivers Ed, the rule for safe driving distance was one car length for every 10 miles per hour. But that rule is not so easy to use in practice. Can you visualize the difference between five and six car lengths while driving?

Studies show that most people require a second and a half to respond to a stimulus. So if the guy in front of you hits his brakes, your eyes see it, the image goes to your brain, your brain thinks "I better do something", sends the command to your foot, and finally (a total of 1.5 seconds) your foot BEGINS to hit the brake pedal. If you're tailgating at high speed and only a car length behind - you may well crash into the leading vehicle before you ever have a chance to brake.

In New York State the recommended safe driving distance is 2 seconds for speeds under 40 mph. Above 40 mph the recommended distance is 4 seconds. The site takes the average and recommends 3 seconds at all speeds. What does this mean? How do you follow 3 seconds behind?

Pick a landmark alongside the road like a lamppost, road sign, tree, etc. When the rear bumper of the car in front of you passes it, start counting - one hundred thousand, two hundred thousand, and so on until you reach the landmark with your front bumper. That is your driving distance. Now be sure to pad your counting with "hundred thousand" or "Mississippi" to get a full second with each number.

Is 2-4 or 3 seconds the final answer? No. These numbers only apply to perfect driving conditions. NY State recommends you add more time for

Twilight or Dark +2 seconds
Fog +1 second
Rain or Snow +1 second
Old Age +1 or 2 seconds
Sleepy or jetlagged +1 or more seconds
Distracted (cell phone, eating) +1 or more

These numbers are cummulative. So if you're driving on the interstate late at night in the rain and a bit tired then

2 + 2 (>40 mph) +2 (night) +1 (rain) +1 (tired) for 8 seconds driving distance. recommends doubling the time to 6 for adverse conditions and tripling it to 9 seconds for blinding rain, heavy fog, blizzard, and similar very adverse conditions. Of course for "very adverse" you might also consider pulling off the road and waiting.

Bottom Line

The distance needed to stop your car consists of two parts.

First is the distance your car travels while you notice the problem and the moment you finalize your decision and actually start to push the brake pedal.(your reaction time, 1.5 seconds on average if alert).

Second is the distance that brakes need to stop your car - actual stopping distance. This is the reason for more distance time in rain & snow. It takes longer to for the brakes to for the car to stop.

Also realize that it takes longer for heavy vehicles to stop. If a truck is tailgating you, you might be able to brake quickly enough to avoid a collision in front but the truck behind will run right over you. Don't let anyone bigger than you sit on your tail. Get out of the way.

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Russian Orthodox Christmas

"Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas."-Calvin Coolidge

In my workplace we have citizens of many nations - Japan, Russia, Poland, India and more. Today I learned that some of my colleagues (of Russian Orthodox faith) will be home celebrating a late Christmas? The web site Russian Crafts has a great explanation for celebrating Christmas on Jan 7.

In ancient times, many, mostly unreliable methods had been used to calculate the dates according to either the lunar or solar cycles. By Roman times, the calendar had become three months out with the seasons, so in 46 BC, Julius Caesar commissioned the astronomer, Sosigenes to devise a more reliable method. This, we know as the Julian Calendar and was used widely for 1500 years. The month of his birth, Caesar had named Quintilis, but the Roman Senate later re-named it Julius (July) in his honour. In those days, February had 30 days every 4 years.

However, this calendar was still 11 minutes and 14 seconds longer than the solar year, so that by the year 1580, the calendar had accumulated 10 days off again. In 1582, therefore, Pope Gregory XIII corrected the difference between the sun and calendar by ordering 10 days dropped from October, the month with the least Roman Catholic Feast days. His calendar, we know as the Gregorian Calendar, which is used in almost all of the world today. Pope Gregory made further changes to keep the calendar in line, which on average is only 26.3 seconds longer than the solar year. The Gregorian Calendar is so accurate that it will take until the year 4316 to gain a whole day on the sun.

That year, 1582, October 5th became October 15th and was immediately adopted in most Roman Catholic nations of Europe. Various German states kept the Julian Calendar until 1700. Britain and the American Colonies didn't change until 1752, but Russia and Turkey did not adopt the Gregorian Calendar until the early 1900's. So, January 7th by the Georgian Calendar would have been December 25th by the old Julian Calendar [used in Russia] and is therefore why it is still Christmas Day for the Russian Orthodox Church. Many Russians will have celebrated along with the rest of us and will then celebrate again on the Orthodox date.

Bottom Line

When Pope Gregory skipped 10 days in 1582, fixed calendar date holidays shifted to 10 days earlier than under the Julian calendar. If you kept your birthday on the same calendar date, then in 1583 your next birthday occurred only 355 days after your party in 1582 (instead of 365 days). If you wanted to track your "real" date of birth by the sun and 365-day years, then you had to add 10 days to your date of birth. The Russian Orthodox Church choose to add 10 days to Dec 25 to keep Christmas on the same 365-day cycle it had always been celebrated on in Russia.
Does this matter today? Surprising yes. If you do genealogy you'll often see two sets of dates for birth and death for persons living several centuries ago. One date will be their birthday on the Gregorian calendar and the other (+10 days) on the Julian calendar. Since not everyone used the same calendar, your April 1st might not be the same date as my April 1st. How confusing!

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Terror over Detroit

“No man dies for what he knows to be true. Men die for what they want to be true, for what some terror in their hearts tells them is not true.” - Oscar Wilde

On December 25, a terrorist tried to blow up an airplane as it was landing at Detroit, Michigan. I encourage you to read the first hand account, Over Detroit Skies, by passenger Roey Rosenblith. He's very honest about the experience and his reaction to what happened. For instance he talks about the urge to flee but having nowhere to go when aboard a plane.

Another important thing to learn from this story is that the "incident" is just the beginning of a long process of response and recovery. Passengers were not allowed to leave the plane or even to leave their seats after landing. When they finally deplaned, they were escorted to private briefings with 250 police/custom agents/security personnel. Cell phone calls were not allowed to waiting family members. The processing took hours and connecting flights were missed. At least they got vouchers for a meal and a hotel room.

Bottom Line

In any disaster, the hurricane, tornado, fire, etc is just the beginning. There are survival needs and emotional shock immediately afterwards. This is followed by a long and slow recovery with lots of paperwork, bureaucracy, and delays. It is frequently weeks or months for life to return to normal.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Airline Fees

Cause I'm leavin' on a jet plane
Don't know when I'll be back again
Oh babe, I hate to go
- song lyrics

As a child I loved flying. It was an adventure with fun food and friendly attendants. My father was an air traffic controller for the Air Force and he would take the kids to the cockpit to meet the pilot and see the controls.

Now-a-days it is a different story. Take off most of your clothes to be scanned, have your bottled water confiscated, pay for any food on board, etc. Today flying involves lots of add-on fees. Who charges the most fees? The least? The answer can be found on a comparison chart at

Bottom Line

My wife and I fly a lot less today than 15 years ago. This summer we decided to drive halfway cross the country to visit my sister instead of flying. It was far but the driving was part of the adventure with many tourist stops along the way. As a rule we'll drive someplace if we can. There is much much "convenience" in flying.

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Monday, January 4, 2010

Skin Conditions

"Don't let the bed bugs bite" - old saying
I was never cut out to be a doctor. While dissecting animals never bothered me, I am squeamish about photos of human medical conditions. Never-the-less I'm going to recommend viewing this site It contains 22 images of common skin problems like poison ivy, hives, and ring worm. Very useful to know next time your skin looks unusual.
Bottom Line
I found this site while trying to identify a skin condition on my leg. Several lines of red dots, fairly evenly spaced. Is my cat scratching me at night? Nah. The nearest example I could find online is bed bugs which I pray it is not. Bed bugs are hard to kill once they infest. Another site said see a Dermatologist ASAP because this could be an allergic reaction or parasite. So off to the doctor I go...
And the answer is - eczema, a dry skin rash. The straight line of dots is the rash following scratch marks according to the dermatologist. My wife says, "I told you so" and this will be one expensive rash when we get the doctor's bill.

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Morgan Freeman Chain of Command

A Sunday bonus blog...

This is quite clever from, the Morgan Freeman Chain of Command, with the many levels of roles played by this versatile actor, from God down to Driving Miss Daisy. I recommond looking at the original site since my attempt to embed it here is displaying way too small.
Bottom Line

"What a piece of work is a man! how Noble in Reason? how infinite in faculty? in form and mouing how express and admirable? in Action, how like an Angel? in apprehension, how like a God?" - Hamlet, Act II, scene II

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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Human Nature

“Really I don't like human nature unless all candied over with art.”- Virginia Woolf

As we make resolutions to be a better person in 2010, keep in mind these Five Laws of Human Nature from

  1. The Peter Principle
    In any organization "people reach the level of their own incompetence". In other words people are promoted until they reach a level over their head and there they stay (unless fired.)
  2. Parkinson's Law
    Work expands to fill the time available for its completion. Recent mathematical analyses have lent support to the idea. I once had a boss get upset that I finished a project ahead of schedule.
  3. The Student Syndrome
    Work gets delayed until the last possible minute. Are you the type who waits until April to begin your taxes? Project Managers recognize this law and combat it by setting many small deadlines to motivate progress on a continual basis.
  4. The Pareto Principle
    This is better known as the 80/20 rule. For example 20% of the staff do 80% percent of the work. 20% percent of the families own 80% of the wealth. And so on…
  5. The Maes-Garreau law
    Predictions about a life-altering future technology will fall just within the expected lifespan of the person making it. In other words many future predicting experts place the date of earth shaking changes on or about their 70th birthday. If they’re wrong, at least they had a long career.

Bottom Line

Read the full article for more depth and additional laws like Parkinson’s "law of triviality" that states that the amount of time an organization spends discussing an issue is inversely proportional to its importance. Parkison also discovered that commitees of 20 or more persons become utterly hapless and useless.

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Friday, January 1, 2010

Driver Error

"If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1000 MPG"- Bill Gates

Happy New Year! Today's blog is about a New Year's resolution that everyone can make to become a better driver.

According to the New York State Defensive Driving course, 95% of vehicle collisions are the result of Driver Error. Accidents that could have been avoided with better driving habits.

The definition of driver error is very broad and includes the following:

Distracted Driving - using a cell phone, reading a map or GPS, reading a book or newspaper, watching a movie on DVD, eating, putting on makeup, radio too loud, adjusting the mirrors, yelling at kids in the back, trying to text message or use a computer. People do amazing things while at the wheel!

Driving Too Fast - You might be speeding or just too fast for the local conditions. You can not expect to handle tight curves in the rain or snow at the same fast speed you use on sunny and dry days. You might be going too fast in a school zone and unable to stop in time for a child.

Driving Aggressively - there is fast and then there is crazy. People who hover on your back bumper and pass with just inches of space to spare. People who weave between cars trying to go faster than everyone on crowded highways. An extreme case of aggression is "Road Rage".

Defective Equipment - as the driver you are responsible for the maintenance of your car. If an accident occurs because the tires are bald and have no grip, the brakes are worn and slow to stop the car, the wipers are old and don't clear the windshield well - these are all preventable and listed as Driver Error. See Icy Windshields for winter advice.

Impaired Driver - it could be exhaustion from lack of sleep or chemically impaired by alcohol or drugs or medications. Check out my post on Rest Stops.

Bottom Line

Don't drive angry! Don't drive while impaired!

And pay attention while driving - check out Living Room on Wheels for more on distracted driving.

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