Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May the Force be with You

“I’m Luke Skywalker, I’m here to rescue you.”
- Star Wars 4
PasteMagazine.com has a wonderful article,

Celebrate Star Wars Day with These Sweet Propaganda Posters

Star Wars Day was May 4 (may the 4th be with you). Here are two posters. There are many more including posters from the Empire's point of view. Enjoy!


Labels: , ,

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Joplin Tornado

“It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve done this, it just rips your heart out when you stand and watch a family member waiting for their loved ones to be recovered from an environment like this.”
- Doug Westhoff (rescuer at Joplin tornado site)

At 5:41 p.m. CDT on May 22 Joplin, Missouri was hit by a deadly tornado, the first in sixty years to kill over 100 people (the prior such tornado was June 8, 1953 in Flint, Michigan). We extend our sympathies to the families and our thanks to the rescue workers.

In this blog we'll look at a status report to the Govenor of the state written 36 hours after the disaster. 

On going weather problems complicate the rescue efforts - thunderstorms continued to pound the area after the tornado. This hampered or delayed some search and rescue teams and led to additional power outages (53,000 customers without power with restoration "as early" as the next 24 to 36 hours ). Nearby McDonald County reports several road closings due to high water and flooding. Newtown County evacuated 32 homes due to flash flooding risk.

Search and rescue was roughly half way completed.

Large Potential Impact: The Joplin metropolitan area has 174,300 residents. At the time of the report, 2,000 structures were known to be destroyed including residences, businesses, schools, apartment complexes, the local hospital and churches.

Small Actual Impact? Given the number of destroyed building I would expect thousands without a place to stay. The United Way had received 1142 calls. And yet the reports only mentions three shelters; one with 143 individuals, a second with 34 and the third could not be reached by phone? Where are the homeless people staying? Perhaps with friends or nearby hotels?
The Red Cross (with 300 volunteers) was starting a hot meal food service for just 200.
Spontaneous pet shelters are going up.

Managing Resources: Joplin had 5 heavy rescue Teams and 5 ambulance strike teams (25 total ambulances) and did not want more since "Jasper County has all the search and rescue teams they can coordinate at this time". Complicating rescue team management was "a number of self deployed fire fighters" who showed up to help without being asked. Before these men can be used they have to have their IDs verified and skills accessed. Otherwise a thief could show up claiming to be a fireman and offer to search buildings. Or someone barely trained who becomes injured during rescue.

Keeping track of rescue workers is not easy. More constantly arrive:
"Mo Task Force 1 en route (85 members, 4 dogs, heavy equipment)...Kansas City fire heavy rescue en route. 3 cadaver dogs arrived last night, with another 3 to arrive this morning. Kansas City Power & Lights is sending 45 linemen today, and another 45 after storms pass through the Kansas City area."

These workers must be sheltered, fed, etc.

Another resource headache is unrequested supplies that people send hoping to be helpful. The report mentions, "Locating a larger warehouse for unsolicited donations."

Security:  There were 100 law enforcement personnel working to secure 30 roadblocks.  There were 100 National Guardsmen sent but assigned to search and rescue rather than security.

No Hospital: St. John's Regional Medical Center was badly damaged and patients evacuated. A Disaster Medical Assistance Team set up an emergency surgical site with 60 beds
1000 tetanus shots will be in Joplin, and another 300 in Jasper county.

Contaminated Water: In the first 24-hours a boil order was in effect. But quickly generators were powered up on the public drinking water system and clean water restored.

Cell Phones spotty:
"Sprint restored cell site near Memorial Hall, ... ATT reports 2 cell sites have been restored."

Some Rescue teams without Communications:
The Joplin Police Department communications system was not functioning. For repairmen at a Natural Gas plant, land line, cellular telephone, and their 2-way radios were out for a time last night and then cell phone service was spotty. They had walkie-talkies donated and had to use those for communication.

Mental health was attempting to coordinate with local faith based groups. The public was told to use https://safeandwell.communityos.org/cms/index.php to locate missing persons.

Secondary Incidents: As seen in Japan with the earthquake and New Orleans with Katrian, sometimes the natural disaster triggers man-made emergencies that are far worse. In Jasper country the EPA confirmed that the radiological facilities were OK. There has been one confirmed anhydrous ammonia release of 3000-5000 pounds that occurred in east Joplin. Leaking gas from a natural gas regulator stations caught fire and a pipe was dug up to shut-off the natural gas underground.

Media: There had been about 100 media inquiries. The emergency management offices requested a Public Information Officer from the Dept. of Health to assist with media calls.

Bottom Line

Most people fail to understand just how chaotic and crazy life becomes after a disaster. Water, power, roads, police, phones, 911, hospitals all become unreliable. Shelters may handle hundreds but not thousands of families. Hence the recommendation that you must be able to take care for yourself without power and water for at least 72-hours.

Labels: ,

Friday, May 27, 2011

Important Guidance on Helping Disaster Survivors

Yesterday FEMA sent the following email...

A second disaster threatens to overtake Joplin MO by way of a tidal wave of unsolicited goods (things like clothing, miscellaneous household items, mixed or perishable foodstuffs, diapers...) and volunteers who just show up to help.  Critical resources are being redirected from the important work of response and relief to managing what has become a crush of unneeded donated items.  Social networking sites are promoting collection drives while radio stations, small and large businesses, business and fraternal organizations and churches around the country fill semis with items that threaten to crowd warehouses and overwhelm distribution channels in the impacted area. 

Your help is urgently needed to stem the flow of unneeded goods and volunteers into Joplin.  You are encouraged to reach out to your employees, customers and other constituents on how those wanting to help can do so in a way that doesn't cause further impact, but rather aids in the response and recovery effort.
The following guidelines were developed by a coalition of government, voluntary agency and faith-based partners:
  • Cash to a recognized voluntary agency is the single best way to help disaster survivors.  Cash doesn't need to be sorted, stored or distributed, and it allows the voluntary agency to  the donation towards the needs that most urgently need addressing.
  • Visit http://sema.dps.mo.gov/recover/donations.asp to donate to the Missouri tornado recovery effort.
  • For information on other ways to help go to: www.fema.gov/rebuild/recover/howtohelp.
Bottom Line

Two days ago I read a story praising four semi-trucks of supplies gathered via Facebook and Boy Scouts and delivered to Joplin. I thought about responding to that but didn't. During the aftermath of 9-11 authorities made it clear that they did not want random supplies pouring in. Ditto for Haitii after the earthquake. Send money instead.

In Monday's post I'll look at a status report from Joplin 36-hours after the tornado. Even then the Emergency Management Team was looking for a bigger warehouse to store unsolicited supplies.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Rise of "Logical Punctuation".

“In music, the punctuation is absolutely strict, the bars and rests are absolutely defined. But our punctuation cannot be quite strict, because we have to relate it to the audience. In other words we are continually changing the
-Ralph Richardson (English actor)
Early this year I posted about Punctuation with Quotations in which I discussed the American rules of punctuating quotations. I'd like to revisit the topic since Slate.com claims the "punctuation paradigm is shifting".

For at least two centuries, it has been standard practice in the United States to place commas and periods inside of quotation marks. This rule still holds for professionally edited prose: what you'll find in Slate, [...] almost any place adhering to Modern Language Association (MLA) or AP guidelines.
But people are realizing that the American rules are unnatural. A sentence ends with a period, not period-quote mark. The British style puts punctuation outside of quotes and it is beginning to dominate on message boards, blogs, tweets, etc. And no wonder. Since at least the 1960s a common name for the British style has been "logical punctuation."

According to Slate,

If it seems hard or even impossible to defend the American way on the merits, that's probably because it emerged from aesthetic, not logical, considerations. According to Rosemary Feal, executive director of the MLA [Modern Language Association], it was instituted in the early days of the Republic in order "to improve the appearance of the text. A comma or period that follows a closing quotation mark appears to hang off by itself and creates a gap in the line (since the space over the mark combines with the following word space)."
Bottom Line

Personally as one who favors logic, I'll stop feeling guilty about following the British Style.

Happy Birthday to my Sister!

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Future of Advertising

"At bottom, robotics is about us. It is the discipline of emulating our lives, of wondering how we work."
-ROD GRUPEN, Discover Magazine, June 2008
I like to keep on eye on technology and how it changes our life. Recently Toyota annouced a new spokeswoman, Hatsune Miku, a young Japanese singer who has been extremely popular in her homeland. Nothing unusual about that. Until you learn that Hatsune is computer-generated based upon a poplar anime character.

There have been computer generated actors in the past. Long ago there was Max Headroom. And more recently Jar Jar Binks. Usually these are rendered over a human actor who supplies the motions. I suspect Hatsune is totally drawn from comptures but she does use samplings of real human voices.

Bottom Line

Personally I'm not suprised by this. I'm actually more suprised that we have not seen more of this. Most animated films are now computer drawn with robotic models, not hand drawn. As the cost comes down I expect computer actors will replace live one with greater frequency.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Breaking up with your Credit Card

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all.'
- Lewis Carroll (Alice Through the Looking Glass)
We received a piece of junk mail at home from a company that said, "We miss you <sniff>", as if they were crying. I thought this was in rather poor taste but apparently it is not uncommon. The Consumerist tells of a credit card company writing like a spurned lover - "They promised that they'd change if we took them back. Things would be different this time." So Jon Acuff wrote back a reply in the same tone:


Wow, I don't really know where to begin. We've had some good times, haven't we? Remember that vacation I took you on? We had so much fun in (LOCATION). It wouldn't have been the same if you hadn't been there and had my back. And who can forget the time you helped me pay my (NAME OF BILL). That was a lifesaver!

But a few months later, I felt confused and hurt when you asked me for all that money back, plus 20% interest. I thought we had something special. I thought what we had was true. But now that I look back on it, for you, our entire relationship was about money. And it feels really one-sided. I give and I give and I give, and you just take, take, take. Sure, you give me small gifts here and there that you call "rewards," but even those I have to "earn."

I can't live this way. I feel like I don't even know you anymore. I want you out of my house, out of my life, and most importantly, out of my wallet.

I've found somebody else. Somebody I can trust. Somebody without hidden motives or hidden fees. He's simple but honest. Hardworking and true. I found someone who really cares about me and isn't into playing games.

I'm dating cash.

Don't call me anymore. I don't want you or your empty promises of frequent flyer miles. It's over.

Don't walk away mad. Just walk away, credit card... just walk away.

Bottom Line

Credit Cards are not your friend. Use them at your own risk and never mistake them for a cheap loan.

Labels: , ,

Monday, May 23, 2011

Black Plague

They sickened by the thousands daily, and died unattended and without help. Many died in the open street, others dying in their houses
- Giovanni Boccaccio (1313 – 1375)
You may remember from history lessons that "The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350. ... The Black Death is estimated to have killed 30% – 60% of Europe's population" (Wikipedia) Did you know that the Black Plague was not a one-time occurrence?
There have been three major outbreaks of plague. The Plague of Justinian in the 6th and 7th centuries is the first known attack on record, and marks the first firmly recorded pattern of bubonic plague. [Some credit this for the downfall of Rome] From historical descriptions, as much as 40% of the population of Constantinople died from the plague. ... After 750, major epidemic diseases did not appear again in Europe until the Black Death of the 14th century. The Third Pandemic hit China in the 1890s and devastated India but was confined to limited outbreaks in the west.
What I thought was medieval and gone is still around. Los Angeles in 1924-25 experienced a rat-borne epidemic where plague was spread from rats to fleas to people. New Mexico has seen 262 human cases of bubonic plague between 1949 and 2010 with fleas from rodents, squirrels, prairie dogs, chipmunks, and occasionally rabbits.
An early telltale sign of the plague is swollen, painful lymph nodes known as buboes. Without treatment, the illness can infect the blood (known as septicemic plague) and finally the lungs. At this point, the infection becomes known as plague pneumonia, or pneumonic plague. The mortality rate increases considerably at this point. - LA Times
Here is a description of the plague from the 1300's,
"In men and women alike it first betrayed itself by the emergence of certain tumours in the groin or armpits, some of which grew as large as a common apple, others as an egg...From the two said parts of the body this deadly gavocciolo soon began to propagate and spread itself in all directions indifferently; after which the form of the malady began to change, black spots or livid making their appearance in many cases on the arm or the thigh or elsewhere, now few and large, now minute and numerous. As the gavocciolo had been and still was an infallible token of approaching death, such also were these spots on whomsoever they showed themselves."
- Giovanni Boccaccio
Bottom Line

Always, always visit a doctor if you find swollen bumps. It probably won't be plague but it could be a sign of a serious internal infection or hernia or advanced stage of cancer that needs immediate and aggressive treatment. Do not delay - in the case of bubonic plague 80% of those who die, will die within eight days.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, May 20, 2011

Remembering World War I

C.S. Choules
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
-John McCrae (In Flanders Fields)
 Last October I wrote that "World War I is finally over!" when Germany made its final payment of $94 million in war reparations. WWI occurred some 90 years ago and yet it seems a different era of time. The Wright brothers were still working the kinks out of heavier than air flight (airplanes) and most people did not yet own a car or have electricity.

WWI and its era are on the cusp of passing from living history to recorded history. The last known Veteran of WWI passed away this month. Claude Stanley Choules died in a nursing home in Western Australia at age 110. Choules (rhymes with jewels) had just turned 14 when he joined the British Royal Navy in 1917. The New York Times reports,
Mr. Choules was defiant of the tolls of time, a centenarian who swam in the sea, twirled across dance floors and published his first book [a biography] at well past 100. He also became a pacifist, refusing to march in parades commemorating wars like the one that made him famous.
There is just one remaining service survivor of WWI, another Briton, Florence Green, who was a waitress in the Women’s Royal Air Force. Who knew there were military waitresses? The last American veteran, Frank Buckles, passed away in February of this year.

Bottom Line

For most of 10,000 years human history we have only mosaics or a rare painting to capture what life looked like. The 20th century (and part of the 19th) are unique in being photographed and filmed and extensively documented. Still there is something unique to the first person viewpoint and a bit of history is lost forever when the last witness dies.

Labels: ,

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pet Go-Kits

The difference between friends and pets is that friends we allow into our company, pets we allow into our solitude. 
~Robert Brault
When forced to evacuate your home what will you do with your pets? Most people will want to bring the pets with them which causes two problems:

1. Most emergency shelters will not allow pets. So where will you stay?
2. Do you have emergency supplies for your pets?

Problem 2 is easy to solve - make a go-kit for your animals. Here are some ideas from the ASPCA:
  • Pet first-aid kit and guide book
  • 3-7 days' worth of canned (pop-top) or dry food (be sure to rotate every two months)
  • Disposable litter trays (aluminum roasting pans are perfect)
  • Litter or paper toweling
  • Liquid dish soap and disinfectant
  • Disposable garbage bags for clean-up
  • Pet feeding dishes
  • Extra harness and leash (Note: if you do find a pet friendly shelter, harnesses will be required.)
  • Photocopies of medical records including recent rabies shot and distemper. (very important for pet shelters - they want to know your pet is safe. Otherwise it will be quarantined with other "sick" animals)
  • Waterproof container with a two-week supply of any medicine your pet requires
  • Bottled water, at least 7 days' worth for each person and pet (store in a cool, dry place and replace every two months)
  • A traveling bag, crate or sturdy carrier, ideally one for each pet
  • Flashlight
  • Blanket (for scooping up a fearful pet)
  • Recent photos of your pets (in case you are separated and need to make "Lost" posters)
  • Especially for cats: Pillowcase or EvackSack, toys, scoopable litter
  • Especially for dogs: Long leash and yard stake, toys and chew toys, a week's worth of cage liner.
Bottom Line

Remember, food and medications need to be rotated out of your emergency kit—otherwise they may go bad or become useless.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What price progress?

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It's not."
— Dr. Seuss (The Lorax)
I came across this interesting photo on BoingBoing.com with this caption:
These pillars—located outside a rest area off Highway 80 in Adair County, Iowa—represent the topsoil Iowa has lost since large-scale farming began 150 years ago. In the 19th century, Iowa had 14-16 inches of topsoil. Today, it has just 6-8 inches of the stuff, and more is being lost all the time.

Bottom Line

The "West" achieved incredible progress during the Industrial Revolution and up to the present. But we did it by consuming vast quantities of resources such as topsoil. Think back on the extinction of the passenger pigeon which once darkened the skies or the near extinction of the American Bison. Look at the depleted fishing grounds around the world. Is "peak oil" in the near future or already in our past?

Will we find different resources to exploit in the future or will there be a day when we "run out"? What do you think?

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Drug Shortages

"The global market is starting to show cracks; the world is definitely not a flat billiard table. It's looking more and more like an out-of-balance roulette wheel."
-Edward Tenner, The Atlantic.com
I've seen a lot of buzz lately regarding a Washington Post story about a Shortage of Key Drugs.
A record 211 medications became scarce in 2010 — triple the number in 2006 — and at least 89 new shortages have been recorded through the end of March, putting the nation on track for far more scarcities. The paucities are forcing some medical centers to ration drugs — including one urgently needed by leukemia patients — postpone surgeries and other care, and scramble for substitutes, often resorting to alternatives that may be less effective, have more side effects and boost the risk for overdoses and other sometimes-fatal errors.
The article identifies three factors for the increasing scarcity:

1. Major pharmaceutical companies purchased smaller companies with patents on life-saving drugs. But when the patents expired, the big company abandons production because it will now be less profitable.

2. The pharmaceuticals claim there is tougher regulation of production by the FDA (which the agency denies).
"Shortages of pre-loaded epinephrine syringes and propofol, for example, occurred when suppliers dropped out just as the FDA was demanding additional documentation."
3. Globalization of manufacturing means a storm or natural disaster anywhere in the world can stop production of an item with many components. Globalization also raises concerns about the quality of the ingredients used.
The drug cytarabine has caused the most concern and gotten the most attention because it is highly effective for treating several forms of leukemia and lymphoma. [...] Many hospitals are running low, and some have run out completely. [...] Cytarabine’s scarcity was caused by hitches that two out of the three manufacturers hit in obtaining raw materials, as well as the discovery of crystals in some shipments.
At least 19 patients were sickened and nine died in Alabama this year after being infused with a solution through their feeding tubes that was apparently contaminated with bacteria by a pharmacy using an unfamiliar ingredient because of a shortage
Bottom Line

A common knee-jerk reaction is, "See this is what happens when companies control the heath industry. Government needs to be in control."  But look at Russia, Cuba, England for counter examples of lack of care and resources for the common man when the government runs the show.

The solution is greater competition (not patents). But reform is also needed at the FDA level. When regulation is too strict it becomes a barrier to entry and small companies can not compete. Regulation can also ban foreign companies. But too little regulation is also a problem as we know companies will cheat and defraud the consumer with fake or even dangerous drugs.

So how about this. Every day(?) take one random sample from production. Have a competitor test it for quality control. Perhaps monthly have FDA also test a sample to ensure that competitors are not in collusion and hiding bad test results.

When contamination is found, don't fine the company - that is not really a deterrent; that just pushes the fine to the consumer with higher prices. Instead prosecute the CEO for endangering the health of the public. Having a CEO (and other company officers) go to jail seems more effective than paying a fee from company profits. Prosecute for allowing a dangerous drug to be released. Not for intent or ill will. But negligence for failing to adequately test the quality of inputs and outputs. A company must be responsible for the drug it creates - no excuses.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, May 16, 2011

Don't eat that armadillo!

"Or if there be any flesh, in the skin whereof there is a hot burning, and the quick flesh that burneth have a white bright spot, somewhat reddish, or white; Then the priest shall look upon it: and, behold, if the hair in the bright spot be turned white, and it be in sight deeper than the skin; it is a leprosy broken out of the burning: wherefore the priest shall pronounce him unclean: it is the plague of leprosy"
Leviticus 13:24-25, KJV

The New York Times says, "Armadillos Can Transmit Leprosy to Humans, Federal Researchers Confirm."

'Using genetic sequencing machines, researchers were able to confirm that about a third of the leprosy cases that arise each year in the United States almost certainly result from contact with infected armadillos. The cases are concentrated in Louisiana and Texas, where some people hunt, skin and eat armadillos."
This is good news for doctors who have been puzzled by U.S. Leprosy cases in individuals who had NOT traveled to leprosy hot spots around the world like India, Brazil, Africa, and the Philippines. The microbe that causes leprosy is a fragile one; it won't grow in petri dishes and survives only a week or two in moist soil. So researchers had been stumped tracking the U.S. source. But in retrospect the answer is not surprising. Leprosy only survives in two animals: humans and armadillos. Researchers have long used armadillos to grow the disease for testing.

According to the Times,
Leprosy now joins a host of other infectious diseases — including flu, H.I.V./AIDS and SARS — that are known to have jumped from animals to humans. Flu is thought to have first crossed to humans from migratory waterfowl several hundred years ago. H.I.V./AIDS first crossed from a chimpanzee about 90 years ago.
Ironically the disease may have first spread from humans to armadillos five hundred years ago. There are no traces of leprosy in the New World before Christopher Columbus.

Bottom Line

Left untreated, leprosy can cause permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs and eyes. Contrary to folklore, leprosy does not cause body parts to fall off, although they can become numb or diseased as a result of infection; infection results in tissue loss, so fingers and toes become shortened and deformed as the cartilage is absorbed into the body. Until recent times (1940s), leprosy was incurable and slightly contagious, so those infected (lepers) were shunned or forced to live in leper colonies. It is sometimes called the oldest known disease and there are many references to it in the Old and New Testaments. The Law of Moses required lepers to call out "Unclean, unclean" to warn others from touching them.

Today the infection is readily cured but it's important to catch it early before nerves are permanently damaged. Before the armadillo link was discovered, southern doctors never considered leprosy as the cause for the numb fingers their patients reported. Leprosy just made no sense if the patient had never traveled outside the U.S.

Labels: , ,

Friday, May 13, 2011

More Twisters!

"Then the air was filled with 10,000 things. Boards, poles, cans, garments, stoves, whole sides of the little frame houses, in some cases the houses themselves, were picked up and smashed to earth. And living beings, too. A baby was blown from its mother's arms. A cow, picked up by the wind, was hurled into the village restaurant."
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 20, 1925
Last month the South was hammered by tornadoes. Two weeks ago a massive thunderstorm created 137 tornadoes, killing over 180 people, and destroying sections of Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and Huntsville, Ala. Do you know what to do if a tornado is reported?

* Know where to go
If caught outdoors, where is the nearest shelter? If you live in a mobile home, leave it!  A tornado can tip, roll, and destroy mobile homes.

* Know what to bring to a shelter
After the tornado has passed you may find your home completely destroyed. Your go-kit should include identification, copies of important financial documents, insurance contracts, important contact information, and anything else you'll need to access your money and rebuild.

* Know who to contact
Have a relative outside your community serve as an emergency contact so if family members are caught by the storm in different locations, they can call their status and state what shelter they can be found at.

* Listen for NOAA tornado watches and warnings
As described yesterday, there are free and fee services that can alert you to a NOAA weather event in your area. NOAA weather radios will wake you up if a storm system arrives overnight, when you're sleeping.

Tornado WATCH = keep a eye to the sky. Conditions are favorable for tornadoes so prepare.
Tornado WARNING = a funnel cloud or its precursor has been spotted. Get to safety immediately.

* Know the local counties
If there's a Tornado Warning for Rockland county - how far away is that? Should you worry? At home I know the neighboring NY counties but no clue about Connecticut where I work.

* Get away from windows
The main danger is flying debris from high winds. Find a room that is window free if possible. Go to the lowest room or basement in the house (tornadoes can rip off the tops of homes.)  Duck under a sturdy piece of furniture and hang on.

* What to do if outdoors
If you are outdoors, lie flat on the ground in the lowest spot you can find and cover your head with your arms. Ditches or holes are great but don't spend so much time searching that the tornado catches you standing up.

* After the twister passes...
Don't enter damaged buildings - they may collapse on you. Leaky gas mains may start fires or explosions. Stay far away from downed power lines. Keep listening to weather reports, since the storm may be part of a system spawning several tornadoes.

Bottom Line

Here are some tornado myths from the Christian Science Monitor:

Myth: If a tornado comes, it will inflict less damage if you open your windows to equalize the air pressure inside and outside the structure.
Fact: don't bother; the tornado-blown debris will shatter your windows. It's not pressure but high winds that will cause damage.

Myth: If you're caught outside when a tornado approaches, head for a highway underpass. It will shelter you.
Fact: an underpass won't provide much shelter from wind or debris. Lie flat in a ditch instead.

Myth: A tornado can't happen here.
Fact: They happen in every state.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, May 12, 2011

It's a Twister!

“Coward: One who, in a perilous emergency, thinks with his legs.”
-Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary
On Instapundit.com I read about a weather warning system that sounds promising (but I have not tried so I can not vouch for it.) WeatherCall.net, http://www.weathercall.net/wc_whatisit.html, will register one location for $10/year and send you email, text message, phone call, etc if there is a severe weather warning issued by NOAA.
Subscribers may register one location, 3 telephone numbers and 3 email addresses for a nominal fee of $9.95 dollars per year. When severe weather is approaching the registered location, the system will call all the telephone numbers simultaneously, delivering your meteorologist's warning message, and send a message to all registered email addresses with a graphical depiction of the warning on a localized, interactive Google map.
Not interested? How about a weather radio that turns on for alerts?

Bottom Line

I admire entrepreneurs that start companies like this. (Why didn't I think of it? I can envision writing the code to make a system like this.) NOAA provides tons of information for events all across the nation. So the trick is filtering it to only a region of interest and then creating the phone calls and emails.

I found a list of other companies with similar services at Yahoo. I also found some sites, supposedly free, that I'll try out. You may want to opt out of ads from their sponsors to avoid spam.


Labels: , ,

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Isambard Kingdom Brunel?

“The hardest thing in life is to know which bridge to cross and which to burn”
- David Russell
I just finished a book called The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack which included several famous persons from an alternate-history of Victorian England. Many I recognized like Richard Francis Burton, Charles Darwin and Florence Nightingale. But I had never head of the title character, Spring Heeled Jack, an urban-legend (?) from the Victorian era of a ne'er-do-well gentleman who could leap amazingly high.

Another character I had never heard of is Isambard Kingdom Brunel. (And with a name like that you'd think I'd remember it.) So I looked him up on Wikipedia and learned that Brunel placed second in a BBC 2002 public poll to determine the "100 Greatest Britons". Say what? Second only to Winston Churchill? Of course this was a "public" poll which becomes more obvious in that Princess Diane placed third, above Darwin (4th), and Shakespeare (5th).

Thames tunnel
So who is Brunel and what makes him so famous (at least to your average Briton)? Isambard Kingdom Brunel (9 April 1806 – 15 September 1859) was a genius of civil engineering who designed and built dockyards, railways, transatlantic steamships, and numerous important bridges and tunnels. His designs revolutionised public transport and modern engineering with innovative solutions to long-standing engineering problems. He assisted in the building of the first tunnel under a navigable river, the first propeller-driven ocean-going iron ship (SS Great Britain, which in 1843 was also the largest ship ever built), and first major British railway (The Great Western). Many of Brunel's bridges are still in use, having stood the test of time.

Clifton Bridge

Brunel is perhaps best remembered for the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. Spanning over 700 ft (210 m), and nominally 200 ft (61 m) above the River Avon, it had the longest span of any bridge in the world at the time of construction.

Bottom Line

I'm pleased that an engineer is recognized in his own country. There are many famous scientists but who remembers the engineers? In America the only engineer that I recall is, John Augustus Roebling, who built the Brooklyn Bridge and many others. Perhaps only bridge builders are remembered? And some architects like Frank Lloyd Wright or I.M. Pei. But what of the others? Who built the Empire State Building? Who built the Trans-Continental Railroad? I don't recall being taught that.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

What's your gas mileage?

Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.
~Steven Wright
Do you find gas mileage difficult to calculate? Have you ever wondered if your mileage is worse in the summer with the A/C on? Then try out http://www.fuelly.com/.

You'll need to create an account and confirm your email address. Once that is established, log-in and begin tracking mileage. In my case I chose to use the odometer setting (in miles) and gas (in gallons). When I fill up I'll write the odometer setting on the pump receipt and enter the information when I get home. According to the site I should get 30 mpg on the highway. I wonder if I do?

Bottom Line

Gas is expensive and getting worse. Do you know what your gas mileage is? Is it time to get a newer car?

Labels: ,

Monday, May 9, 2011

The taxman giveth and taketh away

"The taxpayer - that's someone who works for the federal government but doesn't have to take the civil service examination. "
~Ronald Reagan
From Instapundit.com,
DRIVING AN ELECTRIC CAR? You must be punished for depriving the government of gas-tax revenue! “After years of urging residents to buy fuel-efficient cars and giving them tax breaks to do it, Washington state lawmakers are considering a measure to charge them a $100 annual fee — what would be the nation’s first electric car fee. State lawmakers grappling with a $5 billion deficit are facing declining gas tax revenue, which means less money to maintain or improve roads.”
Bottom Line

Environmentalists claim that "Big Oil" is opposed to Green Cars. But the government also has a stake in the game and less gas used means less tax revenue to spend.

Labels: , ,

Friday, May 6, 2011

10 DIY Projects

“A man builds a fine house; and now he has a master, and a task for life: he is to furnish, watch, show it, and keep it in repair, the rest of his days”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
PartSelect.com features 10 Maintenance Tips You Can Do In Under 10 Minutes.
  1. Verify Oven Door Has Tight Seal
  2. Clean or Replace Dirty [Oven] Vent Filters
  3. Clean Stovetop Drip Bowls
  4. Clean Coils In Your Refrigerator
  5. Change Refrigerator Water Filter
  6. Fix Rusty Dishrack Tines [I'll add clean your dishrack]
  7. Clean and Deodorize Garbage Disposal
  8. Clean Dryer Exhaust  [Lint is a fire hazard!]
  9. Inspect Washing Machine Hoses [We have a leak in ours]
  10. Clean Your Air Conditioner Filter
Bottom Line

See http://www.partselect.com/JustForFun/Ten-Maintenance-Tips-You-Can-Do-In-Under-Ten-Minutes.aspx for details.

Labels: ,

Thursday, May 5, 2011


"Some users will provide their password to a stranger who says he is from their company's IT department."
-Amir Lubashevsky
If you use computers than you'll be asked to supply a "secure" password. When I wrote about this two years ago, I recommended using the initial letters of a phrase like "tbontbtitq" for "To be or not to be, that is the question" as something not found in a dictionary yet easy to remember. Sometimes it is possible to be too clever. When physicist Richard Feynman worked on the Manhattan Project to create the first nuclear bomb, he found that many safes could be cracked at the super-secure site with combinations based upon PI = 3.14159 or e = 2.7182818.

This morning I read an article on baekdal.com that suggests we are looking at passwords the wrong way. Reliable security it argues, comes from password length, not password complexity. Yes complexity helps. A password like "jskerv" with only characters can be cracked in 1 month using brute force. But "J4fS<2" with mixed case, symbols and numbers would take 219 years to crack. The problem with complex passwords is remembering them. A password at the office is defeated if you post it on the wall of your cube.

Baekdal recommends a three word password like "this is fun". A pure brute-force attack for 11 characters would take over 1 million years. An attack combining common words would take over 2000 years, still very secure. If spaces are not allowed in your password, try "this-is-fun".

Since most password algorithms measure complexity, not length, you may find a password like this rated as "weak." And yes a single word from a dictionary with 11 characters would be weak. But not three words. Imagine how many three word sentences exist!

Some passwords require symbols, numbers, etc. I find this annoying and occasionally forget the new password for some bank that requires two numbers or some other pattern different from what I use. This results in keeping a list of passwords which in itself weakens security.

Bottom Line

Find a password that is easy to remember but long and either multi-words or letters taken from some phrase you remember. Can you guess this phrase?  "hb2yhb2y"

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Is your phone spying on you?

And (I always feel like)
(Somebody's watching me)
And I have no privacy
- lyrics, Rockwell, "Somebody's Watching Me"
The Guardian.Co.UK reports that,
"Security researchers have discovered that Apple's iPhone keeps track of where you go – and saves every detail of it to a secret file on the device which is then copied to the owner's computer when the two are synchronised. The file contains the latitude and longitude of the phone's recorded coordinates along with a timestamp, meaning that anyone who stole the phone or the computer could discover details about the owner's movements using a simple program"
And this is apparently legal. Near of end of the iTunes license (which no one reads), is a paragraph that grants permission for "location-based services."
"Apple and our partners and licensees may collect, use, and share precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device. This location data is collected anonymously in a form that does not personally identify you and is used by Apple and our partners and licensees to provide and improve location-based products and services. For example, we may share geographic location with application providers when you opt in to their location services."
So far only the iPhone is known to keep a location record on the device itself. However all cell phones leave a history of your travels as you move from one cell tower to another. We trust the cell phone companies to keep that information private and only release it to the police with a court order.

Bottom Line

In the modern world, total privacy is impossible unless you give up credit cards, ATM machines, cell phones, Internet and just about every other modern convenience. Still it is important to know what information about yourself is being collected and how it is being used. This is why I recently advised my father not to use Facebook. It has a history of violating privacy protocols or enabling vendors to violate privacy with your information. Facebook is fun to use but you must be very careful with what you share and expect that anything you post may leak out. For my part I "blur" the data I post by moving my birthday a few days or picking the town next door as my residence. Close enough for friends but incorrect for identity theft.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Be as a tower firmly set; Shakes not its top for any blast that blows.
Gizmodo.com published a clever story on whether people can actually survive the kinds of explosions seen in movies. The short answer is - No.

Jumping behind a car or wall may save you from flying shrapnel but the main force of an explosion is the blast wave of air that flows over and around objects (or blasts them out of its way). Normal air pressure is 14 pounds per square inch (psi) and amazingly the human body can survive up to 400 psi if the pressure is increased very slowly. But a quick change in pressure of 20-40 psi is fatal. Buildings can crumble under pressure anywhere between 5 and 20 psi. That may not sound like much but keep in mind that a 100 mph wind blowing on a buliding will only extert .2 psi.

The damage of a blast is a combination of the force and the time over which the force is applied. Rapid changes in pressure can rupture the lungs and the bowels.
A wave of pressure that lasts less than .3 milliseconds leaves the eardrum no time to adjust to changes in pressure, and simply tears it. This can happen with pressure change as small as 5 psi.
I was suprised to read that a pressure change of just 5 psi can create 160 mile-per-hour winds - serious hurricane force! And while the body might physically survive a change of 20 psi, that pressure can create winds of 470 miles per hour which will lift people in the air and toss them on to something with fatal impact.

Bottom Line

The big fire balls in movies represent
"military-grade explosives which unleash millions of pounds per square inch of pressure. Anything near it is getting destroyed. For more modest explosives, the best defense is distance. Since force is applied over area, it decreases by the square of the distance it travels. Run like hell."


Monday, May 2, 2011

The return of HIV

"And there's no guarantee that if you get HIV and you take these triple therapies, or whatever comes along next, that they're going to be successful for you."
- Elton John
The Tennessean.com reports that health officials are seeing a surge in new HIV cases with young adults because they no longer fear the disease. Many people think the war against AIDS ended in the mid-1990s when a "cure" was found.
“I remember holding the hands of people dying of AIDS in my 24 years of being in this field, but the young people I talk to have not held the hands of folks dying with AIDS,” said Harris [a health educator]. “They don’t have a reality of this virus.”
With a lack of fear for HIV, “Behavior is back to where it was in 1980,” says a public health official where youth are seeking for and advertising unprotected sex.
Between 2005 and 2009, the number of Tennesseans 15 to 24 years old newly diagnosed with HIV jumped 32 percent, state health department figures show.
And the disease is not "cured."
While medical advances have largely turned what was once a death sentence into a chronic manageable disease, there is no guarantee that infected people can just take a pill and keep on living. How well medications work depends upon how soon HIV is detected and what mutations of the virus exist. ...
Almost one of six newly diagnosed people in 2007 was infected with a form of the virus that was resistant to at least one class of drugs used to treat HIV. One percent had mutations of the virus that were resistant to all three classes of drugs.
Bottom Line

If you have kids tell them that HIV is not "cured" and can still be fatal.

Labels: ,