Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!
“The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul”
- G. K. Chesterton


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Carbon Monoxide

"It's a Gas! Gas! Gas!" - lyrics to Jumping Jack Flash

If you live in the New York City region, subscribe to Notify N.Y.C. at  Alerts and notices are available via email, SMS, phone, Twitter or RSS feed.

Registrants can select five notification types for up to five ZIP codes across NYC.
  • Emergency Alerts – messages about life-threatening events that may require immediate action. All registrants are automatically added to this list.
  • Significant Events Notifications – important information about emergency events, utility outages and other types of high-impact events in your ZIP code.
  • Public Health Notifications – information about important public health issues in your community
  • Public School Closing/Delay Advisories – updates about unscheduled public school closings, delays and early dismissals
  • Unscheduled Parking Rules Suspensions – updates about unscheduled suspensions of citywide parking rules
Bottom Line

As an example, here is a NYC message from 12/17 ....
New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reminds New Yorkers to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning by clearing snow from exhaust pipes before starting car engines, avoid running cars in enclosed spaces, and clear snow from the vents of combustion appliances. Never heat your home with a stove or oven.
I should know better but it never occurred to me to check the exhaust pipe of my snow covered car after the blizzard last weekend.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Gift Returns

"Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts"
- Laocoon in the Aeneid, book II
Almost one in five Americans expected to return at least one holiday gift. If you are one of these five then ConsumerReports has this advice for returning gifts at

1. Know the time frame
Large merchants usually allow 90 days for returns but some items like electronics, computers, music, and DVDs may have shorter return periods. software, and CDs and DVDs. For example electronics bought at Walmart must be returned within 15 or 30 days. But as a gesture of holiday goodwill, if a gift was purchased at Walmart between Nov. 15 and Dec. 25, the return clock doesn't start ticking until Dec. 26.

2. Use and Keep gift receipts
My wife requested gift receipts for items we bought at Toys-R-Us and I received a hobby kit this year with a gift receipt included. Merchants used to offer store credit without a receipt but don't count on that nowadays. You may have to ask the giver for the store receipt before making a return or exchange.

3. Take your driver's license
Some companies require a government-issued ID with a receipt. This way they can track serial returners who use and return items frequently.

4. Be sure before you open the box
Once you open a box the item is no longer new so merchants may charge a restocking fee, often 15 percent of the product's cost. Digital items that can be copied like computer software, CDs, and DVDs aren't usually returnable once they're unwrapped.

5. Know where to go
If an item was purchased online and the merchant has walk-in stores, check their website to see if you can return it at a store and avoid reshipping fees.

Bottom Line

I'll be sure to use more Gift Receipts in the future.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Most Boring Day in History

An author is a fool who, not content with boring those he lives with, insists on boring future generations. - Charles de Montesquieu
Computer programmer William Tunstall-Pedoe has calculated that April 11, 1954 is the most objectively dull day since 1900. On that day the most significant events were a general election in Belgium, the birth of a Turkish academic and the death of footballer Jack Shufflebotham.

Mr Tunstall-Pedoe's computer program, called True Knowledge, was fed 300 million facts about "people, places, business and events" that made the news and this particular day was outstanding in its obscurity.

Bottom Line

"Nobody significant died that day, no major events apparently occurred and, although a typical day in the 20th century has many notable people being born, for some reason that day had only one who might make that claim - Abdullah Atalar, a Turkish academic.", said Mr Tunstall-Pedoe's .

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Monday, December 27, 2010

A Merry Bacon Christmas

A Merry Bacon & Sauerkraut Christmas?

This December,
That love weighs more than gold!"
~Josephine Dodge Daskam Bacon

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

The Better Business Bureau recommends that you check if your Christmas toys have been recalled, and what do to if you find out they have been. Before throwing out the packaging, check out the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and ToyInfo sites for lists of active recalls.

It's probably easiest to take a recalled toy back to the retailer where it was purchased, but you can also check the US CPSC site for details on returning products to the manufacturer.

If you'd rather check for recalls over the phone, here's a BBB-provided list of toy recall hotlines:

* Consumer Products Safety Commission: (800) 638-2772
* Toy Industry Association: (888) 888-4TOYS
* Mattel: (800) 916-4498
* Fisher-Price: (800) 991-2444
* Toys R Us: (800) 869-7787

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Friday, December 24, 2010

The Night Before Christmas!

"A Visit from St. Nicholas"
by Clement Clarke Moore (1779 - 1863)

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tinny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Are you Ready for Christmas?

“Christmas gift suggestions:
To your enemy, forgiveness.
To an opponent, tolerance.
To a friend, your heart.
To a customer, service.
To all, charity.
To every child, a good example.
To yourself, respect.”
- Oren Arnold
According to,
Black Friday is not the biggest shopping day of the year. In fact, it’s typically not even in the top five, though has cracked the ranks a few times in recent years.
The real biggest shopping day of the year is nearly always the Saturday before Christmas, excepting a few occasions where it typically then ends up being the Thursday or Friday before Christmas, when Christmas falls on a weekend day. 
Bottom Line

Expect the stores to be extra busy today and tomorrow. Happy Holidays!

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Stinky Eggs

“I have met a lot of hardboiled eggs in my time, but you're twenty minutes.” - Oscar Wilde

My wife loves hardboiled eggs but they stink-up the refrigerator with a sulfur smell for a day or more after cooking. I did some research and found two sites that say the smell is most likely from overcooking the eggs.

First check is if your eggs are too old. Eggs in the refrigerator can be stored safely for weeks but each egg is losing moisture through its shell, at the rate of about 5 milligrams of liquid per day. As the moisture escapes the shell, a small air pocket at the base of the egg grows. This provides an easy test for freshness: eggs that float in water are very old and should not be eaten. The quicker an egg sinks, the fresher it is.

If you eggs are fresh but still produce a sulfurous smell when hard boiled then you've overcooked them. Rapidly boiling water will overcook the white part of the egg before the yolks are completely set. Rapid boiling can also crack the shells. So the suggested technique for making hard boiled eggs is:

* Place eggs in pot of cold water, single layer, with an inch of water covering
* Heat just till boiling (let the eggs warm up slowly)
* Start your timer.
* Gently simmer your eggs at about 90 degrees. Some cooks say cover the pot and remove it from the burner.
* Eggs are solid at 13-17 minutes depending on the size of the egg (
* Do NOT cook for longer than this.
* Stop the cooking process by removing the eggs from the pot and plunge them in cold water or place them briefly under cold running water. This is VERY important.

Get crackin'.

Bottom Line

Eggs are high in nutrients -- a very good source of selenium, iodine, and vitamin B2 and a good source of protein, molybdenum, phosphorous, vitamin B5, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. There are 78 Calories, 2 Weight Watchers points in one hard-boiled egg.

The bad: Eggs are high in Saturated Fat, and the yolks are very high in Cholesterol. The MayoClinic recommends just one egg a day if you eat the yolk.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Allure of Gold

"And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh" - Matthew 2:11 KJV

With financially unstable times, some investors put their money in gold. But why gold, what makes gold so special? NPR Money Planet asked Sanat Kumar, a chemical engineer at Columbia University, to examine the 118 elements in the Periodic Table to find which ones could be used as money.

The orange column on the far right is all gasses - so cross that off.

The light orange elements on the far left are very reactive and can burn or explode. Sanat crossed out another 38 elements as too reactive for safe keeping.

The two rows on the bottom of the chart are radioactive; cross them off.

These three rules: Not a gas, Doesn't corrode or burn, and Doesn't kill you, reduces the list of usable elements from 118 to just 30.

Some of the 30, like carbon, are just too common to be "valuable". Imagine a currency that anyone can make from wood!  And a few of the 30 are just too rare  - for example osmium comes mostly from meteorites.

Eliminate the too common and extremely rare and you are left with five "precious metals", rhodium, palladium, silver, platinum and gold. Silver is popular and used as a currency but it tarnishes; it is mildly reactive with air. I'm not that familiar with rhodium or palladium and apparently few are, they were not discovered until the early 1800s due to their rarity. They belong to the platinum group of metals. One quarter of all goods manufactured today either contain platinum group metals or the platinum group metals play a key role during their manufacturing process.

That leaves platinum and gold as safe, non-reactive metals, both of which can be found in rivers and streams in limited but not super rare quantities. Gold was preferred because it melts at a lower temperature (just under 2000 degrees Fahrenheit) and could be fashioned into art and coinage by pre-industrial people. Gold artifacts in the Balkans appear from the 4th millennium BC.

The melting point for platinum is over 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sanat says,  "For the earth, ... gold is the sweet spot. It would come out no other way."

According to Wikipedia, "Gold has been widely used throughout the world as a vehicle for monetary exchange ... [but] pure gold is too soft for day-to-day monetary use and is typically hardened by alloying with copper, silver or other base metals. The gold content of alloys is measured in carats (k). Pure gold is designated as 24k. English gold coins intended for circulation from 1526 into the 1930s were typically a standard 22k alloy called crown gold."

Modern bullion coins used for investment are frequently pure gold. The popular Canadian Gold Maple Leaf coin has a purity of 99.99%.

Bottom Line

How rare is Gold? We see it everywhere as gold leaf, gold wire connections in computer chips, gold fillings, etc. There is an estimated 158,000 British tonnes of gold that has been excavated globally. This sounds like a lot but gold is very heavy,  a cubic meter of gold would weigh 19.3 tonnes. All the gold in the world would fit inside a cube 20.15 meters, or 66 feet 1.3 inches on each edge. Consider that the Washington Monument measures 55 feet by 55 feet at its base and is 555 feet tall (17 x 17 x 170 m). If you wanted to rebuild the Washington Monument in solid gold, all the gold known to man would only reach 1/3 the height of the monument.

Platinum is slightly more rare. All of the platinum in the entire world would easily fit inside the average home.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Natural Limit on Federal Revenue

It is a good thing that we do not get as much government as we pay for. - Will Rogers

A new graph is making the rounds on conservative sites showing that regardless of changes in the tax law, 

"From 1930 to 2010, tax revenue collection in the United States has never topped 20.9%, averaging 16.5% of GDP over these 80 years. ...
During the time period examined above, the rate of income taxation on the highest earning Americans has fluctuated drastically, from 25% of income in 1930 to 92% of income in the early 1950’s. Despite these vast differences in these top marginal rates, the total percentage of GDP that the federal government has collected in revenue has changed little."
Green line = tax revenue collected as % of total income
Politicians at all levels, city, state, federal, believe that deficits can be fixed by raising tax rates. But history shows that those individuals paying the most taxes find ways to shelter their earnings so total tax revenue rarely goes up and sometimes even falls. You may say, "well then, close the loopholes", but then new loopholes are found. Don't forget that most Congressmen and Senators are very rich and want loopholes for themselves. And in today's global economy, if US taxes become too high, it's not that difficult to move your business out of the country.

Analyst Veronique de Rugy, who created the graph above, says, "In recent years, spending, not revenues, has deviated from its historical path; spending must be addressed to rectify the budget."  A few weeks ago I mentioned the Wall Street Journal story,
A Sucker's Play -- Each $1 in Higher Taxes Results in $1.17 of New Spending. Estimated projections of new tax revenue results in politicians increasing spending even more - with disastrous results when these projections fall short of reality. In California, a recent report shows that cities and counties will have to pay 55% more to the state for at least 19 years to cover pension expenses; the tax revenue currently collected is far below expectations.

Bottom Line

With politics there is never a time to cut the budget. When times are good and revenue is high, money is allocated to higher civil servant salaries and pensions, and new programs are created for the poor and middle class. When times are poor, it is unthinkable to cut programs for the poor who are most in need (they need even more money!) and there is no way to cut back on civil salaries which are fixed by contract. Obama recently proposed a two year freeze on federal salaries and there were many objections from the left on how horrible this would be! A federal commission to reduce the deficit heard from many organizations - each said, "Yes the government spends too much and must cut back, but not with us, we are essential."a
Back in August I wrote about the Laffer Curve, the idea that beyond a certain point, higher taxes lead to greater tax evasion and the net result is less tax revenue collected. This has been observed in states like NJ and Maryland which raised taxes on the rich, only to have them leave the state, and the total tax collection fall. See Actions have consequences.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Out of Stock

"I foresaw that, in time, it would please God to supply me with bread. And yet here I was perplexed again, for I neither knew how to grind or make meal of my corn, or indeed how to clean it and part it; nor, if made into meal, how to make bread of it; and if how to make it, yet I knew not how to bake it. These things being added to my desire of having a good quantity for store, and to secure a constant supply, I resolved not to taste any of this crop but to preserve it all for seed against the next season; and in the meantime to employ all my study and hours of working to accomplish this great work of providing myself with corn and bread. It might be truly said, that now I worked for my bread. I believe few people have thought much upon the strange multitude of little things necessary in the providing, producing, curing, dressing, making, and finishing this one article of bread." - Daniel Defoe (1661–1731), Robinson Crusoe

There are many things we take for granted and rely upon and never dream could possibly fail us. For example, access to your money in the bank. Last month, one of Australia's largest banks, National Australia Bank, encountered a corrupted computer file that jammed its payment system, hitting customers from a range of banks who rely on the NAB to process payments including Citibank and HSBC. Anxious NAB customers discovered online that their November paycheck has been "rubbed out" and their account credited with nothing. "Property deals were being put on hold, car sales suspended, wages not transferred, and direct debit payments for mortgages and bills stopped"

Or consider the Robinson Crusoe quote at top. What if your regional grocery stores ran out of bread (and most everything else) for a week or more? The post, The Truth About Your Local Grocery Store, describes the Just in Time (JIT) inventory system and its impact during disasters. "Twenty or even ten years ago we stored tons of merchandise in the back room and restocked throughout the day." But now stores carry just enough stock to cover normal demands and rely on supply trucks
Most stores get 2 to 5 trucks a day of some type of food.  Thus the store you shop at each day/week really only has about 1-½ to 2 days worth of food on the shelf any given day during normal conditions.  If an emergency happens they will be cleaned out in a matter of hours.  Then the question becomes how they will restock.  Remember roads may be closed.  The warehouse workers who normally load the trucks may have situations where they don’t show up to work due to taking care of their own family.  The same would be true with the truck drivers who would bring it to the stores and the folks who stock and run the local store as well.
If an emergency affects only a very local area then stores may get back in stock within 2-3 days on basic supplies. However if a large region is impacted, such as half a state, then the regional warehouses run out fast and supplies must be trucked in from great distances. Roads between the store and the warehouses may be impassible or damaged. Connecting bridges may have to pass inspection and be cleared as safe before trucks are allowed to cross.

Bottom Line

Regional warehouses stock common items for normal usage levels. They do not have stockpiles of chainsaws, gas cans, and other speciality items that everyone will want after a disaster. Even common items like batteries or bottled water will see an explosion of demand over normal levels that warehouses can not meet. A store may look well stocked with 60 propane bottles for camp stoves on the self but consider, an ice store or blizzard is announced with power outages likely so customers rush in and want 2 bottles each. On average big box stores see 3,000 to 6,000 customers each day. So if just 10% of customers need propane, that means 300 to 600 people need 600 to 1200 bottles with just 60 in stock. Only the first 30 customers will be satisfied assuming there are no hoarders that buy up 10 bottles or the entire stock. Picture your worst experience shopping for Black Friday specials and now ramp that up since the items are now "essential" as opposed to nice-to-have.

Consider also, how will you pay for things if you can find them? The ATMs are down, credit cards won't work so it's cash or personal checks (if the store will accept checks). How much cash do you have on hand to buy things in an emergency? Keep small bills like ones, tens and twenties (not $100s).  When stores reopen they may not have access to change from a bank as they normally do and will be unable or unwilling to give change for $100s.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Last call for Christmas mailing!

“Let's be naughty and save Santa the trip.”
-Gary Allan
The Consumerist advises Beat These Deadlines To Ship Your Gifts On Time.

Here are the cutoff dates to mail or ship items for Christmas arrival...

Amazon — Free Super Saver Shipping deadline is Friday, Dec 17. Local Express Delivery for Amazon Prime users will be available up to Christmas Eve in some cities.

USPS — The deadline for First Class mail is Monday, Dec 20. More expensive options let you procrastinate until Dec. 22.

UPS — Ship by Dec. 21 to use 3-Day Select. You have until Dec. 23 to use UPS Next Day Air.

FedEx — FedEx offers same-day shipping Christmas Day, but the deadline for overnighting packages is Dec. 23.

DHL — The U.S. deadline is Monday, Dec 20.

Bottom Line

For the last minute shopper there are online gift cards. My sister in Winnipeg sent me an email with my Gift card number for Amazon. So much easier then trying to ship items from Canada to the US.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

30 Things I Wish I’d Done Before I Turned 30

“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, 'A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!'” - poet Robert Browning
There's a charming blog post on called 30 Things I Wish I’d Done Before I Turned 30.

There are traditional items ...
1. Gotten Pregnant
2. Traveled Europe
9. Hitched Myself

Some intellectual goals ...
5. Earned a Ph.D.
26. Read Moby Dick. Or War and Peace. Or Anna Karenina

Skills never learned...
11. Learned a Foreign Language
29. Learned How to Cook

Lost opportunities ...
19. Spent More Time with People Who Died
20. Attended More Weddings 25. Competed in the Olympics

Fun Things Never attempted...
7. Acted in a Movie
12. Dyed My Hair Some Insane Color
13. Gotten More Tattoos
24. Learned How to Surf

Health: Body and Soul...
10. Taken Better Care
14. Volunteered More
17. Ran a Marathon
18. Been More Spiritual
21. Gotten a Boob Job
23. Mastered Yoga

And Psychological Goals...
22. Figured Out Who I Was
27. Got Over Turning 30
28. Conquered My Fear of Heights
30. Stopped Making Lists

Bottom Line

What would your list include of things you didn't do when younger? Some thing are never too late to start like
16. Started My Own Small Business

I'll close with some lyrics from a favorite song - Both Sides Now

So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way
But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I've changed
Well something's lost, but something's gained
In living every day

I've looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Whooping Cough

"We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks nearer to the New; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough." - Henry David Thoreau
Many years ago my sister lived in Watertown, NY, on the north-western edge of the state near the Canadian border. I'm glad she's not living there now since this region is experiencing an epidemic of Whooping Cough with some 300 cases to date.

Whooping cough, formally called Pertussis, is a highly contagious bacterial disease that causes uncontrollable, violent coughing. It is spread through the air by tiny droplets when a patient coughs or sneezes. The coughing is extreme and can make it hard to breathe; often a deep "whooping" sound is heard when trying to take a breath. It is a serious disease and the infection usually lasts 6 weeks.

Pertussis used to kill 5,000 to 10,000 people (usually children & infants) in the United States each year. Now, a vaccine has reduced the annual number of deaths to less than 30. But today parents are skipping the vaccine and the disease is returning. In 2004 the number of whooping cough cases spiked past 25,000, the highest level it's been since the 1950s.

Whooping cough begins like the common cold about a week after exposure. But 10 to 12 days later the coughing fits begin, they can last for more than a minute, and the patient may turn red or purple from lack of air (the "whoop" is a desperate gasp to breath!) Vomiting may also result from a coughing fit. Fits usually occur in groups, with multiple episodes every hour around the clock.

These extreme symptoms can be fatal with infants who rarely "whoop". Instead they gasp for air with a reddened face and may actually stop breathing for a few seconds during particularly bad spells or they may choke on vomit.

Treatment - antibiotics such as erythromycin are effective if Whooping cough is caught early BEFORE the coughing begins, but when diagnosed too late, the antibiotics will reduce infectiousness but not the symptoms. Infants younger than 18 months need to be monitored to ensure breathing and may need to be hospitalized. Curiously, cough mixtures, expectorants, and suppressants are usually not helpful and should NOT be used. Most cough mixtures loosen the mucus in the lungs to encourage coughing - with whooping cough the patient is already coughing too much and too frequently so the last thing you want is more coughing.

During recovery, let your child rest in bed and use a cool-mist vaporizer to help soothe irritated lungs and breathing passages. Be sure to follow directions for keeping it clean and mold-free. In addition, keep your home free of irritants that can trigger coughing spells, such as aerosol sprays, tobacco smoke, and smoke from cooking, fireplaces, and wood-burning stoves.

Kids with whooping cough may vomit or not eat or drink much because of frequent coughing. So offer smaller, more frequent meals and encourage your child to drink lots of fluids. Watch for signs of dehydration, too, including thirst, irritability, restlessness, lethargy, sunken eyes, a dry mouth and tongue, dry skin, crying without tears, and fewer trips to the bathroom to urinate (or in infants, fewer wet diapers)

Bottom Line

During a pertussis outbreak, unimmunized children under age 7 should not attend school or public gatherings, and should be isolated from anyone known or suspected to be infected. This should last until 14 days after the last reported case. Remember that the first symptoms do not appear for a week to 10 days and two weeks for the severe coughing. In rare cases it can be 21 days from infection to symptoms. So people may be infected and not know it.

All children should be immunized before the sixth birthday and given a booster shot between ages 11-12.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Congressional Salaries

I have wondered at times what the Ten Commandments would have looked like if Moses had run them through the US Congress. - Ronald Reagan

Here is a scary story from, While Rome Burns, Congress Members Get Richer.
Between 2008 and 2008, the US House of Representatives gave itself a 19% pay raise from $645,503 to $765,010. The Senate? Just a modest 5% increase from $2.27 million to $2.38 million. Ouch who knew congress was paid so well? Are we getting our money's worth? Hiring professional consultants and small business CEO's would cost less.
"The [study by the Center for Responsive Politics] further shows that nearly half of all federal lawmakers—261—are millionaires, a financial distinction shared by only 1 percent of the general populace. Of those congressional millionaires, 55 have an average calculated wealth of $10 million or more, and 8 are in the exclusive $100 million-plus club.
Lest you think the inequity follows party lines, it is worth noting that the richest Congress member is a Republican, Rep. Darrell Issa of California, who in 2009 reported holdings in excess of $303.5 million. Next comes fellow Californian, Rep. Jane Harman, a Democrat, who reported $293.4 million. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) finishes in third place with a mere $238.8 million." -
The article goes on to point out that many members of congress own stocks in the companies they regulate and investigate (or pass laws favoring).

Bottom Line
"Benjamin Franklin, one of the greatest legislators in the nation’s history, believed that servants of the people in government should receive no fee or reward for their services above and beyond personal expenses. Maybe it’s time to follow that sage’s sage counsel." -


Friday, December 10, 2010


“I get mail; therefore I am.” - cartoonist Scott Adams
As you wrap up your Christmas gifts for shipping, consider this, "The overnight-shipping industry is a modern technological and logistical wonder, but it still can inflict medieval damage on parcels" Popular Mechanics put this to the test by shipping packages that included a device that measured acceleration, orientation and temperature for 74 hours. The parcel was shipped a dozen times using FedEx, UPS and the U.S. Postal Service who were unaware of the test. As a baseline, it was noted that a moderate jostle exerts 2 g's of force, while a 2.5-foot drop registers 6 g's; the latter was set as the limit for "rough treatment."

"After crunching the data and averaging the number of spikes recorded by each carrier on each trip, we found that the USPS has the gentlest touch, with a per-trip average of 0.5 acceleration spikes over 6 g's. FedEx and UPS logged an average of three and two big drops per trip, respectively. ... One disheartening result was that our package received more abuse when marked "Fragile" or "This Side Up." The carriers flipped the package more, and it registered above-average acceleration spikes during trips for which we requested careful treatment."

Bottom Line

When shipping place peanuts or other padding on ALL sides of the package. It can be dropped from any position. Do not mark the package Fragile or This End Up. This actually angers some carriers who take delight in giving such packages extra rough treatment.

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Accepting Responsibility

 - sign on the desk of U.S. President Harry S. Truman (1945)

I'll let a political cartoon by Michael Ramirez do all the talking today...

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mt Everest WiFi

Ncell, a subsidiary of Swedish TeliaSonera, has set up a high-speed cell tower at an altitude of 17,000 feet, about 3 miles high, near Gorakshep village at the base of Mt. Everest. Amazing that at three miles elevation Everest is only beginning. In comparison, Denver, CO, the mile-high city, has an altitude of (you guessed it) one mile. The peak of Everest is 29,000 feet, about 5.5 miles high, and reachable from the new cell tower so when you reach the summit you can now whip out your cell phone and call home, update your Facebook page, and check your email without the need of an expensive satellite phone.
Climbing to the top demands strength, whether it is to the top of Mount Everest or to the top of your career. - Abdul Kalam

Wikipedia has lots of great information on Mt. Everest. It's called the "tallest" mountain since its summit is the highest point on Earth above sea level. But there are other ways to measure height that give alternatives for the "tallest" mountain on Earth. Mauna Kea in Hawaii is tallest when measured from its base; it rises over 6.3 mi from the ocean floor but is only 13,796 ft above sea level. If instead you measure the distance from base to summit, which is the height you really see, Mount McKinley, in Alaska, is tallest. McKinley is "merely" 20,320 ft above sea  level but it has a very low base yielding a height above base of over three miles (Everest's peak is 2.5 miles above its base).

The summit of Chimborazo in Ecuador farther from the Earth's center than Everest because the Earth bulges at the Equator. However, Chimborazo attains a height of only 20,561 ft above sea level, and by this criterion it is not even the highest peak of the Andes.

Bottom Line

The world is getting smaller as technology makes all places reachable.

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Workplace Safety

"TEAMWORK, a lot of people doing things my way" - quote on an office coffee mug

Recently my workplace required that I complete three safety courses online. Here are some of the notes I took.

Slips, trips and falls are the second leading cause of injuries in America after motor vehicle accidents. Annually there are
  • 1 Million injuries
  • 11,000 deaths
  • 300,000 disabling worker injuries
  • 1,400 worker deaths
Injuries account for 15-20% of workman's compensation at a cost to employers of 10K and up.

Top reasons for slips, trips and falls: spilled liquids, loose floor mats, improper use of ladders, walking with a load that obstructs view.

A trip is called a same level fall. A fall from a ladder is an elevated level fall. Elevated level falls are less frequent but cause more damage.

Keep work areas neat  (no clutter on floor, clean spills, conceal power cords) and well lit.  Use proper equipment and follow good habits like learning to fall correctly (don't fall on head, better to land on your butt vs your back, don't try to stop fall with hands or elbows)

Back Injury:
  • affects 1 million workers and is the largest single contributor in injury cases and insurance claims.
  • 1 out of 5 workplace injuries are for back pain
  • 100 million workdays are lost annually
  • 8 out of 10 people in the US will go to doctor for back pain sometime in their life.
  • There is 80% chance of reinjury
Types of back injury include:
  • strain & fatigue
  • fractured vertebrae
  • spinal cord nerve injury
  • pressure on nerves
  • disc tear, fracture, or rupture
Signs of overexertion include spasms & pain. Stop what you're doing!
Improper lifting accounts for 90% of back injuries.
If injured, get into a comfortable position and apply ice. Get medical help ASAP.
Bottom Line
Accidents happen, even in offices. Each year there 300-400 deaths in offices.

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Monday, December 6, 2010


“Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field.” - President Dwight David Eisenhower

It's rare for a politician to admit he was wrong...

Gore: On second thought, I was just pandering to the farm vote on ethanol, from
“It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for (U.S.) first generation ethanol,” said Al Gore speaking at a green energy business conference. “First generation ethanol I think was a mistake. The energy conversion ratios are at best very small."
Worse, the ethanol subsidies have sparked a price war as we shove corn byproducts into our gas tanks.  Gore now admits that “the competition with food prices is real.” So why did he promote Ethanol while a Senator? "I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president.” This fondness for farmers and their votes cost the US almost $8 billion in subsidies last year.

According to a recent report by two professors, ethanol contains 76,000 BTUs per gallon, but producing that ethanol from corn takes 98,000 BTUs. So instead of saving energy, we lose energy by using ethanol. By comparison, a gallon of gasoline contains 116,000 BTUs per gallon but only costs 22,000 BTUs to drill the well, transport it, and refine it for a net energy gain.

You may have noticed in Gore's quote above, a mention of  "first generation ethanol." What's that? First generation means fuel from corn and was the first ethanol process to go into wide scale production. Gore is switching his support to 2nd generation ethanol that is made from wood, waste fibers, and grass so as not to drive up the price of food. That's great for food prices but still bad energy policy. Turning wood and grass into ethanol is less effective than corn so the country will lose even more energy.

Bottom Line

Don't forget that politics is rarely about the good of people. "Follow the money" as they say and see who is really profiting from new laws and polices.

BTW - I read a story recently that "Follow the money" was never said by Deepthroat to the two reporters covering the Watergate break in. The line was created for the movie, All the President's Men.

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Friday, December 3, 2010


“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” - Henry David Thoreau

The economy is in a funny state. Officially the inflation rate is very low. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says that consumer prices in August grew at an annual rate of just 1.1%. This consumer price index tracks the price for a basket of products from ...
  • FOOD AND BEVERAGES (breakfast cereal, milk, coffee, chicken, wine, full service meals, snacks)
  • HOUSING (rent of primary residence, owners' equivalent rent, fuel oil, bedroom furniture)
  • APPAREL (men's shirts and sweaters, women's dresses, jewelry)
  • TRANSPORTATION (new vehicles, airline fares, gasoline, motor vehicle insurance)
  • MEDICAL CARE (prescription drugs and medical supplies, physicians' services, eyeglasses and eye care, hospital services)
  • RECREATION (televisions, toys, pets and pet products, sports equipment, admissions);
  • EDUCATION AND COMMUNICATION (college tuition, postage, telephone services, computer software and accessories);
  • OTHER GOODS AND SERVICES (tobacco and smoking products, haircuts and other personal services, funeral expenses).
However while the overall consumer basket is price stable, some individual components, like food, are skyrocketing in price.

Bottom Line

While you can get great bargains on discretionary items like electronics and clothing, the essential items like food and gas are shooting up in price. Be prepared to pay more over the next year for the basics.

"On average, our basic food costs have increased by an incredible 48% over the last year (measured by wheat, corn, oats, and canola prices). From the price at the pump to heating your stove, energy costs are up 23% on average (heating oil, gasoline, natural gas). A little protein at dinner is now 39% higher (beef and pork), and your morning cup of coffee with a little sugar has risen by 36% since last October."  - the Casey Report

Food prices are rising faster than overall inflation. ...The U.S. Agricultural Department is predicting overall food inflation of about 2% to 3% next year.

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Winter checklist for your house

Ahhhh, it's a marshmallow world in the winter,
When the snow comes to cover the ground.
It's the time for play, it's a whipped cream day,
I wait for it the whole year round!
- lyrics from Marshmallow World recommends the following to prepare your house for winter.
  • Clear leaves from your property and gutters and roof
  • Remove piles of leaves, compost, & wood away from house (mice love to nest in debris)
  • Wash windows (you'll appreciate the extra sunlight in winter)
  • Turn off water to hoses and lawn sprinklers (turn off the water from inside the house)
  • Turn off power to outdoor compressor on your central AC
  • Cover outdoor furniture
  • Put away your grill (ours sits outside and rusts)
  • Test your snowblower before you need it
  • Update settings on your programmable thermostat
  • Have a pro service your home heating system
  • Replace furnace filters every month
  • Have your chimney inspected and cleaned
  • Check Fire and CO detectors and fire extinguishers. Smoke detectors should be replaced every 10 years and CO detectors every 5 years.
Bottom Line

I would add
* buy salt or ice melt.
* Check your snow shovels.
* Add mittens, hats and other cold weather gear to your car.
* Put a small shovel and kitty litter for traction in your car trunks.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christmas Trees

He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree. 
~Roy L. Smith
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum
Wie true sind deine Blätter
- German lyrics to O Christmas Tree, your leaves are so reliable.
Welcome to December and Merry Christmas! Locally we have a radio station that plays Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving. And I noticed the malls are playing Christmas songs and decorated for the holiday. So perhaps you're ready to buy a Christmas Tree? Here's some advice from

Buying a cut Christmas tree

  1. Choose the place you’re putting the tree and take some measurements: Height is obvious, but don’t forget the width of the doors you’ll be going through or the area of the room you’ll be putting your tree in. You’ll want to keep your tree as far away as possible from heat sources like vents, fireplaces, or radiators.
  2. The sooner you buy one, the better: Ask the dealer when their trees were cut: the fresher the better. Many people assume that getting a tree early is a bad idea, because it might wither and start shedding needles before New Year’s. While this seems logical, a cut Christmas tree is only going to last so long – it doesn’t care whether it’s sitting in a lot down the street or in your living room. In other words, once it’s cut, it’s cut, so put it in your home as soon as possible. Buying early also means a better selection.
  3. Do your own freshness test: There are several things you can do to test the freshness of a Christmas tree: First, grab a branch by the needles and pull it – the needles should stay on. Next, bend a branch and see if it’s supple: Ideally, it should bend without snapping. Finally, pick up the tree and drop it to see how many needles shake loose: the fewer the better.
  4. Inspect the base: Ever brought home that perfect tree, only to find that the base isn’t straight and the tree leans to one side? Me too. That’s why now I make sure the last foot of the trunk is totally straight.
  5. Look at it again before you bring it inside: Make sure there’s no insects or other unpleasantness hiding in the branches. Pick it up and drop it again.

Making your tree last

Properly cared for, your cut Christmas tree should last well over a month. Here’s what to do …
  1. When you buy your tree from the lot, they’ll cut an inch or so off the bottom – get the tree into water as soon as possible.
  2. When it comes to making a Christmas tree last, water isn’t the main thing: It’s the only thing. Use a stand that holds as much water as possible, then keep it filled at all times. If the bottom of the trunk is exposed to air, resin will form over it and it will no longer be able to absorb water: game over. Check the water supply every day without fail. To make your life easier, get a funnel, connect it to a short length of tubing that empties into the stand, and then hide it all in the branches when you’re not using it.
  3. You don’t need distilled or other specialty water, nor do you need chemical preservatives. Tap water is fine – just make sure the supply is sufficient.
  4. Remember that heat is not your friend – if your Christmas lights generate heat, use them sparingly and always turn them off at night. Miniature lights produce less heat than bigger ones.
Bottom Line

Keep your tree well watered and alive. A dry or dead tree is a fire hazard as discussed in my post, Christmas Trees = Fire Trap?  Don't miss the burning tree video at

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