Thursday, September 30, 2010

Blazing Star

Ev'ry man, has a flaming star
A flaming star, over his shoulder
And when a man, sees his flaming star
He knows his time, his time has come- Elvis, lyrics to Flaming Star

Here's an image that amazes me. A neutron star moving so fast it creates a shockwave in the interstellar gas. Not something I want to see over my shoulder or anywhere near our solar system.

From Billion-Year Old "Black Widow" Pulsar Ripping Through Milky Way at 1 Million KPH,

Bottom Line

I'm reminded that reality can be stranger than fiction. The universe has some very weird celestial object never imagined by the creators of Star Trek or Star Wars. Here's another oddity from

This faint pinwheel spiral is a rare binary star system called LL Pegasi. The spiral is a "pre-planetary nebula" which is being stirred up by partner star.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Global Land Grab

"Plant a kernel of wheat and you reap a pint; plant a pint and you reap a bushel. Always the law works to give you back more than you give."
-Anthony Norvell
America has always been an insular nation, looking inwards at itself, rarely outwards at the world. When I watch US news broadcasts I'll see stories on the US President, US celebrities and sports stars, US companies and unions, and maybe a few minutes for foreign wars that the US is engaged in. Or I can watch BBC World and learn what is happening in the other 96% of the world (by population).

Consider the story, The backlash begins against the world landgrab, from the British Have you seen any mention in the US press of a global land grab? Or of food riots in 2008? (I've covered this at Possible Wheat Shortage? and  Global Food Shortages?)
"As is by now well-known, sovereign wealth funds from the Mid-East, as well as state-entities from China, the Pacific Rim, and even India are trying to lock up chunks of the world's future food supply. Western agribusiness is trying to beat them to it. Western funds - many listed on London's AIM exchange - are in turn trying to beat them. The NGO GRAIN, and, have both documented the stampede in detail." -
In Argentia 7% of the land is owned by foreigners. Brazil is passed a law limiting foreign ownership but land grabbers get around this by purchasing through local puppet companies. "Brazilian land must stay in the hands of Brazilians," said the Farm Development Minister, Guilherme Cassel. In Madasgascar, the government "fell" in 2008 when the citizens learned that acerage half the size of Belgium was being leased to Korea's Daiwoo Logistics to plant corn. "Madagascar's land is neither for sale nor for rent," said the new president who revoked the lease.

The World Bank says we must lift global food production by 70% by 2050 to meet converging demands of extra mouths, rising use of grain as animal feed as Asia moves up the affluence ladder to meat-based diets, and the conversion of grains to biofuel. Farm productivity has flattened out in the US but there is room for improvement in other nations; in Russia, for example, farms are only 50% as productive as the US. Globally there is an additional 450 million hectares of land (on top of the existing 1.5 billion hectares in production) that could become useful farm land with improved irrigation. Both these improvements and more will be needed to reach the 70% target.

In 2008 there was a hint of what the future may hold. Countries that rely on food imports were shocked when Russia stopped exporting wheat due to a poor harvest (Russia decided to feed its own people first.) There were bread riots in Egypt, Indonesia, and a string of states in Africa. This year it is happening again. Russia has imposed a grain export ban and there was a food riot in Mozambique.

Nations with money and corporations learned a lesson in 2008 and are now buying farmland like crazy where ever they can.

Bottom Line

Since 2008 the World Bank estimates that the number of people who go to bed hungry each night has risen from 830 million to more than 1 billion. That is an increase almost equal to the population of the US. It also means 1 in 7 people in the globe is not getting enough food.

In the future those who own the farmland won't go hungry. Everyone else will have to pay dearly.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Experiencing a Hurricane

I loved this story, Lessons Learned from Hurricane Ike, by John in Texas, from I do not usually copy an entire blog post but this one is so excellent I hate to cut any of it out...

I really appreciate the people who share their lessons learned on, so I thought I would share my experiences and lessons learned from Hurricane Ike.

Hurricane Ike hit Houston on Friday night September 13, 2008. The hurricane was classified as a strong category 2 with maximum sustained winds of 110 MPH. What was unusual about this hurricane was the large size of the storm. Hurricane force winds extended 120 miles from the center.

Gas stations in our area ran out of gas the day before the storm (Thursday). I waited in a very long line of cars only to find out that the station had run out of Regular gas. I was happy to pay extra to fill up with Premium. The gas station was a zoo with everyone in panic mode. It was all the owner could do to maintain order with people complaining about credit card issues, the station running out of Regular, and how people were taking too long to buy gas. I will never again wait until the last minute to buy gas. Grocery stores were also crazy. The grocery stores we visited had all run out of bottled water and batteries. People were buying canned goods and ice in large quantities.

On Friday morning I finished installing our plywood storm shutters on our most vulnerable windows and bringing everything inside that could be damaged by the high winds. In the afternoon we continued with our preparations inside. We charged all of our batteries, filled up our camping water storage bags, and got all of our battery lamps ready. I also setup inverters and car batteries in the house for backup power.

Our home is about 70 miles north of the coast. The high winds and rain started to hit around 9 PM on Friday night. We went to bed early to try to get some sleep before the strongest winds of the storm hit. Around 1 AM the wind was making so much noise that I was no longer able to sleep. The house was making a lot of strange noises due to the high winds. It was at that point that my panic started to build. What made me feel uneasy was the fact that my family and I were completely on our own. If we had any kind of emergency, I would not be able to call anyone for help. What helped me to calm down was keeping busy reviewing all of my preparations and walking around the house checking for problems.

Our power was intermittent most of the night and finally went out around 2 AM. The television weatherman said that when your electricity goes out, that is when you know the strong winds are approaching. That is exactly what happened in our case. I continued watching the news with a battery powered television. A television is very helpful to track the movement of the storm. Since television stations in our area no longer broadcast analog television signals, I will have to find another solution to receive digital television with backup power for future storms.

As I watched the eye of the storm pass near our home to the East on television, I thought the worst was over. To my surprise, the strongest winds hit our house on the back side of the storm. During the peak winds, I heard a loud crash and our entire house shook. I ran upstairs and found a tree had hit our house. I was amazed at the damage. The roof framing, roof decking, shingles, sheet-rock, insulation, and tree branches had fallen into my son’s bedroom. The larger tree branches had come through the roof like spears. Fortunately, I had insisted that everyone sleep down stairs during the storm. As the hurricane force winds raged outside, we rushed around in the dark trying to find something to catch the water. We needed a lot of bins and buckets to catch the water falling from such a large area of the roof. This kept us very busy for the rest of the night as we were constantly bailing the water out of all of the bins. We were able to catch enough of the water that the sheetrock downstairs was not damaged.

As the sun came up, we were able to see the damage outside. Most of the large pine trees near our home had been blown down. The tree that hit our house was a large pine in our neighbor’s yard. The tree had broken at mid-height and the top part of the tree was still connected to the bottom half. A second tree in my neighbor’s yard has snapped (clean break) and the top half landed in my back yard. A third tree had landed on the roof of the house behind ours and the top part was in our yard. We also had a mature queen palm that had blown over. The trees all fell in different directions. I do not think it was a tornado from the hurricane that blew down the trees since the damage was so widespread in our neighborhood. The funny thing was that I had cut down all of the tall pine trees in my yard after I realized how dangerous they could be if they fell on the house. All the pine trees that hit my house and landed in my yard were all from my neighbors and all of the cleanup efforts and repairs were my responsibility. My neighbors paid none of the cost to remove the trees or repair the damage to my home and yard.

The day after the hurricane hit, I called insurance company and told I was on my own and I could not make any major repairs before the Insurance Adjuster arrived. We started the cleanup process by removing all shingles, roof decking, tree branches, sheet rock, and insulation that was in the room. The contractor (thick plastic) garbage bags we had worked great for this cleanup. I highly recommend everyone keep a few boxes of these contractor bags for emergencies. We then pulled up the carpet and removed the wet pad. We used fans to circulate the air and help dry the room out. We learned from a previous flooding that if the house is not dried out quickly, a strong musty odor will develop. Since we could not put a tarp on the roof due to the tree, we hung a tarp inside the room to catch all the water and funnel it into a large bucket. The tree company we hired to remove the trees in our yard used a 100-ton crane to remove the tree on our house.

We started running our generator the first day using gas. The only gas I had was two years old with Sta-Bil gas stabilizer added. I was amazed the generator ran well on two year old gas. I now rotate my gas yearly and put it on my calendar so I won’t forget. Our generator has a natural gas conversion kit installed. After the rain stopped, we moved the generator to our back yard and connected it to natural gas. The generator ran flawlessly for 13 hours per day on natural gas. I remember praying that our generator would keep running since we were totally dependent on it for all of our power. I strongly recommend a good quality generator and maintain it well for best reliability. My natural gas bill went up $100 and my electricity bill went down $200, so I actually saved money running the generator.

Our generator is 7,500 Watts, so supporting the electrical load of the entire house had to be done carefully. We powered everything in the house except the central air-conditioning. The generator load monitor we had was very helpful. As long as we kept the load under 50%, we had no problems. When the load was at 70%, we sometimes had problems. At 90%, the generator circuit breakers would trip within a few seconds.

While working in our yard near the generator, I started to feel the effects on Carbon Monoxide poisoning (headache, nausea, and fatigue). I realized what was happening and went indoors to recover. I am now extra careful when working around a running generator. We also use Carbon Monoxide detectors in our house when running the generator.

All gas stations and stores in our area were closed after the storm since there was no electricity. Stores reopened slowly as emergency generators were brought in. When the grocery stores opened, they had none of the basic items (eggs, milk, orange juice, bread, hamburger, etc.). After the storm we lost electricity, cable/internet, and phone service. We had no problems with water, sewer, and natural gas service. Many of the nearby neighborhoods had no water and one had limited sewer service. I was surprised that phone service went down after 24 hours. After about a week, the phone company restored service with portable generators they connected to the phone system equipment in the neighborhood. We had no power for 10 days. Neighbors asked us to charge their cell phones, laptops, and DVD players. We setup a table in front room with power strips for them to use. The item most requested by my neighbors was ice. I made extra ice before the storm and filled many 1 gallon freezer bags. After two days, neighbors started to clear out their refrigerators and freezers. We had many offers to take their frozen food. Several of our neighbors had electric stoves and could not cook. They came over to our house and used our gas stove to cook dinner.

We decided to shut down our generator at night to keep a low profile and so we did not disturb the neighbors (too much). At night I used our inverters to power our refrigerators and freezers. I was disappointed that we were only getting 3-4 hours of run time from a standard car battery. On the third night, the inverter I was using for our large freezer stopped working. I took the inverter apart and found many of the internal components had been damaged. The operating power of the freezer was within the rated load of the inverter, but the surge current was not. I am now more careful about overloading inverters. I also purchased larger deep-cycle marine batteries to extend my run time. With our generator not running for 11 hours at night, I found the freezers were able to maintain a safe temperature, but the refrigerators were not. I solved this problem by adding blue-ice to the refrigerators at night.

Many of our neighbors and friends told us they were going to buy a generator and prepare for the next hurricane. None did. As soon as the power came back on, they forgot all about it.

My wife does not support my preparation efforts. She has always told me that our generator was a waste of money and a hurricane is never going to hit Houston. As our neighbors and friends told us how smart we were to buy a generator, I thought to myself I have finally won this argument. Unfortunately (for me), I was mistaken. She still says the generator was a waste of money and a hurricane is never going to hit us again.

We spent more time preparing than anyone else on our street and ended up with the most damage to our house and yard. Just because you are prepared, don’t assume everything will go well for you. This is my biggest lesson learned from the storm.

The entire process of filing an insurance claim, hiring contractors, completing all necessary repairs, and negotiating the final settlement with the insurance company took well over a year. Overall we were blessed that the damage was not worse, we did not have to move out of our home, we had a good test of our emergency preparations, and we learned a lot from the storm.

Bottom Line

I love the lines, "Many of our neighbors and friends told us they were going to buy a generator and prepare for the next hurricane. None did."  and "[my wife,] She still says the generator was a waste of money and a hurricane is never going to hit us again."  Note also that the damage to the house and yard was from the neighbor's trees.

Some people will never be convinced that preparation is useful. There are none so blind as those that refuse to see.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Misc Safety Warnings

“My doctor gave me six months to live, but when I couldn't pay the bill he gave me six months more.”
- Walter Matthau

Today I present two medical items.

The New England Journal of Medicine published an easy-to-read article about Retinal Injuries from a Handheld Laser Pointer. A 15-yr-old boy bought a laser pointer online "for popping balloons from a distance and burning holes into paper cards and his sister's sneakers." He was playing with the laser in front of a mirror to create a “laser show” when the laser reflected back and hit him in the eyes several times. One eye was damaged to 20/50; after four four months this eye healed to 20/32 vision.

What struck me about this story was this statement, "In the past, laser pointers sold to the public had a maximal output of 5 mW, which is regarded as harmless .... The measured output of the laser in this case was 150 mW ... normally restricted to occupational and military environments". Lasers upto 700 mW can be bought on the Internet as "fun toys". Frighteningly a parent can not readily identify a harmless laser pointer from a hazardous one; the beams look much the same.

An even more terrifying story is Are you ready for a world without antibiotics? Before the 20th century, surgeons were feared and avoided by most people. Doctors had mastered surgical skills with centuries of practice but the majority of patients still died afterwards from infections and disease. This changed with the discovery of antibiotics - it was a medical miracle and made hospitals trusted rather than feared. But this is changing as germs become resistant. The newest miracle drug is "carbapenems" but strains of bacteria in India have been found that are resistant to this too. As one doctor puts it, "This is potentially the end. There are no antibiotics in the pipeline that have activity against [the bacteria strain from India]. We have a bleak window of maybe 10 years, where we are going to have to use the antibiotics we have very wisely, but also grapple with the reality that we have nothing to treat these infections with. ... Frankly, pharmaceutical companies as well as governments and the European Commission need to really get their act together.""

The author of the article thinks 10 years is optimistic. Pharmaceutical companies pours tons of money into "life drugs" like heart medicine, stomach acids blockers, mental health (Valium), etc where, once prescribed, you take the medicine the rest of your life regardless of the cost. Antibiotics you take for a few weeks and then stop so there's less money made by the Pharmaceutical company. They go where the money is.

Bottom Line

How would life change in a world without Antibiotics? Mortality rates of abdominal surgery will skyrocket. Burst appendixes are fatal again. Transplant surgery becomes high risk; the patient will be killed by infection while on immune-suppressing drugs. Pneumonia returns as a mass-killer and TB becomes incurable.

Update warns that Rich-world diseases could hijack poor world's biotech. There are 70+ small biotech firms around the globle working on affordable cures to diseases that affect the world's poor. Shantha Biotechnics of Hyderabad, India, found a way to slash the cost of Hepatitis B vaccination by 60-fold (that's 1/60 the cost!)

The big companies have little interest in making drugs cheaper (why make less money?) or in spending massive research dollars for a drug the poor won't be able to afford. Instead they focus on drugs for wealthy Westerners.

The article warns of two dangers that may derail the quest for cheap drugs:
1. The small firms partner with the big guys to manufacture and distribute the new drugs for the poor and find themselves pushed to work on drugs for the wealthy instead.
2. Successful small firms are bought out by the big guys who may or might not distribute the new drugs cheaply.

Update 2

Since I'm on the topic of pharmaceuticals, 2,000-Year Old Greek Shipwreck Reveals Medical Secrets of the Ancient World
Intact pills have been found sealed in jars on an ancient Greek shipwreck. DNA analysis reveals carrot, radish, celery, wild onion, oak, cabbage, alfalfa, yarrow and hibiscus extract. It also found sunflower extract which has botanists scratching their heads since sunflowers were thought to have first come to Europe from the Americas with Columbus in the 1490's.

Update 3
Drug Resistant Super Bug Found in Three States - individuals who went to India for low cost surgery brought the super-germ back with them.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

National Debt

After 20 years in Congress, I still believe that smaller government and lower taxes are the most effective economic policies.
- Howard Coble (R - NC, 6th District)
Time for my next government rant. :-)
I've been seeing many stories this past week on the size of the National Debt.

Our Debt Is More Than All the Money in the World points out that in 2008 the US debt was conservatively estimated to be $70 Trillion. (70,000,000,000,000) At the same time the global M3 money supply ("meaning cash, consumer-account deposits, checkable accounts, CDs, long-term deposits, travelers’ checks, money-market funds, the whole enchilada") was $60 Trillion. The Global GDP (value of produced goods) was also $60 Trillion. So in 2008 (pre-Obama) neither all the money in the World nor the total value of ALL goods produced was suffient to pay our debt. The debt has since become much worse.

For 2010 the annual US budget deficit will be the second largest in 65 years compared to GDP. The largest gap in 65 years was last year with the famous Stimulus package at 9.9% of the GDP. This is the same as spending 109.9% of what your takehome pay. This year we are over budget by 109.1%. Suppose you earn $100,000 with $70,000 net after taxes. With overspending at 10%-9% you add an additional $7,000 - $6,000 to your credit card EACH year that you can not pay back.

Where did this money go? Who knows? The beaucrats won't say, Financial crisis panel stonewalls Congress.

Bottom Line
How bad is the problem? Investors are losing faith in America, Treasurys Tumble Following Weak 30-Year Sale. (That's 30-year bonds backed by the US Government).

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Greatest Risks for Children

“Adults are always asking little kids what they want to be when they grow up because they're looking for ideas”
- Paula Poundstone
The Consumerist reports on an interesting story from the NPR.

According to a new survey, the top five calamities parents fret over happening to their kids are (starting with the highest concern):
  1. kidnapping
  2. school snipers
  3. terrorists
  4. dangerous strangers
  5. drugs
What parents should be concerned about are the top five ways children actually get hurt and/or killed:
  1. car accidents
  2. homicide by someone the child knows
  3. abuse
  4. suicide
  5. drowning
Why the difference in these two lists?

"Parents fixate on rare events because they internalize horrific stories they hear on the news or from a friend without stopping to think about the odds the same thing could happen to their children," reports NPR.
Bottom Line

Buckle up in the car!  And beware of friends, not strangers.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Cat Scratches

“If you hold a cat by the tail you learn things you cannot learn any other way.”
- Mark Twain quotes
We have two cats at home which my wife and I adore, even though she is allergic to them. However one thing I do not adore is being scratched by the cats. They don't do it intentionally, we're just playing and I get too close or don't move fast enough and *slash*. The claws are as sharp as scalpels and the slightest contact can leave a deep cut. But unlike scalpels, cat claws are far from sterile and clean; just think about all the digging they do in cat litter.

Yesterday I received the shallowest of cuts just before work. I pressed it and let it bleed a little and figured that was enough. I was wrong. By evening the cut was red and swollen and filled with puss. It may leave a scar. I should have followed my usual routine which is to wash the cut with soap and water, dry it, and then pour hydrogen-peroxide on it. Make sure the hydrogen-peroxide is still active and foams when applied to the cut. A band-aid is optional.

When I follow the steps above, I don't scar.

Sometimes a cat scratch can cause Cat Scratch Fever a few weeks after the scratch. The primary symptom is swollen Lymph nodes. Other symptoms can include headache, backache, chills, and stomach pain or loss of appetite. Generally, cat scratch disease is not serious and medical treatment is not usually needed. In severe cases, treatment with antibiotics such as azithromycin can be helpful.

Bottom Line

Cat claws are a natural reservoir of disease. Treat cat scratches seriously and always clean them immediately.

See also

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Better Study Habits

“Variety's the very spice of life, That gives it all its flavor”

- William Cowper (English Poet, 1731-1800)

Everyone, young and old, sometimes needs to study. It may be homework, learning a language or work rules and regulations. And most of us are doing it wrong according to the New York Times.

According to the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, we are not limited to specific learning styles. The concepts that some are “visual learners” and others are auditory; or some are “left-brain” students while others are “right-brain” is bunk they say. Research has not found evidence of this. The same journal also claims that there is no perfect teaching style - students learn successfully from a variety of teaching styles.
Personally I disagree. I am much more perceptive of visual information than I am with audible instructions.

Another interesting claim is that it's better to study in different locations. Otherwise the information you learn becomes imprinted with the background colors, noise, lights, etc of your study area and those clues won't match the test room making the information harder to retrieve. Memory is made stronger when acquired under different backgrounds.

Another new trick - mix up your study material. The brain becomes lazy with repetition so mix English with Math or studying verbs with reading and speaking practice. "Musicians have known this for years, and their practice sessions often include a mix of scales, musical pieces and rhythmic work."

While cramming may help for a test the next day, information quickly obtained is quickly lost. For longer retention review the material an hour of study tonight, an hour on the weekend, another session a week from now, then a month out, etc. Dozens of studies have found such spacing improves later recall.

Bottom Line

It pays to learn good learning habits.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Family Communication Plan

-I've exceeded my unlimited texting.

When preparing for emergencies, you might think of flashlights, radio, water, food and first aid but few people think about planning for how to communicate. Suppose your child is at school when an evacuation notice is issued. The local phone lines will be overwhelmed. How will you find out where your child is at and how can they communicate to you?

Fortunately new technologies provide many options for social networking like texting, Facebook, and email. For the old fashioned, try calling a relative that is long distance. These are separate phone circuits and often work then local calls can not connect. Make sure everyone knows which relative to call.

To help you create a plan and share it, here are two sites...

1. Create a family contact plan online at
This site prompts you for descriptions and contact information for all family members, plus work, and school, and police, etc and then location and phone for emergency family gathering sites. The information is NOT saved online. Instead you will print out wallet sized cards with this information for family members to carry.

2. The web site  prompts you for emergency contact information and then displays this back so you can copy and paste the information to friends (and your Bishop and EPS) via email. The following information is collected...

Emergency Plan information for <person X>
My Emergency Contact <a local person>
My Out-of-Town Contact <a distant person>
My Neighborhood Meeting Place <place>

Bottom Line

I hope you find this helpful. There are few things worse than not knowing the status of a loved one during/after an emergency.

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Friday, September 17, 2010


"It's not nice to fool Mother Nature"
- old TV ad for Chiffon Margarine
Back in May I wrote about sinkholes and landslides. But nothing drives home the point like a video. Check out this clip from Italy of an entire hillside flowing like water...

Bottom Line

Never underestimate the power of Nature.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

World Population

“USA Today has come out with a new survey - apparently, three out of every four people make up 75% of the population.”
- David Letterman
There is a great deal of truth to the adage "a picture is worth a thousand words." A great graph can make a point much better than mere words. For example I know India and China both have over 1 billion people out of a world total of 6.7 billion. But I never visualized this as nearly half of the world's people. The chart below shows how people are distributed throughout the world by latitude and longitude. Note the spikes for India and China.

Bottom Line
The bottom graph sure puts the US in perspective. We use the most resources in the world with the lowest population density. Unless they have traveled to Europe or Asia, most Americans have no appreciation for how land-rich we are; how uncrowded in comparison. We think nothing of large parks, golf courses, giant cemeteries, thousand acre farms, etc. Open land is rare and expensive elsewhere in the world.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Global Cities

“When you look at a city, it's like reading the hopes, aspirations and pride of everyone who built it.”
- Hugh Newell Jacobsen
The concept of the nation state is only about a century old. Historically Western civilization has been ruled over by either city-states or Empires. We speak of "ancient Greece" but there was not a single Greek culture or government - instead the cities of Athens, Sparta, Corinth, etc. battled between themselves for supremecy with the victor making slaves of the losers. It's to the Greek's credit that they could unite and defeat the armies of the massive Persian empire but internal warfare left them weak when Alexander the Great swept through and conquered the Greeks as the first step in his Empire building.

The world map comprised of "nations" is a consequence of the Paris Peace Treaty of World War 1. The Austria-Hungarian Emprire was broken up into states. The British Empire and others remained (for awhile) but they "promised" to "educate" their subject colonies towards independence. That promise was not kept - it took Ghandi and massive peaceful rebellion for India to win independence. But the direction of history was clear in the decades after WWI - the age of Empires was over.

Since WWI I'm not aware of any two states merging - yes the US gained territory with Alaska and Hawaii, but the trend over the past 100 years has been the break-up of nations. Korea - North and South, Czechoslovakia - into the Czech and Slovak Republics, Yugoslavia - into many parts, Soviet Union - broken into many parts. For the 21st century an article at states that "The age of nations is over. The new urban age has begun."  It notes that the world is returning to a governance model where cities rule.
"More than half the world lives in cities, and the percentage is growing rapidly. But just 100 cities account for 30 percent of the world's economy, and almost all its innovation. ... New York City's economy alone is larger than 46 of [the] sub-Saharan Africa's economies combined. Hong Kong receives more tourists annually than all of India. ... cities are the real magnets of economies, the innovators of politics, and, increasingly, the drivers of diplomacy. ... This new world of cities won't obey the same rules as the old compact of nations; they will write their own opportunistic codes of conduct, animated by the need for efficiency, connectivity, and security above all else
"Then there are the megacities, superpopulous urban zones that are worlds unto themselves but that -- for now -- still punch below their weight class economically: Think Lagos, Manila, or Mexico City. When Tokyo in 1980 became the first metropolitan area to reach a population of 20 million, the figure seemed almost unimaginable. Now we need to get used to the idea of nearly 100 million people clustered around Mumbai or Shanghai."
Bottom Line

Look at a satellite map of the world at night. The cities are quite apparent and dominant. You don't see nation boundaries from satellites.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Open 23 Hours, 30 Minutes

I went down the street to the 24-hour grocery. When I got there, the guy was locking the front door. I said,
'Hey, the sign says you're open 24 hours.'
He said, 'Yes, but not in a row.'
- Steven Wright
The Cosumerist shares a letter from a reader about his visit to a 24-hour McDonalds only to be told they were not taking orders from 4-4:30 am as they did cleaning. In general I find most 24-hour stores to be a bad idea. I hate grocery shopping while the aisles are clogged with pallets of items waiting to be stocked. Or shopping at a 24-hour store but find the Deli, Meat & Seafood sections are not 24-hour and have closed.

Bottom Line

I would prefer a store to be open, clean and accessible during "extended" business hours but shut the doors to the public while they clean and restock in the wee hours of the night. What's your opinion on 24-hour businesses?


Monday, September 13, 2010

Dry Water

"The other day I bought a box of evaporated water. I have no idea what to put in it." - Steven Wright

I have always thought the line above was one of Steven Wright's best jokes. So imagine my surprise when a see a headline for a story on "Dry Water" from the Telegraph in the UK. How does one make dry water?

The answer is to surround each droplet of water with a "sandy silica coating", similar perhaps to glass? The resulting mixture is still 95% water by weight but completely "dry".

The article goes on to say that dry water is very effective at absorbing some gases and useful for mixing chemicals that don't combine easily with water.

Bottom Line

Keep on eye open for dry water in the future. This could be similar to Bucky balls with lots of new uses being discovered.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Remember to Pay Your Bills

“A man who pays his bills on time is soon forgotten”
- Oscar Wilde
My wife handles the billing paying and she uses google calendar to send her reminders when bills are due. She's also saving event and meetings on the calendar so that year-end we can add up mileage driven for volunteer organizations and deduct it on our taxes.

A similar plan for bill reminders can be found on

1. For each bill, I set up a new task named after the bill in question and the day of the month it's generally due (for example, my AT&T bill is usually due on the 5th of every month, though occasionally it'll be on the 8th).

2. I set it up to repeat monthly.

3. If it's a bill that has a fixed monthly minimum payment (student loans, car payments, etc.) I add that information in a note, along with the URL to log into the site if online billing is available.

4. Set as priority level 2. I use priority solely so that when I look at my list of tasks in Gmail (using the Firefox extension), which is where I see them most often, I can immediately tell what bills, if any, are due soon. I use priority level 2 because I like the color, but any other level would work just as well for this purpose.

5. Tag as "bill." I saved a search for "tag:bill" so that they're all grouped together.

Bottom Line

Let technology work for you. Set up reminders for important things you must not forget. I have entered the special dates for friends and relatives on It will email me reminders in advance so I don't miss a birthday or anniversary.

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Rent or Buy?

Our house, is a very, very, very fine house.
With two cats in the yard ...

Today I encourage you to read the article, The Renting Alternative Will Undermine The Housing Market For Years, from Ignore the misleading title. What the article is really about and covers well is the increasing tendency of successful individuals and couples to choose renting an apartment over buying a house. As one person put it,
"With a pool I don't pay for, a gym that's open 24 hours a day, and emergency plumbers on staff at 2 a.m., I have enough responsibility in my life that I don't need a home."
A commenter from Chicago says,
"I think we might be renters forever. My husband and I love sitting ... in the park reading the Sunday New York Times while our landlord is stuck fixing the garbage disposal. Time is priceless. And we are nowhere nearly as freaked out about finances as our friends are."
Bottom Line

I knew a man who worked as a school teacher by and a troubled youth counselor overnight in order to raise the money for a home for his family (this was back in the days you needed a real deposit on a new home.)
At the time he lived in a beautiful apartment complex with a tennis court, rec center, swimming pool, green fields, etc. but he felt it essential that his kids had their own lawn to play on.

Personally I'd be very happy to give up lawn care, etc. (I'm grateful my wife mows the lawn.)

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Social Steganography

"I don't at all like knowing what people say of me behind my back. It makes me far too conceited." - Oscar Wilde
Today I recommend the article, Social Steganography: Learning to Hide in Plain Sight. I have a friend with a 13-yr-old daughter and the daughter loves facebook (FB). The mother is concerned about FB and carefully watches her daughter's page for inappropriate topics and language. And issues have come up - one boy asked for sexy photos for example.

In the article cited above, the author describes a similar situation where a mother comments on her daughter's every post which "scares everyone away". The daughter, Carmen, has to think - How will my mother respond to my post? Will she freak out? So Carmen has learned to comment in "code" using references her mother will think is safe but her friends know differently. The example given is quoting lyrics from Monty Python's "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" a happy song on the surface but if you know the story, "Life of Brian", it's sung by men being tortured to death by crucifixion.

The art of hiding secret messages in plain sight is called Steganography. Youth are forever creating new slang words to hide what they are saying. It's fat, or cool or bad. Parents are meant to be confused - does bad mean good?

Bottom Line

This gives a whole new spin to comments on FB. I often see song quotes or odd statements that have no context (for me). I'll have to start looking past the quotes to find the hidden message.

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Practical Preparedness

“A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.” - Edward Abbey
Since this is a blog with "Preparedness" in the title, you may wonder, why do so many of the posts deal with government or the economy? My philosophy is Practical Preparedness. There are other sites dedicated to The End Of The World as We Know It (TEOTWAWKI) but that is not my style. I'm not an ex-marine or a gun owner who will protect the homestead when civilization collapses. The odds are that the World will not end during my life time.

The early Apostles after the death of Christ sincerely believed the world would end during their lifetime, "I will come like a thief in the night", "no one knows the time". Paul wrote in his letters that it was best to be celibate (no sex, no kids) but if you lacked the self-control to wait for "The End" then it was better to marry than to burn in hell for the sin of adultery. The Shakers were a religious group that took this idea seriously and as a result I think there is one living Shaker today, a young person who converted decades ago before the last of the sect died of old age before the End occurred.

In this blog I focus on events that can and do happen - taxes, debt, medical issues, recession, unemployment, first aid, accidents, and so forth. Preparedness requires two things: knowledge/training and supplies. In theory there are idiot-proof supplies like modern heart defibrillators and the super-McGyver types who can survive by wit alone but the majority needs supplies and the skills to use the supplies properly. There are families who never use their buckets of whole wheat because they have no clue how to cook with it.

With supplies you can take the extreme approach of a year's supply to stockpiling for TEOTWAWKI or the more practical approach of a cache that will get you through a local disaster or help buffer unemployment and other serious life events. This is one week to 3 months of supplies of Food, Water, and Money.

The money cache is important - especially if you get laid off like I did. You can not pay your taxes and bills with canned goods. And so I include in this blog posts about the government or economy that can affect your take-home pay. The most serious of these is high-taxation which is a drag on the economy and discourages job creation. Both the Federal and State governments have the attitude that it is the duty of the public to pay high tax rates to support government programs. This is a dangerous reversal on the principles of the Founding Fathers of minimal-government and the protection of individual rights.

Bottom Line

Americans now work to support the government and this is a very, very difficult thing to change. Hence the many articles on the subject to raise awareness.

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Monday, September 6, 2010

Steps to Take After a Hurricane

What to Do After a Hurricane


- Remain indoors until an official "all clear" is given.

SAFETY (see also Food Safety below)

- INITIALLY, USE PHONES ONLY FOR EMERGENCIES. Local lines will be jammed. Let those with life-threatening emergencies use the phones first.

- Give First Aid and assist in rescue efforts.

- Do not touch fallen or low-hanging wires of any kind under any circumstances. Stay away from puddles with wires in/near them. Do not touch trees or other objects in contact with power lines.

- Warn your children about broken glass, sharp metal, stray animals, and other outdoor dangers. Do NOT go barefoot or wade in puddles!

- Aggressively clean all cuts or scrapes – the risk of infection is high. Don’t clean anything with tap water – it may be polluted.

- Don’t attempt to drive for a few days. Roads will be a flooded, blocked, washed-out, undermined, or needed by emergency vehicles. If away from home, you might not be allowed to return. Police may erect road blocks and deny all access or require identification to enter a neighborhood.

- Don’t light candles or use anything with a flame. There may be gas leaks.

- Don’t turn on the electricity – you may short out appliances that are still wet and cause a fire.

- Expect an invasion of vermin (rats & snakes) and insects within a few days.


Implement your family plan on how to unite separated members. Suggestions:

- Leave messages with a designated person outside the emergency area.

- Have a secret place near your house to leave a written message (in a water proof bag). “Had to flee, will be at Uncle Joe’s, 914-555-5555”.

- Use email, Facebook, texting, and cell phones when power is available

- Notify the local police and Red Cross if you are separated so the family knows you are alive.

- Don’t forget to include grandparents and other concerned relatives in the plan. They will be worried about you and want to know where you are.

- Let your Bishopric know where you are located and your status. If you cannot reach them by phone, try email or create a news item on the Ward web site at The news item will not go public; it is reviewed by the Ward Website Administrator first.


- Make a plan with your family, friends, and neighbors assigning specific responsibilities to each person. Keep every person busy with something useful. Don’t forget to assign childcare to someone.

- Another important task is damage assessment. Take photos before you begin cleaning up to use in your insurance claim. Create an inventory of damages.

- Listen to local radio stations for public announcements.


- Stress, anxiety, panic, anger, sadness, and depression are all normal following an emergency. Get plenty of sleep and watch for signs of emotional breakdown in family members. Children and older adults are of special concern in the aftermath of disasters.

- Acknowledging feelings helps with recovery. Pray together and emphasize the positive. Count your blessings and utilize your strengths.

- Contact your church leader, voluntary agencies, or professional counselors for counseling. Additionally, FEMA and state and local governments of the affected area may provide crisis counseling assistance.


Hurricanes, especially if accompanied by a tidal surge or flooding, can contaminate the public water supply and anything the flood waters touched.

- Do not eat any food that may have come into contact with flood water. If in doubt, throw it out.

- Do not eat food packed in plastic, paper, cardboard, cloth, and similar containers that have been water damaged.

- Discard food and beverage containers with screw-caps, snap lids, crimped caps (soda bottles), twist caps, flip tops, and home canned foods, if they have come in contact with flood water. These containers cannot be disinfected.

- Undamaged foods in all-metal cans or retort pouches can be saved if you remove the labels, thoroughly wash the cans, rinse them, and then disinfect them with a sanitizing solution consisting of 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of potable water. Re-label containers with contents and expiration date with a marker.


- If you don't have bottled water, then boil water to make it safe. If the water is cloudy, filter it through clean cloths or allow it to settle, and draw off the clear water for boiling. Boil the water for one minute, let it cool, and store it in clean containers with covers.

- If you can't boil water, disinfect it using household bleach. Filter if cloudy and then add 1/8 teaspoon (or 8 drops) of regular, unscented, liquid household bleach for each gallon of water. Stir it well and let it stand for 30 minutes before using.

- Do not use well water that has been flooded. Have the water tested before using.


- Wear protective clothing, such as gloves and boots, to avoid skin contact with raw sewage and other contaminants.

- Open windows and doors to ventilate and dry your home.

- Shovel as much mud and debris as possible out of the building, then hose it down, inside and out. The walls, floors and any other parts of the building that have been flooded should be washed and disinfected.

- Drain the basement no more than one foot per day to minimize further damage. Groundwater outside creates enormous inward pressure on basement walls and floors.

- Throw away flooded items that cannot be washed and disinfected (such as mattresses, carpeting, carpet padding, rugs, upholstered furniture, cosmetics, stuffed animals, baby toys, pillows, foam-rubber items, books, wall coverings, drywall, insulation, and most paper products).

- Discard wooden cutting boards, wooden dishes and utensils, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples, and pacifiers that have come into contact with flood water. These items cannot be safely cleaned.

- Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes, and utensils (including can openers) with soap and water, using hot water if available. Rinse, and then sanitize them by boiling in clean water or immersing them for 15 min. in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water (or the cleanest, clearest water available).

- Thoroughly wash countertops and all surfaces with soap and water, using hot water if available. Rinse, and then sanitize by applying a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water (or the cleanest, clearest water available). Allow to air dry.

- Carefully clean corners, cracks and crevices, door handles, and door seals, in rooms that have been affected by flood water.

- Discard refrigerators that have been submerged in flood water, or if enough moisture was present from liquefied food items to reach the insulation inside the equipment.

- Run your dishwasher, empty through three complete cycles to flush the water lines and assure that they are cleaned internally before washing equipment and utensils in it.

- Discard all ice in ice machines; clean and sanitize (1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of potable water) the interior surfaces; run the ice through 3 cycles; and discard ice with each cycle.

- Replace all ice machine filters and beverage dispenser filters and flush all water lines for 10 to 15 minutes.

- Without power, a refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.

- Fifty pounds of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic foot fully-stocked freezer cold for two days.

- Once the power is restored, use a thermometer to check the freezer. If the freezer thermometer reads 40° F or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen. Otherwise check each frozen package of food - it’s safe if it still contains ice crystals. You can't rely on appearance or odor.

- Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power was out for no more than 4 hours. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs or leftovers) that has been above 40° F for two hours or more. Perishable foods that are not kept adequately refrigerated or frozen may cause illness if consumed, even when they are thoroughly cooked.

Bottom Line

For more information see

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Friday, September 3, 2010

Steps to take before a Hurricane arrives

“You do not have to be a hurricane, to turn things around”

- Loesje (Dutch Fictional character)

As discussed yesterday, Hurricane Earl reminded me that hurricane season is upon us. Here is a not so simple list of things you should do before a storm hits.
1. Food Safety
  • Set the freezer temperature at or below 0 °F. Set the refrigerator just below 40 °F.
  • Fill many clean soda bottles with water and freeze them (don’t fill to the top, leave some room for ice expansion). The frozen water bottles can also be used in the refrigeration and coolers. When melted, you can drink the water. 
  • Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk, and fresh meat that spoil easily. 
  • A full freeze will stay cold longer.
  • Have coolers on hand. After a hurricane, place refrigerated food you want to use in coolers and then leave the fridge and freeze closed.
2. Food & Water
  • Stock up on drinking water – 1 gallon per person per day. Pets need water too. Tap water will NOT be safe to drink after a hurricane.
  • Have enough ready to eat food on hand for family and pets for at least three days, preferably one week or more. You may need to feed yourself for a week with no working stove or microwave. 
  • Pack your food and water so you can quickly move to your car if you must evacuate.
3. Lights
  • With no power the night is really dark. Stock up on flashlights, batteries, lanterns, etc. The Red Cross discourages candles - too many house fires from candle accidents. Encourage going to bed when the sun sets or you’ll run out of lighting real fast.
4. Stay Informed
  • Get a battery-powered or hand-crank radio. Store extra batteries if needed.
  • Cell phones are great but how will you keep it charged? Consider hand crank rechargers and rechargers that plug into the car cigarette lighter. There are also solar power rechargers.  
5. Evacuation Preparation
  • Create a portable evacuation kit for each family member and each pet.
  • Select an evacuation location – where will you go? A hotel out of the emergency region? A friend or relative’s house far away? An emergency shelter? A camp ground?
  • If camping, you’ll need to pack camping gear like a tent and sleeping bags or blankets.
  • Maps and/or GPS – how will you get out of town? Some roads may be closed as traffic is forced along official evacuation routes.
  • Communication Plan – how can you be contacted after evacuating? Share your cell phone and email with friends, family and religious leader(s).
  • Family Reunion Plan – if your family is separated by work, school, etc, how will you locate each other afterwards? Details will follow in another email.
  • Pet Plan – Red Cross shelters and many hotels will not accept pets. Or the friend you’re going to stay with is allergic to cats. Will you take your pet with you?
  • Keep at least a 1/2 tank of gas in your car. Don't expect to find gas if an evacuation is ordered.
6. Health
  • Make a list of all medications used by family members (and pets). Record the dosage and frequency. You may need this if someone is hospitalized or forgets to pack a medication.
  • Make or buy First Aid Kits. Keep one in the house and another in each car. Clean any and all wounds – infection is a serious problem after floods and hurricanes. 
  • With no water pressure, your toilet won’t flush. Have a toilet plan be it buckets and bags, grey water for flushing, a pit in the backyard, etc. Do you have a week’s supply of toilet paper?
  • Fill the bathtub and other large containers with water beforehand. Use the water for sponge baths and then use the soapy water for toilet flushing.
  • Pack feminine supplies and personal hygiene items. Stress does funny things to bodies.
7. Important Papers
  • Make copies of important documents: driver's license, Social Security card, proof of residence, insurance policies, wills, deeds, birth and marriage certificates, tax records, etc. Take these with you if you evacuate.
  • Write down the name and phone number for insurance policies, bank accounts, family physicians, etc. Who might you need to call after the emergency and away from home?
  • Have a photograph of each family member and pet. You may need this if they become lost or separated.
  • Make copies of irreplaceable family photos.
  • Take a video or photographs of your house BEFORE the hurricane to show an insurance agent when you make claims. This way you can prove that big hole was not in the roof beforehand.
  • Pack cash and credit/debit cards. During the Katrina evacuation some cash stations refused cash because they feared being robbed. In areas without power, you’ll need cash or barter items.
8. Peace of Mind
  • Emergencies are stressful, especially for young children who don’t understand. Have comfort food and comfort items on hand and ready to go. Include favorite books and toys. Include a Book of Mormon and song books.
  • Keep children busy with tasks or coloring books. Ask older siblings to entertain younger ones.
  • Pack plenty of aspirin or equivalent for headaches and pain. (Aspirin can be dangerous for young children).
  •  Don’t forget diaper rash ointment, teething gels, and other items to ease a crying infant.
  • Sleep is essential to maintain strength. Pack a favorite pillow or anything else that will help you sleep.
9. Prepare your Home
  • Cover all of your windows with pre-cut ply wood or hurricane shutters to protect your windows from high winds. No plywood? Crisscross the windows with duct tape.
  • Bring in all outdoor furniture, decorations, garbage cans and anything else not tied down.
  • Trim trees and shrubs to make them wind resistant.
  • Turn off propane tanks and gas lines.
  • Store your boat if you have one.

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Hurricane Earl

“To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power.”
- Maya Angelou

With Hurricane Earl threatening the Eastern US coast, this is a good time to review hurricane preparedness. Would you be ready if a hurricane hit your neighborhood? Yesterday I examined many websites for advice but the best site for getting started is 
which provides simple checklists for the three preparation stages:

                 Get a Kit,        Make a Plan,         Be Informed.

This site is also available in Spanish at

Bottom Line

I'll provide more details in the days to follow. But as my wife was reminding me last night, KISS, or Keep it Simple Stupid. The site is the perfect starting point - very useful instructions but not too long as to be overwhelming.

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Good Jobs With Two-Year Degrees

“Some people think that doctors and nurses can put scrambled eggs back into the shell”-Dorothy Canfield Fisher

What's a decent hourly wage? I know consultants who get from $100 to $200 an hour, mechanics who bill for $80-$90 per hour. So when I first saw a list from Yahoo of jobs that pay $30 with just a two-year certificate I was not initially impressed. But being a mathematician I punched numbers into a calculator and found that if you work 40 hours a week for 52 weeks at $30/hour you can earn over $62,000.

Her are some of the jobs suggested by Yahoo...

*Loan officer ($30.39)

*Diagnostic medical sonography ($30.60) -- I was talking to a fellow church member on Sunday who just finished her two year training and is now a medical assistant at a Women's Health Care clinic. She does sonograms.

*Nursing ($31.99) -- The market for nurses is expected to grow by 22 percent in the next 8 years.

*Nuclear technician ($32.07) -- Work alongside Homer Simpson.

Bottom Line
Visit your local community college and see if they offer night classes for certification programs.

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