Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Back Pain

"Low back pain is common and affects people of all ages. It is second only to the common cold as the most common affliction of mankind, and it is among the leading complaints bringing patients to physicians’ offices."-Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine

The sixth of the seven Warning Signs from Women's Health magazine is back pain with tingling toes. This sign I can personally relate to.

As a computer progamer I sit for hours at my PC with less than perfect posture. Some 15 years ago I began experiencing awful back pain. It got worse and worse but I did nothing about it. Then one day it went away. Hurray, I thought. Not long thereafter a stange, new experience began - a shooting pain down my leg that became worse over time. I had no clue what this meant until a friend of my wife gave it a name, Sciatica. My first visit to the doctor was odd - I was in so much pain that it hurt to sit and was easier for me to lie on the floor. The prescription was an x-ray, take some asprin, and rest. Nothing to worry about - until the x-ray results came back. Then the doctor was seriously worried.

A cartiledge disk in my lower back had ruptured. The original pain was the disk being squeezed, then relief when it popped, and new pain as the protruding disk began pushing on my spinal column. A Neuralogist tapped my knees and toes to see if there was any nerve damage (no thankfully) and I was scheduled for surgury within days. There was great concern that the protrusion would bruise or damange my spinal column causing paralysis from the waist down.

The operation was simple with a scar only a few inches long and I was sent home early morning after an overnight stay on some powerful pain medications. The recover took six weeks before I was allowed to drive or go back to work. Physical therapy lasted many months to rebuild the back muscle and strengthen other muscles.

Bottom Line

If I had gone to a doctor earlier, during the back pain stage, I could have avoided later pain and surgery by early application of steroids and physical therapy. I was lucky that the surgery was successful. Sometimes it is not and the pain remains.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Chest Pain

"Heart attacks - God's revenge for eating his little animal friends"

According to Women's Health Magazine, the fourth Warning Sign that should not be ignored is passing chest pain. Now I could have sworn I had already written about heart attacks but could not find it in my blog. So here goes.

While the heart is a powerful muscle, it has NO pain nerves. There is no direct feedback that something is seriously wrong (other than the classic instant death heart attack). Most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. People affected aren't sure what's wrong and wait too long before getting help.

We need to recognize a heart attack though its secondary side effects within the first 5 minutes!

Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.

Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.

Shortness of breath. May occur with or without chest discomfort.

Other signs: These may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or light headedness

Bottom Line

If you experience the symptoms above call 9-1-1. Even if you're not sure, call 9-1-1. An EMT can begin treatment when they arrive — up to an hour sooner than driving yourself to a hospital. Your doctor will do an EKG to determine whether your heart has been damaged, and then decide on the best response; false alarm, prescribe clot-attacking drugs, or perform surgery to clear your arteries.


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Monday, March 29, 2010


"If you believe the doctors, nothing is wholesome; if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent; if you believe the military, nothing is safe"-Richard Cecil

I interrupt my series on the 7 Warning signs to look at a body part I know little about, the thyroid. What is it? What does it do? My wife is having her Thyroid examined so this is a good time for me to learn more about this mystery gland.

It's estimated that 59 million Americans have a thyroid problem, but most don't know it. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located just below the Adam’s apple in the neck that produces hormones that speed up or slow down your body’s metabolism. It can affect weight gain, mental mood, energy level, hair growth, skin town, muscles & joints, bowels, menstruation, and more. There are two common problems:
Hypothyroidism – the thyroid does not secrete enough hormones
Hyperthyroidism - the thyroid secretes too much


1. Muscle & Joint Pain with a weakness for Carpal Tunnel
2. Neck Discomfort and Enlargement, Hoarse Voice, Goiter
3. Oddly both hypo and hyper thyroidism can lead to hair loss.
4. Hypothyroidism thickens the skin; hyperthyroidism thins the skin and makes it fragile.
5. Bowels: Hypo->Constipation; Hyper->Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
6. Fertility: Hypo->heavy or frequent periods; Hyper->light or infrequent periods
7. Cholesterol: High with Hypo; Low with Hyper
8. Blood pressure: hyperthyroidism can speed up the heart and raise blood pressure
9. Mood: Hypo->Depression; Hyper->Anxiety
10. Weight: Hypo->Gain; Hyper->Lose
11. Sleep: Both extremes can leave you fatigued. Hyper can cause insomnia.
12. Body Temperature: Hypo->sensitive to cold; Hyper->sensitive to heat
13. Eyes: Hypo->puffiness around the eyes, Hyper->bulging or “bug” eyes

As I read more about the thyroid I see that it is not the “master regulator” as some sites claim. It is the factory that produces regulating chemicals but the role of regulator goes to the pituitary gland, a small gland at the base of the brain that monitors hormones in the blood and instructs the thyroid to produce more or less. So thyroid problems could be the fault of bad instructions from the pituitary or by a rebellious thyroid ignoring the instructions. There is also Grave’s disease where the thyroid is attacked by antibodies and overproduces in response. describes pregnancy masking thyroid problems that is worth reading if applicable to you.

Bottom Line

What can be done for thyroid problems?

1. Medicine – you can take artificial hormones if under producing or thyroid blockers if over producing.

2. For Hyperthyroidism that does not respond to medicine, one option is killing part or the entire thyroid to reduce/stop hormone production through surgical removal or poisoning with radioactive iodine (the thyroid loves iodine and soaks it up).


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Friday, March 26, 2010

Sharp pain in your side

"If people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny."-Thomas Jefferson

Let’s continue with the 7 Warning Signs You Should Not Ignore by Women’s Health magazine. Warning sign number three is a side stitch, a piercing stab, which intensifies over a few hours or days. It could be gas. It could be a pulled muscle. Or it could be something dangerous.

If it feels like your right side is skewered and you're nauseated and running a fever, you could have appendicitis. I covered appendicitis a year ago in this blog, Appendicitis.

Another possibility (for women) is an ovarian cyst. Typically these fluid-filled sacs are harmless and disappear on their own. But if one twists or ruptures, it can cause terrible pain and damage the ovary.

Bottom Line

In both cases above, you need emergency surgery immediately. A burst appendix is fatal unless treated. An twisted ovarian cyst can block bloodflow to the ovary, killing it within hours. If that happens, the doctor will need to cut out the entire ovary (and the eggs inside) along with the cyst.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010


"Love conquers all things except poverty and toothache."-Mae West

Today I look at the second topic from 7 WARNING SIGNS YOU SHOULD NOT IGNORE. Prior to the invention of antibiotics, infections were the main cause of human death (now the leading killers are Heart Attacks and Cancer). There are obvious infections from cuts or bites but there is also a type of deadly infection that is not so obvious (except for the pain). This is the common tooth cavity.

Bad teeth have plagued man since the dawn of time. A study of 3,000 Egyptian mummies concluded that 18% of all mummies had a nightmare array of dental diseases. Just like a cut in the skin, a hole or crack in a tooth allows outside bacteria inside the body where it can grow and spread. Sadly for us, a tooth is a lovely place for bacteria to grow. The narrow opening in teeth roots is too small for white blood cells to enter inside the tooth and wage war. So bacteria can grow unchecked until it pushes out of the tooth into the surrounding gum tissue and jawbone. At this point the cavity becomes an abscess.

The infection from a tooth abscess can spread to the brain and kill or spread to the throat, swelling it and making breathing difficult.

Have a dentist examine any persistent toothache. If you cannot see a dentist immediately, here are some steps you can try for tooth pain before your dental appointment:

· Bite down on a tea bag (wet or dry) for a few hours
· Mix salt and baking soda, dip a wet cotton ball in this mixture, and position the cotton between your cheek and tooth for a few hours. Hydrogen peroxide is known to reduce toothache.
· Use hydrogen peroxide 1.5% as a mouthwash.
· Gargle in your mouth with tea tree oil mixed with water.
· Gargle in your mouth with salt water.
· Apply drops of clove oil or vanilla extract to the infected tooth.

Bottom Line

Just because your tooth stops hurting does not mean the problem is gone. It could mean that the bacteria has reached the root of the tooth and killed the nerve. The next step is an abscess and danger. You’ll be pain free until the infection is deeply rooted in the gum or jaw or brain and much more difficult to fix.

See a dentist; don’t risk your life with a tooth infection.

"It is outrageous today that in America, a young boy can die because his family can't find a dentist to remove an infected tooth," – actual event in Maryland in 2007

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

7 Warning Signs

“I will not be as those who spend the day in complaining of headache, and the night in drinking the wine that gives it” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (author)

From Women’s Health Magazine comes this list of 7 WARNING SIGNS YOU SHOULD NOT IGNORE.

  1. Severe head pain
  2. Throbbing tooth
  3. Sharp pain in your side
  4. Passing chest pain
  5. Abdominal discomfort with gas or bloating
  6. Back pain with tingling toes
  7. Leg pain with swelling

I’ll try to cover these, one each day, with the exception of Ovarian Cancer (can you guess which one that is from the list of symptoms?) With my grandmother, mother and wife I’ve experienced, secondhand, Fallopian Tube Cancer, Ovarian Cancer and Uterine Cancer. But I leave these topics as an exercise to the reader and will focus instead on problems that can affect either sex.

We may all experience mild versions of the symptoms above – headaches, chest pain, sore tooth, etc. But when the intensity is at 10 on the pain dial, you need to find out why.

Head Pain – a super headache could be a migraine. Migraines often have a visual side effect that distorts your vision. But a sudden and severe head pain, the worst in your life, could be something much worse than migraine. A friend of ours was living in Mexico and attending a movie show with her husband when she saddening started screaming at the top of her voice and collapsed. She was rushed to a hospital and was unable to speak and paralyzed on one side of her body. The cause – a ruptured brain aneurysm.

An aneurysm is a blood vessel that swells and widens like a balloon. In a majority (60%) of patients there is no symptom prior to rupture. Afterwards symptoms may be major or minor depending on the size of the vessel to rupture and may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stiff neck or neck pain
  • Blurred vision or double vision
  • Pain above and behind the eye
  • Dilated pupils
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Loss of sensation or paralysis

A CT scan is needed to detect an aneurysm and the blood vessel needs to be repaired immediately so call 911 if you experience the “worst headache of your life.” Brain damage will begin two ways:

1. Portions of the brain may die that are cut off from the blood flow
2. Blood pooling and pressure inside the brain can injure nearby blood cells

About 40% of the people who suffer bleeding from an aneurysm die within the first month. Approximately another one third have major nervous system damage such as long-term memory problems and may have difficulty with thinking, perception, and performing simple daily activities. When our friend recovered her speech (after much time and therapy) she would intermix English and Spanish words as she spoke – her brain had trouble keeping the two languages separate.

Bottom Line

Autopsy studies reveal that 3-6% of all adult Americans have experienced aneurysms that never ruptured. It’s a ticking time bomb inside many of us so it's important to recognize the symptoms and respond quickly. The risk is higher as we age. One positive risk factor that can be controlled is smoking. Smokers are 10 times more likely to rupture an aneurysm. Binge drinking raises the risk of damage (by thinning the blood?) and there are some hints that high blood pressure is also a factor.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Too much food

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."-Michael Pollan

The quote above comes from Michael Pollan, a popular writer about food and the food industry. He wrote an entire book on this topic, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, which is summarized in his New York Times article, Unhappy Meals.
The first and last points are fairly "easy" to follow.

Eat food - by this he means real, natural, food with minimum (or no) artificial ingredients. As Pollan puts it, don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't recognize. Stay close to nature and avoid food that is heavily processed or created in a laboratory.

Mostly plants - eat lots of fruits and vegetables, less meat and grains.

The middle point, Not too much, is "obvious" but not so easy to follow. What is the "right" amount of food to eat? Official portion sizes on products always seem so laughably small. But size does matter. I read one account of the 1/2 plate diet. A woman managed to lose weight by eating only half of every "normal" sized meal and saving the rest for another meal.

There are dietary guidelines for "proper" meal sizes but few of us carry a postal or food scale to measure the ounces of meat, etc, we are about to eat. In lieu of a scale, here are some visual clues to portion sizes:

a 1 once sausage is the size of a shotgun shell (54 calories, 5g fat)
or 3 oz of beef = a deck of cards (219 cal, 13g fat)

Mashed Potatoes and most vegetables: 1/2 cup = 1/2 an apple (112 cal, 5g fat)
Just how big an apple? A fresh fruit portion size = 1 cup = a 60 watt light bulb.
The portion size for canned or sliced fruit is 1/2 cup.

Pasta: 1/2 cup cooked = fist sized (99 cal, 1g fat)
Lasagna: 8 oz = two hockey pucks (270 cal, 8g fat)
Bagel: one hockey puck
Pancake: one CD sized
Cornbread: a bar of soap

Soup: 1 cup = baseball (175 cal, 6g fat for chicken-noodle)

Ice Cream: 1/2 cup = tennis ball (143 cal, 7g fat)

Cheese: 1 oz = 4 dice cubed or 1 ping-pong ball
(107 cal, 8g fat for Swiss; 80 cal, 6g fat for mozzarella)

Bottom Line

I tried to find some rule of "thumb" to portion visualization but it's confusing when the same web site uses a tennis ball for 1 cup of pasta and a 1/2 cup of fruit. Seems backwards to me. I'd expect the pasta to have more air space and look bigger. One site says 2 dice for 1 oz of cheese, another says 4 dice. So apply these rules with a grain of salt.


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Monday, March 22, 2010

Damaged Trees

"Even trees do not die without a groan"-Henry David Thoreau

Our big snow storm last month broke quite a few limbs off our trees. The biggest branch was about 8 inches across. One was so heavy it took both my wife and I to pull it off the street. We are thankful that none of them hit the house, our fence or our cars with full force. We did have several near misses of mere inches. There was some luck but also some fore planning. About a decade ago we paid an arborist to cut back limbs that hung over our house and driveway.

As we look up now we see several trees with cracked limbs or jagged scars. Sadly there is not much that an amateur can do about it - the shortest trees are 20' and much of the damage is 30, 40 or 50' up in the air. Our first bid from a professional is $1200 for repairs and cleanup.
What if the breaks are lower to the ground? How do you fix a free? Here are several informative articles on home tree repair from Land Grant Colleges:

University of Illinois Extension
University of Tennessee
Michigan State Extension (my school, yeah!)
Iowa State Extension

The Arbor Day Foundation has a guide to help determine when a tree is worth saving (or not).

Bottom Line

There are many opinions on tree repair involving glue, bolts, cables, limb removal, etc. It can be dangerous work. So be very careful or hire a professional.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

The return of 72-hour kits

"By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail."- Ben Franklin

I received a comment on my 72-hr kit posting two days ago. Thank you! It's great to know there are readers out there.

While I think there is more agreement than disagreement in the comment, it's also apparent that my main point was not clear enough.

I'm completely in favor of stocking up and preparing supplies for emergencies at home, in your car, and at home. My concern is that the concept of a "72-hr kit" is an oversimplification to preparedness that misleads the average person into thinking they are prepared when they are not. Even the name is bad as emergency home supplies need to last more than 72 hours.

My objections reflect the common person who buys or makes a simple kit, loses track of it in the basement for years, and THINKS they are prepared. It's treated like a lucky rabbit's foot for protection. "I own one, therefore I'm safe." But when push comes to shove the 72-hr kit is not used, unusable or inadequate. Real disaster kits must be customized to personal needs and available at all times and resupplied.

I can't even say a 72-hr kit is "better than nothing" because it may amount to nothing when needed (not found or expired). It can give a false sense of security. It's like having a smoke alarm, never changing the batteries, and then leaving candles lit everywhere because the alarm will keep you safe.

When I wrote my first post, my wife & I had just met with local church leaders whose primary idea of preparedness was to make sure everyone had a 72-hr kit. At the same time they admitted they had lost track of and never refreshed the kits made at church years previous for their families. Another admitted that the amount of food in his kit (as specified by the official kit list) would never last him 3 days. There was much less interest in skill training - the kit would suffice for the welfare and protection of members.

Bottom Line

72-hour kits are only a first step towards preparedness, not the end of the journey. For kits to be useful I again recommend:

1. "72-hour" kits are for the car and office (not the home). I can only think of one use at home - when you have to shelter in place inside one room for gas/bio attack or tornado. If that room is your supply depot - all's well. If not, grab a kit from your car.

2. Customize your kits for your appetites and needs like medicines and diapers.

3. Include copies of important documents in the kit. Include some money.

4. Stock your home with 3 months of food, water and first aid supplies. A "72-hr" kit is for when you are stranded away from home base. It should not be your primary supplies.

5. Supplies must be backed up with skills. I own a chainsaw but fear to use it. It's dangerous and I'm not skilled in its use.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Money & Marriage

"Money is not the most important thing in the world. Love is. Fortunately, I love money."-anon

The Wall Street Journal has an excellent article entitled, Questions to Ask After 'I Will' but Before 'I Do'.

“Couples don't fight over love. They fight over money. They fight because one person didn't balance the checkbook or made a bone-headed investment without consulting the other.” - WSJ

Here are topics to discuss with your fiancee before you marry:

1. What are your Assets and Liabilities?
Don’t wait until after the wedding to discover your partner has a huge school loan. Or skimp on the wedding and then discover she/he is independently wealthy but also cheap. Or has a huge portfolio of stocks but refuses to sell them for any reason.

2. What are your long-term monetary goals?
Is there a debt you want to pay off ASAP? A car or big vacation you want to save for? Make sure your spouse is in agreement.

3. What are your money habits?
Do you max our your credit card and then make the minimum payment while your partner to be abhors debt and pays for everything in cash upfront? If your spending habits clash, expect some heated fights ahead.

4. How will you divide financial duties?
Who will balance the checkbook, pay the bills, decide on which bank, CDs and other investments? Who will deal with insurance companies and medical bills? How will you decide on large costs like home remodeling, a new car, new suits, etc.

5. How will you divide the money?
If you both work will you keep separate accounts or pool the money together? If you share, will there be limits on individual spending? Imagine a spouse who enjoys a $50 lunch each day at work or with friends. Or has an expensive hobby that drains the account dry.

Bottom Line

From WSJ - “What couples don't always grasp is that money is rarely the real culprit. It's the lack of communication, often stemming from a lack of knowledge about each other's personal financial quirks and beliefs.”

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

72-hour kits

“Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong, these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.”-Churchill, Winston

I’ve come to the conclusion that 72-hour kits are a bad idea. There are many reasons for this.

1. It promotes the idea that safety can be easily purchased. “I’ve bought (or made) a kit so now I’m prepared.” Real preparedness requires skills, planning and practice drills.

2. Kits are easily set aside and forgotten. “I’ve have six 72-hour kits somewhere in the basement for my family”

3. They are left behind when needed. “Honey, grab the kids”. Whoever says, “Honey, the grab the 72-hours kits”, as they flee a burning house”

4. You won’t have them when you need them – stranded in your car or at the office.

5. They are typically inadequate. No water, no cash, no toilet paper, no ID/financial records/insurance/etc to aid recovery.

6. Kits don’t get used and the contents (food, batteries) expire.

7. They don’t last 72-hours. “You mean this is all the food I get for 3 days? I could eat this in one sitting!”

8. Your kit needs to last for more than 72-hours. Since Katrina, FEMA and the American Red Cross now recommend a week of supplies.

So what should you do instead?

1. Maintain a well stocked home with a week of canned food that won’t require electricity to cook. Keep a week’s worth of water in storage for the entire family. Use and rotate these supplies.

2. Create useful first aid kits for your home, each car and office.

3. Make copies of important documents and store these outside the home.

4. Hide some cash outside the home for emergencies. Not your life savings but say $100 to tide things over until you have access to a bank again. Suppose you flee your burning house in your underwear – you’ll have no ID or ATM card to acquire cash! And you'll have no car keys.

5. Stock your cars with supplies suitable to the season – lots of water in summer, gloves & blankets in the winter.

6. Have comfort supplies at your office should you have to sleep there. Include a pair of old walking shoes if you evacuate and the roads/trains are shut down.

Bottom Line

Yes my six steps take more work and effort. But they will be more effective than a “kit” in a bag or can that is lost in the back of a closet somewhere.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010


"Getting an inch of snow is like winning 10 cents in the lottery."-Bill Watterson (Calvin & Hobbes cartoonist)

Last month my family experienced a snowstorm that dropped nearly two feet of wet, heavy snow and we had to shovel the driveway five times in 24 hours. Now, after the fact, I thought I’d look at the safety issues of snow removal.

Snow shoveling is NOT without risk. One study determined that after only two minutes of shoveling, sedentary men’s heart rates rose to levels higher than those normally recommended during aerobic exercise. Heart attacks are not uncommon. A middle-aged minister of our church died while shoveling some 20 years ago. Cold air makes it harder to work and breathe, which adds some extra strain on the body. There also is the risk for hypothermia, a decrease in body temperature, if one is not dressed correctly for the weather conditions. Shoveling improperly can also cause back strain.


  • Avoid caffeine or nicotine before beginning (that is no smoking or coffee). These are stimulants, which may increase your heart rate and cause your blood vessels to constrict. This places extra stress on the heart.

  • Dress in several layers so you can remove a layer as needed.

  • Warm up your muscles before shoveling with some gentle stretches or walking about. Begin shoveling slowing until the heart and body are ready for a workout.

  • Beware of extra-large shovel scoops that will cause more strain as you lift heavy loads. Smaller loads are safer.

  • Bend from the knees (not the back) and tighten your stomach muscles as you lift the snow. Avoid twisting movements. Lift with your legs, not your back.

  • Know the signs of a heart attack: chest pain, discomfort in other areas of the body, shortness of breath, and lightheadedness, nausea, or sweating.

  • If snow is sticking to your shovel, spray it with shortening or vegetable oil.

Bottom Line

Take it slow and easy and pace yourself. Better to be a tortoise than a dead hare.


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Monday, March 15, 2010

Background Check

"We're getting an increasing amount of questions about background checks, almost as many as identity fraud. There are too many problems with inaccurate information being recorded."-Tena Friery, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse

In today's economy employers can afford to be choosy and selective in whom they hire. To that end more are now running background checks on the best candidates. What will they find out about you? The Consumerist put together the list below of agencies you can contact to check your record. Most offer one free report a year and provide a means to request corrections if you see any errors.

Employment History Reports
The Work Number
ChoicePoint (866) 312-8075

Tenant History Reports
ChoicePoint (877) 448-5732
First Advantage SafeRent (888) 333-2413
Tenant Data Services
RentBureauUD Registry (818) 785-3905

Auto & Home Insurance Claim Reports
Insurance Services Office (ISO) (800) 627-3487

Credit Bureaus Reports
Payment Reporting Builds Credit (PRBC)

Full File Disclosure/Personal Information Reports

Check Writing History Reports
ChexSystems (800) 428-9623
TeleCheck (800) 835-3243.
Shared Check Authorization Network (800) 262-7771

Health History Reports
Medical Information
(MIB) (866) 692-6901

Prescription Drug Purchase History Reports
Ingenix MedPoint
Milliman IntelliScript

Social Security Statement
Social Security Administration

Purchase Returns History Reports
Retail Equation

Gaming Patron's Credit History and Transaction Data
Central Credit

Other Reports

Utilities & Telecommunications Reports
National Consumer Telecom and Utilities Exchange, Inc (NCTUE)
Call 1-888-201-5643 for reports

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Stolen Laptop

"UNIVAC: a device, which contained 20,000 vacuum tubes, occupied 1,500 square feet and weighed 40 tons; there was also a laptop version weighing 27 tons."- Dave Barry

The Consumerist recommends 7 Things You Should Do Before & After Your Laptop Is Stolen.


• Have Serial Number and Receipt On File - this will be necessary to prove you are the rightful owner.

• Backup Your Hard Drive (this is also protection should your hard drive fail. Mine has)

• Install Tracking Software – who knew there is LoJack for Laptops?


• File A Report With Your Laptop Manufacturer —In case the new owner attempts to have your laptop repaired by the manufacturer.

• File a Police Report —they’ll want the serial number.

• Call the Pawn Shops —They might have bought it or remember someone trying to sell it.

• Check Online Marketplaces like Ebay and Craigslist for someone selling your laptop


I’d add three more BEFORE steps.

1. Decorate your laptop in some unique way that makes it stand out and easily spotted during a search. Like a bumper sticker.

2. Be careful what you store on your laptop. We keep a list of passwords, bank accounts, etc in Word documents but the documents are password protected. Apply a password to anything you don't want others to read.

3. Your laptop may be stolen at your workplace. Could be the cleaning staff, someone who broke in, or a late working co-worker. You never know. I purchased a lock and chain to attach the laptop to my desk. Sort of like a bicycle chain.


Laptops are an amazing achievement of technology. Check out for a history of hard drive sizes. I never knew there were refrigerator-sized hard drives in the 70’s. My oldest memory is from the 80s when the hard drive looked like a stack of vinyl LP records.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Disability Insurance

"Insurance: An ingenious modern game of chance in which the player is permitted to enjoy the comfortable conviction that he is beating the man who keeps the table."- Ambrose Bierce

Shortly after I got married, my new wife and I attended a free financial planning seminar. We were by far the youngest persons in the room (I was in my late 20's at the time.) Everyone else was near retirement by which point it's a bit late to begin "planning." As a follow-up to the seminar we were offered a free review of our assets with a Financial Planner. We listened carefully to the advice offered and followed all of it EXCEPT for one item: buying Disability Insurance.

The purpose of disability insurance is to compensate for lost wages if you are unable to work due to injury or medical reasons. (AFLAC says the duck.) We decided against buying disability insurance because of the high cost - much more than our car or home insurance.

A reason for the high cost might be the high odds of collecting on the insurance. The book “How To Insure Your Income” claims everyone has an 80% chance of being disabled for 90 days before age 65. Others set the odds much lower at 30% for blue collar jobs and 10% for white collar jobs. In my case I've been "disabled" twice for back surgery, each requiring a six week recovery. In both instances I took a brief sick leave and was allowed to work from home with a laptop computer. I was fortunate.

Alternatives to disability insurance include:

-Social Security. It may take more than a year for your claim to be processed and longer if you appeal a rejection. It pays at best a few thousand dollars a month.
- Worker’s compensation. Covers you only if you were hurt on the job.

Bottom Line

If you're interested in Disability Insurance, check out Questions to Ask Before Buying Disability Insurance. Questions include:

  • What percentage of my income will you replace if I become disabled?

  • Is there a maximum payout that you’ll make (in dollars) per year, no matter what I earn?

  • If I can’t return to the job I had before, can I continue to draw payments forever? Until I’m 65? Or some shorter period of time?

  • Will you guarantee that I can renew the policy each year, at the same price? What about at a higher price?

  • If I’m paying the premium on time, are there any circumstances under which you can cancel my policy?

  • What if I’m unemployed and can’t pay the premium for a short period of time?

  • Is there a waiting period after you become disabled before you can start collecting on a claim?

  • What injuries or illnesses does my policy exclude? If I’ve already been treated for depression or back pain or cancer will you not cover those maladies at all in the future?

Get the answers in writing!

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Staying Calm During an Emergency

Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn't seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his phone and calls 9-1-1. He gasps, "My friend is dead! What can I do?" The operator says "Calm down. I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead." There is a silence, and then a shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says, "OK, he’s dead. Now what?"

For the Readyman Webelos Activity, young boys are taught four ways to demonstrate “Courage” during an emergency. Be Strong, Be Calm, Be Clear, Be Careful. I’d like to focus on the importance of being Calm and Clear.

In June of 2009, a natural gas explosion blew the roof off of a ConAgra Food Plant during working hours. Here is one call made to 9-1-1.

"ConAgra just blew up," a caller said.
"ConAgra?" the responder asked.
"ConAgra. In Garner."
"What did it do ma'am?" the responder said. "What do you mean it blew up?"
"It blew up! Please send some help."

Notice how little “real” communication is going on here. When asked a question by the responder, the caller just repeats the same words back, “ConAgra”, “It blew up”. The event is vivid and clear in the mind of the caller to whom ConAgra is obvious and “it blew up” is self-evident. “Please send some help” gives no clue to the scope of the problem, is one EMT needed or a fleet of ambulances?

Callers forget that what is obvious to them may not be obvious to someone at a phone bank in another city. Being Calm and Clear means carefully providing details like “the ConAgra Food Plant #3 in Garner has suffered a huge explosion with dozens injured. We need dozens of ambulances and fire control for an industrial plant.”

Consider this call to 9-1-1 in Arizona in 2008,

"There's three dogs, but one is very aggressive, and the man is holding one, and there's kids over here, too."

How would you interpret this? The responder said she would contact Animal Control. 12 minutes later there is a second call, "We're still waiting for an officer. We've got injuries." Is the picture clear yet? The responder sent a reminder to Animal Control. Then a minute later, "Uh, there's a dogfight over here, and there's been a man bit. And I called about 15 minutes ago, and nobody's here yet." With this call, a different operator, and the magic words, a man’s been bit, medical personal (Fire Dept EMT) were finally mobilized. It turns out a pit bull wriggled out of its leash, lunged at a man with two small kids walking his beagle, bit his right forearm, and dragged him about 7 feet after his beagle barked at the pit bull. Could you have guessed any of this from the original call to 9-1-1?

Watch out for "buzz words" and technical jargon. In another emergency call there was confusion between an armed “robbery” and a “burglary”. Do you know the difference? A robbery is a crime happening now – immediate response is needed to rescue the victim and catch the robber. A burglary is after the fact, the robber is gone, and there is no need for police to hurry. The victim in a Dry Cleaning store armed robbery activated the silent alarm but the emergency dispatcher reported it as a 10-15, burglary just occurred. So the police did not use sirens, arrived slowly at the scene, to find a distressed victim asking, “What took you so long?”

Bottom Line

Be very clear on 9-1-1 to say what you need – police, fire, ambulance. Be clear on what is damaged and injuries and the number of people needing medical attention. Call back if you think 9-1-1 misunderstood or ask to speak with a supervisor.

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010


"Asthma doesn't seem to bother me any more unless I'm around cigars or dogs. The thing that would bother me most would be a dog smoking a cigar."-Steve Allen

While researching first aid stations for a Cub Scout activity, I realized that I know very little about Asthma and how to respond. After looking at a dozen medical websites I still know very little about what to do. The sites describe Asthma, its symptoms, its triggers, its medical treatment, but very little about instructions for Asthma attacks. The usual language is “See your doctor for an Asthma Action Plan.” Very little advice for Scout Leaders with an Asthmatic hiker.

So what have I learned? During the asthma attack, the lining of the airways and lungs become swollen or inflamed and thicker mucus -- more than normal -- is produced. This causes coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness as breathing becomes more difficult and less effective. Symptoms include:

· Severe wheezing when breathing both in and out
· Coughing that won't stop
· Chest pain or pressure
· Tightened neck and chest muscles, called retractions
· Difficulty talking
· Very rapid breathing

[DANGER signs, call 911]

· Extreme difficulty breathing
· Rapid pulse
· Pale, sweaty face
· Blue lips or fingernails
· Anxiety or panic over inability to breathe
· Severe drowsiness or confusion

With mild asthma attacks the airways open up within a few minutes to a few hours after treatment. Severe asthma attacks are less common but last longer and require immediate medical help. If a mild attack is not treated and becomes severe, the lungs may tighten so much that there is not enough air movement to produce wheezing. This is called a "silent chest,"; it is a dangerous sign and requires immediate medical attention before the victim dies from lack of air. Unfortunately, some people interpret the disappearance of wheezing as a sign of improvement and fail to get prompt emergency care.

Asthma attacks can be triggered by cold-air, too much exercise, stress, pet dander, dust, mold, pollen, and tobacco & wood smoke. Asthma cannot be cured but you can keep the body health and strong, avoid the asthma triggers, and follow a two pronged medical regimen.

1. Long Term Medications to reduce the likelihood of attacks. These include corticosteroids, bronchodilators, Leukotriene inhibitors, and others.

2. Emergency Medications used during an attack.
a. Short-acting bronchodilators (inhalers)
b. Corticosteroids injected directly into a vein during a severe attacks

Asthma suffers can monitor their state of health with a breathing apparatus that measures “Peak Flow” of how much air they can take in. There is a Green Zone of 80-100% flow, a Yellow caution zone of 50-80% and a Red danger zone of 50% Peak Flow capacity.

Bottom Line

What can I do to help during an Asthma attack?

- If feasible, move them out of a trigger area (away from smoke, cold air, pet dander)
- Sit the person comfortably upright – do NOT have them lie down.
- Stay calm and soothe the victim. This may help him or her relax and breathe more easily.
- Have the victim use their inhaler as instructed by their doctor
- Coach the person to breathe steadily with pursed lips (puckered or "fish" lips), especially on the exhale. Breathe with the person, helping them focus on you.
- If the victim has no inhaler or no history of Asthma before, call 911.
- If the inhaler is not helping, call 911
- If the victim passes out, begin rescue breaths and, if necessary, CPR.

- Asthma attacks are NOT “cured” by drinking large amounts of liquids
- Non-prescription medicines such as antihistamines or cold remedies apparently have no effect in controlling asthma.

Asthma Resources

First Aid

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Monday, March 8, 2010

FEMA Tip of the Week

"Over half a billion dollars a day is being spent by FEMA" - Thad Cochran

Recently I discovered that FEMA offers a Tip of Week site. I've been on a FEMA email list for ages and somehow managed to miss this fact. Check out:

Recents Tips include:

Bottom Line

Check out the tips. You'll be glad you did.

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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Feathered Dinosaurs

Here's a bonus feature for the weekend. has a gallery of the latest finds on feathered dinosaurs from the last decade. Last I had heard there was just a handful of fossils hinting at wings and feathers. But since the mid-90s the Yixian formation in China has yielded dozens of species of feathered dinosaurs. The recent finds have also uncovered animals with four wings, with feathers on arms and legs.

The gallery begins here

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Friday, March 5, 2010


“I've always wanted to be a spy, and frankly I'm a little surprised that British intelligence has never approached me.”
-Elizabeth Hurley (British actress)

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I'll be watching you
-song lyrics by Police

Now here is a scary story if it proves true. A family in Pennsylvania has accused their son's school district of installing spyware on school-issued laptops that students take home. Each laptop includes a built-in web-camera. The family claims in their lawsuit that,

...the School District in fact has the ability to remotely activate the webcam contained in a students' [sic] personal laptop computer issued by the School District at any time it chose and to view and capture whatever images were in front of the webcam, all without the knowledge, permission or authorization of any persons then and there using the laptop computer.
Bottom Line

Personally I avoid buying any computer with a built-in webcam. I've read stories of computer hacks that can turn these on remotely so you have no idea you are being watched. So I use a webcam via a USB port that I can unplug when not in use.

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Unintended Consequences

“The supply of government exceeds demand.”- Lewis H. Lapham

My latest commuting lecture series on CD has been on the Fundamentals of Economics. With all the problems in the economy and odd government behavior, I decided to brush up on my Micro & Macro Economics that I learned so long ago in college. As the instructor points out, it would be a good thing for ALL government leaders to brush up on the basics.

For example: Supply & Demand. You don’t have to like it but it’s a “force of nature” that cannot be denied. It explains behavior in all kinds of economies – capitalism and socialism - around the world. It results in all manner of unintended consequences in “well-meaning” legislation.

Case in point – the economics professor says one should NOT use prices to bring about social change. The setting of price caps or wage floors upsets the balance of Supply & Demand and nature will not be denied. It will find ways to compensate.

Consider rent control laws. Landlords have no desire to support apartments that return less than market rates. They will let the place run down, or charge high fees (like key deposits) to make up the balance. New landlords stay out of an unprofitable market resulting in fewer “low-cost” places to live. There are also consequences for the renter. When supply of rent-controlled apartments diminishes, those that have them hold on to what they have, no matter what. They become reluctant to move or “trade up” because they have a great below-market deal. The apartments become family assets that are passed on to children or (illegally) subleased, sometimes at higher rates. Because the rent is fixed for everyone, there is little to stop the rich from getting great deals. A congressman from NY has 4 rent-controlled apartments in the same building that he combined into a nice living space.

What are the alternatives to rent-control? If the government wants to help low-income families to find affordable living, then target these families directly (not indirectly with prices that affect everyone). Give them an apartment check that is similar to food stamps – payable only towards rent. Or a tax rebate if rent exceeds x% of your budget for households earning less than $Y.

Or consider tax-cuts & other programs to simulate the economy. Sounds good at first glance – more money in peoples pockets. But what are the unintended consequences?

- More money chasing the limited goods can result in inflation that erodes away the new dollars available. So no one is better off afterwards.
- The extra money may be spent on foreign imports, improving the economies of other nations at the expense of US taxpayers. The “Cash for Clunkers” helped Japanese car makers more than US companies.
- Less tax means the government debt will increase (at least short term until the economy recovers). Government borrowing drains money from investors making it more costly for companies to borrow money or issue bonds/stocks for improvements. Instead of stimulating, the resulting debt can slow down the economy. This happened under FDR, Regan and looks to be happening again under Obama.

The alternative: government spending should focus on long-term improvements that lift up the nation, not handouts to “shovel-ready” jobs for frivolous projects. We could instead build a new Internet super-highway to bring network speeds up to levels enjoyed by nations like Japan. Or build wireless access across the nation. Or fix old roads and bridges and public waterworks. Strengthen our nation’s electricity grid against failure.

Bottom Line

The science of economics is not perfect; it’s not called the “dismal” science for nothing. Just look at the debate of Keynesian vs. Supply-Side vs. other theories on how to “fix” a recession. But an awareness of economic principles and history can teach us that there ain’t no such no such thing as a free lunch. Someone always pays though it may be quite hidden or indirect.

So the next time a politician promises to fix some ill via a law or spending, ask yourself – who will indirectly benefit from this? What will be the long-term consequences and who will suffer? Can this new law/spending be exploited by the rich and powerful [Example: a law was passed requiring government to spend X% of contract dollars on companies with female or minority ownership. What happened – big white-male companies set up dummy companies led by a woman or minority that would subcontract everything back to the big white-male company. There are always loopholes.]

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Three Strikes in Chile

"We are nine meals from anarchy."-docudrama After Armageddon

On Feb 27 a magnitude 8.8 earthquake hit the country of Chile. This was 500 times stronger than the quake in Haiti and the sixth largest quake measured in modern times. At first glance it appeared that Chile was well prepared with about 700 dead and 2 million homeless (compared to 220,000 dead and 8 million homeless in Haiti). "The Government is up and running, the stock exchange is running, the newspapers are out." – ABC news. Fifty years ago the worst quake ever-recorded devastated Chile (magnitude 9.5 in 1960) and a new infrastructure was built to be earthquake resistant. (Haiti is also a high-risk zone for quakes but poverty and government corruption has not promoted safe building codes.)

But now for the rest of the story. The Chilean earthquake was followed by two additional catastrophic events:

1. Tidal Waves: many seaside towns in Chile were struck by surging waves several meters high that washed away homes and carried an untold number of people to their deaths. Most of the deaths in Chile occurred AFTER the quake with the tsunami. The entire Pacific was then put on alert for coastal evacuation. Fortunately the waves were only 3-4 feet high by the time they reached Hawaii and barely noticeable in Japan.

2. Looting: Chile Battles Lawlessness, Desperation After Massive Earthquake
“Many looters made off with food and basic supplies. Others saw an opportunity for large-scale theft, carrying away home appliances on their backs.” Everything has been stolen from the supermarkets, the small shops, and the pharmacies. Hundreds of looters have been detained and troops have been forced to fire tear gas to stop mobs from pillaging shops and homes.

The situation in parts of Chile is now considered "desparate".

Bottom Line

A disaster or catastrophe means, by definition, that the normal order of things has been overturned. Life will NOT soon return to normal. You cannot rely on local, state, national or international government to quickly come to the rescue. Hence the recommendation to have at LEAST one week of supplies in your home. As Chile shows you can survive the quake, survive the tsunami, and then starve because a mob has grabbed all the food while looting.


The situation in Chile highlights a problem with food storage – a mob may steal it from you. It’s charitable to share your food store if you can, but you might want to lie low and not advertise that you have food storage if you fear mobs and lawlessness. You might also consider breaking up your food storage and hiding portions of it. This way some might remain after the rest is stolen. [Unless neighbors discover the “hidden treasure” of food and ransack your entire house in a treasure hunt.]

Another option is to create/join a neighborhood group to repel looters and “outsiders”. Some towns in Chile have gone this route.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Social Networking after the Haiti earthquake

“I'm surprised at how much has burrowed itself into real life along with instant messaging, text messaging and e-mail, ... It's another reason to be on the Net."-Chris Hughes, facebook co-founder

Today I recommend the article, The tale of an Android phone in the earthquake in Haiti. The web site is French but this article is in English.

As is common after a disaster, phone lines (both land and Cell) may be out of service or overloaded.

"In the first few hours that followed the earthquake, mobile service was completely disrupted. It was almost impossible to place a call, due to the combination of the damages on the cellular networks and the spike in phone calls."
But texting often works...

"However, on some networks, SMS service was still available. People stuck under
rubbles started texting to their friends and family (in Haiti and abroad) to
tell them they were still alive and needed help."
The next part really caught my eye,

Those friends and family, not knowing what to do, started posting these SOS messages on their social networks, mainly on Facebook.
Facebook is an amazing tool for linking people together and getting your message to friends. In the article, the Author in Haiti was able to view Facebook on his Android phone, see the SOS messages, and forward the information to rescue workers who were delighted to know where the people were buried. Lives were saved.

Bottom Line

It pays to be connected with a social network. Check out facebook.


I'd never heard of Android before this article. It is a Google smartphone running on Linux. For a comparison of smartphones, check out

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Monday, March 1, 2010

Odd Jobs for Extra Money

“Money, if it does not bring you happiness, will at least help you be miserable in comfort.”- Helen Gurley Brown

When I was unemployed one question that came up was, How can I earn some money if I don't find a full time job? My preference is to tutor math and science but that that is a crowded and competitive field now-a-days. Not so easy to build up a client base. I also looked at Kumon and similar tutoring business but they take some serious money and training to get started and again will fail unless you can attract customers.
So what else can one do? Fortunately has some ideas at Quick Cash: 24 Ways to Make Money While Unemployed.

  1. Human Guinea Pig - earn money as a lab test subject

  2. Clean Houses

  3. Give Blood

  4. Walk Dogs (our friend makes a living doing this)

  5. Plant Sit

  6. Babysit

  7. House Sit

  8. Flip Web Sites

  9. Sell Your Hair

  10. Deliver Phone Books

  11. Become a Census Worker

  12. Sell Your (human) Eggs

  13. Rent-a-Truck (help move rubish and items)

  14. Do Odd Jobs

  15. Add ads to your web site or blog

  16. Human Billboard (or Billboard your car)

  17. Rent out a Room

  18. Paper Route

  19. Teach English to Adults

  20. Sell Your Stuff (eBay?)

  21. Recycle Bottles, etc

  22. Paint Street Numbers

  23. Recycle Scrap Metal

  24. Free-lance Work

Bottom Line

Check out the full article at Quick Cash: 24 Ways to Make Money While Unemployed for more information on each topic include an estimate at how much you can earn. This is not big money but every little bit can help.

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