Wednesday, August 31, 2011

If a tree falls on your house, who pays?

“We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Hurricane Irene caused serious flood damage along some coasts and (to the surprise of some) along rivers far inland. Locally the Hudson River rose over ten feet and flooded our community boat club. Train tracks were covered in water and mud.

Two very common problems with heavy rain and/or flooding is fallen trees and swamped cars. If your neighbor's tree falls on your property - who pays? CBS-Philadelphia looked into the question and learned:

1. If a tree falls on a house, the home owner's insurance of the damaged house should cover it as "an act of God" regardless of where the tree came from.

2. If a tree falls on a car, the car owner's insurance will cover the damage under comprehensive coverage.

3. If a tree falls and nothing is damaged, you're on your own getting it removed.

The situation could change if the tree was old or pre-damaged and the owner allowed it to decay and fall. The owner might be sued for negligence.

If your car was flooded, FoxBusiness has the answers:

1. Liability auto insurance does not cover flooding; you need comprehensive insurance for that.

2. Is the car repairable? "In general, water that goes past the floorboards -- into the areas where electronics begin -- will mean the car is totaled."

OK, my car is flooded. What should I do?
If your car did flood, don't start it until it's been cleaned and inspected. Try to dry it out as quickly as possible. The less time its exposed to water, the better. Record the maximum height the water went to and call your insurance company. Then, get a qualified and certified tech to check out all your wiring and electrical components, as well as all the mechanical ones. Make sure to flush all fluids and replace all filters and gaskets. While a flood-exposed car may drive, the longer internal components sit with water damage, the greater the risk of damage to the engine and other parts. - Consumerist summary of FoxBusiness advice
Bottom Line

Sometimes a flood keeps on giving grief long after the event.
  • Mold may pop up days or weeks later as discussed yesterday in your home and car.
  • Contaminated flood water can cause illness afterwards.
  • Fallen limb damage might not be obvious at first. We discovered damage to our roof over a month after a storm when the next rain leaked into our attic.
  • Car damage might not surface earlier than 90 days, when computer and other electrical components begin to corrode.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Post Irene: Act Now to stop Mold!

"Have you been lying awake worrying? Well, don't worry...I'm here. The flood waters will recede, the famine will end, the sun will shine tomorrow, and I will always be here to take care of you."
-Charlie Brown to Snoopy notes that mold can be a serious problem after flooding. We were lucky at my house with less than an inch of water in our garage and basement but even that small amount can result in lots of mold.
"To prevent mold from growing and spreading after a flood, you have to act fast—within 24 to 48 hours."
  • Dry out wet areas ASAP. Open doors and windows and use fans or dehumidifiers speed up drying time.
  • Anything porous or absorbent that was wet for a day or two is a problem. If you can thoroughly clean it with detergent and dry it, do so soon. Otherwise the item should be tossed. Even dead mold can cause allergic reactions.

    "Porous, noncleanable items include carpeting and carpet padding, upholstery, wallpaper, drywall, ceiling tiles, insulation material, some clothing, leather, paper, some wood and wood products, and food." 
  • Temporarily store damaged or discarded items outside the home until insurance claims can be processed. If you leave them in the house these items will spread mold everywhere.
There are mixed opinions on using chlorine. Detergent is safer to use and nicer on the environment but if you experienced flood water from a river, run-off or ocean, then use chlorine. Flood waters may contain human waste and other contaminates - so go with the extra cleaning power of chlorine.

Bottom Line
"If you think a serious mold problem is developing, consult a professional mold remediation service. You should also consult an expert if people who live in your home have health issues or are immune suppressed.
If the floodwaters have affected your heating and air conditioning you'll need help from a qualified professional."

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Does Censorship cause Violence?

A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned - this is the sum of good government.
-Thomas Jefferson
While in high school one of my English classes included several anti-utopian novels, 1984, Brave New World, Animal Farm, and Brave New World. Perhaps this influenced my world view with the idea that civilization is very thin and likely to crack under a pressure. Take London for example. The British are rightly proud of how the country and the city maintained civil society and politeness and queues under German Blitz of bombs and rockets raining down. Much of the credit should be given to Winston Churchill, "Never Surrender", who provided real leadership under stress.

Churchill was recently mentioned at a Sunday evening concert at West Point Military Academy that my wife & I attended. During WWII Parliament voted to eliminate funding in the Arts as part of war-time budget cuts. Churchill vetoed this and said that especially during times of war, the public needs to be reminded what it is fighting for (i.e. Civilization as represented by the arts).

Such respect for civilization is not evident in London today. There is much debate over the causes for the London riots and I don't know yet what to believe. However one article caught my eye from

New Research: Internet Censorship To Stop Protests... Actually Increases Protests

Recently San Francisco shut down the cell phone system in the cities subway BART system over fear that a protest group might gather there. One response by the British government to the London crisis is to consider censoring social media like Facebook. What the research shows is that people get more violent when denied the chance to express themselves peacefully. The pen may be mightier than the sword but if you take away the pens then you leave people with only swords to express themselves.

Researchers modeled the behavior of protesters on computers with proven simulation techniques that have a decent track record for accuracy.

The agent's behaviour is influenced by several variables, the first one being his/her personal level of political dissatisfaction ("grievance"). This can lead the agent to abandon his/her state of quiet and become an active protester. However, the decision to act out -- whether it is to go on a looting spree or to engage in violent demonstrations -- is conditioned by the agent's social surroundings ("neighbourhood" in the model's language). Does s/he detect the presence of police in the surroundings? If the answer to this question is no, s/he will act out. If the answer is yes, another question is asked: is this police presence counterbalanced by a sufficient number of actively protesting citizens? If the answer to this second question is yes, then the agent acts out. Sometimes, in an utterly random way, one of the active citizens gets caught by the police and is sent to jail for a given period of time. Again, the apparent simplicity of this rule, is sadly consistent with the many episodes of arbitrary and "swift" justice triggered by the UK government adoption of a hard line in dealing with riot repression.
The researchers added Internet censorship to the simulation to see what impact it has. They found the greater the censorship, the greater the violence.

Bottom Line

Censorship isn't likely to help and is likely makes things worse.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Steaming Semen, no Bull!

“If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull----.”
-W. C. Fields
In today's security concious world, everything is seen as suspicious. Recently a United plane was returned to the airport because a passenger was reading a book about airplanes. Perhaps they thought he was planning his attack during the flight itself? Or brushing up on the details? A policeman quickly released the passenger when he saw the book was about "Snoopy Red Baron stuff...", i.e. triplanes from 1921.

On August 23 in Nashville, Tennesse, an on-ramp to Interstate 65 was closed and fire and emergency HAZMAT crews called to investigate unmarked canisters alongside the road which were smelly and steaming. Naturally foul play was suspected. Could this be a bomb or a chemical attack? Bus tickets were found nearby and it was determined that the canisters had fallen out of the cargo department of a Greyhound bus. The driver was located and he identified the canisters as containing frozen bull sperm packed in liquid nitrogen from Columbus, Ohio and en route to a breeding facility in Laredo, Texas. Depending on the quality of the bull parent(s?) the lost sperm could be worth as much as $80,000.

Since the canisters used liquid nitrogen, they are not allowed on planes and must travel by ground. A Greyhound spokesperson said it's not uncommon that the bus was carrying bull sperm. If that make you nervous (eew, cudies on my luggage), Greyhound says that cargo is stored in a compartment separate from passenger belongings.

Bottom Line

It's good to stay alert but let's not overdo going to extremes.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Reformed Theology

God made so many different kinds of people. Why would he allow only one way to serve him?
~Martin Buber

Recently I was reading a Survivalist blogsite with articles on "prepper" friendly churches; i.e. churches that encourage preparing food storage and supplies for coming "bad times". One person recommended the Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC) which I had never heard of before. The blogger described them as follows...
The various confessions to which CREC members hold are as follows:

•Westminster Confession of Faith
•The Savoy Declaration
•The London Baptist Confession
•American Westminster Confession of Faith
•The Reformed Evangelical Confession

•The Three Forms of Unity:
 Belgic Confession
 Heidelberg Catechism
 Canons of Dort
Huh? Several months back I listened to a lecture series on the history of Christian religion and vaguely remembered some of these terms. Here is what Wikipedia has to say. Apologies to Reformed Church members for any mistakes I make below. This is all new to me.

Westminster Confession of Faith was drawn up in 1646 in England and is used (with some modifications) by Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists. The modifications made by English Congregationalists in 1658 is called the Savoy Declaration. After the Revolutionary War in 1789, the American Congregationalists removed references to the Church of England in the American Westminster Confession of Faith.
The Baptist Church in England wrote their First Confession of beliefs in 1644, two years prior to Westminster. But the Westminster Confession contained more details and became the approved standard in England. In 1677 the Baptists created a new London Baptist Confession modeled after Westminster.

I'm not sure what the Reformed Evangelical Confession is. There's no link on Wikipedia and the CREC website says only (see Article XII).

The original Westminster Confession of Faith consists of 33 chapters describing beliefs and doctrine:
1 Of the Holy Scripture.
2 Of God, and of the Holy Trinity.
3 Of God's Eternal Decree.
4 Of Creation.
5 Of Providence.
6 Of the Fall of Man, of Sin, and of the Punishment thereof.
7 Of God's Covenant with Man.
8 Of Christ the Mediator.
9 Of Free Will.
10 Of Effectual Calling.
11 Of Justification.
12 Of Adoption.
13 Of Sanctification.
14 Of Saving Faith.
15 Of Repentance Unto Life.
16 Of Good Works.
17 Of The Perseverance of the Saints.
18 Of the Assurance of Grace and Salvation.
19 Of the Law of God.
20 Of Christian Liberty, and Liberty of Conscience.
21 Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath-day.
22 Of Lawful Oaths and Vows.
23 Of the Civil Magistrate.
24 Of Marriage and Divorce.
25 Of the Church.
26 Of the Communion of the Saints.
27 Of the Sacraments.
28 Of Baptism.
29 Of the Lord's Supper.
30 Of Church Censures.
31 Of Synods and Councils.
32 Of the State of Man After Death, and of the Resurrection of the Dead.
33 Of the Last Judgment.

•The Three Forms of Unity predate Westminster and is a collective name for the official statements of doctrine of Dutch Calvinists and many Reformed Churches. From 1618 to 1619 the Dutch government, on behalf of the Dutch Reformed Church, gathered Dutch delegates along with twenty-seven Reformed representatives from eight other countries to meet at a Synod of Dort, where they summarized their views in what was called the Canons of Dort. The Synod also approved two other documents used by the Dutch Reformed Church: the Heidelberg Catechism (1561, a question-and-answer format explaining biblical teaching to children and those new to the faith) and the Belgic Confession of Faith (1563). The Belgic Confession consists of 37 articles in memorizable paragraphs on the doctrines of God, Scripture, sin, salvation, and the end times. The original Belgic (Belgium) Confession in French cites scripture passages for each belief in the margins.

Bottom Line

As I wrote the above I became confused. The CREC does not list beliefs but rather multiple belief documents (called confessions). How can an organization say it "holds to" multiple confessions of faith which contain differences one from another? 

The CREC offers this explanation:
4. Why does the CREC allow so many different Confessions? Won’t this breed conflict?
It will certainly breed discussion, and the Bible tells us to strive for like-mindedness, which cannot be done without contact with one another. We have agreed on the basics of the gospel in such a way as to promote unity where we currently differ. We believe our unity is to be founded in confessional truth, and therefore we want our association with other faithful churches to facilitate the opportunity for striving for greater unity.
A wonderful statement.

During the Reformation hundreds of thousands died in Europe for the Confessions above. Catholics and Protestants fought each other and even Protestants killed Protestants over differences in beliefs (e.g. adult vs infant baptism). Several centuries before the Reformation, Catholics killed Catholics over "heretical" beliefs (e.g. is Jesus created by God and a lesser being or co-equal to God ["begotton not made"])?

It's great to see an organization of Churches that can agree to disagree on some details and work together peaceably.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Do you have $1000 in the bank?

“Bad planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part”
According to a new survey from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) 64% of Americans don't have enough cash available to them to cover a $1,000 emergency.

"It's alarming," a NFCC spokeswoman tells CNN Money. "For consumers who live paycheck to paycheck — having spent tomorrow's money — an unplanned expense can truly put them in financial distress."

CNN reports,

“Many respondents, 17%, said they would borrow money from friends or family. Another 17% said they would neglect other financial obligations — like a credit card bill or mortgage payment — in order to free up some funds.

Alternatively, 12% of the respondents said they would have to sell or pawn some assets to come up with $1,000 and 9% said they would need to take out a loan. Another 9% said they would get a cash advance from a credit card, according to the NFCC.”
Bottom Line

The recommended safety net was THREE MONTHS of income in a bank account for emergency use. If you take home $40,000 after deductions, then you should have $10,000 in the bank to cover three months of unemployed or a large medical bill, etc.

Today however three months of unemployment may be a best case scenario instead of worst case if you're laid off. People are now unemployed for 6 months to a year or more so you may want to increase your emergency fund. If you don't have an emergency fund - start one immediately with an automatic deposit into a special account of as much as you can afford each month, $100, $500, etc.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Random Thoughts

"As the British have lost their empire and, more important, lost their respect for laws and standards, Britannia has gone from ruling the waves to waiving the rules."
- Thomas Sowell

Today I discovered a blog by American economist, social theorist, political philosopher and author, Thomas Sowell, at I enjoyed an article he wrote called Random Thoughts which includes the quote above and the following quotes...
"The difference between mob rule and democracy was never more sharply demonstrated than by labor unions' attempts to prevent the Wisconsin voters' elected representatives from carrying out their official duties at the state Capitol. What would it matter what the voters want if any mob can stop it from happening?"
"Three little words -- "We the people," the opening words of the Constitution of the United States -- are the biggest obstacle to achieving the political goals of the left. For that, they must move decisions away from "We the people" -- from individuals to government; from elected officials to unelected judges; and from national institutions to international institutions like the United Nations -- all safely remote and insulated from "We the people.""
"President Obama often talks about wanting to raise taxes on "millionaires and billionaires" but -- in his actual tax proposals -- higher taxes usually begin with couples earning $250,000 between them. Apparently that makes you a millionaire or a billionaire."
"Amid all the concerns about the skyrocketing government debt, a front-page headline in the Wall Street Journal said: "Families Slice Debt to Lowest In 6 Years." It is remarkable how differently people behave when they are spending their own money compared to the way politicians behave when spending the government's money."
From another article, titled "Obama's 'Balanced' Approach"
"Barack Obama's political genius is his ability to say things that will sound good to people who have not followed the issues in any detail -- regardless of how obviously fraudulent what he says may be to those who have. Shameless effrontery can be a huge political asset, especially if uninformed voters outnumber those who are informed."
"Another word that sounds good to people who don't stop and think is "fair." President Obama says that he only wants the wealthiest Americans to pay their "fair share." But he says zilch about just what that fair share is, or even how to determine it."
Bottom Line
One more quote from Sowell,
"At one time, it was well understood that adversity taught valuable lessons, which reduce the probability of repeating foolish decisions. But, today, the welfare state shields people from the consequences of their own mistakes, allowing irresponsibility to continue and to flourish among ever wider circles of people."
The same could be said of TAARP that shielded banks from their mistakes or the bailout of the car companies. Why is it that failure is no longer allowed? What do we learn when protected from our mistakes?

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Special Edition Update:

At 1:51 pm yesterday my office building in Stamford, CT began to sway. It was an odd sensation, a bit like being on a boat with a gently rocking motion. It lasted for a good 15 seconds and my brain was wondering -this is very odd, what's going on? It probably took 10 seconds before I realized, oh, this is what an earthquake feels like. A co-worker from Japan immediately jumped under her desk but most of us did not. I thought about it but figured the motion was so gentle I doubted there was going to be any harm. I was right but it was a poor decision. I should have gone for cover and not worried about how silly that might look.

I immediately called my wife on her cell to tell her. She had felt nothing in a restaurant on ground level some 30 miles away. So I figured the earthquake was local. There was nothing on Google news for the first 5 minutes but then a news alert put the 5.8 earthquake 360 miles away in Mineral, Virginia. Wow.

I tried to call my wife back with this news but the Cell phone system was overwhelmed and there was no dial tone at all. This cell "outage" lasted for about 15-30 minutes before she was able to call me. I did call home out of curiosity and was able to reach my answering machine. This is one reason we keep paying for the land line at home - it works when cell phones don't.

Since the event many have wondered, why did we feel the quake from so far away? The East Coast is 100 times less active than California, but an earthquake east of the Rockies is typically felt over an area ten times larger than a similar quake on the west coast. And since most East Coast buildings are not earthquake proof, the damages can be very wide spread. In California the ground is very fractured, when a quake wave hits a fracture it is deflected or absorbed. Think of a pond wave hitting a branch. On the East Coast we have very old bedrock that is quite solid and unfractured. It rings like a bell when hit with nothing to stop the quake waves. There are reports of the quake being felt in Canada!

Bottom Line

According to Matthew Herper at,
Just because quakes are less frequent in the east does not mean they are less dangerous, because building codes are less strict. Seismologists believe New York City is past due for a big quake — the last major one was a 5.2 quake centered in New York harbor off of Brooklyn in 1884. (See: Yes Virginia, There Are Earthquakes On The East Coast.)

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Things to do this Weekend

“Hey Boo Boo, let's go get us a pic-a-nic basket” -Yogi Bear
On weekends my wife & I often have this dialog,
"What do you want to do?"
"I don't know, what do you want to do?"
"I don't know ..."

If you're stuck in this same loop of indecision, suggests 47 low-cost ways to have fun this weekend.

1. Go to a local Park

2. Watch the Sunset

3. Pack a Picnic Lunch and find a Shady Spot to Enjoy
We saw one family having a picnic under a tree in the parking lot of a mall.

4. Play Board Games

5. Play Card Games
My grandparents used to invite a few friends over and have a card night. I've never done that.

6. Do a Road Rally With Friends

7. Go on a Digital Scavenger Hunt

8. Throw a Bring Your Own Everything Party

9. Have a Bonfire or Campfire in Your Backyard

10. Get Ice Cream

11. Make a Romantic Dinner at home

12. Grill Something New

13. Go to the Museum or Zoo
Take advantage of free or discount days.

14. Scan Your Old Photographs

15. Pretend You're a Tourist in Your Community

16. Organize a Neighborhood Cleanup

17. Go to the Farmers Market

18. Pick Strawberries or Other Fruit

19. Bake a Pie

20. Volunteer at a Soup Kitchen or Homeless Shelter

21. Invite Your Neighbors Over

22. Go Fishing

23. Go to the Beach

24. Go to the Library

25. Host a Classic Movie Marathon

26. Rearrange the Furniture in Your House

27. Write Out Your Bucket List and Pick One to Do

28. Put Together a Jigsaw Puzzle

29. Volunteer to Babysit for Someone Who "Needs a Break"

30. Clean Out Your Closet and Donate to a Thrift Store

31. Watch for Shooting Stars

32. Go on a Bike Ride

33. Take a Free Online Class

34. Write Out Your Life Plan

35. Set Three New Goals for Yourself

36. Find a Community Play to Attend

37. Help Someone in Need

38. Buy Food for the Homeless and Listen to Their Stories

39. Go Bowling

40. Visit Garage Sales and Look for Deals

41. Tour the Local Fire or Police Station and Thank Them for Their Service

42. Visit a Local Nursing Home and Engage With the Residents

43. Plant a Garden

44. Go Dancing

45. Walk Through the Craft Store and Start an Art Project

46. Host a "Minute to Win It" Party

47. Write a Letter to a Family Member You Haven't Talked to in a While

Bottom Line

There's lots to do! Get going!

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Online Photos

I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don't take my Kodachrome away
- Paul Simon lyrics to Kodachrome
US News asks, "Is It Safe to Post Photos Online? It's a wonderful thing to share photos online but those photos can also be stolen and misused. Imagine your face used in an online dating service by someone not blessed with your good looks. Will friends believe you when you say, "But that's not me!"  Or your photo used by an advertiser without permission.

1. Check your online privacy settings.
Never allow everyone access to your photos. Restrict them to friends only.

2. Make sure you know who your friends are.
I have over 200 connections on LinkedIn. Are all these people really my friends? Do I trust every one of them? Consider de-friending anyone you don't trust 100%.

3. Disable the GPS technology before taking photos with a smartphone.
Even regular cameras are starting to apply GPS data to digital photos. When you post a photo with GPS data embedded, anyone can know where the photo was taken. Fun perhaps for a vacation photo but risky if the photo was taken at home.

4. Watch out for lower-tech ways of sharing too much personal information.
Your child's T-shirt could contain a school logo. Blur out your car license plate in any photos you post.

5. Don't post embarrassing photos.
Once posted, items on the internet may never die. Even dead websites can be brought back to life with or Google cache. Photo facial recognition is getting more and more powerful so in a few years it may be trivial for anyone to find online naked baby photos that match an adult face.

6. No means no.
If a friend or relative posts photos of your child and you don't want them to, ask them to take them down. If they refuse, some sites allow you to flag a photo as objectionable and taken down at your request.

7. Use a watermark.
Watermarks can be visible or invisible and will help prove that you own a photo if it's stolen and makes millions of dollars selling coffee. A watermark is an image or text that is mixed into the image itself.

Bottom Line

Share with friends but protect your photos.

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Monday, August 22, 2011


It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.
- Mark Twain
Today I'll let a picture say its thousand words,

Bottom Line

Remember when Social Security was going to crash the government budget? With more seniors there will be higher payments out. The expense will rise from about 4% of Gross Domestic Product to 6 or 7%. Where is that money going to come from?

But it turns out that Social Security is just a drop in the bucket compared to Heath Care which was just 1% in 1970 and today is equal to Social Security. Look at the projected rate of climb on health care. The Obamacare bill was supposed to "bend the cost curve" so that health care would not grow so fast. It failed at that.

Keep in mind that the GDP itself is growing at 1 to 2% each year (3% in really good years). For the SS and health care to become a larger percentage of the GDP means that they are growing at an even faster rate than the economy as a whole. The GDP today is about 14 trillion dollars so each percentage point in the graph represents 140 billion dollars. That may sound "small" compared to the total but consider this: the 2 trillion dollars "cut" from spending over ten years in the recent debt cap bill comes to about 200 billion saved per year. It took a near collapse of the government to reach an agreement to cut just 200 billion a year. What will be cut in the future to pay for health care?

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Education for the masses

“I never let schooling interfere with my education.”
-Mark Twain
A year ago I wrote about Online College courses; most notably the Khan Academy. A recent Wired magazine article describes how Khan is a complete game changer, and how children have been able to advance at a blistering pace using Khan's materials. So what does the public school system think of it?
So what happens when, using Khan Academy, you wind up with a kid in fifth grade who has mastered high school trigonometry and physics—but is still functioning like a regular 10-year-old when it comes to writing, history, and social studies? Khan’s programmer, Ben Kamens, has heard from teachers who’ve seen Khan Academy presentations and loved the idea but wondered whether they could modify it “to stop students from becoming this advanced.”
Bottom Line

American grade school education is not "about the children", nor is it about what is best for the children. It's about conformity. It's about social engineering and promoting "correct thought". Only a factory-assembly-line educational system, a "we don't care about individual", would complain about students becoming too advanced.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Neural Biology

With the thoughts you'd be thinkin'
You could be another Lincoln
If you only had a brain
- Dorothy to the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz

My latest commuting lecture series is Biology and human behavior : the neurological origins of individuality by Professor Robert Sapolsky. It's fun to listen to but I have mixed feelings about not watching it on DVD.

1. Reason to watch DVD: The professor makes frequent references to displays, "as you can see on the right...". Fortunately most (all?) charts are in the course book.

2. Reason not to watch DVD: The professor is very entertaining but visually distracting. (see image).

With each lecture Sapolsky introduces a new part of our mental anatomy and explains what can go wrong with too little or too much information to the brain.

The Great Courses webpage says,
"The course opens with an introductory lecture and then proceeds to Modules I and II, which start at the level of how a single neuron works. You build upward to examine how millions of neurons in a particular region of the brain operate. The focus is on the regions of the brain most pertinent to emotion and behavior.

Modules III, IV, and V explore how the brain and behavior are regulated. First, you cover how the brain regulates hormones and how hormones influence brain function and behavior. Next you examine how both the brain and behavior evolved, covering contemporary thinking about how natural selection has sculpted and optimized behavior and how that optimization is mediated by brain function. Then you focus on a bridge between evolution and the brain, investigating what genes at the molecular level have to do with brain function and how those genes have evolved.

Module VI examines ethology, which is the study of the behavior of animals in their natural habitats. The focus in these lectures is on how hormones, evolution, genes, and behavior are extremely sensitive to environment.

Finally, Module VII explores how the various approaches—neurobiology, neuroendocrinology, evolution, genetics, and ethology—help explain an actual set of behaviors, with a particular focus on aggression. The final lecture summarizes what is known about the biology of human behavior and probes the societal implications of having such knowledge."

Bottom Line

The human brain & body are amazingly complex.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Body Hacking

“And computers are getting smarter all the time: scientists tell us that soon they will be able to talk to us. (By they I mean computers: I doubt scientists will ever be able to talk to us.)”
-Dave Barry

Scary story of the day:

Black Hat researcher shows it is possible to remotely control a diabetic's insulin pump without person's knowledge

Bottom Line

Technology is wonderful but most inventors and companines fail to take security seriously. Hackers can turn off pace markers and most any other medical device that responds to remote signals. If your life depends on technology, ask your doctor about the risks of hacking or even "Noise" or magnetic fields disabling your device.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

10 Things You Shouldn't Keep in Your Wallet or Purse

What's in your wallet?
-Capital One slogan

Fox Business News lists 10 Things You Shouldn't Keep in Your Wallet or Purse.

1. Social Security Card
With your Social Security card a thief could open a credit card, apply for a loan, or even buy a car with the information. Memorize the nine digits instead.

2. Your Passport
A passport is a must if you're traveling internationally, but leave it in the hotel safe. When abroad, carry a photocopy of your passport for identification. "If you lose your passport or get mugged in a foreign country, it's such a horrible hassle. You have to go to the embassy, and it's a vacation nightmare."

If you're traveling in the U.S., carry only your driver's license.

3. Passwords/Pass codes
"If you store any type of ATM password or even a code for your home alarm in your wallet, you have basically gifted a thief with access to your life." If you must write them down, enter them in backwards or add one to each number so that 1234 becomes 2345. Use some kind of a code to alter the number that you will remember.

4. A Non-Password Protected Phone
Some smart phone applications allow instant access to bank accounts, PayPal accounts, medical records, and more. Even email on an unprotected phone could give a thief way too much information. Be sure to password protect your smart phone AND don't carry that password on you.

5. Your Checkbook
A checkbook has your bank account number and routing number on it, and your address.

6. Too Many Credit Cards
If you carry every credit card you own and your wallet is lost or stolen then you'll have to cancel every one. If you leave at least one card at home (in a safe place) you'll have a card you can use when the others are gone. Also make sure you keep photocopies of the front and back of each card at home; the back of most cards carries the 800 number for reporting a lost or stolen card.

7. Too Much Cash
Carry only as much cash as you're willing or able to afford to lose.

8. Gift Cards/Certificates
Gift cards and gift certificates are just like cash -- they don't require ID for use.

9. USB Devices
USB devices can be bad news in the hands of thieves if they contain confidential files.

10. Receipts
Some receipts have your credit card information on them, as well as your signature, which thieves could do a lot of damage with.

Bonus Item:
"It may sound silly, but if you're changing earrings ..., it's very possible you may forget and toss these things in the zipper compartment of your wallet. It would be horrible to get your wallet stolen any day, but if you're also losing your grandmother's earrings ..., it's even worse!"

Bottom Line

What's in your wallet? Does it contain anything besides a drivers license that a thief can use to steal your identity?

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Local Produce

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master that’s all.”
 Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass (1872)

Are you a locavore? Someone who tries to buy and eat food that is grown locally? That's a great idea for saving energy and helping the local economy but there is just one problem? What does "local" mean?

Last October, Walmart announced a pledge to double the amount of produce it purchases from local growers by 2015. For Walmart "local" is defined as grown in the same state in which it is sold.

The Wall Street Journal asked three other grocery stores how they define local:

* Safeway (including Dominick's, Genuardi's, Von's, Randall's and others): Produce is "local" if the transportation to the store by truck takes eight hours or less.

* Kroger (including Ralphs, Fred Meyer, Fry's and others):  says local "can refer to produce grown in the same state or within the same region of the country."

* Supervalu (including most Albertsons stores, Acme, Shaw's Jewel-Osco and others): "local" can mean something different at each of the company's subsidiary brands.

Bottom Line

Beware of buzz words like lite, low-fat, and now "local". It can mean whatever the grocery store wants it to mean.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Free Radicals

Sex is good, but not as good as fresh, sweet corn.
~Garrison Keillor
Free Radicals sounds like a leftist rallying cry, "Free the Radical 8". But inside the human body you don't want radicals roaming free. Radicals are atoms or molecules which lack one or more electrons which would complete atomic orbital shells. They grab an electron from some molecule in your body which then becomes a radical itself and grabs from someone else in a chain reaction until the process is halted by an antioxidant. An antioxidant can give away an electron and not become radicalized itself.

Free radicals are blamed for aging, DNA mutation and causing cancer. So some people think they'll be healthier taking massive doses of antioxidants. But the story is not so simple. Some radicals are needed - the immune system uses radicals to destroy infections and invaders. Overdosing on antioxidants could weaken your own self-defenses.

Many antioxidants you consume in a pill won't help. The body regulates its level of vitamin C and most of a massive intake will just pass through the body and be pissed away. You may have better luck with Vitamin E being stored in the body where it can do some good.

Natural sources of antioxidants include Carotenes and Flavonoids. Carotene gives carrots their orange color. Flavonoids give bright colors to other fruits and vegetables. At salad bars I now pick items of different colors to enrich my salad. This includes bright red beets which I would not normally eat but, hey, what else provides that unique color?

Bottom Line

If you eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in a rainbow of colors, your diet is naturally rich in thousands of antioxidants and you should not need to boost it.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Smuggling Drugs in Unwitting People's Car Trunks

Woh, down in Mexico, I never really been so I don't really know.
And oh, Mexico, I guess I'll have to go.
-James Taylor, lyrics from Mexico

Schneier on Security has this is clever but scary story:
A few miles away across the Rio Grande, the FBI determined that Chavez and Gomez were using lookouts to monitor the SENTRI Express Lane at the border. The lookouts identified "targets" -- people with regular commutes who primarily drove Ford vehicles. According to the FBI affidavit, the smugglers would follow their targets and get the vehicle identification number off the car's dashboard. Then a corrupt locksmith with access to Ford's vehicle database would make a duplicate key. Keys in hand, the gang would put drugs in a car at night in Mexico and then pick up their shipment from the parked vehicle the next morning in Texas, authorities say.
A reader made an interesting comment at Schneier's site; with the duplicate key the smugglers could have easily stolen the cars. Apparently there is more money to be made in drug shipments than in selling a stolen car.

Bottom Line

People who smuggle goods are called mules and not every mule is aware that they are smuggling. Hence the questions at airports - did you pack your own bag? Did anyone give you something to carry on board? Etc.

Never leave your bags out of sight when traveling. A clever crook could slip something into your bag. They won't get caught when the illegal item is found on you. And if you do manage to get through the boarder, the crook or his/her accomplice will steal your bag on the other side.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Chicken Pox

“When the itch is inside the boot, scratching outside provides little consolation”
-Chinese Proverbs
"Rachel got poison ivy on her brain. The only way she can scratch it is to think about sandpaper."
-Steven Wright
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has some good news about chickenpox. Since the government first recommended the new pox vaccine for all children starting in 1995, deaths from chickenpox have fallen from 105 in 1990 to just 14 in 2007. Almost all the deaths were adults who suffered complications like skin infections, swelling of the brain and pneumonia. Severe cases are more common among teens and adults who get it for the first time late in life.

About 8 to 9 of every 10 people who are vaccinated are completely protected from chickenpox. In addition, the vaccine almost always prevents against severe disease. If a vaccinated person does get chickenpox, it is usually a very mild case lasting only a few days and involving fewer skin lesions (usually less than 50), mild or no fever, and few other symptoms.

"The disease is spread by coughing and sneezing (highly contagious), by direct contact, and by aerosolization of virus from skin lesions." Aerosolization? Sounds like the virus can leap off the skin and become airborne. I wonder if the pox pustuals rupture like a burst pimple?  My only exposure to chickenpox was at age 8 so my memory of the disease is patchy (but I do remember the itching and still bear a scare from one pox bump I scratched too much).

Bottom Line

All children and adults without evidence of immunity to varicella need the vaccine. Evidence of immunity includes any of the following:
  • Documentation of two doses of varicella vaccine
  • Blood tests that show you are immune to varicella or laboratory confirmation of prior disease
  • Born in the United States before 1980, excluding health-care workers, pregnant women, and immunocompromised persons.  These individuals need to meet one of the other criteria for evidence of immunity.  
  • Receipt from a healthcare provider of a) a diagnosis of chickenpox or b) verification of a history of chickenpox
  • Receipt from a healthcare provider of a) a diagnosis of herpes zoster (shingles), or b) verification of a history of herpes zoster (shingles).
You do NOT need the chickenpox vaccine, if you meet any of the above criteria for evidence of immunity.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Parkinson’s Law

Parkinson’s Laws: “All bureaucracies grow 3% per year, unrelated to the job they are supposed to perform.”
I had never heard of Parkinson's Law of Bureaucracy but I believe it. There is way too much bureaucracy in this world. Instapundit cited this comment on "administrative blight":
In his polemic, The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters (Oxford University Press), Benjamin Ginsberg, David Bernstein Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University, takes stock of what ails higher education and finds a single, unifying cause: the growth of administration. Ginsberg bemoans the expansion over the past 30 years of what he calls “administrative blight” as personified by what he characterizes as an army of “deanlets” and “deanlings.” By virtue of their sheer number and their managerial rather than academic orientation, Ginsberg argues, these administrators have served to marginalize the faculty in carrying out tasks related to personnel and curriculum that once sat squarely in their domain.
Others wrote in to say they see the same problem in many companies.

Bottom Line

What excesses of bureaucracy have you seen?

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Monday, August 8, 2011

Diet Snacks

“The only time to eat diet food is while you're waiting for the steak to cook”
-Julia Child
From Prevention Magazine: Healthy Snacks:6 High-Protein Foods. Excerpted from The Active Calorie Diet by Leslie Bonci, RD.
  1. Jerky - [on our recent vacation in the Midwest we ate aligator and snapping turtle jerkey in Wisconsin]  Jerky is low in fat, savory and takes awhile to chew. Go for low salt jerkey if you can find it.
  2. Roasted soy nuts - almonds, peanuts and cashews are great too (in limited quantity). Try soy nuts for some variety.
  3. Cheese packs - not just for kids. My wife enjoys the Laughing Cow mini-wedges and cheese sticks.
  4. Protein bars like Luna. Bars are typically 170-200 calories.
  5. Hard-cooked eggs - "one of nature's most perfect portable foods." 
  6. Fat-free or low-fat milk - perfect pre- or post-exercise snack.
Bottom Line

For more diet ideas check out the Hungry Girl blog.


Friday, August 5, 2011

Old Favorites

Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to.
~John Ed Pearce
Today I'll point you back to older blog posts that provide more details for Hurricane preparation.

Steps to take before a Hurricane arrives

1. Food Safety
2. Food & Water
3. Lights
4. Stay Informed
5. Evacuation Preparation
6. Health
7. Important Papers
8. Peace of Mind
9. Prepare your Home

See also creating a Family Communication Plan

Bottom Line

Don't just read. Make the plan, build the kits.

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Thursday, August 4, 2011


You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it's all right.
~Maya Angelou
Yesterday I mentioned storing food and water at your "safe-house". What is that?

A good Family Evacuation Plan will cover three levels of events:
1. Fleeing the House. Where will your family gather nearby if forced to flee a house fire?
2. Fleeing the Neighborhood. Where will your family go if flooding or wildfires force a neighborhood evacuation?
3. Fleeing the Region. Where will you go to escape a class 5 hurricane?

No one wants to evacuate. It's the last choice and usually only done when mandated by civil authorities. Hurricanes can result in neighbor evacuation from flood zones or regional evacuation for "the big one"

Be prepared by planning TODAY where for a "safe house" for each event above.

1. Identify a friendly neighbor's house where all kids should go during a house fire.

2. Find a friend who lives above your flood zone but not too far away. Walking distance is best although it may be a long walk of a few hours.

3. Find another friend who lives several hundred miles away that will take in your family during a regional evacuation.

Don't rely on a motel or public shelter. You may be competing with millions of others for a bed. It's better to find a private place that will shelter your family and pets.

Bottom Line

Once you've identified your safe-home locations, ask your hosts if they will store a kit for your family in their basement or attic. Consider the items listed from the past two days in this blog. A change of clothes, important family papers, cash (if you really trust the host). Help your hosts to create a cache of food and water for all to share.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Emergency Food Cache

“Mosquitoes remind us that we are not as high up on the food chain as we think”
-Tom Wilson
Go-kits are limited in size to what you can comfortable carry and/or fit into a car. They are often called 72-hour kits since their goal is survival for the first three days. But as the US painfully learned with Hurricane Katrina, recovery from some disasters takes more than three days. For the really big events you need stockpiles of two weeks of food and water. Keep one at home for when you shelter in place. If you have a cabin, second home, or a "safe-house" keep a stockpile there too.

Here's a short list of supplies for 2 weeks:

Water—Too little can be fatal.
  • At least 14 gallons per person and pet (a 2 weeks supply at a gallon a day) 
  • Fill water containers and the bath tub before power is lost
  • Local stores will be cleaned out quickly
  • It generally takes the government 1 week to supply fresh water after a hurricane
Food-- Have two-weeks of non-perishable, ready-to-eat cans of food. 
  • Bottles and jars may break if stored on high shelves, so keep them low
  • Don't store items directly on the floor. If flooded you'll have to toss most anything the flood water touches.
  • 2 weeks' worth of your prescriptions and OTC medicines on hand at all times
Flashlights with extra batteries.

Additional Cash

Large bags for garbage and ziploc bags for human waste

Bottom Line

A two-week cache of food gives peace of mind during any emergency. You'll know that your family won't starve.

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Hurricane Go-Kit

“There isn't much wrong with most of those summerhouses that a really good hurricane wouldn't cure [and] when it comes it may do for the Hamptons what Mrs O'Leary's cow did for Chicago.”
- Peter Blake
One way to prepare for Hurricane Season is to make or update your go-kits. This is a 3-day supply of food, water, clothing and more that you can grab as you leave the house and flee a disaster.

Here’s a short list of basic recommended items for a go-kit:
  • Contact information; and important documents
  • Water--at least one gallon per person per day for at least three days.
  • Food--at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food.
  • Can-opener.
  • Cash--ATMs and credit card readers might be out. Have small bills to make change.
  • Prescription medications and glasses.
  • Radio: battery-powered or hand crank.
  • Flashlight: battery-powered or hand crank.
  • Extra batteries.
  • First aid kit
  • Charged cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger.
  • Moist towelettes, toothbrush for hygeine
  • Garbage/ziploc bags personal sanitation.
  • Local maps.
Bottom Line

Here are some recommended sites for go-kits

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Monday, August 1, 2011

Hurricane Season

“It was like being in the eye of a hurricane. You'd wake up in a concert and think, Wow, how did I get here?”
-John Lennon
August 1 denotes the start of peak Hurricane season. Here are some hurricane factoids.

  • While the overall hurricane season is June-November, the greatest activity is during August/September. 
  • A hurricane Watch means a hurricane is possible within the next 3 to 4 days. Be watchful and listen to TV/Radio/Internet/etc for updates.
  • A hurricane Warning means a hurricane is expected within 2 to 3 days. Find out if you are in the hurricane path and what action is required: i.e. board up the house or evacuate. Keep a radio/TV on at all times because hurricanes can change path and suddenly you're in the danger zone.
  • There are 5 categories of hurricanes, based on the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale— Category 1 is the weakest. Fortunately Category 5 is rare.
  • No matter what category, all hurricanes are dangerous. A storm is not called a hurricane unless wind speeds are at least 75 mph.
  • And remember it’s more than just wind. Storm surge (flooding) is the major cause of death and damage in coastal areas.
Bottom Line

Each Hurricane is different. Some include tornados, others heavy rain. Just becuase the last one you went through was a snoozer does not mean every hurricane will be so gentle. Treat every hurricane with the respect it deserves.

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