Monday, January 31, 2011

First Aid Kit

Better a thousand times careful than once dead.
You never know when you are going to need First Aid. It could be paper cut, a bee sting, a trip and fall, etc. Business places must, by law, have a first aid kit. Ask to be taken to it if you need it. For your own sake you should keep a First Aid Kit in your house, cars, boat, purse, office, etc. I met one survival trainer who always wore a first aid kit in a fanny pack. He said that the first aid kit in your car won't help if you're alone and fall down a ledge while taking a photo and break your leg.

Now you could buy a kit, which is better than nothing, but it will be mostly a bunch of band-aids. Make your own kits with supplies from a Dollar store.

¨      First Aid Book!
¨      Adhesive bandages ("Band-Aids")
in a variety of sizes
¨      Sterile dressings (gauze) in rolls or large squares for big wounds
¨      Medical tape to attach the gauze
¨      Scissors to cut the tape & gauze
¨      Antibiotic ointment to prevent infection
¨      Antiseptic hand cleaner for your hands before and after doing first aid
¨      Wound cleansing agents: soap, antibiotic towelettes, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide 
¨      Anti-itch cream for insect bites and poison ivy
¨      Aloe or Burn Cream for sunburn
¨      Two pairs of sterile gloves for your protection when helping strangers
¨      Plastic bag to safely dispose of bloody items
¨      Tweezers for slivers or ticks (Don't tweeze bee stings, scrape them off.)
¨      Thermometer to check for fever
¨      Tube of petroleum jelly or other lubricant
¨      Nail clippers for hang nails and broken nails
¨      Non-prescription drugs:
o        Non-aspirin pain reliever (never use aspirin on children)
o        Chewable Aspirin for adults with heart attack symptoms
o        Anti-diarrhea medication
o        Antacid for upset stomachs
o        Laxative
o        Allergy medication
¨      Instant cold & heat packs for outdoor and traveling kits
¨      Emergency Chocolate

Bottom Line

For more ideas see

en español:


Friday, January 28, 2011

Corn Starch

“The Christian is like the ripening corn; the riper he grows the more lowly he bends his head”
- A. B. Guthrie, Jr.
Earlier this week I mentioned corn starch as a food storage item that won't go bad if kept dry and out of sunlight. Since I've never covered what to do with corn starch, here are some ideas:

Thicken gravy - This is the classic use that I'm aware of. Corn Starch has twice the thickening power of flour.

Help rubber gloves slip on easily - Sprinkle Corn Starch inside the gloves. (I once worked for a man who was an international rubber glove exporter.)

Kill cockroaches - Mix equal parts Corn Starch and plaster of Paris, then sprinkle the mixture in cracks and crevices. Cockroaches will eat the mixture and die.

Cure athlete's foot - Sprinkle Corn Starch on your feet and in your shoes to absorb moisture and reduce friction. (Not sure this is a "cure." But it could be preventative.)

Relieve sunburn pain - Add enough water to make a paste and apply directly to the burn.

Deodorize a carpet or stuffed toy - Sprinkle, wait thirty minutes, then vacuum.

Clean blood or grease stains - Immediately cover the spot with a paste made of Corn Starch and cold water. Rub gently then place in the sun until dry to draw the stain into the corn starch, then brush off. Repeat if necessary.

Substitute for baby powder and talcum powder - Corn starch is more absorbent than talcum powder.  Apply lightly since it does cake more readily.  To protect baby’s skin, add 1/4 cup Corn Starch for each gallon of bath water.

Shine your car - When buffing your car, sprinkle a tablespoon of Corn Starch on the wipe rag to remove excess polish easily. A Corn Starch paste can also polish furniture and Silver.

Shampoo your hair - Work Corn Starch into your hair, then brush out for a dry shampoo. Works on dogs, too.

Prevent or kill mildew in damp books - Sprinkle Corn Starch throughout the book to absorb the moisture from damp pages, wait several hours, then brush clean. If the pages are mildewed, brush the corn starch off outdoors to keep mildew spores out of the house.

Detangle knots - Sprinkle a stubborn knot with a little Corn Starch.

Prevent pastry dough from sticking to the cutting board and rolling pin - Sprinkle the cutting board and rolling pin with Corn Starch before rolling out the dough.

Soothe skin irritations - Apply a Corn Starch paste for hives, insect bites, poison ivy, etc.

Bottom Line

Corn Starch is much more than just a thickener.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Punctuation with Quotations

“Quotes are nothing but inspiration for the uninspired.”
-Richard Kemph
Recently I helped a friend's daughter proofread her English assignment. One mistake she made frequently was the placement (or lack thereof) of commas near quotation marks. Unfortunately the US follows horrible rules for punctuating quotations: all trailing marks go INSIDE the quote. Personally I think this corrupts the quote and the British agree. In England the final period goes outside the quote. But since I'm an American I should know and follow the American rules.

Aside: my wife enrolled in a British gemology course by correspondance. When she mailed in her assignments, they came back marked-up and graded down for not following the British rules of grammar and spelling (like colour). She quit the course.

Now back to the American rules. A great site is The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation. The author lists many rules with great examples. I'll summarize these and rules I've found elsewhere.

1. Periods and trailing commas always go inside quotation marks and single quotes
I added the word "trailing" to commas because we write:  He said, "Don't touch that!" instead of: He said ", Don't touch that!"  This rule puts the exclamation mark inside the quote above and the comma inside this quote: "I hate it when they grade me using British rules," she said.

There are some exceptions (see rule 2 for '?'.)
If the quoted item is a single letter or number, the period and commas go outside.

Look for the buried treasure where the map is marked with a large "X".

Her grade was an "F".

On this test, the highest score is a "1", not a "10".

2. Be logical with question marks and quotes.
This is the only time the US rules can be said to follow a "logic." If the quote is a question the '?' goes inside. He said, "Where am I?"
But if the quote is a statement and the sentence containing it is a question, then the '?' goes outside.
Did he actually say, "I am the walrus"?
If the quote AND the sentence are both questions, use only one '?' and put it inside the quote mark.
Are you sure he said, "Where am I?"

3. Capitalize the start of a direct quote, even in the middle of a sentence.
They said, "She said, 'He had to go.'" See how She and He are capitalized. Only the start of a quote is capitalized; for example "as" is lower cased in "I will in a minute," he replied, "as soon as I finish this chapter."

4. [Wikipedia Style Manual] If an entire sentence is quoted in such a way that it becomes a grammatical part of the larger sentence, the first letter loses its capitalization
It turned out to be true that "a penny saved is a penny earned."

5. Use single quotes when quoting a quote.
See the example in #3 above.

6. Offset direct quotes with commas
No one mentions this rule explicitly. Notice the commas in Gary says, "Pay attention." and "Grrr," said the monster.

There are special cases:

First, when the quote is not a direct quote we drop the quote marks and the comma. She said that she hates men.

Second, when a quote is introduced with 'that' the comma is omitted,  She said that "All men are pigs."

Third, consider this example from
"Diane, put the book down and go outside" was what her mother said, but what Diane heard was "Blah blah blah" or something even less meaningful.
I'd put a comma after "outside." The "blah blah" is not a direct quote, instead it's quoted for emphasis and not set off by commas.

Bottom Line

I tried to keep the rules few and simple but the English language is anything but simple. If you just remember that trailing punctuation goes INSIDE the quotes you'll be miles ahead of most people.  (And please don't pick on me when I don't follow this awful rule.)

According to cited above,
When type was handset, a period or comma outside of quotation marks at the end of a sentence tended to get knocked out of position, so the printers tucked the little devils inside the quotation marks to keep them safe and out of trouble.  But apparently only American printers were more attached to convenience than logic, since British printers continued to risk the misalignment of their periods and commas.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Long Lasting Foods

"Ah Sugar. Oh, Honey Honey" - lyrics from the Archies
I saw online a list of ten foods that would "never" go bad. Although the comments disputed the "never" claim (some items might degrade in a hundred years), still it's a good list for food storage essentials.

1. Vinegar -  useful for cooking, cleaning, and so much more. (see 1001 uses)

2. Salt - salt will last forever if kept dry, it's a water soluble rock

3. Hard Liquor - even if you don't drink, alcohol is useful for disinfecting, numbing pain, or for bartering with those who do drink

4. Cornstarch - not just for cooking. Also useful as a cleaner and deodorizer. Keep it dry.

5. Rice -  Long-grained white rice can last indefinitely if stored in a cool, dry place. “They’ve found rice in archaeological digs that you could cook normally,” says Greg Yielding, executive director of the Arkansas Rice Growers Association. Brown rice, which contains oil in its bran layer, can go rancid. It must be refrigerated and will only last three to six months.

6. Vanilla Extract - for flavor in baking

The remaining items are all sugars

7. Sugar - Colonial Americans and the New Amsterdam Dutch before them used sugar cones. Solid lumps of sugar from which they shaved off slices. So don't freak out if your sugar solidifies.

8. Corn Syrup
9. Maple Syrup  - syrup will break down if exposed to extreme heat or cold.

10. Honey - has health benefits in additional to being a sweetener. Honey will crystallize over time but you can "melt" it back to a liquid by warming it slowly.

Bottom Line

If you are making a food storage, here are a few ideas:

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What Broke People Say

“The art is not in making money, but in keeping it”
- Proverb has assembled a list of Things Broke People Say (that keep them broke). How many of these do you agree with?

1. If I earn interest, I have to pay more taxes.
2. There’s no shame in being poor, just in dressing poorly.
3. At my age, it’s too late anyway.
4. Why save money? You can’t take it with you when you die!
5. We’re only young once!
6. But it’s only zero percent interest!
7. I’ll pay it off next month!
8. Old cars just aren’t safe.
9. Whatever you want, dear.
10. I’ll start my budget next month.
11. It’s for the kids.
12. I work hard so I deserve to have it!
13. I’ll just keep paying the minimum payment.
14. My rich grandparents are going to die soon.
15. I want my kids to have it better than I did.
16. It’s cheaper to eat out than eat at home.
17. Always keep a house payment for tax purposes.
18. I’ll save next year when I’m making more money.
19. We’ll pay it off when the tax return comes in.
20. You have to leverage debt to become rich!
21. I need to invest in a car.
22. Why save? The Lord is coming back soon!
23. If I make more money, I will lose my food stamps!
24. If everybody got out of debt, the economy would collapse!
25. You’ll always have a car note.
26. Just put it on the card and we will worry about it when it comes in..
27. Being debt free isn’t for everyone.
28. It’s only money! We’ll make more.
29. I must be able to afford this (car, house, etc.) since I was approved for the loan.
30. I’ll just use a cash advance from my Mastercard to pay down my VISA.

Bottom Line

Poverty can be just rotten, dumb luck or a combination of misfortunes. But it can also be a lifestyle and self-destructive way of thought. Success eludes those who are not prepared for it.

"Fortune favors the prepared mind" -  Louis Pasteur

"There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries." - Brutus in William Shakespeare's Julius Cesar

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Hunger-Squashing Snack Foods

"The ants go marching two by two, hurrah, hurrah" - song lyrics
From 12 Hunger-Squashing Snacks at Women's Day Magazine.
1. Warm toasted nuts: try a spicy mix of pecans, almonds, peanuts, cashes with chili powder, black pepper, and a pinch of cayenne. Roast in a 400 degree F oven for 10 minutes.

2. Ants on a Log: Fill a celery stick with peanut butter and dot with raisins. [This is supposed to be a boy scout favorite but when we tried it many of the Cubs did not like peanut butter.]

3. Edamame: You can buy them frozen and ready to eat after warming them up in boiling water. Add flavor with sesame oil, red pepper flakes, and kosher salt.

4. Trail mix: This is my food of choice when driving long distance. We mix chex cereal with nuts, and dried fruit. We also add M&Ms which is fun but not so healthy.

5. Pita with Hummus: top with tomato, onion, and lettuce

6. Stuff cherry peppers or similar with a soft cheese like goat cheese or fresh mozzarella.

7. A breadless sandwich: they suggest a slice of meat (deli turkey) on a slice of Swiss cheese. Add hummus or guacamole for flavor then roll it up and enjoy.

8. Cheese Cubes - Skewer cubed mozzarella on toothpicks with pitted green olives and sundried tomatoes.

9. Popcorn: try adding grated Parmesan and chopped fresh rosemary for flavor instead of butter

10 Tuna: mix with salsa instead of mayo and serve on a healthy cracker

11. More popcorn: this time with melted butter, sugar and a teaspoon of cinnamon (this is healthy?)

12. An Elvis Special: toasted wheat bread with peanut butter and banana slices. Optional: a drizzle of honey.

Bottom Line

To this list I'd add apples and peanut butter. I slice the apple in half then use a melon baller to remove the seeds and create a hole. Fill the hole with peanut butter. Optional: top with raisins. For my wife her favorite snack food is the whites of hard boiled eggs.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Self Segregation

"If I have a cup of coffee that is too strong for me because it is too black, I weaken it by pouring cream into it."
- Malcolm X
Most humans are tribal animals. While some individuals are extroverts who love to mix and mingle, the majority of people form cliches and stay within their circle of friends. My wife and I observed this frequently in square dancing. When we visited another club, few of the natives wanted to dance with "the strangers". When we attended a square dancing weekend, dancers ate and danced with fellow members of their ownclub. One of the few times we saw true mixing was at a national convention where everyone was an outsider.

Cliches form on many levels. You may have your set of "church friends" or fellow parents of the same PTA at school. I also observed this while a graduate student at the University of Michigan. A dorm where I was a Resident Assistant had a "Black Pride Room".  I was suprised that there were students who wanted to be seperate, who endorsed (and wore T-shirts of) the Malcom X quote above that warns against mixing whites and blacks together. The university supported this self-seperation; one semester I taught a class called "Mathematics for Minority Engineers." This seemed to me, to be contrary to years of Integration efforts but the students liked it.

Bottom Line

Although people say they want to live in a color-blind world, in reality they tend to self-segregate. Look at this graph of census data from the NY Times,  Within NYC I was amazed at how solid the racial zones are for whites, hispanics and blacks. Some of the outlying cities like Newark are also uni-racial.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

What is Truth?

Pilate said to him, "What is truth?"
- John 18:38
Here is a clever quote that ties in with yesterday's topic of paradoxes vs knowing all things..

"There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.
There is another theory which states that this has already happened"

- Douglas Adam, Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Over 2000 years ago, the Greek philosopher Euclid proposed five laws (Axioms) that could be used to prove "all" of geometry.

  1. Any two points define a unique straight line
  2. A straight line can be extended infinitely far
  3. A center and a radius define a unique circle
  4. All right angles are equal to one anothe.
These first four laws are simple and "obviously" true. The fifth law is not so simple:

5. The parallel postulate: If a straight line crosses two other straight lines and makes the same interior angles on the two lines, then the two lines are parallel, meaning they will never cross if infinitely extended.

These five Axioms worked very well as the basis for all of anceint Geometry. But the fifth law bothered mideval mathematicians. It is so wordy and complex compared to the others. Could it be simplified? Not really. Is it necessary? Yes, if you want to prove anything interesting. Could it be proved from the first four laws. No.

One method of proof is called "Proof by Contradiction". Geometrists said, suppose law 5 is false and the two lines do meet. Does this result in something impossible or inconsistent? To their surprise, it was consistent and created a stranger and more bizzare universe of mathematics. Today we call this non-Euclidean Geometry. The easiest example is a sphere or globe. The equator crosses all longitude lines at right angles so longitudes are "parallel" but contrary to Axiom 5 they meet at the north and south poles.
Bottom Line

It turns out that the fifth law is only true on perfectly flat surfaces and is independent of the first four laws which are "universally" true. So if asked if the parallel postulate is "true" the answer is, "it depends". This is an instance of a statement which can be true or false - both modes describes a different reality, both cases equally "real".

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Quotations & Paradox

For over two years now I've started with (or used) a quote in every blog post. I think it adds some variety and it's fun searching for just the right quote. So this item on the Internet at Clayton Cramer's Blog struck my funny bone:

A Profound Thought

“The problem with Internet quotations is that many are not genuine.”  - Abraham Lincoln
For some reason this reminds me of the Liar's Paradox:
In ancient Greece the fictional speaker Epimenides, a Cretan, said that "All Cretans are liars." So is Epimenides telling the truth?

Wikipedia points out that this example is not really a paradox. It is only a contradiction if you assume Epimenides is honest. If Epimenides is liar, then his statement is false and somewhere there exists an honest Cretan, just not Epimenides himself.

Greek philosopher, Eubulides of Miletus, fourth century BC, discovered a real paradox,
A man says that he is lying. Is what he says true or false?
Is the man telling the truth about lying (and thereby is lying) or lying about lying (and thereby truthful)?

Statements like this are called self-referential and are the bane of mathematical logic. Another classic is, "A barber in town shaves every man who does not shave himself. So who shaves the barber?"

My speciality while working on a mathematics PhD was Set Theory. In the early days (pre-1900's) the definition of "set" was very loose and you could use any description to describe a set. But like the paradoxes above it was easy to describe impossible or at least very strange sets. Consider the set of all sets. This uber-set would have to contain itself as a member. This gives you an infinite recursion, S is an element of S which is an element of S which is ....

To avoid this pathological set we define X, the set of all sets which DO NOT contain themselves. So is X an element of X? Think about it for a bit and you'll see that X is a paradox, it can not exist.

Bottom Line

While this may look like fun and games, paradoxes like this changed math and science in the 20th century. At the dawn of 1900 it was believed that physical and mathematical sciences were on the verge of discovering the ultimate truths of the universe. But soon Einstein's Relativity and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle showed that some physical "facts" are relative to the observer or unknowable.  In mathematics in 1931, Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem showed that any system of logic which was strong enough to prove itself valid, would also contain statements like "This statement is false". Thus there could be no system of logic that could prove all statements. There will always be some things which are unknowable.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Debt Collectors

“Some debts are fun when you are acquiring them, but none are fun when you set about retiring them.” -Ogden Nash
Some debt collectors will do anything to collect from you including harassing your family, friends, coworkers, etc. But you have rights.

The Consumerist features several useful posts.

Let's begin with a sample letter that one should send immediately after first being contacted by a debt collector:

The letter asks for four things:
* (1) the amount of the debt;
* (2) the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed;
* (3) Provide a verification or copy of any judgment (if applicable);
* (4) Proof that you are licensed to collect debts in (your state)
The letter goes on to mention...
* because I have disputed this debt in writing within 30 days of receipt of your dunning notice, you must obtain verification of the debt or a copy of the judgment against me and mail these items to me at your expense;
* you cannot add interest or fees except those allowed by the original contract or state law.
* you do not have to respond to this dispute but if you do, any attempt to collect this debt without validating it, violates the FDCPA;
Should you pursue a judgment without validating this debt, I will inform the judge and request the case be dismissed based on your failure to comply with the FDCPA.
What is debt validation? The collection agency needs to prove that they own the debt. They can claim that the debt was sold to them but you have the right to ask them to prove it. Often the proof is flimsy or wrong. There are many stories now of mortgage factories signing fraudulent papers assigning mortgage debt for illegal foreclosings.  The Consumerist recently featured a story of a of a collection agency forging the signature of a dead woman thousands of times to establish validation of ownership.

Another debt right to be aware of is the Statute of Limitations. A company can not appear out of the blue and say you failed to pay a debt from 20 years ago.  Well actually they can (and will) say it, but will very likely lose in court if you challenge them. Each state has its own limit on when debts expire. See for details.

Bottom Line

Search the Internet to know your rights. Read the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act at

But if legal language makes your head spin, the FDCPA is explained here,
and here
and here

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Monday, January 17, 2011

The Return of Flu Season

“I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”
- Winston Churchill
From the British Telegraph, "The hospitals are gridlocked.” Winter flu is overwhelming hospitals in England. Four weeks of intense pressures from flu have left casualty departments (i.e. emergency rooms) “overwhelmed” with patients.  Desperately sick people have been left for hours waiting on trolleys.
"Dozens of NHS [National Health Service] units have cancelled surgery and clinics for outpatients. At least 10 major centres issued “black alerts” — the highest emergency warning — meaning they were at breaking point, forcing patients to be sent elsewhere.
Scores of hospital wards closed due to norovirus, the winter vomiting bug, which put more than 1,200 beds out of use in one week as nurses attempted to isolate the disease. "
Part of the problem is that people have no place to go after hours and on weekends.
"In many parts of the country out-of-hours services are absolutely inadequate, so what we get is people turning up at A&E [Emergency Rooms] simply because they do not know where else to go"
Bottom Line

Be prepared for a very bad flu season. In England the number of deaths from flu had almost doubled.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

The Return of Duck and Cover

“If you asked me to name the three scariest threats facing the human race, I would give the same answer that most people would: nuclear war, global warming and [Microsoft] Windows.”
- comedian Dave Barry
Last month the New York Times published a Science article on the US strategy for surviving a nuclear attack.
Suppose the unthinkable happened, and terrorists struck New York or another big city with an atom bomb. What should people there do? The government has a surprising new message: Do not flee. Get inside any stable building and don’t come out till officials say it’s safe.
What amazes me is that a NYT science writer should consider this "surprising" and "new". There is no mention in the article of the Duck and Cover campaign of the 1950's where school children (and adults) were taught to get under cover immediately. Fortunately the layout editors have longer memories. The media accompanying the story include a 1950's photo of office workers heading for a basement shelter, a family in the 1960's running to there backyard fallout shelter, and a graphic that is labeled "Duck and Cover".
The advice is based on recent scientific analyses showing that a nuclear attack is much more survivable if you immediately shield yourself from the lethal radiation that follows a blast, a simple tactic seen as saving hundreds of thousands of lives. Even staying in a car, the studies show, would reduce casualties by more than 50 percent; hunkering down in a basement would be better by far.
Again this is old news. There are many ways to die in a nuclear blast and sheltering helps protect against each:
- Poisoned by Radiation
- Burned by the Heat Flash
- Pierced by shrapnel in the explosive wind of the blast
- Struck by falling objects as buildings collapse

A serious but non-lethal danger is blindness - DO NOT look at the blast!
Administration officials argue that the cold war created an unrealistic sense of fatalism about a terrorist nuclear attack. “It’s more survivable than most people think,” said an official deeply involved in the planning, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The key is avoiding nuclear fallout.”
The important thing is to be informed and not panic. The Instapundit notes that, "Even back in the 1960s there were Civil Defense debates on whether [or not] to give warning in case of an attack, based on studies that showed more people would be sheltered by where they happened to be than would benefit from a warning, since many people would immediately either try to flee, or to return to their homes, winding up in more exposed positions when the bomb went off."

Bottom Line

Again from the Instapundit, "I find that my law students — effectively post-Cold War generation — know next to nothing about nuclear weapons, fallout, and basic civil-defense stuff that most people knew back when I was a kid. So education is warranted."

Here's a 2 page summary by Homeland Security, Planning for a Nuclear Detonation

And a new 135 page report called Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Golden Rules for Scam Prevention

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.
- Abraham Lincoln (attributed)
Most of us want to trust people so it's not so hard to be fooled by a scammer. Here are The 10 Golden Rules of Scam Prevention from

Rule Number 1: Don't Trust the Testimonials of Stranger
The only testimonial worth believing comes from people you both personally know and totally trust. The testimonials you see from strangers on TV or in online reviews may be lies or paid for. Ignore all testimonials in ads, websites, and infomercials.

Rule Number 2: “Documented proof” is not proof
Anyone willing to rip you off can create fake checks, letters, or anything else to back up their claim. And even if they have valid proof of past success, that is no promise of future success.
- Markets are cyclical so last year's top performing stock may be this year's biggest loser.
- Don't forget that Ponzi schemes and Pyramid Marketing pay off the early contributors to lure in a larger number of fish. 
- Ads often cite the most extreme success stories - not everyone will lose 100 pounds on this diet.

Rule Number 3: Guarantees are only as good as the company behind them
A common scam is that the results are “guaranteed, or your money back!!!” But what if the company refuses to honor the guarantee? Are you prepared to take them to court? Many fraudulent companies use post office boxes so they cannot be located by courts of law. Or they may flee the country or change the company name to hide from lawsuits.

Rule Number 4: It’s not fine to ignore the fine print
Virtually every deal that goes bad is the result of people listening to the sales pitch without reading the fine print in the contract. It is your responsibility to know that your mortgage payment will go up after three years, or that your credit card interest will jump from 9 percent to 29 percent if you miss a payment or that mutual funds are risky. If you don’t understand the fine print, ask a friend to explain it to you.

Rule Number 5: Haste makes waste
The only people who can wisely make snap decisions regarding a purchase are those who are experts at what they’re buying and make such decisions frequently. For everyone else, take your time when buying a house, a car, stocks, getting married, etc. The bigger the cost, the more time you need to examine it. An offer that is "too good" to wait for will usually leave you burned.

Rule Number 6: Use the Internet to Verify Claims
Consider this scam, an ad asks for $400 to help you get a government grant for your small business. If you go to the Internet and type “government grants for small business” into Google or other search engine, you'll quickly find a government website which says that the federal government does not provide grants for starting and expanding a business. So the ad was a rip-off. The Internet can also expose frauds where the information is free online that someone is offering to sell to you.

Rule Number 7: Check Online for Fraud
Use a search engine to search for a company or product and add the words “review” and “ripoff.” You will be directed to sites that specialize in consumer reviews. This is a twist on rule #1 about strangers. Never trust product endorsements from strangers, but if many strangers call a product a fraud you ought to listen carefully. Do they have an axe to grind or is there a real problem?

Rule Number 8: Use the help you’ve already paid for
Your tax dollars fund agencies, like the Federal Trade Commission, that publish advice on how to avoid rip-offs.

Rule Number 9: Getting something free? You might be the product, not the customer.
Most free content is paid for by advertising that is trying to catch your eye or ear. Other sites survive by collecting and selling information about your and your online habits. Consider the motivation of those offering free content and how they are using you.

Rule Number 10: If it sounds too good to be true…
"The best way to avoid getting ripped off is to simply ignore people and companies who promise simple solutions to complex problems. They don’t exist. Nobody is going to show you how to buy a house for $398, nobody is going to provide a consistent 12 percent return without risk, and nobody knows how to make big bucks with little effort at home in their spare time. Think about it: If these claims were true, why would the people making them share that information with you?"

Bottom Line
You don’t have to remember all the above rules to protect yourself from con artists. Just following a few will help. Imagine a product without the money-back guarantee and the testimonials. Would you still buy it?


The Consumerist has this quote by an author on Amazon,
I've purchased my own book, Wealth Hazards, close to 200 times now. I wrote 42 customer reviews and voted on them 108 times. Not once was a review or vote rejected by Amazon. It took about 45 days to move the book up to #1, but after it got there I didn't feel it was appropriate to promote it - so I have not profited from it. I continue to buy 2 or 3 copies a day, write reviews and vote on the reviews and wait for Amazon to notice. They haven't.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Cord of Wood

"It was a cord of maple, cut and split
And piled- and measured, four by four by eight.
And not another like it could I see.
No runner tracks in this year's snow looped near it.
And it was older sure than this year's cutting,
Or even last year's or the year's before."
-The Wood-Pile by Robert Frost

If you burn wood to keep warm in the winter, heed the advice from Comsumerist with
Measure Your Firewood Before You Pay For It
Unless you have a scale that can accurately weigh several hundred pounds of wood, never buy your firewood by the ton or the "truckload." In many states, unpackaged firewood must be sold by the cord
.A Cord of wood is 128 cubic feet. For example a wood pile 8 ft by 4 ft by 4 ft = 8*4*4 = 128 cubic feet.
Be sure to measure the height, length and depth of the stack. If multiplying the three measurements together doesn't equal 128 cubic feet, it's not a cord.
And make sure the wood is properly stacked like a box of matchsticks.
The pieces should be stacked neatly with individual pieces touching and parallel to each other. If it looks like a Jenga game or a log cabin, it's time to re-stack. [or find another seller.]
Bottom Line
For your protection, you should always be sure to get a receipt. In some municipalities, sellers of firewood are required by law to provide customers with detailed receipts of firewood sales.

The Weights and Measures Division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology has a handy PDF you might want to read before investing all the time and money in that stack of firewood.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Cooking Secrets

“What my mother believed about cooking is that if you worked hard and prospered, someone else would do it for you.”
- Nora Ephron
Men’s Health magazine has 30 Top Chef Secrets:

30. Bake your Bacon at 375°F for 12 to 15 minutes for perfect crispness
29. Keep a cutting board from slipping by placing a moist towel under it
27. Know when to add salt. If you salt vegetables early, the water is drawn out and they steam instead of brown. Add salt at the end of cooking.
26. Steaks and chops are easier to cook evenly when the center is warmed up beforehand. They suggest placing meat in a sealed bag in lukewarm water for 30-60 minutes before cooking.
25. Restore limp vegetables with an ice water bath
24. Brighten the flavor of seafood and salads with a misting of sherry or rice vinegar from a spray bottle
23. Cut awkward-to-slice vegetables—such as mushrooms, carrots, and peppers—by first cleaving them in half. Then rest the flat parts on the cutting board.
22. If meat is overcooked, slice it thinly, and cover with a dash of oil and an acidic sauce like tomatoes, fresh lime juice, or a few spoonful’s of vinaigrette. The acid and oil will restore moisture and fat to the mistreated meat.
21. Serve hot food on warm plates - heat dishes at 150°F for 10 minutes before plating. Server cold food on cold plates - lightly chill plates in a freezer to boost the crispness of summer salads.
19. Always cook fish with the skin side down for the first 75 percent of the cooking time (about 5 minutes), and then flip it briefly to the flesh side to finish.
17. Pat meat and fish dry before cooking
16. Wednesday is the least busy day at grocery stores.
14. Dense meats like steak, pork, or chicken legs can burn on the outside before they're fully cooked through. Insert a clean stainless-steel rod or nail into the thickest part of meats to help cook the insides.
13. Try pan roasting foods. Sear one side of meat in a hot pan, then flip and place the pan in an oven to roast at 400°F
12. Zap lemons, limes, or oranges for 15 seconds in the microwave before squeezing them to get more juice.
10. Don’t use Teflon coated pans with high heat. This will destroy the pan.
9. Try cooking with a 50:50 mixture of butter and olive oil. This gives the flavor of butter with the higher heat tolerance of oil.
8. Never refrigerate tomatoes, peaches, potatoes, onions, bread, and garlic.
7. After cooking pasta add the starchy water to the sauce to help it adhere to the pasta, and create a creamier, more flavorful final product.
5. Let the meat rest after cooking: Wait 5 minutes before biting into burgers or grilled chicken, 7 minutes before cutting into steaks, and at least 15 minutes before carving a turkey or a larger roast.
3. Don't overcrowd the pan: ingredient overload makes a pan's temperature plummet, and foods end up steaming rather than caramelizing
2. Too much salt? Use a splash of vinegar to counterbalance.
1. Don’t use a salt shaker. Pinch kosher salt straight from a dish. The coarse grains and the touch of your fingers give you maximum control.

Bottom Line

Cooking is both Art and Science. It helps to know the science basics about salt, heat, caramelization, etc and have a flair for creative mixing of flavors.


Interesting date today  1/11/11. 
Veteran's Day will be numerically interesting this year with 11/11/11.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

The Universe is HUGE

When you are put into the Vortex you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little mark, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says, "You are here." - The Total Perspective Vortex from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Click for larger image
The image above might look like the night sky but it's much, much bigger. The 250 billion stars of our Milky Way Galaxy fall along the blue fuzzy bar in this computer plot. The white dots in this image are not stars, they are galaxies. Each of the 1.6 million white dots represents a known galaxy, each with hundreds of billions of stars. The total number of stars visible to us exceed 70 sextillion (7 x 10²² ).

Bottom Line

For me it is hard to see a picture like this and assume that we are alone. That all this exists and we are the only life amongst 70 sextillion stars?

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Friday, January 7, 2011

Automated Phone Systems

"Ring, ring, why don't you give me a call" - ABBA
Automated Calling Systems can be a pain when it's a sales call at dinner or a "vote for me" pitch from a politician. But they can also be very useful when your school or sports team calls to tell you about a cancellation or delay.

Last year when my wife and I were asked to serve as Emergency Preparedness Directors over eight church units one of the first things I did was replace the emergency phone system we used. Almost no one ever used the old system to call members for cancellations during weather emergencies - it was just too complicated and not well suited for weekend meetings.

I chose a company called Call-Em-All. They were not the cheapest but fit our needs quite well.

1. You want to pick a company whose calling center is far away and on a different electrical grid. That way if your region loses power, you can still make emergency calls.

2. Also make sure the calling center has emergency back-up power generators so they work when they lose power.

3. Our old phone system was business centric and kept business hours. For emergency alerts you want 24/7 access.

4. If you make frequent use of the phone list, consider a monthly fee plan with "unlimited" calls. In our case calls are rare so I picked pre-paid credits that do not expire. The cost is 7 to 10 cents per 30 seconds per call. 

5. With our old system you had to use the Internet to upload a phone list and create the phone message for each call. That just won't do when the power is out. Now we have the ability to store phone lists permanently online. Press 1 for everyone, Press 2 for Leaders, Press 3 for Unit #1, etc. I can select a calling list, record a message, and send it - all from a cell phone. We made wallet sized cards that we gave to all church leaders on how to send messages via phone. It was used just the other day during a blizzard on a Sunday.

6. You also want a company that keeps good records of calls sent. Who was called, who was missed? The company I use keeps a copy of the voice message online. This was very helpful when I was asked to supply the text for a phone call sent to all members during a Hurricane Watch. I looked up the call report and just kept replaying the 30 second message until I had dictated the it correctly.

Bottom Line

If you manage a group or team, consider subscribing to a phone system. It can be a real time saver when you need to get a message out to everyone and the cost is quite reasonable.

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Bane of Efficiency

"With twelve kids, one would think that there was always chaos, but Dad was an efficiency expert and used all of his methods from work at home during family life. One of the things he did was call family assemblies by blowing a whistle, everyone had to stop what they were doing and come immediately.  "
- Cheaper by the Dozen
A very common New Year's resolution is better fitness and health with more exercise. I was reminded today that an enemy to exercise is efficiency. In olden days most people had physically demanding jobs but today technology makes everything "Less Labor Intensive". Why beat a rug when a Roombot can vacuum for you? Or lead a mule on a plow when you can sit in an air conditioned tractor?

The need for speed and efficiency affects all aspects of our daily life. An old friend from college was amazed to watch drivers searching for the closest spot to park next to the fitness club. Are they afraid of working up a sweat before exercising? My wife had a similar complaint when she used a fitness club for physical therapy, all the therapy spots near the door were filled by healthy fitness patrons who did not want to walk.

I find that instead of making two trips to the basement or kitchen, I'll load up way too much to carry for a single trip. Ditto for carrying groceries from the car to the house. Or at work juggling food and drink back to my cube from the office kitchen instead of walking twice. There are co-workers with giant water bottles so they don't have to revisit the kitchen to refill during the day. Or a giant, all-day, mug of coffee from Duncan Donuts.

Bottom Line

As Michael Jackson says in Billie Jean, "(Do think twice) Do think twice".  Make that second trip. Walk more. Dare to park far away.

And in addition to doing things twice, consider also doing things in halves. That is, eating half-sized portions. I read of a very simple diet where you eat half of your "normal" sized serving and save the 2nd half for another meal. Definitely a good idea at restaurants; they serve way too much food. If you drink a huge soft drink and eat a giant hamburger with an extra large fries, it may contain as many as 2,000 calories in one sitting - more calories them most people need to eat in a single day. Those little hamburgers that now sell for $1 - $1.25 were the original size when "fast food" service began in the 40's. But then came the double burger, the triple, the quarter-pounder, the third of a pounder, etc, along with ever growing sizes of fries and drinks.

And eating half-sizes is not a bad idea at home since our idea of portion size has grown to match the restaurants. A co-worker of mine doesn't just eat the HungryMan, extra-large sized microwave meal, he eats two of them every day for lunch. For more on portion sizes, see my post at

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Boxing Day Blizzard

Oh, the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful,
And since we've no place to go,
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.
- lyrics to Let it Snow
In New York City, there has been a lot of buzz over the Boxing Day Blizzard that dumped two feet of snow on NYC and 3 feet in New Jersey (we got 10 inches in northern Westchester). Some residential roads were not plowed for three days and residents are angry. Ambulances became stuck and could not reach those who needed rescue. 911 was backed up to over a 1000 calls and had to triage by treating the most serious first and letting others wait. One woman with a broken ankle had to wait 30 hours for an EMT. Was it a work slowdown as some claim or ineptitude or just too much snow for the size of the work force? (this was the 6th largest snow storm in NYC history). The question is being investigated.

Even under the best of conditions, snow removal takes time. There are primary roads that get plowed first and often. Then secondary residential roads through neighbourhoods and finally tertiary roads like courts, dead ends, alleys, etc. The road our driveway connects to is tertiary - we know it will be plowed last.

The says this about the event...
The recent blizzard has shown once again the importance of having at least a basic short-term food store. Intentional slowdown or otherwise, people found themselves trapped in their home or apartment unable to go out for sustenance. Even if not technically trapped, many were in a position where they did not want to be forced out to face the elements or on to the dangerous roads.
The importance of having enough to eat and drink for a few days is matched by the ease of preparation. On your next trip to the supermarket, buy a few bags of beef-jerky, a jar of honey, and a mini-keg of beer and/or a few gallons of water. When you get home, put them away together in a cool dark place. That’s it.
Bottom Line

Again from the BermanPost,
Keep in mind these few basic requirements; the food should be ready to eat (no need to microwave or cook), it must have a long shelf life (do not want to open up the cabinet with your emergency food to find it expired or spoiled), and it must be sufficiently nutritious to sustain you over those few days.

You should make it one of your New Years resolutions to be prepared. Part of being prepared for any emergency is making sure have food/water to eat/drink and are not forced to take unnecessary risks to acquire them.

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Overused Resume Words

"I do not believe we can repair the basic fabric of society until people who are willing to work have work.  Work organizes life.  It gives structure and discipline to life." ~Bill Clinton
If you are looking for a new job this new year, you might want to improve your resume by pulling out buzzwords that have lost their punch. The job hunting social network,, looked at the 85 million resumes of its members and discovered the top ten phrases that are the most used in America.

1. Extensive experience
2. Innovative
3. Motivated
4. Results-oriented
5. Dynamic
6. Proven track record
7. Team player
8. Fast-paced
9. Problem solver
10. Entrepreneurial

Bottom Line

If you use any of these phrases, find a substitute. Please send me suggestions. I use several of these cliches myself.

And check out Most (all?) of my interviews came through applications via LinkedIn. I got nothing from resumes sent to companies online or in answer to want ads.

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Monday, January 3, 2011

The Great Recession, 2008 - ???

"So, for example, the country was into recession right after I was sworn in, a dot-com bust had taken place. Then the attacks of September the 11th, and then of course the great financial meltdown - the fundamental question facing any presidency is how do you deal with the hand you're dealt?"
George W. Bush

May we all be dealt a better hand in 2011. In 2010 we may have reached the bottom of the Great Recession but we are still in for a long recovery period.

click to enlarge

This graph from CalculatedRisk shows the percent of jobs lost in each recession since 1948, relative to the peak of the pre-recession job market. In terms of the percent of jobs lost, the current recession is by far the worst we’ve seen since World War II.

I have a friend who is an economics professor. He said the Gross National Product (GNP) is nearly back to a pre-recession level. This means most companies have succeeded in restoring revenue without hiring back employees fired or laid off. It's called a jobless recovery.

Bottom Line

From the graph above, it looks like only the 2001 recession has lasted as long as the current one, but the impact on employment was much less then. There are many articles online stating that current government policy during this recession, from health care, to tax law, to environment regulations have discouraged corporate growth and new hiring.

So what about the Trillion dollar stimulus package? Did it help create jobs? Counting back from November 2010 in the graph to January of 2009 when Obama began his office as President, the red line was just crossing 2% line. It fell an additional 4% over the past two years despite the Stimulus. The brief upwards dip in the graph last year came for hirings for the 2010 census. So there is no evidence that the Stimulus helped at all.

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