Friday, April 30, 2010

Questions for your Vet

Me and you and a dog named Boo,
Travellin' and livin' off the land.
Me and you and a dog named Boo,
How I love bein' a free man.
- lyrics by Lobo
(I thought it was a dog named Blue, but Boo is correct!)

The FDA has put together a list of questions to ask your vet when medication is prescribed for your pet.

1. Why has my pet been prescribed this medication?

2. How many days do I need to give it? Should I give all of the medication, even if my pet is back to normal?
Some medications, like antibiotics, should be given for a set length of time, even if your pet is feeling better, to prevent creating “superbugs” that are antibiotic resistant.

3. How do I give the medication to my pet? Should it be given with food?
Some medications are best to give on an empty stomach, others have fewer side effects when taken with food.

4. How many times a day and how much should I give each time?

5. If it is a liquid, should I shake it first?

6. How do I store the medication? A cool, dry place or refrigeration?

7. What should I do if my pet vomits or spits out the medication?

8. If I forget to give the medication, should I give it as soon as I remember or wait until the next scheduled dose?

9. What if I accidentally give too much?
You’ll want to know if giving too much will cause serious side effects and require a trip to the animal emergency room.

10. Could this medication interact with other medications my pet is taking?

11. What reactions should I watch for, and what should I do if I see any side effects?

12. When should I bring my pet back for a recheck? Will you call me to check on my pet’s progress, or should I call you?

Bottom Line

It's vital to know the answers to the questions above. And not just for pets! Ask these same questions of your regular doctor the next time you or your children are prescribed medication. (But substitute "child" for "pet" in the questions or you'll get an odd look from your doctor.)

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Texas Tornado

A reader of submitted the following first-hand account of the tornado that hit Texas last weekend.
Here is a copy of the letter to

"I have been reading your blog for a while but until Saturday, I never saw how a disaster could unhinge some people so quickly and what lack of preparedness can do to some people.

I went to deliver a chainsaw, some gas and water to a relative in Yazoo City and what is usually a 45 minute drive took over 2 hours. Land lines and cell towers were down, and if you had a phone with a certain carrier, the service was very spotty. The traffic was bad and the roads into the town were blocked and we were turned away twice by a motley group of authorities but mostly State police. One local deputy was sympathetic and told us a way to get in the town that was 35 miles out of our way and we eventually got close to the north side of town and we had to drive over live power lines and swerve around transformers. We got to the entrance of town and there were two State troopers blocking the exit but we told them we were delivering some supplies and they let us through.

Eventually, we reached the home and there were trees and power lines everywhere. No power, no gas lines, homes and cars crushed, etc. One generator was being shared by neighbors and gas was being siphoned out of boats and cars to power it. There was one electric chainsaw that was plugged into the generator. Things to note were that the authorities were very stressed out and not experienced with this kind of devastation and there were many people who tried to get to loved ones or family that couldn't get past the road blocks. Some people just left their cars on the sides of the road and were allowed to walk into town. One lady drove around the roadblock and was chased by a cop car.

There were people panicking and the Red Cross got there and all they were doing was handing out water bottles. The power company was only responsible for getting the trees off the power lines. You could see people just staring at their crushed homes and houses wondering what to do. There were cops on four wheeler ATVs just riding around and eventually the National Guard showed up but they were just driving around.

Some lessons learned:
* No one is getting into town right after a disaster
* Have a big chainsaw and make sure there are no trees in your yard
* Have a four-wheeler and a 15 foot trailer to haul out pieces of debris from your home/yard
* Have a siphon and a generator
* Know how to turn off your gas in your home because live wires and natural gas don't mix
* Know beforehand that the authorities are not there to help you but to maintain order and the power company is not going to cut down that tree that is now in your dining room.
* Brick homes fare better than stick ones
* Anticipate that neighbors are going to freak out and run around like chickens with their heads cut off and try to do silly things like get in their cars and drive over debris in the road and get stuck and pop their tires.
* Have gloves and chains in your truck and keep a full tank of gas at all times. Some people ran out of gas in the traffic.
* Realize that tensions are going to be high and seeing weird things like one group of people having a barbecue and getting drunk and across the street one family was sitting on the lawn waiting for help is a recipe for a bad situation. I saw a kid in the road trying to flag us down and there were some guys leaning up against a house a bit out of sight. We just drove around him. I couldn't believe that it was already getting strange and the tornado was only a few hours earlier.

So in a nutshell, that was my experience and one more thing, the tornado hit so fast that the siren didn't give enough warning. And what was worse, people are conditioned to think the siren means thunderstorm or it could be a test or something else. So no one was prepared until they heard the freight train sound and with no one having basements in Mississippi, there isn't really a safe place to be."

Bottom Line

Any “Disaster” will cause chaos by definition. Without the chaos, the natural event would be just a bad storm. Expect confusion, wrong advice, ill prepared officials, and inoperative infrastructure. You must be able to support yourself for at least three days without water and electricity.

I have a friend who is an EMT. After a major storm in our town that brought down huge branches everywhere and even a few trees, an ambulance needed two hours to deliver a heart attack victim to the hospital. In some places police prevented the ambulance from traveling closed roads. The family of the victim is suing because they encountered fewer road closures and arrived first at the hospital.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Truth & the Internet

"You can't handle the truth!" – from the movie “A Few Good Men”

If you do any shopping on the internet like Amazon or eBay, chances are you look at the reviews of fellow users to judge quality of a product. Sometimes the reviews are helpful and posted by real users – but other times the reviewer has a hidden bias. Perhaps they work for the company or its ad agency. Perhaps they work for a competitor and want to trash the product. How can you tell the difference?

Check out the Consumerist story, 30 Ways You Can Spot Fake Online Reviews.
Here are some of the techniques listed:

  • Normal people do not write in marketing speak. They rarely spell out the full product name, “I loved the ABC Widget 3000X”, or faithfully follow the company guidelines for product capitalization or spelling.
  • They give a discount code or tell you where to go to buy the product.
  • There's "only a few reviews, all overwhelmingly positive."
  • The review predates the product release. In the case of books this could be early drafts given to friends and fans to (positively) review .

Bottom Line

I love the internet but you have to take everything online with a grain of salt. There are lots of lies and deceptions out there. Just this week there was a scam ad on Facebook that fooled tens of thousands into providing personal information for a free $1000 gift certificate that will never arrive.

I recently saw an ad that said, “No joke, you really are the 10 millionth visitor. Click here for a prize.” Then I saw the same ad on a second site. Wow what are the odds of being # 10,000,000 on two sites at the same time?

Last night I encountered an ad with audio – “You’ve won a mystery prize! Click here!” It’s annoying when ads flash but I really hate it when they cover the screen or talk to me. Or worse yet when an ad starts a video playing.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Online Privacy

“Privacy is not something that I'm merely entitled to, it's an absolute prerequisite.” - actor Marlon Brando

While I really like Facebook, you do have to be careful with the information you share and who you share it with. Some people I think go too far and lock down all information so all I have is a name and no clue if this person is my long lost friend from college or not. Other people publish everything about themselves to the world, their birthday, where they live, etc. That is too much sharing. I restrict that level of detail to just my “confirmed” friends. My public profile shows my workplace, my “town”, the colleges I attended, and a single photo carefully chosen.

Many websites (like games I play) ask for a birthday, so I’ve created a new one of January 1 with the year rounded down to the nearest decade. That won’t do on Facebook since friends want to celebrate my real birthday. So I entered a date that is near but slightly off. The town I list is the township I live in, not the smaller village jurisdiction.

Am I being paranoid? Perhaps not. There is a new company at that uses Facebook and other online data to build individual profiles. The amount of information they had on me was disturbing – my actual village, my house value, my age and birthday month, married, number of kids, etc. And this was the “free” display. If I paid I could have seen even more details (or so they claim).

Type in your name and see what comes up about yourself. If you have a common name, try [name], [city], [state].

Bottom Line

The good news is that Spokeo supports privacy requests. Go to and put in the URL of “your” page on their site. Then give them an email address (you could create a temporary email for this). Within seconds I had an email, clicked the response and immediately my name disappeared from their search results.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

The Return of the Rule of Threes

“We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”-Virginia Satir

This weekend my wife and I had an opportunity to train local Church Emergency Specialists. I chose as my topic the subject matter that started my blog almost two years ago,
The Rule of Threes.

The rule goes like this...

You may survive (on average)

Three minutes without air

Three hours without shelter
(i.e. protection from extreme heat or cold)

Three days without water

Three weeks without food

Three months without hope

The Rule of Threes explains some common survival errors:

1. By using a charcoal grill or power generator indoors during a power outage, you're trading shelter/heat for air and may die of asphyxiation.

2. By eating snow when thirsty you give up body heat and may die of hypothermia before you die of thirst.

3. Likewise don't sacrifice shelter when searching for water. Sunstroke kills faster than thirst.

4. By eating dried food like jerky when water is scarce you are speeding up your own dehydration and death.

Bottom Line

It's useful to keep the priorities in mind - we tend for focus on hunger pains and thirst and overlook core principles like air and body heat which are more subtle but silent killers.

My early blogs provide additional information on the topics of air, heat, cold, water, and food:

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Good Government?

"Peace, order and good government" - British North America Act, 1867, part of Canada's Constitution.

While Urban Legends predate the Internet, they thrive there and it often pays to double check facts and quotes you see in email and on websites. I’ve read many great quotes which after a little research turn out not to be authentic (for the person quoted). Does this make the quote less “real”?

I just finished reading the novel “Time Travelers Never Die” and in one plot line, lost Greek plays are rescued from the ancient Library of Alexandria. They are anonymously given to a modern Greek scholar who translates them and believes them to be real despite the scorn and skepticism of her colleagues. When one of the plays is successfully performed to acclaim, the Director says, Who cares if the play is an “authentic” Sophocles, it’s still a great piece of work.

One of my favorite quotes is

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

This is attributed to Edmund Burke, an Irish statesman pictured above, but wikiquote says there is no evidence to support this attribution. However Burke did say something similar in 1770,

"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."

Perhaps someone paraphrased this quote and improved it unintentionally? Is the quote less effective for being falsely attributed?

What inspired this blog post was a quote I read for the first time today,

A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years.

The quote became popular during the 2000 US election and is attributed to historian Alexander Fraser Tytler (sometimes misspelled Tyler) (1747-1813). The website, which investigates urban legends, calls the attribution “apocryphal”.

And yet someone created this great quote. The real question should not be “who” but rather “is the quote accurate?” There is much evidence in the world today, be it Greece, California, or soon the US, that elected officials have been way too generous in handouts to appease voters. They have undermined the financial stability of the country/state/city they govern. And the saddest thing is, those on the receiving end feel entitled to it. In California, the unions are saying there’s nothing wrong with the pension system that another $40 Billion in new taxes won't fix. The fault, they say, lies with the fall in the stock market which made it impossible for California to pay what the contracts require. At the Illinois capitol last week, the Teachers Union held a protest aimed at state legislators demanding more money for schools (and salaries) and higher taxes to pay for it.

Bottom Line

When municipalities are hemorrhaging money, why is anyone asking for “more”? Whatever happened to civic responsibility and promoting the common welfare?

"Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country"

Sometimes I wonder if the seed of destruction lies in the Declaration of Independence itself with the famous line,

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

A marvelous quote often misunderstood:

1. “all Men are created equal” should be interpreted as all are equal in the eyes of God and the Law. No class entitlements (e.g. a king vs a commoner). It does not mean that all people have equal talent or that everyone should make equal money. Some use "equality" to declare that being wealthy is “unfair” and try to pull down the rich to pull everyone else up.

2. “certain” unalienable Rights – as a nation founded on rights it is unfortunate that there is no definitive list of rights. The Bill of Rights listed many rights but did not close debate. We still argue law over hand guns and free speech after 200 years. And people claim new rights such as a right to healthcare, to housing, or to unionize. Is there a right to government subsidies?

3. “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” – this may be the straw that breaks the camel's back. The original quote by Locke is “"no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.” Possessions was changed by Thomas Jefferson, with the endorsement of Ben Franklin, to “Happiness”. But the pursuit of Happiness may well destroy this country. Higher taxation is an assault on property so we are seeing the sacrifice of possessions for the happiness of others (civil servants, uninsured, etc). Over a third of my earnings are assaulted to pay for others' healthcare, unemployment, subsidised housing, disability and retirement.

Who is going to pay for my welfare and happiness?

British Commonwealth nations use a different foundational principle:

"Peace, order and good government".

This is tricky too – it sounds great and is greatly desirable but without Liberty this principle can lead to dictatorships. I’ll risk Godwin’s Law here and point out that Hitler was democratically elected under such promises to the Germans.

Plato in his Republic did not trust Democracies - the people are too fickle. He believed that peace, order and good government would come from a benevolent dictator. This may work in theory but fails in real world. America was founded in opposition to a monarch and a tyrannical parliament so we created a system whereby potential Presidential dictators are checked and balanced against a Congress and a Supreme Court. In particular the Senate, with 6-year terms, is supposed to act as a buffer against mob rule and the fickleness of fads and demagogues. The "Senators" (old men in the Roman empire) are supposed to add wisdom and deliberation to new laws. Sadly our Senators are not doing their job when they go along with a President who asks for volumes of new law in a hurry with no time for anyone to study it properly. Bad law can be worse than no law at all.

If only we could combine the best of the two foundations into a new principle of

“Life, Liberty and Good Government”


Is a Bailout Backlash Building?
"The great underappreciated issue of this year’s election is the ongoing expectation of irresponsible people that they ought to be bailed out of their own mistakes by the responsible. "

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

More government? More spending?

“You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.”- Albert Einstein

Today I’ll jump from the heat of a volcano to the heat of politics. An editorial by Radley Balko at describes the problem I fear today – “more government is better government”.

In the private sector failure leads to obsolescence (unless you happen to work for a portion of the private sector that politicians think should be preserved in spite of failure). When government fails, … the government claims it’s a sign that we need more government. It’s not that government did a poor job, or is a poor mechanism for addressing that particular problem, it’s that there just wasn’t enough government. Of course, the same people will point to what they call government success as, also, a good argument for more government.

It’s a nifty trick. The right does it with national security. The fact that we haven’t had a major terrorist attack since September 11, 2001 proves that the Bush administration’s heavy-handed, high-security approach to fighting terrorism worked! But if we had suffered another attack, the same people would have been arguing that we need to surrender more of our civil liberties to the security state. Two sides. Same coin."

When the Benard Madoff ponzi scheme collapsed, congressman said we need MORE regulation to prevent this from occurring again. But in reality several complaints had been made to the FEC that something fishy was going on. They ignored some of the complaints and when they did bother to investigate, the FEC found nothing wrong and decided to trust the claims made by Madoff.

Because the American Primary education system is so dysfunctional, teacher unions and politicians say we need to spend MORE money “for the children”. In 2008, 23% of students failed to graduate rate from high school. But according to a 2005 report from the OECD, the United States is tied for first place with Switzerland when it comes to annual spending per student on its public schools, with each country spending more than $11,000 (in U.S. currency) per student. Yet despite spending the most, U.S. public schools lag behind other developed countries in the areas of reading, math, and science. The Washington D.C. public school district spends $12,979 per student per year, third highest in the nation, but results rank lower than the national average.

For decades now, the US has been spending ever more on education with nothing to show for the extra expense. The “children” need better education, not a more costly one. As one blogger quipped, When congress discovers a successful way to run the schools in DC, THEN it can tell the rest of the nation what to to. But don’t export a losing system.

During the 2006–2007 school year, a private school in Chicago founded by Marva Collins charged $5,500 for tuition, and parents said that the school did a much better job than the Chicago public school system. At the same time Chicago public school officials claimed that a budget of $11,300 per student was not enough.

Imagine a car company that said, “We spend more than our competitors on making each and every car but we rank last in quality. So our solution is to hire more managers and to spend even more money on each car for the sake of our customers.” Such a company would go out of business (or would have except for recent government bailouts.)

Bottom Line

Don’t buy the line that government or public service needs to spend more money for your benefit. In New Jersey the new governor, Christie, is battling the Teacher Unions to control costs. He asked voters to reject any school plan where the teachers did NOT agree to a one-year wage freeze. In an historic election last week, many voters agreed with him and half the school budgets failed to pass. The governor is receiving death threats from teachers and commercials warn that he is endangering “the children”. Baloney!

A study by the Cato Institute in 1996 found that private schools provided superior education at $3,116, per child per year, half of then national average of $6,857. Free enterprise trumps government planning every time. With government, more is NOT better.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Global Impact of Volcano

Like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning
On an ever-spinning reel
As the images unwind
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind
- lyrics to "Windmills of Your Mind"

In our global economy everything is interconnected. And with "Just in Time" warehousing there is little margin for error in delivery schedules. has listed some of the global side effects of the volcano in Iceland:

• The lack of refrigeration facilities at the capital airport of Ghana has hurt pineapple and pawpaw farmers who are unable to fly their produce to Europe.

• Kenya has thrown away 10 million flowers since the eruption. Asparagus, broccoli and green beans meant for European dinner tables are being fed to Kenyan cattle instead. Thousands of day laborers are out of work.

• In New York City's Flower District, thousands of dollars worth of tulips, peonies, daffodils and other varieties from the Netherlands are not arriving. Last weekend's weddings didn't have Dutch flowers.

• The U.S. economy is losing approximately $130 million per day in travel revenue. Every international flight bound for the U.S. is worth an average of $450,000 in spending from travelers.

• Three Nissan production lines in Japan will stop all day Wednesday because tire pressure sensors from Ireland have not arrived, 2000 vehicles will be delayed.

• A group from Sierra Leone and Liberia had to abandon a fact-finding trip to The Hague for the war crimes trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor.

• Cambridge University's modern and medieval languages faculty delayed oral exams after students and examiners were left stranded last week.

Bottom Line

Expect price increases in flowers and produce.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Out of town and out of cash

"It's not hard to meet expenses, they're everywhere." – T-shirt quote

Sorry for the spate of volcano stories but this is too good an event to pass up for a preparedness blog. It is rare events like this that test everyone and highlight weaknesses and problems.

A few asides before jumping into the main topic.

1. There is grumbling in Europe about lack of governmental preparedness dealing with stranded passengers and managing transportation alternatives. The train system is great (compared to the US) but overwhelmed now. Each country maintains its own airspace so some nations are flying, others grounded. Five days after the volcano, a Euro-level meeting of Transportation Officials was held to discuss common standards for safe flying.

2. Lot’s of grumbling over the airlines. Most have a terrible track record of handling massive flight cancellations. To improve profitability, airlines now fly fewer planes but each at full or near-full capacity. This leaves them with little space to accommodate stranded passengers.
Europeans stranded in Japan were told by Taiwan's EVA Airways that the earliest flight with openings is May 12 - but only if they are willing to pay an extra 150 euros ($200). Otherwise, they have to wait until June.

3. This problem could continue indefinitely. Eyjafjallajökull may continue erupting for a decade and it has a big brother 15 miles away, under deeper ice, that will cause an even bigger ash cloud if it wakes up.

4. A common element of many disasters is price gouging. A French tourist in Hong Kong reports, "Yesterday, we had a hotel room at 250 euros. At midday, it was 460 euros, and in the evening, the price was 800 euros for a room - we can't pay that." The hotel's general manager replied simply, "We dynamically price much like the airlines do, according to how many rooms we have to sell in the hotel." A British family in Sydney, Australia, had the same problem. Their first night stranded cost 150 Australian dollar ($138); the next day the hotel raised the price of the same room to AU$350 - simply because it could.

Which leads to the main point – having access to emergency money on a vacation or business trip. Don’t be like the family who said, "We're at the end of the holiday so we've spent all our money ... Because that's what you do on holiday."

So what are your options when traveling out of the country?

1. Credit Cards – you will pay a modest currency conversion fee but credit cards are accepted around the world.

2. ATMs – ditto on conversion fee and there may be an “out-of-country” access fee. It helps to have your money in a bank that has a global ATM network. The following banks support the “Global ATM Alliance” of mutually compatible ATM machines: Bank of America, Barclays (England), BNP Paribas (France), Deutsche Bank (Germany), Santander Serfin (Mexico), Scotiabank (Canadian), Wespac (Australia & Pacific), ABSA (South Africa), UkrSibbank (Ukraine), China Construction Bank (China). This group has branches in most countries.

Other international ATM networks include:
PLUS (allows Visa card cash withdrawals in over 200 countries.)
Cirrus (allows MasterCard cash withdrawals) Call (800) 424-7787 for locations in 210 countries.

3. Before using your Credit Card or ATM card overseas, call your bank first to warn them that you are traveling. Otherwise they may freeze your card for suspicious activity. Also write down the phone number for calling your Credit Card company in case your card is stolen overseas. Keep this number in a safe place.

4. Travelers checks – I have not used these in years. Now I find that credit cards and ATMs are easier than obtaining and then cashing travelers checks. Often the fees are lower too. Still it might not hurt to have a few $100 available just-in-case the global ATM system or credit card system breaks down due to attack or severed undersea phone/Internet cable. Also American Express Traveler Checks can be replaced if stolen – you’ll need to store the check numbers in a different place (or with a friend) so you can make a claim.

5. Commonwealth Bank of Australia offers Travel Money Cards that work like debit cards but in preloaded foreign currency. I assume other banks have something similar.

6. It's best to use a combination of money sources: a small amount of cash, a debit card, two credit cards (in case one is declined or stolen!) and some travelers checks. Some travelers swear by the ‘two wallet' technique. Keep all your documents and credit cards safely in one wallet, and then use an everyday old wallet for cash and a few less important cards. If you get mugged, just hand over the second wallet to minimize your loss.

7. Before going to a foreign country, I like to convert some money (say $100) in advance. This way if I need cash immediately (like for an airport Taxi) I’m not dependent solely on the moneychangers at the airport and their fees. Ask your bank if they can get you foreign currency (and at what rate.)

Bottom Line

In a few places above I mention storing important contact information in case you are robbed or your luggage lost/stolen. You many lose your purse, wallet or suitcase. So what’s left – a tattoo? One option is the Internet – if you can get free (or cheap) access to it. You could Google for your credit card company number, or American Embassy location, etc. Before the trip you could email yourself the list of Travel Check numbers, your passport number, and other vital numbers and leave this in your in-box. Be careful opening your email overseas. An Internet café or wifi could have someone snooping on Internet traffic or have a keystroke recorder on the PC to copy your account name and password. As a backup I’d email this same info to a trusted friend or relative that you could call.


Volcano flight chaos leaves many passengers broke

ATMs Abroad

Accessing Your Money Overseas

International Money Transfers

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Travel Insurance vs Volcano

All my bags are packed I'm ready to go
I'm standin' here outside your door
... Don't know when I'll be back again.
- lyrics from "Leaving On A Jet Plane"

If you're worried about flying to Europe right now and are thinking about buying travelers insurance, "just in case" the flight is cancelled because of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano - forget about it. The Wall Street Journal reports that the volcano is excluded from all policies purchased on or after April 13.

"It’s called the theory of the burning house. If your house is ablaze, you can’t go out and quickly buy homeowners coverage. In travel, as soon as a storm or event is known, you can buy all the insurance you want but it won’t cover those “known’’ events. Once a hurricane is named, most policies won’t cover it
if the insurance was sold after the moment the storm was identified." - WSJ

The WSJ points out that even if purchased before April 13, travel insurance may be of limited use. When airlines refund tickets for canceled trips, there’s no claim with insurers. Many policies have limits on daily expenses if you are stranded away from home. If you can’t get to a hotel that you prepaid, insurance may not kick in because the hotel isn’t “uninhabitable.’’ It's your fault for not finding another way to get to it.

Travel insurance rarely covers your cancelling due to fear of unsafe travel or unsafe conditions—for example fear of terrorism is covered only if the attack happens in your destination city. Everywhere else is safe to fly. Same with hurricanes – your resort may have to be declared uninhabitable before your insurance would cover you. It's not enough that your resort was hit hard, barely functioning, and won't be the dream vacation you paid for.

Bottom Line

Read insurance policies carefully before buying. What you have in mind may require a more-expensive “cancel for any reason’’ policy that will cover pre-existing medical conditions, family emergencies, etc. Check the daily limits for reimbursing hotels, lost luggage and other expenses.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me
Is there anyone home?
-Pink Floyd, "Comfortably Numb" lyrics

At work Monday morning I noticed two co-workers were missing. They had flown to Europe last week for a computer conference. It took a moment to put two-and-two together to realize, oh the volcano. They can not come home with airspace over France and England still closed.

Yesterday Astronomy Picture of the Day featured this photo of the volcano. had this photo of the ash cloud and an informative article on the volcano's impact.

The Map Room blog has a video graphic showing the spread of the ash cloud. Instead of a nice neat streamer it looks like the plume was caught in a washing machine as swirled around making a mess of everything.

Bottom Line

Why did this volcanic eruption in Iceland create so much ash? On April 14 Eyjafjallajökull opened up a vent under a small glacier. The eruption melted a large amount of glacial ice which poured onto the fresh lava fragmenting it into gritty glass particles that were carried up with the rising steam and ash.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Not Enough Sleep!

Please turn on your magic beam
Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream.
- lyrics: Mr. Sandman by the Chordettes

Did you know....

· Almost 74% of all Americans do not get enough sleep each night.

· We sleep on average 6.9 hours/day, almost an hour less than a few decades ago; an hour and half less than a century ago. (Eight hours and fifteen minutes is considered ideal.)

· Parents of young children lose an extra hour of sleep each night. (NSF 2004.)

· Sleep problems are reaching epidemic proportions, estimated to be the #1 health related problem in America - (CNN, May 1997.)

· Fatigue's consequences include higher instances of motor vehicle accidents, work-related accidents, decreased productivity and adverse health effects.

· Sleep deprivation can reduce attention and vigilance by 50 percent, decision-making ability by 5 0percent, communication skills by 30 percent, and memory by 20 percent.

· The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that “drowsy driving” causes 100,000 automobile wrecks, 71,000 injuries and 1,550 fatalities each year.

Adults needs about 8 hours of sleep each night to refuel the body, especially the brain. (9-10 hours for children and teenagers.) Certain parts of the body, like muscles, can rejuvenate on just rest alone. However the regeneration of neurons and the formation of lasting memories within the brain required a deep sleep called REM (rapid eye movement).

A person who loses one night’s sleep will generally be irritable and clumsy during the next day and will either become tired easily or speed up because of adrenalin. After missing two night’s sleep, a person will have problems concentrating and will begin to make mistakes on normal tasks. Three missed nights and a person will start to hallucinate and lose grasp of reality. Someone who gets just a few hours of sleep each night occurs a large “sleep debt” and can begin to experience many of the same problems over time. A 1997 study found that people whose sleep was restricted to four to five hours per night for one week needed two full nights of sleep to recover performance, alertness and normal mood. -

Sleep debt weakens the immune system leaving one more susceptible to other diseases and disorders like diabetes, cancer and even the common cold. Sleep debt also causes much stress and, again, stress weakens the immune system - a double whammy.

Bottom Line

Suggestions on how to get more sleep include:

· Purposefully go to bed earlier each night.
· Don’t smoke or drink alcoholic or caffeinated beverages in the hours before bedtime.
· Improve your sleeping environment in any way you can – for example, keep it dark and sound-proof, turn off lights and wear earplugs if you have noisy neighbours.
· Don’t have any distractions in the bedroom such as TV or a computer.
· Use relaxation techniques to help you fall asleep quickly.
· Seek professional assistance for sleep disorders such as snoring.

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Best Seat on the Plane


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Friday, April 16, 2010

Volcanic Ash

"We come nearest to the great when we are great in humility."
-Rabindranath Tagore quotes (Indian Nobel Laureate)

Tens of thousands of air travelers around the world are stuck today as a mammoth cloud of ash from the Eyjafjallajökull (EYE-ja-fyatla-jo-kittle) volcano in Iceland shut down all air traffic over Britain, Ireland and the Nordic countries on April 15. The U.K. banned all non-emergency flights until at least 7 a.m. Friday; most affected is London's Heathrow International with over 1200 flights and 180,000 travelers daily. While the majority of flights may be back in the air by the beginning of next week, it will be many more days before the airlines have got their schedules back on track. Some planes are stranded thousands of miles from home.

In addition to causing visibility problems, volcanic ash can wreak havoc with a jet's systems, clogging up engines, blocking sensors and more. Unfortunately ash does not show up well on airplane radar systems so difficult to detect and avoid. Popular Mechanics provides an example from history:

On Dec. 15, 1989, KLM flight 867 intercepted an ash cloud that Redoubt [a volcano in Alaska] had exhaled just 90 minutes earlier. Within 60 seconds, a maelstrom of microscopic volcanic glass shards shut down all four of the 747's engines. With 245 passengers on board, the plane plummeted 13,000 ft before the pilots managed to restart engines and steer the crippled craft to an emergency landing in Anchorage [100 miles away].

After this event the Federal Aviation Administration created the Alaska Volcano Observatory system to monitor 162 active volcanoes in the northern Pacific and give warning to pilots.

There is one bit of good news regarding the eruption. According to the British Health Protection Agency, the effect of ash falling on people in Europe is minor. (I suspect the impact is worse in Iceland.) People may experience itchy or irritated eyes, a runny nose, sore throat, or dry cough, or they may notice the smell of sulphur or see a dusty haze. Those with respiratory conditions like bronchitis, emphysema and asthma may notice the effects more than others and should keep adequate medications on hand.

Bottom Line

There are some things man can not control. Who would have thought in this day and age that your European vacation could be stopped short by a volcano in Iceland?

Because of "Acts of God" you always want to travel with enough cash, clothes, medicine, etc. to last an extra day or two in case you are stranded.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Criminal Behavior

“Everybody in the whole cell block,
Was dancing to the jailhouse rock.”
- lyrics, Elvis Presley, Jailhouse Rock

The NY Times published an interesting story on effectively dealing with repeated drug offenders.

“How do you force criminals to change their behavior? … the US criminal justice system has been spectacularly bad at answering this question. America is the most punitive nation in the world, with 2.4 million of its citizens behind bars and another 5.1 million on probation or parole. Yet … two-thirds of released prisoners commit another serious offense within three years.”

Judge Steven Alm of Hawaii realized that the current policy didn’t work. Most probation violations went unpunished and he might see an offender only after dozens of violations, at which point his choices were: let the violator off with yet another warning or send him to prison for many years.

Jerry Lum of Honolulu, a meth smoker since age 14, spent nearly half of his 42 years behind bars but continued smoking meth. “I could game the system,” he says. “I used to be late to see my probation officer — sometimes, if I knew my drug test was going to be dirty, I wouldn’t even show up.” Officers usually looked the other way. Given the lengthy paperwork involved, there were not enough hours in the day to write up every infraction.

So Judge Alm changed the rules with a new program called HOPE. ALL parole violations would be punished. He rewrote the paperwork so it would take only minutes to fill out and simplified the court procedures down to 7 minutes per parole violation. Drug tests were made random – parolees call each night to learn if they are to be tested the next day. Participants who test positive for drugs are arrested on the spot, tried within 72 hours, and sentenced to jail for two to five days.

“After just six months, HOPE probationers were 93 percent less likely to miss an appointment with an officer or to fail drug tests. Since most HOPE participants were able to quit drugs and hold down steady jobs, many stopped resorting to crime. … Though HOPE cost $1,400 more per probationer than the old system, it saved the state $6,000 per probationer in reduced incarceration costs.”

Bottom Line

“Cesare Beccaria, an Italian philosopher and arguably the first criminologist, wrote in 1764, “The certainty of a small punishment will make a greater impression than the fear of one more severe.” Several generations of experts reached the same conclusion: Punishments are more effective when they follow closely after crimes, and when they are levied consistently.”

Jerry Lum has not spent a day in jail since joining HOPE. “I hate to say it,” he says, “but I’m the type of person that — when I wasn’t supervised — I kept screwing up. If I’m supervised, no problem.”

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Take me for a ride in your Car-Car
Take me for a ride in your Car-Car
Take me for a ride, Take me for a ride,
Take me for a ride in your Car-Car
- song by Peter, Paul and Mary

At the vernal equinox on March 20 in New York, there was great hope that Spring had sprung and vanquished Winter. But alas Winter returned and hung around for several weeks afterwards. So depending upon where you live, you may or may not be ready to begin spring-cleaning.

One item that does not readily come to my mind during spring-cleaning is the car. But the interior is quite dusty and I’m sure the exterior could use some elbow grease too. Consumer Reports has the following advice for “How to wash away winter and get your car looking like new”.

The interior

- Throw out the trash. Remove unneeded items.
- Organize what remains into side pockets or compartments.
- Use a mild spray and a microfiber cloth to remove dust and grime off the dash and consoles.
- Vacuum the seats, floor mats, rugs, and trunk. (personally I’d do this before dusting, not afterwards)
- Try a spray-on carpet cleaner to remove any seat stains. For leather trim, use a leather cleaner.
- Clean the inside windows with glass cleaner, but spray directly on a cloth to avoid streaking.

The exterior

- Never wash or wax a car in direct sunlight or if the paint is hot to the touch. The sun softens the paint and makes it easier to scratch.
- Use a dedicated car-wash soap designed not to scratch automotive paint.
- Apply the suds with a large, soft natural sponge or a lamb's-wool mitt (anti-scratch)
- Make sure your sponge is 100% clean (grit in the sponge may – you guessed it – scratch the paint)
- Wash the car from the roof down.
- Use a different sponge to wash the grittiest parts of the car – the tires.
- Don’t let the car air dry when done--use a soft towel to dry.

- Waxing a car provides a shine and some protection for the paint. Consumer Reports found that paste waxes are easier to use than liquid waxes; liquid waxes cleaned the best; and spray waxes were easiest to use and left the fewest stains on plastic parts, but they didn’t last as long as other waxes.
- A wax finish will last about five weeks.

Maintenance checks

- Check your windshield wipers for wear and tear from winter ice. Replace if they are leaving streaks of water.
- Check the treads of your tires for wear and check for proper inflation/

Bottom Line

For more on maintaining your car inside and out, see the Consumer Report guide to car maintenance.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

9-1-1 backup

“Ring, ring, why don't you give me a call?
Ring, ring, the happiest sound of them all”
- ABBA, lyrics to “Ring Ring”

With Cub Scouts, as with most Americans, when you ask them what number to call in an emergency, the answer is 9-1-1. But what if 9-1-1 didn’t work? Do you know the direct phone numbers for your local police, fire or ambulance?

Is this just a hypothetical scenario? Not for residents of Salt Lake City last month. On March 25, for about five hours, some of the 911 calls made by AT&T Wireless customers in the Salt Lake City area were routed to dispatchers in Seattle. The police of Salt Lake City “called AT&T and confirmed that it was occurring.”

Bottom Line

Take the time to add fire, police, ambulance, and poison control to your cell phone. Back this up with a paper list kept near every phone for your children to use. Don’t rely solely on 9-1-1.

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Monday, April 12, 2010


"No wonder you're late. Why, this watch is exactly two days slow."-Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland (1951)

The word “Mercury” can mean many things. It’s an unusual metal that is liquid at room temperature, hence the name “quicksilver” or hydrargyrum (“watery silver” in Latinized Greek) from which we get the chemical symbol Hg for mercury. Alchemists thought mercury was the First Matter from which all metals are formed. The element was named after the Roman god Mercury, known for his speed and mobility. It is associated with the planet Mercury, the fastest moving planet about the sun.

Ancient Chinese emperors thought that mercury was good for health and it was used in dentistry and medicine into the late 20th century, but now we know it is an extremely toxic heavy metal with an impressive list of side effects causing psychological, neurological, digestive tract, cardiovascular, and respiratory damage. The psychological symptoms associated with mercury poisoning are said by some to have inspired the phrase "mad as a hatter". Hat makers were repeatedly exposed to mercury while processing the felt used in hats.

One thermometer with just one gram of mercury can contaminate all the fish in a 20-acre lake (fish and shellfish have a natural tendency to concentrate mercury in their bodies). Over the last decade in the United States and Europe, the mercury thermometer has gone the way of the rotary dial phone and analog television: virtually phased out. Sales of mercury thermometers are banned in many states and the World Health Organization (WHO) is working to eliminate the mercury thermometer globally.

If you’ve converted to using digital thermometers at home, congratulations. But you still might not be mercury free. Many fluorescent light bulbs contain mercury, as do some home thermostats. If you break a mercury thermometer, thermostat, or fluorescent light bulb be VERY careful with the cleanup.

What Not to Do After a Mercury Spill

•Don't vacuum up the spill or breakage. This will release mercury into the air and greatly increase the level of contamination.

•Don't sweep up the mercury or broken glass with a broom. This breaks up the mercury into smaller drops, increasing its surface area so that more mercury gets into the air and spreads around.

•Don't pour mercury down the drain. It can clog your plumbing and seriously pollute your septic system or the sewer system.

•Don't wash mercury-contaminated clothing. This contaminates your washing machine, all of the other clothes in the load, and the water that is washed down the drain. If you use a clothes dryer afterwards you're releasing mercury into the air and essentially poisoning yourself.

•Don't track it around on your shoes.

•Don't re-use any cloth or sponge that came in contact with the mercury, ever.

What can you do?

1. Clear the room of people, especially children, and pets. Do not allow children to help you clean up a mercury spill.

2. Shut off the heater or air conditioner. Open a window and allow the room to air out at least 15 minutes. If you have a face mask filter, wear it.

3. Use a sheet of paper or cardboard to scoop up glass and metal pieces. Deposit the breakage into a glass jar with a lid or a sealable plastic bag.

4. Use sticky tape to pick up the smaller pieces of debris. Drop the used tape into the jar or bag. Seal the jar.

5. If the break occurred over clothing or bedding, the material should be wrapped up and “thrown away” as per local law.

6. Clearly label your storage container as "Mercury - DO NOT OPEN."

7. Waste disposal regulations vary by State; some have stringent requirements for mercury disposal.

Bottom Line

Don't do anything that would spread a mercury spill or cause it to become airborne. Don’t breathe it.


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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Weekend Humor

A Sunday bonus for computer geeks:

This is an actual fortune cookie that I received with my meal recently:

Fortune not found: Abort, Ignore, Retry?


Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

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Friday, April 9, 2010


Way too much coffee. But if it weren't for the coffee, I'd have no identifiable personality whatsoever. ~David Letterman

How much caffeine do you consume a day? It may be more than you think. Some sweets and over-the-counter medications have caffeine (note Excedrin at the top of the chart below.) Sunkist Orange soda has more caffeine than Pepsi or Coke.

The MayoClinc says most people can handle 200-300 milligrams a day although there are individuals that are affected by as little as one cup of coffee, 100 mg. At levels of 500-600 mg/day you may see the following side effects:

· Headaches
· Irritability
· Anxiety
· Nervousness
· Restlessness
· Insomnia
· Nausea or other gastrointestinal problems
· Muscle tremors
· Fast or irregular heartbeat

Caffeine can be addictive. As the brain gets used to the drug, it takes ever more caffeine for the same energy “boost”. Caffeine withdrawal results once a person stops consuming caffeine. Withdrawal symptoms are consistent with other drugs, but without the life-threatening severity of alcohol or Valium withdrawal. Caffeine withdrawal typically begins within 24 hours and can last for a week or more with these symptoms:

· Headaches
· Irritability
· Anxiety
· Fatigue

Ironic huh – the top three symptoms can result from too much caffeine or too little.

ProductSize in Oz.Total Caffeine in mg
Excedrin, Extra Str,2 tablets130
Mountain Dew Game Fuel20120
Brewed coffee860-120
Double espresso245-100
Snapple Elements18108
Ben & Jerry's Coffee Fudge Frozen Yogurt885
Red Bull8.580
Instant coffee870
Tea - black845-60
Mountain Dew1255
Lipton Iced Teas2050
Diet Coca Cola1245
RC Cola1243
Sunkist Orange Soda1241-42
Dr. Pepper1241
Coke Classic1235
Dark Chocolate bar1.4531
A&W Cream Soda1229
Barq's Root Beer1222
Tea - green820
Tea - white815
Chocolate Bar1.559
Chocolate milk85
Hot Chocolate85
Decaf coffee81-5
Herbal Tea80
7-up, Fanta, Fresca, Sprite120
Yoo-Hoo Chocolate80

Bottom Line

Use the chart above get a perspective on the caffeine strength of common items. Suppose you want to set a limit of 100mg per day. That would mean a limit of 1 coffee, 3 Cokes, 4 Root Beers, 11 Milk Chocolate bars or 20 glasses of chocolate milk.


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Thursday, April 8, 2010

How to Use a Fire Extinguisher

I fell into a burning Ring of Fire,
I went down, down, down, and the flames went higher
and it burns, burns, burns, the Ring of Fire.
- “Ring Of Fire” lyrics, Johnny Cash

To use a Fire Extinguisher, remember PASS:

Pull the Pin
Aim at the Base
Squeeze the Lever
Sweep from side to side.

Most extinguishers have a pull pin or ring to prevent accidental discharge. Begin by pulling out that pin. Next aim at the bottom of the fire. Blowing away the flames at the top of a fire is pointless when there’s a hot base of burning material that keeps generating more flames. You want to cool and smother the fuel of the fire. Now squeeze the lever slowly to shoot out the “foam”. Extinguishers empty quickly (about 10 seconds) so aim wisely and well – don’t rush it; don’t panic. And don’t shoot just at one spot; sweep back and forth to cover the entire base of the fire.

If the heat of the fire is too hot for you get near, then the fire is too big for your extinguisher. Call 9-1-1 before trying to put out a fire so help is on the way. Leave yourself an exit, don’t allow the fire to surround you and trap you.

Be sure you’re using the right kind of extinguishers. Most home types are rated ABC and use a chemical foam as the agent.

A – wood, paper and normal combustibles. Water works well here

B – Oil, grease or fuel fires. Never use water (Oil & Water don’t mix!). Burning oil will just float atop water or spatter and spread.

C – electrical fires. Again, no water – you could shock yourself.

Once the fire is out, don't walk away! Watch the area for a few minutes in case it re-ignites.

Don’t forget to buy a new extinguisher or recharge your old one immediately after use.

Bottom Line

Practice with an old extinguisher to get the feel of it. CERT provides hands-on fire training as so some fire departments. Don’t wait for a real fire to be your first time using an extinguisher.


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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Can you find my home?

"There's no place like home" – Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz

It seems no one can find our house. We live at an intersection of D- (a side road) and M- (a main road). The driveway to our house is on D-. Our front door faces M- across our lawn so we have an M- street address. Our mailbox is on a pole shared with our neighbor adjacent to his driveway on M-. Inevitably people see our mailbox and go up our neighbor’s driveway to his house. We’ve had UPS leave our packages on his stoop. Nothing seems to help. We have giant glow-in-the-dark House Letters on a tree in our yard. We have a large house number near the door of our house.

But everyone looks at the mailbox. So we added a giant foam hand beneath our mailbox with a finger pointing to our house. Still we had company come for dinner last week, see the finger, and still go to the wrong house. We can laugh at that. Less funny is the misdirected packages. Not at all funny would be EMTs going to the wrong house after I call 9-1-1.

Sometimes having a visible house number is not enough. In Westchester County we used to have unnamed, private roads that people lived on. With 9-1-1 every road was named and every house numbered. Sometimes an address makes no sense. The New York Times story, Nice Address, but Where Is It Really?, describes the problem in Manhattan of “vanity” addresses that use an address number out of sequence or use the address of the “swankier” street around the corner. In Tokyo the story says, house number 1 used to be the first house built on a street, #2 the second, and so on. There was no physical ordering of the house numbers so #12 could be anywhere along a street.

Bottom Line

Put yourself in the shoes of the ambulance or EMT who is trying to find your house. On a dark moonless night, go stand in the street see if anything marks your house as identifiable. Better yet, drive by in a car at night with lights on and see if you can find the house number – are the numbers on the mailbox legible? Can the numbers be seen driving in both directions? If not put new, larger, numbers on your house and mailbox. The numbers on your house or door need to be lit by the porch light or other house light.

If you have a sidewalk curb, spraypaint your house number onto the curb.

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Carpal Tunnel

He's coming right onto the boat! Mr. Jaws [the shark], why are you grabbing my hand?
"Wouldn't you give your hand to a friend?"
– lyrics to “Mr Jaws” by Dickie Goodman

As a computer programmer, blogger, and computer game player I spend a lot of time at a keyboard. I have only once, knock on wood, experienced the pains of carpal tunnel syndrome. The carpal tunnel is a passage where the median nerve and flexor tendons pass through the wrist bones. If the tendons swell from overuse or the nerve becomes inflamed, the nerve is pinched inside the tunnel causing pain.

There are many recommended exercises to help prevent hand pain from repetitive typing or writing. recommends:
1) Extend both arms straight out in front of you
2) Extend your wrists and fingers back (as if directing traffic to stop)
3) Hold this position for 5 seconds
4) Now straighten your wrists and relax your fingers
5) With your arms still straight out in front of you keep your wrists straight, make a fist, and squeeze it tightly
6) Hold this position for 5 seconds
7) Keep your fists clenched and bend your wrists down
8) Hold this position for 5 seconds
9) Straighten both wrists and relax your fingers again
10) Repeat above ten more times

At, physical therapist, Monica Paradise, demonstrates exercises and stretching in several online video clips.

Another eHow site describes stretching ideas for wrists and fingers. It also claims that your forearm muscles determine your wrist strength. Build up the forearms by squeezing a rubber ball and doing wrist curls with a light weight. Don’t over do the exercises!

A percussionist instructor demonstrates three clever wrist stretches. has recommendations for Desktop Yoga, with many exercises for bad computer posture and repetitive stress.

Bottom Line

Don’t take your hands for granted. Work some type of wrist stretching into your daily routine.

If you experience pain, see a doctor. I can not vouch for the effectiveness of the exercises listed above.

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Monday, April 5, 2010

5 Eating Habits to Kick

Don't want to argue, I don't want to debate
Don't want to hear about what kind of food you hate
You won't get no dessert 'till you clean off your plate
- “Eat It” lyrics by Weird Al Yankovic

Women’s Health Magazine describes five eating habits to kick under the title, Quit the Clean-Plate Club. This is a popular meme as I found many web sites under “Quit the Clean-Plate Club” such as this one from Denver’s Children’s Hospital or this one from

Here are the five bad habits:

1. Eating your meal in a rush.
It takes 20 minutes for a stomach to register that it’s full. By gobbling food quickly you’ll consume more than the body needs and exceed the full feeling. Slow down and enjoy the food.

2. Eating while distracted by TV or computer or driving.
If you snack while reading email or watching TV you may be surprised to find you ate a whole bag of chips or the entire container of ice cream. Focus on the food you eat (see slow down above) or bring out only single servings portions so you don’t keep eating until a larger package is gone.

3. Eating while bored or stressed.
A high-carb snack will give you a temporary energy boost but the blood sugar crash afterwards will leave you craving more. Nosh only when hungry. And keep food away from easy reach at the computer or TV chair.

4. Cleaning your plate.
Portion sizes and plate sizes keep going up and people feel guilty about not cleaning their plate. Eat half a plate and save the rest for another meal.

5. Eating meat at every meal.
Americans eat way too much meat. In an ideal meal the vegetables will out mass the meat 2 to 1. Think of a stir fry or salad with thin strips of meat and a lot of other stuff. Limit big-meat meals to one day a week – the Sunday Roast? Try meatless alternatives. Portobello mushrooms can be grilled or sautéed just like meat and are a great substitute. Enjoy pasta without the meatballs – be creative with the sauces. Beefsteak tomatoes make great sandwich filling (BLT without the B?) and there’s the British Tea tradition of Cumber sandwiches.

Bottom Line

Food is one of life’s pleasures. Slow down and enjoy every bite.

I used the word “meme” above which may be new to some readers. It was penned by biologist Richard Dawkins at the end of his book, The Selfish Gene (1976), where he compared the propagation of ideas (memes) to that of genes. Ideas/themes must compete to survive and some memes spread like a virus – e.g. hit videos on YouTube.

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Sunday, April 4, 2010


A Blessed and Joyous Easter to All!

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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter Weekend

Everyone Christian knows about Easter Sunday and most people have heard of Good Friday (the day commemorating Jesus's death). But what is the Saturday in between called?


Today is called Holy Saturday. In Roman Catholic Churches, the altar is completely bare while the Church is in a state of mourning. The administration of the sacraments is severely limited and given between Good Friday and Easter only to dying persons for their salvation.

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Friday, April 2, 2010

Biggest Ripoffs

"Money is like a sixth sense - and you can't make use of the other five without it"- William Somerset Maugham (British author)

Is money tight and you're trying to stretch every buck? Then stay far away from the the 12 biggest ripoffs in America:

1. Movie Popcorn (as my wife puts it, the actual cost of the container is more then the popcorn. By weight movie popcorn is more expensive than fillet Mignon.

2. Text Messaging - there is a 6,500% markup of cost vs price.

3. College Textbook (way over priced and getting worse at double the rate of inflation)

4. Branded Painkillers (like Advil. Buy generic)

5. "Free" Credit Reports (you'll get trapped into a monthly service that is hard to escape)

6. Wine at Restaurants ($$$ - all alcohol and sodas at bars and restaurants have huge markups)

7. Hotel Mini-Bars (don't even open the little fridge -ever)

8. All you Can Eat Buffets (this one is odd. You think -wow I'll eat a lot and save money. But most buffets are not cheap, say $10 to $15 or more per person. That same money could buy a filling meal of better quality elsewhere.)

9. Premium Gasoline

10. Actively Managed Investments (in tests monkeys are just as likely to predict successful stocks as professional analysts.)

11. Hotel In-Room Movies ($$$ - watch a DVD on your laptop instead)

12. Health Club Memberships (most have no-cancellation clauses. Once you join, you must pay - no matter what, unless you die.)

13. Printer Ink ( readers added this to the list. It is now possible for an ink cartridge to cost more than the printer)

Bottom Line

Most of the fees above are gouging you for "convenience". You can make cheap popcorn at home, or exercise at home, or watch movies on DVD. It's your money, don't waste it on overpriced convenience.

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Deep-vein thrombosis

"Just as the body cannot exist without blood, so the soul needs the matchless and pure strength of faith"- Mahatma Gandhi

Today we reach the final item on Women’s Health Magazine’s list of Seven Warning Signs not to ignore.

Your calf is extremely tender in one location, noticeably swollen, and red or warm to the touch.

You might have deep-vein thrombosis, or DVT, also known as a blood clot. I know two people who have died of blood clots. One, the father of a friend, died of a clot a week after surgery. The other had a leaky heart condition and a clot traveled to her brain. Nowadays I notice that hospitals put leg pumps on patients to prevent clots while recovering.

Anytime blood starts to pool in your lower body and there is a risk of forming a clot. It could be hours sitting at a computer, on a long flight or in a hospital bed. I try to keep my feet at least slightly elevated when sitting – and it helps to stand up and walk around.

When a clot gets big enough to act as a stopper in the vein or artery, the area around it will start to hurt and swell. Smokers and women who take the Pill have a higher risk of developing clots.

If you suspect a clot, resist the urge to massage the area or to walk it off. If the clot breaks free, it can travel through to your lungs and cut off your oxygen supply or to your brain and cut off blood flow there.

Bottom Line

See your doctor, who will do a CT scan or ultrasound to look for DVT. If you have a clot, you'll need to take blood thinners--sometimes for up to a year--to dissolve it.

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