Monday, February 28, 2011

Trail Mix

"Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't."
- Almond Joy candy bar ad

As a Cub Scout Leader, an article with the title, "Create the Perfect Trail Mix", naturally caught my attention. It begins with an emphasis on nuts,
"Here’s the truth about the fat found in almonds, walnuts, pecans, and other nuts: It’s as healthy—or healthier—than anything else in your diet. It fills your belly better than any other snack on the planet while decreasing your risks of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, smoothing your skin, pumping you full of antioxidants, and helping you stay thin."
Then a simple recipe:

 Choose a Nut (1 cup)
 Choose a Seed (1/2 cup)
 Choose an Extra Crunch (1 cup)
 Choose a Sweetener (1-2 cups)
 Mix It Up

Nuts to consider: Almonds, Brazil nuts, Macadamias, Peanuts, Pecans, Pistachios, or Walnuts.

Seeds: Sunflower, Pumpkin, Hemp(?!), Sesame, and Chia. (What's a Chia?). Sesame and Hemp seeds are both small and will slip through fingers. Use them only in mixes intended as a sprinkle atop yogurt or cereal.

Crunch: Hard cereals like Fiber One, Grape-Nuts, Cheerios, or Kix; Soy nuts, Wasabi peas, Pretzel bits, Sesame sticks

Sweetener: Dark chocolate chips or dried fruit like raisins, apricots, blueberries, cranberries, goji berries, cherries, banana chips.  (We use Peanut M&Ms)

Bottom Line

Experiment with the ratios in the recipe. Personally I'd use less sweet and more crunch. Also watch out for the moisture in your dried fruit. Combine dried apricots with a cereal like Chex and the cereal will go stale in a few days.
And remember that trail mix is not just for hiking. We always make a trail mix for long driving trips.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Food Prices Rising

Grocery prices "have risen significantly over the past year or so."
Sarah Palin, Sunday, November 7th, 2010

When Sarah Palin made the statement above last November, she was derided by an economics blogger at the Wall Street Journal who said she was clearly wrong because governement statistics for 2010 showed little change in the consumer price index. She countered with "That's odd, because just last Thursday, November 4, I read an article in Mr. Reddy's own Wall Street Journal titled 'Food Sellers Grit Teeth, Raise Prices: Packagers and Supermarkets Pressured to Pass Along Rising Costs, Even as Consumers Pinch Pennies.'"  Blogger Reddy countered with yet more government statistics. For a detailed account see which credits both sides and gives Palin a "Barely True" rating since "risen significantly" was more perceptual than factual last November.

What a difference a few months make. Every few days I see stories of rising food prices and dangers of global food shortages. If Palin had simply said, "Prices are begining to rise," she would have been spot on. Saddly the media is way too eager to examine every word Palin says with a microscope to find mistakes instead of looking at the intent behind the words. The quote above was part of a speech urging the Treasury Department NOT to encourage inflation. Inflation is good for national debt as it decreases the value of the debt. But inflation is not good for families and Palin was pointing to rising food prices as an example. Was this a good example? Not really. The price of some food was impacted by the price of oil and by crop shortages, but not by inflation. This is what an intelligent and thinking media should have pointed out instead of using the CPI to claim prices were not rising at all.

Can we trust the government's Consumer Price Index? The answer may be no in the UK (Official statistics hide true increase in cost of living). The US CPI may be equally misleading. U.S. Economy: Consumer Prices Rise More Than Forecast.  Just look at recent headlines.

"Kraft says more price increases ahead, Kraft's 4Q price increases weren't enough"
 Kraft is feeling the pinch from higher costs for wheat, corn, sugar and other commodities.

World Bank: Food prices at "dangerous levels"
Global food prices have hit "dangerous levels" that could contribute to political instability, push millions of people into poverty and raise the cost of groceries, according to a new report from the World Bank.

U.N. Food Agency Issues Warning on China Drought
A severe drought was threatening the wheat crop in China, the world’s largest wheat producer.

AP Video on rising food prices:

Bottom Line

I expect food prices to continue to rise. Just about everything affects the price of food - bad weather, rising oil prices, government monetary policy, national debt, global population growth, etc. It would be wonderful to have a 2nd green revolution where science saves the day and creates cheaper food but don't count on it. Modern advances with genetically modified food are called "Frakenfood" and shunned by the public.

Stock up on affordable items and take advantage of sales and discounts. Food storage is a hedge against inflation. 

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Thursday, February 24, 2011


Astronauts talking from the movie Deep Impact...
Mark: How do we set the nukes inside the comet and get out before they blow?
Orin Monash: We don't.
Andrea: Look on the bright side. We'll all have high schools named after us.
One of the open questions in science is, "Where are all the aliens?"  Given the immense number of stars and all the planets we are busily detecting, it just does not make sense that we are alone. There are four popular theories that I know of:

1. Stay hidden or else the militaristic aliens will get you
2. Intelligent machines eventually take over each planet
3. Periodic supernova sterilize regions of galaxies
4. Civilization is wiped out by a meteor impact

We know that Earth has been hit by meteors in the past - some of them were pretty big as in Arizona and the Yucatan. NASA takes seriously the chance that it will happen again by tracking the path of all known asteroids.

Presently all eyes are on asteroid, Apophis. In 2004, NASA scientists announced that Apophis, an asteroid larger than two football fields, could possibly smash into Earth in 2029. After taking more measurements, NASA decided that Apophis will pass by the Earth on April 13, 2029 at a distance of five earth widths. Very close! The moon is about 30 earth widths away.

This year Russian scientists have predicted that the 2029 fly-by will alter the orbit of Apophis in such a way that it will collide with Earth in 2036. NASA is not convinced. They put the odds of this happening at 1 in 250,000. About the same odds as a person being hit by lightening in a given year. (Though I have seen various odds for lightening 1/250K, 1/500K, 1/750K per year per person.)

Bottom Line

You can bet that when Apophis makes its next fly-by in late 2012 it will be extensively observed with ground-based telescopes and radars. If improved calculations put it on a destructive path, NASA will have 24 years to find a way to alter the asteroid’s orbit. Unlike the movies, blowing it up with nuclear bombs is not a good solution - this just changes the impact from one big rock to many smaller rocks. The best hope is to nudge it or push it into a safe orbit.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Are Health-Care Waivers Unconstitutional?

"The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don't want, drink what you don't like, and do what you'd rather not."
-Mark Twain
Philip Hamburger, a Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, has posted an intriguing article entitled, Are Health-Care Waivers Unconstitutional? He points out that there has been much debate over the constitutionality of ObamaCare, up to and including a Florida Judge voiding the law. But no one is questioning the legality of the 733 waivers given to unions, hospitals, and insurance companies. The political ethics of the waivers has been questioned but not their constitutionality.

Think about what a waiver means. The Executive branch of government, in the person of the President, is granting favored individuals or corporations exemption from a law. This undermines the United States as a nation where all are "equal" under the Law. Professor Hamburger notes that Congress may pass unequal laws, laws that tax some companies but not others, but once a Bill becomes Law it is binding upon everyone described by the bill.

Under our constitution a law may be voided in two ways, the Supreme Court may overturn it or the Congress may pass a new law replacing or voiding the an old law. But can a President refuse to enforce a law? has a post on the topic, Obligation Of The President To Enforce Laws Believed By Him To Be Unconstitutional, which makes this point,
The President is an agent selected by the people, for the express purpose of seeing that the laws of the land are executed. If, upon his own judgment, he refuse to execute a law and thus nullifies it, he is arrogating to himself controlling legislative functions, and laws have but an advisory, recommendatory character, depending for power upon the good-will of the President. ...The President has not been given the power to defeat the will of the people or of the legislature as embodied in law.
In 1867 Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act, enacted over the veto of President Andrew Johnson, which denied the President of the United States the power to remove a Cabinet Official who had been appointed by a past President without the advice and consent of the United States Senate. Andrew Johnson refused to accept the law and fired Secretary of War Edwin Stanton which led to Congress holding Impeachment hearings for the President's refusal to uphold the Tenure of Office Act. Johnson won his Impeachment trial by a single vote in the Senate.

Did this set a legal precendent for a President to refuse to enforce or obey a law he considers unconstitutional? I'm not sure and I suspect that issue is still open to debate. See for more details. But let's set that aside and return to waivers. A waiver is not issued over constitutional concerns. It's not issued equally to everyone over some objection to a law. In the instance of ObamaCare we're talking about a law the President passionately endorses! Instead waivers represent an arbitrary Executive decision regarding over whom the law will be enforced and who gets to ignore it. Professor Hamburger notes that there is historical precedent for this - but it's a precedent for Kings who are above the Law. The American constitution was carefully created to breakup Kingly power between the three branches of government so that no single individual or legislative body had total power.

Bottom Line

When the current session of Congress convened in January of 2010 with a new Republican majority, their first act of business was to read aloud the entire Constitution before the assembly. Their opponents mocked them for this. But it was done as a reminder that all branches of government are governed by the Constitution and must live within its restrictions. That is a lesson our Federal government appears to have forgotten.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Hidden Costs

"It is an unfortunate human failing that a full pocketbook often groans more loudly than an empty stomach".
~President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
10 Hidden Costs That Hurt Your Wallet from

1. Over-Insuring Yourself
If you and your spouse both work, are you double covered for medical and life insurance? Are you buying personal life insurance and are also covered by insurance through your employer?

2. Hanging Around People Who Are Materialistic
It's hard to save money if you hang out with friends who are big spenders or eager shoppers. My wife shops with a friend who is always saying, "You have to try this," and so there is frequently an unplanned item or two purchased.

3. Buying in Bulk
First check the price - bigger doess not always give a cheaper unit cost. Second ask yourself if you can use or consume the bigger quantity before it goes bad. Warehouses sell giant cans of tuna which have a great price but is way too much food for my wife and I. We'd be wasting money if we toss out the uneaten tuna after a few days.

4. Eating Everything on Your Plate
Restaurants prices may be high but you get value with huge portions, right? Wrong. Few of us can resist eating more than we should which impacts our heath (and future medical bills.) And I'm amazed at how few people take leftovers homes. There's a lot of wasted food left behind.

5. Getting the Plan That Covers The Worst Case Scenario
Did you buy a cellphone plan with a huge number of minutes that you never use so you'll never go over the limit? You'ld be better off with a cheaper plan and pay the extra fee for the rare times that you go over limit.

6. Being Unreasonably Loyal
Don't let brand warranty trick you into paying too much. It could be cost-effective using newer, better, and cheaper alternatives.

7. Thinking that Limited Spending Will Help Stop the Urge to Spend More
Shopping can be addictive - it's hard to stop with just the one item you actually need versus the many items that you want. Distiguish your needs from your wants. 

8. Trying to Maximize Your Opportunities
Have you even seen a good deal but held back waiting for it to get even better? And then missing any deal at all when prices suddenly change?
"Sometimes it's better to take advantage as soon as a deal is worth the effort. ... it's not a question of whether you got the best deal, but how often you can find deals that benefit you."

9. Being Cheap
"There is a fine line between being cheap and living frugally. It's one thing to take advantage of corporations by using coupons for example, but it's completely different if you take advantage of your friends."
Cheap also has a hidden cost; cheap goods are lower quality and break sooner. You may pay more in the end by replacing cheap items multiple times.
10. Valuing Your Time Too Much
What is your time worth? Are you using your time effectively? Is it worth hiring a house painter so you have more time to watch TV?

Bottom Line

Living frugally is not simple. Many of the ideas above look good on the surface but have hidden costs or hidden wastage built end. You have to look at the big picture and your personal behaviors and lifestyle.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Common Money Mistakes

Picasso, self portrait
“I'd like to live as a poor man with lots of money.”
- Pablo Picasso
The website GetRichSlowly has a guest post from Money Girl, Quick and Dirty tips for Richer Life that describes Common Money mistakes at different stages of life.

Your 20's - You've graduated college and are good making money (hopefully). Don't spend it all! And don't get cocky:
- Avoid accumulating credit-card debt: don't fall into the trap of spend and pay later
- Do participate in a 401(k): yes retirement is far away but it takes time to build a nestegg that will last for decades of retirement. Start now!
- Seek professional advice: admit it, you've new to managing money. Learn how to do it right with an advisor or financial coach.

Your 30's - at this stage you most likely have a family and home to care for. Watch out for the following:
- Emergency Fund: you should have emergency savings to cover at least six months of living expenses like rent, groceries, and utilities. Given the current economy, unemployment is lasting for more than six months so go for a year of savings if you can.
Be honest in what a month of expenses is. Look at your bank account and credit cards to see what you really spend monthly.
- Don't skimp on retirement savings: invest all you can for retirement, you won't regret it.
- Insurance: be fully insured to protect yourself from financial disaster if you lose your house, your car, or suffer extreme illness with huge bills.

Your 40's - the kids are leaving the nest, retirement is only two decades away
- Don't ignore retirement:  use online retirement calculators to see if you are on track or falling short. It is not too late to invest with 20 or 25 more years of employment
- Don't accumulate debt: Debt is the opposite of retirement savings. It eats aways at your net worth with interest payments. Aim to be debt free ASAP.
- Don't raise financially ignorant children - teach your kids to manage money. Don't let them become adult leeches that will suck you bank accounts dry. And don't pay their way into an expensive car or home. It took you years of hard work to get the lifestyle you have. They should not expect to start at your level. Also be careful with loaning money - loans to relatives are the cause of much bitterness

Bottom Line
"Taking the time to learn about money and wealth pays off whether you’re a young student, a grandparent, or somewhere in between." - Money Girl

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Stairway to Heaven

"There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold
And she's buying a stairway to heaven"
Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin

While our house is being painted by a contractor, our timid cat goes into hiding. We looked everywhere but could not find the cat in his usual hiding spots. Turns out he found a new location to hide, under the stairs.

For other ideas of how to use the space under your stairs, check out
I'd love to have the drawers built into the steps.

We do use a stair-step basket pictured below....

Bottom Line

I recently read that many firehouses are banning the sliding pole to quickly get downstairs. Too many accidents! No more bat-poles for batman.

Tired of your normal stairs? Check out these radical ideas for unusual stairs,

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Seeing is Believing?

Squares A & B are the same color!
"A picture is worth a thousand words"

My posts for the next few days will be short as I'm working overtime at the office.

We like to think that we can trust our eyes. At a trial the most trusted testimony comes from an "eyewitness". But in reality our eyes are easily fooled.

Here is a 30-second video from New Scientist magazine called the expanding arc illusion.
You brain may know the two arcs are the same size but they sure don't look it.

This article,, talks about why color wheels "are wrong." For example, did you know there is no color in the rainbow or light spectrum that is Magenta. It's an invention of eye with how the human brain combines colors.

Bottom Line

Presently my wife and I are having the interior of the house painted. Getting paint chips to color match is not simple. What looks perfect in the store, won't match when viewed outdoors or in our living room. Colors are influenced by the light we see them in.

Likewise all perception is contextual. What is loud to a parent is not loud to a teenager. There are "Super-tasters" with more taste buds on their tongue who experience food differently. There are super sniffers who work for perfume companies. We are each unique in how we perceive the world.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Communicating with the Internet

“The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn't understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.”
-Eric Schmidt
On January 25 the Egyptian government shut down the Internet in Egypt in response to massive revolt and riots. This has led to much speculation in America and elsewhere - could this happen to us?

This has also led to discussion on what to do if the Internet goes down. For example has a great article entitled Communicate if Your Government Shuts Off Your Internet.  It covers:
  • Back up information (like phone lists) that you store online.
  • Public radio like CB, HAM and others
  • Phone trees
  • FAX
  • Dial up and other alternatives to your ISP company.
  • Satellite access
Bottom Line

I love the Internet. But be careful that you don't rely on it 100% and have backup options in place. It just takes a power outage to lose the Internet.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dirty Foods

“The more serious the illness, the more important it is for you to fight back, mobilizing all your resources-spiritual, emotional, intellectual, physical.”
- Norman Cousins

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 200,000 Americans experience food poisoning every day. This number could be as high as 800,000, according to Philip Tierno, author of The Secret Life of Germs. "Everyone in this country will get sick at least once this year from a foodborne virus, bacteria, or toxin," he says. But we may not know it and blame the mild symptoms—nausea, diarrhea, cramping—to a stomach flu.

Where do these germs come from? identifies the “10 Dirtiest Foods.”  I’ll cover some highlights but be sure to read the entire article for all the details.

1. Chicken: Don’t be fooled by commercials of Perdue chickens enjoying a good life. Most chickens are raised in very dirty coops under crowded conditions. As a result, one in 10 chickens carry germs that can make you ill. To protect yourself
- Buy free range chickens which are raised (supposedly) in cleaner environments
- Do not wash chickens or chicken parts in the sink. This spreads the germs to anything that touches the sink. Instead put the chicken directly into a pan/pot and let heat kill the germs.
- Chicken should be cooked to a temperature of 180°F. Use a thermometer – don’t trust the color of juice when pricked.
- If the chicken touched a cutting board, clean the board and knife with a mild, diluted bleach solution.

2. Eggs: pasteurization has reduced the risk of dirty eggs to 1 in 200,000. But given the millions of eggs consumed in America, eggs sicken an estimated 660,000 people annually and kill 300.
- Only buy pasteurized eggs.
- Never use a cracked egg in a carton.
- Store eggs in the coldest part of your fridge (not in the fridge door).
- Wash your hands after handling eggs.
- Cook eggs to 160°F

3. Hamburger: In one USDA test, 53% of the ground chuck examined was infected with Clostridium perfringens which can cause illness.
- Buy beef that is "treated by irradiation" to kill germs
- 1 Tbsp. of Fresh oregano can kill E. coli in one pound of beef
- Cook beef to 160°F

4. Fresh fruit – because most fruit is eaten raw, any germs on the outside will not be killed by cooking. For example, Cantaloupe grows on the ground and has a netted exterior that makes it easy for Salmonella to sneak on; and once on it's hard to clean off.
- Clean the exterior of all fruits prior to eating. Wash your hands afterwards.
- Washing fruits will also remove any pesticides that were sprayed on.

5. Fresh vegetables : my mother is paranoid about washing lettuce. She grew up on a farm and has seen how dirty field conditions are for the produce and the workers. You also want to wash spinach and scallions thoroughly..
- "Just because something is wrapped in cellophane doesn't mean it's free of pathogens." Don’t be lulled by claims of being "triple washed."

6. Deli Meats: cold cuts have been labeled "high risk" of causing listeriosis by a joint team of researchers from the USDA, FDA, and CDC. The Listeria germ grows rapidly on cut meat even with ideal refrigeration; and then the cold cut is eaten without further cooking. The most likely source of Listeria-contaminated cold cuts is the deli slicer. Without regular cleaning, the blade can transfer bacteria from roast beef to turkey to pastrami and back.
- Toss any meat that is a week old
- Slather on the mustard. Researchers found that mustard killed off 90 percent of three potent pathogens—Listeria, E. coli, and Salmonella—within 2 hours.

Bottom Line

We like to think the food we buy is clean but the truth is that it’s not. The advice above will help prevent some common sources of illness.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Things to do before a house fire

Mae West
"A man can be short and dumpy and getting bald but if he has fire, women will like him."
-Mae West
From the a house fire victim lists

9 Things We Wished We Did Before Our House Burned Down

1. Subscribe to an online data backup service.They had an external back-up drive but it sat right next their laptop and both burned up. We use Windows Live Mesh which gives 5 GB of storage on the Internet.

2. Keep passports in a safe deposit box
Passports are handy if you need to prove your identity and you've lost your wallet or purse.

3. Take pictures of each room initially and update them as improvements are made (store them offsite - like Flickr)
The photos will come in handy when inventorying what you lost.

4. Take pictures and keep hyperlinks of all expensive purchases, including jewelry. Scan receipts[for expensive purchases] and store offline.
You'll want this for insurance recovery.

5. Hire an architect (my dad in our case) or use to document each floor layout along with precise wall/ceiling measurements, each outlet, light switch, crown molding, other trim, type of flooring, any unique items to structure of property
Not sure why. So you can rebuild an exact duplicate of your house?

6. Put phones in a consistent place each night
When you need to call 911 you want to know where the phone is!

7. Get fire ladders for any second floor bedrooms
Safety first. And drill yearly. A fire is a bad time to learn the window is painted shut.

8. Scan each photo, again keeping them offsite, or on an online data backup service
We opted NOT to back up music files, those are replaceable. We do back-up all digital photos.
9. Do not be frugal with homeowner's insurance. Spend the extra $50 per year for the most coverage.

Bottom Line

This is good advice and the time to do it is now. You hope never to have a home fire but it is frighteningly common. U.S. fire departments responded to nearly 1.6 million fire calls in 2007 that resulted in thousands of deaths, tens of thousands of injuries, and billions of dollars in property loss.
At 40 percent, cooking is the leading cause of residential structure fires. Heating causes another 14 percent.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Good, Better, Best

"This porridge is too hot!" she exclaimed.
So, she tasted the porridge from the second bowl.
"This porridge is too cold," she said
So, she tasted the last bowl of porridge.
"Ahhh, this porridge is just right," she said happily and she ate it all up.
- from Goldilocks and the Three Bears
After three days of introspection and the inability of some to accurately "know thyself" let's return to an actual preparedness topic. has a post called Preparedness Provisioning (Good, Better, Best), by Bill L.  It captures an idea that I have long struggled with - the ideal list. Everyone wants a list. This month at church we are handing out a list for making your own first aid kit. We thought long and hard over what to include; it should be more than bandaids but less than a "professional" kit. It was not easy creating a list that was "just right."

What the SurvivalBlog posts suggests is that there is not one list that is a perfect fit for everyone.
"When beginning ... it can be overwhelming as to what and how much would be needed to provide for simple survival. ... Without a plan you will be tempted to start gathering an unorganized pile of “stuff” that has value, but does not ensure that you are prepared."
The author breaks planning into three necessities with three phases. The three necessities are food, water and shelter. The three phases are Good, Better, and Best. It does not make sense to buy the world's best food storage system and then have no heat and no water. Instead families should obtain a Good stockpile of all basic necessities. Then move on to Better for all three. And then if so motivated, try to assemble the Best.

The Good level of preparedness used to be called the 72-hr kit but now everyone recommends one week of supplies for local disasters:

  • A one week supply of usable non-perishable nutritious food
  • A means of cooking without power or natural gas, i.e. propane stove, wood, etc
  • A grab and go kit of food in case you have to evacuate
  • Clean stored water equivalent to 2 gallons/day per person to last one week
  • Knowledge of secondary water sources (e.g. your 40 gal water heater)
  • Means of water purification (pump, chemical, or UV light)
  • Keep your home warm and lit when the grid is down
  • Quality tent and sleeping bag ( as part of your grab and go kit)
If you've at the Good level and want to do Better, check out the full post at

Bottom Line

Next time I'll apply this concept when I create a list. There will be a Good section that everyone should have. Some Better items for those who want to go further, and a Best section for the super dedicated.

Not everyone desires or sees the need for the Best. And some never get started when the goal is set at Better or above. So think of Goldilocks and remember that there are different preferences for what is "just right".

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

There's none so blind...

"There's none so blind as they that won't see."
-Jonathan Swift
Speaking of things that I don't know, for yesterday's post on the Dunning-Kruger effect I wanted to use the quote above about "none so blind...", but who said it? I thought it was biblical and it is, sort of.
Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not. - Jeremiah 5:21
Close but no cigar. This could be interpreted as "those who fail to see" whereas the quote at top has more punch by stressing the refusal to see. Google pointed me to that credited "Englishman, John Heywood, in 1546" who was paraphrasing Jeremiah 5:21.

Who the heck is John Heywood???  So I googled him and discovered he was a  playwright born 70 years before Shakespeare. Heywood is credited with creating (or popularizing) many famous English Proverbs.

*Would ye both eat your cake and have your cake? (which became having your cake and eating it too)

*Better one byrde in hand than ten in the wood.

*When all candles be out, all cats be gray.

*I pray thee let me and my fellow have A hair of the dog that bit us last night.

*Went in at the one eare and out at the other.

*By hooke or crooke.

And so on. See  and  for more of Heywood's proverbs.  Amazing that one man could have so many famous quotes! This was a knowledge gap I was completely unaware of.

Now back to my quest for THE source of the quote. Neither of the quote lists above included "none so blind." Was wrong? No, a different site on,, gives a history of the quote and how it changed over the centuries.
Who is so deafe, or so blynde, as is hee, That wilfully will nother here nor see.
[1546 J. Heywood Dialogue of Proverbs ii. ix. K4]
This is Heywood and captures the idea I wanted but still sounds a bit odd to my ears. So I picked a version from two centuries later:
You know, there's none so blind as they that won't see.
[1738 Swift Polite Conversation iii. 191]
Bottom Line

While investigating a single quote I learned:
1. The wording of "well-known" proverbs changes over time
2. The author of a proverb can be hard to pin down - who get's the credit when there are many versions of the proverb?
3. Few today read the plays of John Heywood but his lines have become part of our language.

I love the Internet; instant facts at one's finger tips. Just be careful about the quality of the "facts".


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What don't you know?

"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge"
-Charles Darwin
Yesterday I mentioned "Credentialed, Not Educated" to describe leaders at all levels of politics; people with little experience that have a very high opinion of their abilities and knowledge. Recently the Instapundit cited a reference to the Dunning-Kruger effect in the context of political hubris. I'd never heard of this so I looked it up.

Justin Kruger and David Dunning published a paper while at Cornell University entitled, "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments".
They found while testing students, that those who scored poorly rated themselves as much more skilled than they really were. While those who tested well had self-doubts about their knowledge and rated themselves less skilled than actual.

Some people just don't know what is missing from their knowledge. This is not to say that they cannot learn; only that there are topics they have never-ever been exposed to and are completely unaware of. To use a physical example, many people are unaware that they have a vision problem. If you've always seen the world as blurry, then you think that this is natural and normal. You have no clue that others see the world sharper and in more focus. Then when you get your first pair of glasses, it's like, wow, I never knew things could look like this.

When a doctor asks me to rate a pain on a 1-10 pain scale, I'm flustered. What does 10 feel like? If I've never experienced it, how do I know that my present pain is only a 7? Is my level-10 pain the same as his? (As it turns out, no. I have a high pain threshold so I've been under rating myself on the pain scale.)

Returning to Kruger and Dunning, they proposed that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:
  1. tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
  2. fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
  3. fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
  4. recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they can be trained to substantially improve.
Many politicians get a degree in social science or politics or law, do some social work, and get elected. They have never managed a business, never really had a nine-to-five job in their life. Yet their self-confidence in their ability to fix the business world with new laws is stratospheric. They are blind to personal areas of ignorance.

Bottom Line

Poet W.B. Yeats captured the irony between those well informed & able (who do nothing) vs the uninformed & incompetent (who are militant),
"The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Deep Thought

"O Deep Thought computer," he said, "the task we have designed you to perform is this. We want you to tell us...." he paused, "The Answer."
"The Answer?" said Deep Thought. "The Answer to what?"
"Life!" urged Fook. "The Universe!" said Lunkwill. "Everything!" they said in chorus.
Deep Thought paused for a moment's reflection. "Tricky," he said finally.
"But can you do it?"
Again, a significant pause. "Yes," said Deep Thought, "I can do it. ... But, I'll have to think about it."
Ford glanced impatiently at his watch. "How long?" he said.
"Seven and a half million years."
- Douglas Adams, The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Over at Instapundit, Glenn Reynolds has adopted (coined?) the phrase, "Credentialed, Not Educated" to describe our nation's Ivy League leaders that see themselves as uber-intelligent from the best schools but in reality are clueless on the real world. He points to an editorial in the Washington Post, Our superficial scholars, that makes a similar point about today's top students.
"For most of the past 20 years I have served on selection committees for the Rhodes Scholarship. ... We interview the best graduates of U.S. universities for one of the most prestigious honors that can be bestowed on young scholars. ... I have, however, become increasingly concerned in recent years ... high-achieving students seem less able to grapple with issues that require them to think across disciplines or reflect on difficult questions about what matters and why."
The editorial gives some examples of students with very narrow focus who have never considered alternative points of view or the consequences of their goals:
"An outstanding biochemistry major wants to be a doctor and supports the president's health-care bill but doesn't really know why. A student who started a chapter of Global Zero at his university hasn't really thought about whether a world in which great powers have divested themselves of nuclear weapons would be more stable or less so, or whether nuclear deterrence can ever be moral. A young service academy cadet who is likely to be serving in a war zone within the year believes there are things worth dying for but doesn't seem to have thought much about what is worth killing for. A student who wants to study comparative government doesn't seem to know much about the important features and limitations of America's Constitution."
Bottom Line

Again from the editorial,
"I wish I could say that this is a single, anomalous group of students, but the trend is unmistakable. Our great universities seem to have redefined what it means to be an exceptional student. They are producing top students who have given very little thought to matters beyond their impressive grasp of an intense area of study. This narrowing has resulted in a curiously unprepared and superficial pre-professionalism. ... [The students] seem so surprised when asked simple direct questions that they have never considered."
Although I belong to a church that is traditionally very conservative, locally we have several very liberal families in positions of leadership. One night after Cub Scouts in the church building, I enjoyed a conversion with several young teens from these families. They were discussing the evils of the world. "War and McDonalds should be outlawed," one said. [McDonalds?!!!, that caught my attention.] "Well then," I replied, what will you do to countries that break the law and start an illegal war? They had not thought of that.

Another replied, "If I were in charge of the universe, I'd make war impossible."  "How would you do that," I asked, "without destroying the agency of man?" The freedom to choose (right or wrong) is a keystone of our faith. It is very tempting (but wrong) to destroy personal agency for the greater good.

A third said, "I wish everyone were Intelligent. Intelligent people would not kill." To which I observed she had not yet read, Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, in which a young man murders an "evil person" for the "good of society" just to prove how intelligent and superior he is.

I encouraged the youth to keep thinking. The topic of war and violence is deadly serious (pun intended) with no easy solutions. You can't just wish it away or or eliminate it with "proper education" or ban it with legislation. But is definitely worth Deep Thought.

Sadly, today's schools are not teaching and not requiring deep thought.

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Monday, February 7, 2011

Misleading Food Packaging

"It happens every time, they all become blueberries."
- Willy Wonka
When I buy a cookbook (which is very rare now-a-days with recipes on the Internet) I want a book with lots of food photographs. I react to the photo with either, yum, I must cook that, or , nah, not interested. Naturally marketers of foods exploit this. They put the best possible picture on the box or label to make your mouth water. I blogged about this at

I was reminded of this with NPR's story about fake blueberries, . The muffin mix box may show a muffin with plump, healthy, blueberries but the label lists blueberry flavored crunchlets. What is a blueberry crunchlet? They typically consist of various sugars and starches coated with food dye to make them look like blueberries.

When Kellog was asked, they responded that everything is "labeled in compliance with applicable laws and regulations."  No mention of course about faking out customers with misleading product photos.

Bottom Line

With product photos, what you see is never what you get. At worst the photo is fake; at best it's an idealized version of the product.

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Friday, February 4, 2011

Using Lemons

"Lemon tree very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet
But the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat."
- lyrics from "Lemon Tree," Peter, Paul & Mary
Lemons are popular; there's lemon scented furniture polish, lemon/lime beverages, lemon yogurt, lemonade, etc. They make good juggling balls too! When my wife buys a bag of lemons on a sale, we enjoy lemon flavored water, but one lemon goes a long way so we struggle to use the whole bag before the lemons go bad. Now thanks to that won't happen. They list 55 Green Uses for Yellow Lemons

Lemons are great for cleaning in many ways:
Remove Odors- by rubbing half a lemon on smelly plates and pots.
Bleach Dished- by soaking them for 3-4 hours in hot water with lemon skins. This also removed mineral deposits from pots and tea kettles.
Clean items- with diluted lemon juice.
Kill Germs- rub a cutting board with a cut lemon and let sit for a few minutes before rinsing

Lemons can also brighten up other foods -
Potatoes and cauliflower stay whiter while boiling if a little lemon juice is added to the water. Lemon juice can prevent rice from sticking. Cut lemon rinds soften brown sugar. Keep guacamole green and fresh apples/bananas from going brown with lemon juice.

Check out the webstite for more ideas like repelling insects, cleaning the house, cleaning clothes, and improving your skin.

Bottom Line

Who knew lemons were so versatile? How about this, nervous before an interview? Wet your armpits with lemon extract. The deodorizing effect will last a few hours.

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Thursday, February 3, 2011

All things great and small

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.
- Cecil Frances Alexander
Recently the Astronomy Picture of the Day website featured a classic science film from the 1960's that is now available on YouTube.  The film is called Powers of 10 and zooms out at a steady pace to show the universe and then zooms in again down to the subatomic level. It's a wonderful thing to watch for a sense of scale.

When watching note the following.

1. It takes many powers of 10 beyond the solar system until the stars in the background begin to move. The empty space between stars is immense.

2. Once the stars do move, we quickly reach the level of galaxy and just another power of ten or so for nearby galaxies. The universe is dense with galaxies.

3. Since the 1960's science has expanded its view of the universe by quite a bit. Today the film could go on for a few more powers of 10 and show the amazing weblike filaments that galaxies form when viewed from far away.

4. On the small scale note the empty space from 10^-9 to 10^-13, from the electron shell to the inner nucleus. The nucleus is like our solar system, busy locally, then a LOT of nothing until we reach the next atom/solar system, at which point things appear crowded again.

Bottom Line

The film notes at the end that it traveled 40 orders of magnitude from quarks to the known universe. How curious that we fall in the middle with approximately 20 powers of 10 below us and above us.

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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Global Food Shortage?

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
- lyrics to America the Beautiful
Lately I've been seeing a lot of stories about inflationary food prices and possible food shortages globally. World production is not much greater than demand so if there is bad weather, fungus, insects, or anything destroying crops on a large scale, it tips the world balance to shortage.

For a look at big picture check out the Food Prices page at the Financial Time ( The site does require registration but there is a free option if you scroll the screen all the way to the right when registering. Sadly FREE is limited to 10 stories a month.

Here's a summary from one of the lead stories.

The world has moved a step closer to a food price shock after the US government surprised traders by cutting forecasts for key crops, sending corn and soybean prices to their highest level in 30 months. The price jump comes after the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation warned last week that the world could see repetition of the 2008 food crisis if prices rose further. The trend is becoming a major concern in developing countries.

And this gloomy forecast is actually optimistic!!! The US projection of expected World harvests does not account for future weather problems. “There’s just no room for error any more. With any kind of weather problem in the upcoming growing season we will make new all-time highs in corn and soy, and to a lesser degree wheat futures.”

See also Dinner Without Onions In India?

Bottom Line

This looks like a good time to stock up on rice and grains before prices rise further.

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Lost Time

"If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I'd like to do
Is to save every day
Till Eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you"
- Time In a Bottle by Jim Croce

Today a image from I Love Charts is worth a thousand words...

Bottom Line

"But there never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do
Once you find them"
- Time In a Bottle by Jim Croce

One of my favorite sketches from the Muppets Show is this rendition of Time in a Bottle

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