Friday, September 30, 2011

What a Pill

One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Don't do anything at all
Go ask Alice
When she's ten feet tall
-"White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane
In contrast to the lyrics above, the pills that mother takes can be quite dangerous when eaten by a small child. A study in the Journal of Pediatrics looked at data from the American Association of Poison Control Centers, and found that child poisoning from prescription drugs was up 30% between 2001 and 2008. The likely source of the problem is that “there are more medications in households with small children”. Doctors are prescribing pills to everyone for everything and at increasing younger ages. Young parents are now taking opioid painkillers, sedative-hypnotics like muscle relaxants and sleep aids, and cardiovascular medicines. And while one, large pill a day is great for the adult, that large pill means a massive overdose when swallowed by a toddler.

Keep drugs out of reach. Preferable behind a locked cabinet.

Bottom Line

Many years ago as a teen-aged babysitter I was reading a book while the toddler slept (or so I thought). When the parents came home and checked the child, they found his mouth covered in white. It seems he had left his crib, found some aspirin, and decided to eat them. I had no clue this was happening. (I was not hired by that family again.)

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Total Perspective - You Are Here

"In an infinite universe, the one thing sentient life cannot afford to have is a sense of proportion."
-Douglas Adams

In Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe, the Total Perspective Vortex is allegedly the most horrible torture device to which a sentient being can be subjected. The Vortex gives a momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little mark, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says, "You are here." The machine was originally invented by one Trin Tragula in order to annoy his wife. Because she was forever nagging him for having no sense of proportion, he decided to invent something that would show her what having a sense of proportion really meant. Unfortunately the shock of being placed in the Vortex destroyed her brain, but Trin Tragula's grief was tempered by the knowledge that he had been right and she had been wrong.

Bottom Line

Now I don't want to destroy your brain but consider this photo. EVERY dot is a entire galaxy.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Oh Where, oh Where Can He Be?

Oh where, oh where has my little dog gone?
Oh where, oh where can he be?
With his ears cut short, and his tail cut long,
Oh where, oh where is he?
- Septimus Winner
Here's a clever use of technology, Snaptracs is selling the Tagg Pet Tracker which uses GPS to locate your pet. Now this alone is nothing new. I understand there are GPS tags you can attach to children to find them if they wander. What I find clever is that the Tagg monitors your pet's location and sends you email or a text message if your pet wanders outside a geographic area that you've specified. Optional you can also have an email or text message sent to your next door neighbor who might be able to retrieve your pet while you're at work.

This service comes at a price: $200 for the pet-tracking Tagg and one year of wireless service for the Tagg to send its position back to Snaptracs. $140 for each additional pet & Tagg. $60 per year renewal fee. The cost includes a recharging station, which you'll need, since the battery in the Tagg only lasts about 30 days.

According to the Motely Fool, the CEO admits the Tagg is not yet perfected (e.g battery life is too short) but the public response was so great that they went to market early. I hope, as they improve the Tagg, it will become smaller (it's not recommended for pets under 10 lbs given the size of the device that is attached to a pets collar), and that the battery will last longer.

Keep in mind that you're paying for the tracking service. If the company goes out of business, the GPS chip is worthless to you. And the device won't help if the wireless connection fails - e.g. pet is inside a building that blocks reception, the pet is out of range of a cell tower, there's a power outage, or the device becomes broken. And I wish I knew how frequently the Tagg reports its position; I did not find that mentioned on the corporate website. I also don't know if there's a warning or indicator when the battery charge is low. If you forget to recharge (or recharge too late) then the device is useless.

Bottom Line

My wife's family had two beagles when she was a child in Los Angeles. They were escape artists - one climbed a chain link fence with a broken leg! Once both got loose together and did not come back. Lost posters were placed around and someone called - I have found two beagles but I'm 20 miles away from your home, could these possibly be yours? They were! The beagles had wandered 20 miles away so driving around the neighborhood calling out their names was not going to bring them back.

According to the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, hundreds of thousands of pets go missing every year, yet only 15 to 20% of lost dogs and only about 2% of lost cats are ever returned to their owners. If you have a pet that wanders (or might wander) consider implanting a micro-chip with recovery information. Most use RFID technology (like security tags on clothes at stores) with no battery required. The sole problem with micro-chips is that there are many competing standards so the shelter that takes in your pet might not have the right scanner to read it.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Who's in your Genes?

I think I'm a clone now
'Cause every pair of genes is a hand-me-down
- Weird Al Yankovic lyrics

This wonderful graphic I found at  It shows the ancestry with the largest population in each county according to the 2000 census. However, the ancestry listed might not be a majority (>50%) of the population, just a plurality. In 2000, 58 percent of the population specified only one ancestry, 22 percent provided two ancestries, and 1 percent reported an unclassifiable ancestry such a mixture or adopted. Another 19 percent did not report any ancestry at all.

I'm surprised by the large midwest region descended from Germans. These are low density population states so we're not talking huge numbers of people but still, Germans? During my vacation this summer I drove through many of the bluish states. While visiting the Pabst mansion I learned that Milwaukee was a very German town in the early 1900s and that Pabst was just one of many German families with a Milwaukee beer brewery. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa I visited the Czech Village and learned that the town was once 25% Czech, drawn to the region by a huge sausage factory? Perhaps the German ancestry includes the old German-Austrian Empire such as Poland, the Czech Republic, etc?

I'm also surprised to see so little English ancestry on the map (why Nevada?) I can trace most of my family lines to England, with one ancestor from Germany, a few from France, and several from Sweden. Perhaps those of British descent are the ones declaring themselves as "American"?

Bottom Line

Genealogy can be a lot of fun and many records are available on the Internet. I've found many Quakers in my colonial ancestors, no idea why. The Swedish line were Mormons who emigrated to Utah and created some unusual family group sheets. Both my father's and mother's main line trace back to early Virginia farmers with several generations who settled new territories in the Midwest (Illinois, Nebraska) and kept moving westward along different paths until all my great-grandparents settled down in Idaho. Most of my relatives are still in Idaho four generations later with a fifth generation just started; my cousin's grandchildren.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

How can you NOT know what year you were born?

"But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near"
- To his Coy Mistress, by Andrew Marvell

I enjoy doing genealogy, especially now-a-days with so many resources available on the Internet. But one thing always amazes me: the multiplicity of dates listed for the life event of a single person. A relative might be online as born on 15/1/1753 or 1/15/1752 or 15 Jan 1752/3 or 26 Jan 1753 or 1 Feb 1753 and all could be correct to some degree. How can that be?

The answer begins with the year 1582 when the Catholic church took action regarding calendar creep. The Julian calendar used since ancient Rome had a leap year every four years which is very good but still has an error of 11 minutes per year compared to the sun. By the 1580's this had accumulated to 10 days of error. In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII decreed changes:
1. All calendars in October would be advanced by 10 days to sync with the sun
2. Leap year would be skipped in years divisible by 100 (l900 was not a leap year) unless also divisible by 400 (so 2000 is a leap year) to eliminate the small drift.

Now this occurred after the Protestant Reformation so many countries ignored the papal decree which led to more confusion as different countries had different dates. Imagine it's Oct 11 in Italy with a contract to deliver something to Germany on their Oct 2, tomorrow. Eventually all(?) countries updated their calendars to the Gregorian system. This did not occur until 1752 in England by which point they had to skip 11 days to catch up. Wednesday, 2 September 1752 was followed by Thursday, 14 September 1752.

Back to genealogy: John Smith was born Jan 15th, 1752 so this was just before the calendar change in September in England, right? Wrong. Like many murder mystery novels I've held back a vital clue. Gregory also changed the start of the year from March 25 to January 1. Under the old calendar the year went Nov 1752, Dec 1752, Jan 1752, Feb 1752, March 1752, April 1753 (new year).  Jan 15 was very late in the year 1752 under the Julian calendar but would be listed as 1753 under new system. Genealogists recommend writing this as 15 Jan 1752/3.

The change of starting month also affects Quaker dates. [I have a lot of Quakers in my family tree.] Quakers refused to use the days of the week names since this mention foreign gods: Thursday (Thor), Wednesday (Odin or Wodin), Saturday (Saturn). So they would list a birth as the 15th day of the 1st month of the year 1752. But what is the 1st month?  It was March prior to 1752 and January afterwards.

When doing genealogy dates should be written as
day(#) Month(full or 3 letter abbreviation) year(4 digits)
to avoid the confusion of the American 1/15/1752 vs the European 15/1/1752 for the same date. I saw this problem in a British relative last night - some records said  7 Oct and others 10 July - clearly someone was confused over 10/7 vs 7/10.

But the confusion does not stop there. Some people try to be helpful by "correcting" dates from the Julian to Gregorian (especially if the person was born under one calendar and died under the other). They add 11 days to the birthday so John Smith gets a birth date of 26 Jan 1753. The trouble is how do I know if the date was adjusted or not? I don't. Hence the formula  15 Jan 1752/3 to indicate a Julian date between Jan 1 to March 24 without "correction".

Bottom Line

If you follow the rules above will you have the correct date? Maybe not. There's one more common point of confusion. Many dates are taken from old church records which typically record the Christening date (baptism) and the burial date instead of the birth date and date of death. In my example at top, 1 Feb 1753, might be the baptismal date and entered mistakenly as the birth date for John Smith. It's important to know what event the date represents.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Piper Piper Picks a Peck of Apples?

"If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe."
-- Carl Sagan
The Consumerist notes that U-Pick Farms and Orchards are not always the best deal. As one reader writes,
my boyfriend and I went to [an Orchard], intending to do some apple picking. The website enticed us, and we dreamed of homemade apple pies. Only, when we got there, a greeter cheerily explained that there was an admittance fee to the orchards (a steep one, at that, $13.50 per person!) and a charge for apples picked (about $7 a small bag) Being the mathletes that we are, we figured we'd spend almost $40 between getting in and paying for our pickings.
So we didn't go in.
Years ago my wife & I decided to make apple cider using a cider press at a nearby nature center. We stopped at an orchard and saw that the price for a half a peck in the orchard store was better than if we picked it ourselves. So we bought instead of self-picking, then pressed the apples. We got a few cups of juice and figured it was the most expensive cider we ever drank. For some odd reason my wife still wants us to buy a cider press so we can do it again.

Beware of bait and switch, in the same Consumerist story, our math-smart couple called around and found a place with free admittance that said the cost for a peck was $9. When they arrived they learned that $9 was the store price but the orchard wanted $15 for a U-Pick peck-sized bag.

Bottom Line

What ever happened to the good ole days when you got a bargain buying direct from farmers and farm stands? We find now that farm markets prices match or exceed super-market prices.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Do Empty Stomachs cause Riots?

A full gut supports moral precepts
-Burmese Proverb

Spread the table and contention will cease
-English proverb

A society is only three meals away from anarchy.
-British Sci-Fi show, Red Dwarf
What causes riots? No, not the riots in London but riots in general, around the world? Researchers at the New England Complex Systems Institute in Cambridge, Mass. think they've found a clue.
This graph shows the average price of food and the riot events around the world. Above a certain food price threshold, social unrest sweeps the planet. It stands to reason that people become desperate when food is difficult to obtain. The French Revolution was preceded by a food crisis when the price of bread became too high for the common working man to afford (which led to the famous reply by the French queen, "Let them eat cake.")

The researches say that high food prices don't necessarily trigger riots themselves, they simply create a tipping point in which social unrest can flourish. "These observations are consistent with a hypothesis that high global food prices are a precipitating condition for social unrest," according to Marco Lagi.

Bottom Line

Why are food prices so high? One reason is traders speculating on the price of food, a problem that has worsened in recent years by the deregulation of the commodities markets and the removal of trading limits for buyers and sellers. (Recall what Enron did to the price of energy in California with abusive trading.)

A second reason is the conversion of corn into ethanol. The supply of corn for food has been greatly reduced. I recently read that half of the US corn supply is being turned into ethanol.

The US really needs to stop subsidising ethanol. We are using taxpayer money to make expensive fuel from corn and creating starvation as a byproduct.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Is It DONE Yet?

While barbecuing on Labor Day my coals were quite hot and I was surprised at how quickly everything cooked. That's not necessarily a good thing. With a hot flame it's easy to burn the outside while the inside is still undercooked. While I enjoy meats with a bit of red or pink inside there's a risk of sickness if the center is not sufficiently hot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that every year about 48 million people in the United States become ill from harmful bacteria in food; of these, about 3,000 die.

The signs and symptoms of foodborne illness range from upset stomach, diarrhea, fever, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and dehydration, to more severe illness including death. This can be prevented by cooking food to a safe temperature.

According to the CDC, many people assume that if a hamburger is brown in the middle, it is done. According to US Dept of Agriculture research, 1 out of every 4 hamburgers turns brown before it reaches a safe internal temperature. The only safe way to know if hamburger is safe is to measure 160 °F in the center.
The CDC would like everyone to know that "Thermometers Aren't Just for Turkey Anymore". The food thermometer should be placed in the thickest part of the food and should not be touching bone, fat, or gristle. Check the temperature in several places to make sure the food is evenly heated. Make sure to clean your food thermometer with hot, soapy water before and after every use! Imagine you stick the thermometer into meat that is under cooked and bacteria clings to the thermometer. Then later you stick the thermometer into meat properly cooked but now you've reinserted the bacteria!

Cross contamination from bacteria can also occur if you put cooked meat back onto the plate that held the raw meat. I saw one friend rightly freak out after carefully cooking chicken on the grill, another person then started to place raw meat on the grill right next to his chicken. My friend knew the risk of cross contamination.
Raw meat can contaminate everything it touches including your hands! Be sure to wash hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds after handling uncooked meat.

Bottom Line

While watching a cooking competition show for professional chefs, two contestants were challenged to cook filet mignon rare, medium and well done for three judges. I was surprised to see they used thermometers to measure the degree of doneness. I thought "real" professionals could tell by the firmness of the meat.

So I learned that thermometers were not just for safety but also for cooking food "just right".

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Free Outdoor Fun

Rows and flows of angel hair,
And ice cream castles in the air,
And feather canyons everywhere,
I've looked at clouds that way.
- lyrics from Both Sides Now (one of my favorite songs)
Continuing my theme of FREE things to do, here are
50+ Ways to Have Free Outdoor Fun from Julie Rains at

Relax and Contemplate

  1. Gaze at the stars. Learn how to spot a satellite.
  2. Walk a labyrinth.
  3. Relax on a park bench.
  4. Look at the clouds.
  5. Watch a sunrise, sunset, or both: sunrise-sunset website.
  6. Compose a letter, record your thoughts in a journal, or create a blog post.
  7. Read a book or eBook outside.
  8. Listen to the night sounds.
  9. Do yoga poses or Tai Chi outside.
  10. Visit a nearby river or creek or fountain and listen to the water flowing.

Learn Something New

  1. Study various architectural styles in your neighborhood.
  2. Visit public gardens.
  3. Go on a bird walk.
  4. Visit a national monument.
  5. Go to an air show.
  6. Take walk with a Park Ranger.

Hang Out With Your Kids

  1. Look for four-leaf clovers.
  2. Climb a tree.
  3. Play at the playground.
  4. Build a sand castle at the beach or playground.
  5. Play flashlight tag after dark.
  6. Teach your kids how to play outdoor games (or let them teach you the games they play).
  7. Collect rocks from your backyard.
  8. Watch construction from the visitor’s side of the fence.
  9. Play catch.
  10. Toss a Frisbee.
  11. Go to a parade (or walk in one).
  12. Cool off by wading in a creek, river, or lake.
  13. Catch and release fireflies after dark.
  14. Build a snowman, make snow angels, or have a friendly snowball fight.
  15. Go leaf viewing.
  16. Walk around to see blooming flowers in the spring.

Hang Out With Friends

  1. Attend free outdoor concerts or plays.
  2. Go window shopping in historic downtowns.
  3. Visit street festivals.
  4. Watch people rock climbing, kayaking, or sailing, to see if you would like to start a new sport.
  5. Take in a kids’ ballgame.
  6. Sit on the grass outside the stadium (if allowed) for college or professional events.
  7. Talk with friends outside.

Be Productive While Having Fun

  1. Volunteer for a charity bike ride, triathlon, or road race, such as a 5K or marathon. Find events using
  2. Take photos of your family members for your annual holiday cards.
  3. Exercise your dog (and yourself).
  4. Get involved in a community gardening.
  5. Participate in a community cleanup or river cleanup project.

Move Around and Get Fit or Faster

  1. Hike. Check out Backpacker Magazine's community recommendations.
  2. Go running at a steady pace.
  3. Do interval training.
  4. Swim in a lake, river, or ocean. Be careful.
  5. Take a stroll in your neighborhood. Stop and talk with your neighbors.
  6. Take a bike ride alone or with a bike club.
  7. Enjoy a multi-use trail. See trail finder.

Enjoy Nature

  1. Visit a National Park.
  2. Take photos of nature. See tips for capturing images of birds, flowing water, and more.
  3. Watch the moon go through its phases.
Bottom Line

My wife & I have enjoyed many free concerts this summer at West Point with the Army Jazz Knights and Orchestra. The final performance on Labor Day Sunday included the 1812 Overture with real canons and fireworks afterwards. The fireworks were amazing close and filled the sky overhead!

On Labor Day Monday we enjoyed a "free" BBQ at home. We could have paid to attend a cookout but had more fun inviting a friend to share meats and veggies cooked on our grill.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Where to get Free Stuff

“The truth shall make you free, but first it shall make you angry”
Is money tight? Are you living on a limited budget? Then I suggest Where to Get Free Stuff: Mega Guide to freebies at

It includes
  • Free travel resources like free bike rentals, free tour guides, free lodging and free showers.
  • Free entertainment: movies, TV, music, and museums
  • Free samples of health and beauty supplies
  • Free items on your birthday
  • Free information: books, magazines, online courses, etc.
  • Free technology
  • Free financial advice
  • and more
Bottom Line

As a teen I loved buying books (soft cover - I'm not crazy enough to pay hard cover prices). My dad said, why not use the public library, it's free. But I liked the idea of owning books I wanted to read and reread. This changed mid-way through college when my book collection was stolen from the dorm's summer storage area. I was not going to buy the books a second time and now use the library instead.

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Friday, September 16, 2011

How to Evacuate an Airplane

"A hundred years ago, it could take you the better part of a year to get from New York to California; whereas today, because of equipment problems at O’Hare, you can't get there at all."
~ Dave Barry (Only Travel Guide you'll ever need)
Earlier this week, a United Airlines flight at Dulles International in Washington, DC had to be evacuated when passengers saw smoke. Everyone quickly left the plane via the the inflatable slides including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A reporter on board wrote, "Hearing of possible broken bones, from the slide landing, but no other serious injuries."

Slides were fun when we were kids but an airplane slide is serious and can be dangerous. A government study of airline evacuation drills in the 1970s and 1980s found that almost 5 percent of the participants get hurt. The slides are designed to handle 70 passengers a minute so that means you have less than one second to go out the door. So here's some advice:
  1. Get out fast – DO NOT grab your luggage.
  2. JUMP onto the slide. Don’t hesitate at the doorway or try to sit down. JUMP.
  3. Keep your arms crossed over your chest as you go down the slide on your back. This will help prevent skin burns as you slide.
  4. Get out of the way! When you reach the bottom of the slide – MOVE quickly. Another person is just one second behind you and will crash into you if you don’t move quickly off the slide.
Bottom Line

Keep in mind two things:
1. Move quickly - jump on, get off fast.
2. This is not a slow ride down on your butt. It's a fast ride down on your back.

The second leading cause of injury is broken ankles and leg bones at the bottom of the slide. Be prepared to hit the ground by having both feet ready and your legs tensed but not locked and rigid. Be a stiff spring and let your knees bend and absorb the force with your leg muscles as you resist the impact. Picture how your legs work when you land from a jump or fall. The slide is a controlled fall and you'll land with nearly as much force as if you had jumped out of the plane without a slide.

To the degree that the slide does slow your fall and lessen the impact, that slowing is caused by friction and "slide burns" from friction are the leading injury from evacuations. Always wear long pants when you fly. Never shorts or a short skirt.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Waiter there's a F.R.O.G. in my sandwich

"At Motel 6 in Amish Country I wonder if they leave the light on for you?"
~ Jay London
My wife & I enjoy vacationing in Amish regions. There are many reasons.
1. An admiration for a people who truly live according to the dictates of their religion.
2. A chance to learn "primitive" survival skills from a life without electricity.
3. Great food

It seems every time we visit the Amish we find some new food item. One year it was hot, buttery pretzels sold at a roadside stand - the best pretzels ever. Another year it was Trail Bologna served hot in a sandwich. This year we "discovered" F.R.O.G jam. With a name like that, it's got to be good? The name stands for the flavor ingredients: Figs, Raspberry, Orange Peel, and Ginger. When we finished the jar we'd bought, we tried to duplicate it at home. We started with a jar of fig jam, warmed it in a pot, and added raspberries, grated orange peel, grated ginger, and some pectin to help it set again. Sealed it in a larger jar, and sterilized it. We opened the jar yesterday and it's great. A bit more ginger kick than the original but that's OK.

Here are two recipes I found online:

F.R.O.G. Jam-
  • 3 oranges juiced
  • 2 (3 oz) packages of raspberry gelatin
  • 4 cups mashed ripe figs
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 4 TBS. orange zest
  • 4 TBS. fresh finger, finely diced
Over medium heat, stir orange juice and gelatin until dissolved.
Add chopped figs, sugar, orange zest and ginger. Let come to boil on med heat, reduce to low, stirring often. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, continue stirring until mixture thickens.
Pour into sterilized jars, seal and place in canner filled with hot water. Process sealed jars for 15 minutes.
Low Sugar FROG Jam
3 oranges juiced- about 1 cup liquid (add water if needed to get 1 cup)
1 (3oz) pkg. of raspberry gelatin (JELL-O)
1 pkg low sugar sure jell
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup splenda
4 cups chopped figs
1 Quart of fresh raspberries, cooked, smashed, and strained to remove seeds (unless you like seeds)
4 TBS orange zest minced fine
4 to 5 TBS fresh ginger minced fine
In large saucepan, stir together OJ, raspberry juice, gelatin and pectin (surejel) until dissolved over medium heat.
Keep stirring until there are no lumps, it may take awhile. Add sugar, splenda, figs, orange zest and ginger and bring to boil on medium heat.
Reduce to low heat, but keep on a low boil and cook for about 25 minutes. Stir often or it will burn. When the mixture thickens, pour into sterilized half pint jars, and seal with rubber tops and rings. Place in hot water bath and process for 15 minutes.
Because of the reduced sugar, this jam should be stored in the refrigerator and used within 6 months.
Bottom Line
We have a great time at supermarkets either run by the Amish or selling to an Amish population. So many different items that you won't see at your neighborhood grocery store.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

112 years ago a man died in New York City

The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
112 years ago (yesterday) a man died in New York City. That's not so unusual you might say. NYC is a big town and people die there all the time. But on Sept. 13 of 1899, Henry Bliss, a Manhattan real estate salesman, stepped off a streetcar at West 74th Street and Central Park West and was struck by a passing taxicab. It crushed his skull and chest and he died the following morning making Bliss the very first pedestrian-automobile fatality in America. {I'm sure pedistrians were killed by horses and street cars before 1899 but Bliss is the first American killed by a car.} He may have been the 3rd person in the World killed by a car, the first was Mary Ward in 1869 in Ireland. {Who knew they even had cars, electric even!, back then?}

In 2003 4,749 pedestrians were reported killed in motor vehicle crashes in the United States. An estimated 70,000 pedestrians were injured by motor vehicles. The statistics have improved slightly since then but experts think this is only because fewer Americans are walking.

Most at risk for being hit is young boys, ages 5-9, who dart into the street after a ball or just no reason at all. The most at risk for death is the elderly, ages 65 and over, who have a 20% of dieing when hit. 65 percent of crashes involve pedestrians at non-intersections.

Bottom Line

To see how common pedestrian death is in your town, check out
Type in a city and it will show a map of nearby pedestrians who died. Click on the death icon (!) to learn more about the victim. I found the nearest to my house was an elderly man killed in 2003.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Self-Reliance EXPO in Denver

"Lack of planning on your part does not constitute and emergency on my part"
-bumper sticker
Here's an event I wish I could attend. I'm not aware of anything like it on the East Coast.
It's the Self Reliance Expo in Denver, CO Sept 16-17, 2011. Cost is $9 for adults.

Workshops include aquaponic gardening (my wife wants to try this in our living room), how to go solar, Red Cross Preparedness, the role of Vitamin Supplements in Food Storage, Solar Ovens, how to grow sprouts (we're still working on that, have failed several times), and understanding seeds.

You can follow the location of future Expo events on Facebook and Twitter but oddly the site does not support email registration for newsletters, etc. Hey event organizers, not everyone wants to use Facebook! I have an account but use it rarely. I don't trust Facebook.

Bottom Line

Years I participated in a Preparedness Expo sponsored by local churches. The presentations and booths were excellent but sadly the event was poorly attended. Please take the time to visit Preparedness events in your region- you'll be amazed at what you'll learn.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

401(k) Withdrawal Mistakes

“Retirement at sixty-five is ridiculous. When I was sixty-five I still had pimples.”
-George F. Burns (who lived to 100)
If you are contributing money to a 401(k), congratulations! This is a great way to save money for retirement and reduce the taxes paid. But putting the money into a 401(k) is just half the battle. You must be extra careful when taking money out of the 401(k) to avoid tax penalties.

Check out the U.S. News article on 401(k) Withdrawal Mistakes to Avoid.

1. Leaving before you are vested.
My company supports profit sharing but I don't get to keep my full share until employed for five years. Your company may have similar restrictions on matching contributions to your 401(k).

2. Not doing a direct rollover.
When I joined my current company, the new investment advisor was eager to manage the rollover of my 401(k) from my prior employer. This is not something you should try to do on your own. If you close out your old account you have 60 to deposit then money in a new IRA or 401(k). Otherwise the government considers it an early withdrawal and hits you with heavy penalties of 20-30% or more.
"As a general rule of thumb, don't ever have the check made payable to yourself."
3. Rolling over into higher-cost investments.
You are not required to rollover your 401(k) when you change jobs. It's definitely a good idea if you fear your old company might go out of business or default on pensions. Otherwise compare the management fees on the old plan and the new and go with the lower fees.
In my case the mutual funds were quite different in old and new 401(k). I liked the old funds and decided not to rollover my 401(k).

4. Two required minimum distributions in the same year.
Very tricky. You must take out money EVERY year after age 70½. You can delay your first withdrawal to April 1 of the year after you reach age 70½ but only counts for the prior year and you'll still need to make a second withdrawal for the current year. This double withdrawal could push you into a higher tax bracket.

5. Withdrawals before retirement.
401(k) withdrawals before age 55 will usually require you to pay income tax and a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty. Don't do it! Consider this alternative instead,
"If you roll the money over to an IRA, there are several government-approved ways to spend your nest egg that don't incur the early withdrawal penalty, including unreimbursed medical expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of your income, health insurance after a job loss, college costs, and a first home purchase up to $10,000."
Bottom Line

Be careful with your retirement nest egg. Know the rules about the right ways to take money out of it.

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

What Blogs would you like to See?

Saturday in the park
I think it was the Fourth of July
-Chicago lyrics
I was looking at my Google statistics for the first time in ages for this blog.

In three years I've earned $1.44 from people clicking on ads. Better than zero but Google won't even make a payment until the amount reaches $10. I'm not allowed to ask people to click on ads so I won't.

The most popular blogs posts so far are:

Don't eat that armadillo! with 801 hits.
Throat Exercises for CPAP user with 654 hits
Most Boring Day in History with 569 hits

Not much of a common theme there. Who could have guessed that an article on leprosy and Armadillos would be #1?

Bottom Line

What topics would you like to see more of? Please add a comment and let me know.

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Friday, September 9, 2011

The Fourth Turning - Can the Past Predict the Future?

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." -George Santayana
Many years ago I read a book called "The Fourth Turning" that described generational cycles. It goes like this:

Stage 3: The Unraveling: "a society-wide embrace of the liberating cultural forces set loose by the Awakening". Society yields to the needs of the individual. "While personal satisfaction is high, public trust ebbs amid a fragmenting culture, harsh debates over values, and weakening civic habits. ...  Decisive public action becomes very difficult, as community problems are deferred ... Eventually, cynical alienation hardens into a brooding pessimism ...

We are supposedly at the end of an Unraveling era and poised to begin the Fourth Turning. It's six years late according the book's time schedule but then generations are getting farther apart as children are born to older parents. The prior Unraveling was the Ragtime, Mob Crime, Anything Goes era around WWI.

Stage 4: Crisis: the unraveling of society has reached a crisis state and a new majority arises with "one simple imperative: The society must prevail.  This requires a solid public consensus, aggressive institutions, and personal sacrifice ... A sense of public urgency contributes to a clampdown on “bad” conduct or “anti-social” lifestyles. ... Wars are fought with fury and for maximum result. ... Eventually, the mood transforms into one of exhaustion, relief, and optimism."

The new Tea Party is a sign of this. Citizens uniting against entitlements for a common good of a balanced budget government. The Left says the Tea Party can "go to hell" (congress woman Maxine Waters) but it may be a harbinger of majority opinion for the next generation. The prior Crisis period was the Great Depression and WWII.

Stage 1: The High:  "a renaissance to community life.  With the new civic order in place, people want to put the Crisis behind them and feel content about what they have collectively achieved. ... The recent fear for group survival transmutes into a desire for investment, growth, and strength--which in turn produces an era of commercial prosperity, institutional solidarity, and political stability.  ... Obliging individuals serve a purposeful society—though a few loners voice disquiet over the spiritual void.  Life tends toward the friendly and homogeneous."

The prior High was the post-WWII Baby Boom with Leave it To Beaver and many family shows about the good life.

Stage 2: Awakening: A new generation of prosperous youth yearn for some more than mere materialism. "New spiritual agendas and social ideals burst forth, along with Utopian experiments ...  The prosperity and security of a High are overtly disdained though covertly taken for granted. ... Public order deteriorates, and crime and substance abuse rise. ... Eventually, the enthusiasm cools—having left the old cultural regime fully discredited, internal enemies identified, comity shattered, and institutions delegitimized."

The authors cite (1964-1984) as the years of the last Awakening. After the awakening we experience a generation where the individual is king with another Unraveling at stage 3 and history cycles yet again.

It's one thing to look back to the beginning of the 20th century and look for a repeating pattern. But the authors of the Fourth Turning map their 4 generation cycle back to 1435 at  How successful this mapping is I'll leave to some historian to answer.

Part of the 4th turning theory is that individuals are shaped by the era in which they are raised and this echoes across the years.

Prophets are raised during the HIGH and with an emphasis on moral duty to society amidst prosperity. They latch onto the notion of Values and apply it to higher causes like global poverty, etc. They are the visionaries during the Awakening and social reformers during the Unraveling.

Nomads are raised during the Awakening as latch-key kids and learn to take care of themselves. They are self focused and take what they can during the Unraveling.

Heroes "are nurtured with increasing protection by pessimistic adults in an insecure environment" during an Unraveling. They are the front line soldiers during the Crisis, cling to Peace during the High, and fail to understand the youth during the Awakening.

Artists are raised during Crisis period. They are sensitive to fair-play, complex social situations, and cooperation for survival. They promote universal Peace during a High (Woodrow Wilson) but appear indecisive during the Unraveling.
Bottom Line

An interesting theory. We have books about about the "greatest generation" of WWII heroes and documentaries of the Hippie era of Love followed by Yuppies and Greed is Good. What will characterize the next generation?

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Kids Can't Fly

Beyond the door
There's peace I'm sure.
And I know there'll be no more...
Tears in heaven
- Eric Clapton lyrics
A few years back a family friend bought a two-story home in the country. Within days of moving in the youngest child leaned against a window screen and fell from the top story. Fortunately she was not injured by the fall.

In cities with tall buildings, windows falls can be fatal. Today's quote is from the song, "Tears in Heaven", written by Eric Clapton over the grief of losing his 4-yr-old son from 53-story window fall at a friend's apartment. According to Time, over 5,200 children each year fall out of windows and end up in the emergency room. Some big cities like New York have window guard regulations; horizontal bars that cover the bottom half of a window to form a barrier that prevents kids from crawling out. In NYC the window guard program is called, "Children Can't Fly"; Boston has a similar program called "Kids Can't Fly" in an attempt to increase public awareness of easy safety measures.

Bottom Line

A simple window safety measure is a window stop; e.g a bar or piece of wood that prevents the window from opening completely. (A window stop is also a good theft deterrence to keep criminals from climbing in.) Other safety measures include keeping dressers, beds and other climbable furniture away from windows. In warm weather when windows are open, pay close attention to children under 5 who are the most likely to tumble from windows. And as my friend learned, screens won't prevent a fall in most cases.

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Consumer Warning: Beware of Hot Fireplace Glass

“He who wants to warm himself in old age must build a fireplace in his youth”
-German Proverb
Here's an interesting warning from Consumer Reports:
More than 2,000 children ages 5 and younger suffered burn injuries from gas fireplaces from 1999 through March 2009, according to research conducted by Carol Pollack-Nelson, Ph.D., an independent safety consultant.

The problem: the glass front on gas fireplaces gets blistering hot. Hot enough, according to Dr. Pollack-Nelson, to cause severe burns. Curiosity about fire leaves children particularly vulnerable. Industry standards for gas fireplaces allow the temperature of the ceramic glass to reach as high as 1,328°F. Tempered and annealed glass is allowed to reach 500°F and 446°F, respectively.
Bottom Line

We have a fireplace with a glass front at home. It never occurred to me that the glass could be 500°F. Ouch!
If you have young children keep them away from the fireplace, even if the glass door is closed.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Surviving a Waterfall

“At last, fortissimo!”
- composer/conductor Gustav Mahler on visiting Niagara Falls
Here's news you can use if you find yourself going over the edge of a waterfall. Much depends on the height of the falls, landing feet first, tightening body muscles, and dumb luck.

On August 14 a college student posing for a photo was swept from the guardrails at Niagara Falls and plunged over the waterfall. She has not been found. In July three people died at Yosemite Park as one person went too far for a photo and two would-be rescuers were all swept over a waterfall.

The odds of surviving a waterfall are not good.  Niagara is 180 ft tall while the world record for a high dive is 177 ft. For a trained athlete in perfect health, under perfect conditions, 177 ft is about the most a human body can withstand. As diver enters the water, their underwater body parts are at the highest rate of deceleration while the upper body is still dry and at full acceleration. Autopsies of jumpers off the Golden Gate bridge (250 ft) shows that for most, the rib cage was crushed and imploded sending bones into the lungs with the force of impact.

If you fall into the water above the falls, don't try to fight the current. The rapids above Niagara are clocked at 25 mph, and up to 68 mph over the brink. The best you can hope for is swimming towards shore before going over. Or swimming to a rock and hanging on although the force of the water may drag you off.

As you fall take a deep breath. Go feet first to avoid head injury. Tighten your muscles, wrap your arms around your skull to shield it, and cover your nose with the crook of your elbow. Just before you enter the plunge pool, press your legs together, tighten your gluteals (stomach) and close your eyes and mouth to make yourself water tight.

If you manage to fall onto water instead of rocks, and survive the impact, the fight for survival is not over. There's a wall of water falling upon you pushing you back down. There's debris to dodge. There are huge bubbles of air making it tricky to swim and to see. With all the turbulence and bubbles it may not be obvious what direction is up. If you do manage to surface downstream from the falls you must survive one more danger - the water is very likely icy cold. Niagara's waters are in the 30's (Fahrenheit). At that temperature you have only minutes before passing out from hypothermia. With water at 40 F you have 15 - 30 minutes to get dry and warm.

Bottom Line

Waterfalls are beautiful and I especially love Niagara Falls. But they are never safe. NEVER go past guard rails to get a better photo. Do not get close to the water for a better view at the top.

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Monday, September 5, 2011

Special precautions in hot weather

A message from the CDC,

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages coaches, athletes, and those exercising outside in hot weather to know the warning signs for heat-related illness and take action when needed. 
“Any athlete dying from heat is a tragedy that can be prevented,” said CDC’s Robin Ikeda, M.D., M.P.H., Deputy Director for Noncommunicable Diseases, Injury and Environmental Health.  “Coaches, parents, teachers, and athletes should educate themselves on how to recognize and prevent heat-related illness.”
CDC estimates that, each year, there are almost 6,000 emergency department visits for sports and recreation heat illnesses. CDC says the most common activities leading to the hospital visits are football, and exercises such as walking, jogging, running, and calisthenics.  People who exercise in extreme heat are more likely to become dehydrated and get heat-related illness.
Extremely hot weather can cause illness or death, but all heat-related illnesses and deaths are preventable.
Here are some ways to act against heat-related illness:
  • Stop all activity and get to a cool environment if you feel faint or weak.
  • Limit outdoor activity, especially midday when the sun is hottest.
  • Schedule workouts and practices earlier or later in the day when the temperature is cooler.
  • Pace activity. Start activities slow and pick up the pace gradually.
  • Drink more water than usual and don’t wait until you′re thirsty to drink more.
  • Have a workout partner. Monitor each other’s condition.
  • Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
  • Seek medical care immediately if you or a teammate has symptoms of heat-related illness.
Coaches can learn more about how to protect the athletes in their care by taking CDC′s accredited Web–based course on how to recognize, treat, and prevent heat–related illness. School nurses and athletic trainers may also find the course useful for sharing information with others who work with athletes.

CDC has also published a toolkit to educate readers, especially caregivers for vulnerable groups such as athletes, as well as older adults and small children, about how to recognize warning signs of heat illness.  Materials such as posters for locker rooms and water bottle labels are targeted for use with school athletic programs.  

More information about heat illness in high school athletes can be found at

For more information on extreme heat and heat safety, call 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or visit

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Friday, September 2, 2011

Survial Kit in a Bottle

"Every survival kit should include a sense of humor"
Here's an interesting idea for a survival kit, is offering the "Ultimate Survival Kit in a Water Bottle" for $20. The 32 oz (1 liter) water bottle contains:
  • Carabiner
  • Multifunction tool
  • Multifunction whistle/compass
  • Flashlight
  • Batteries (2 pcs)
  • Survival blanket
  • Hand warmer packet (2 pcs)
  • Candle
  • Box waterproof matches
  • Emergency poncho
  • 20pc First aid kit
  • Reusable zipper-lock bag
I have not bought this so I have no idea about the quality of the flash light, etc. Normally I'd recommend making your own kit but it might be difficult to duplicate the contents for just $20.

Bottom Line

Any survival kit should be customized to your needs. What's the market for the kit above? Hikers most likely. Tossing the above kit in the trunk of your car is better than nothing but you can make a better car kit with little effort. For the car you'll want bottled water (with water!) and powerbars when stranded, duct tape and other quick fix items, as well as most of the items in the hiking kit above (I'd leave out the carabiner and compass - best advice when stranded is to stay with the car so you can be found. Not to wander away and get lost. I'd keep the whistle in case your car goes into a deep irrigation ditch off the road and is out of sight.)

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Are You Better Off Than Your Grandparents?

My current commuting book is called Aftershock. It's thought invoking but not the book I had intended to listen to. I was expecting Aftershock: Protect Yourself and Profit in the Next Global Financial Meltdown  by David Wiedemer but what I got from the library was Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future  by Robert Reich, Labor Secretary under President Clinton.

The book I got is 100% Democratic-Keynesian economics which believes that one person's spendings goes towards anothers earnings, who in turn spends and supports anothers earnings. This circle continues on and helps support a normal functioning economy. Recessions/Depressions are difficult to break out of because unemployment leads to less spending, so business produce less and hire less, which increases unemployment, and around we go. Keynes advocated government spending to break out of this cycle and this was adopted (reluctantly) by FDR during the Great Depression and enthusiastically by Obama in the Great Recession with the Trillion dollar Stimulus.

Nancy Pelosi was criticized by Conservatives for saying unemployment checks were part of the Stimulus and good for economy but she's right according to Keynes. Unemployment checks allow the unemployed to keep buying and creating demand for goods and services. Ditto for Social Security with helps the elderly and disabled to continue to spending. Personally I now favor the government putting money into the hands of impoverished individuals and letting individuals determine how to spend it, a bottom-up money flow. The alternative Stimulus of shovel-ready projects and funding from the top-down has not worked. Stimulus to companies has created a limited number of jobs but often at a cost of $80K to $100K per job created. We might have been better off giving $20K to 4 or 5 families instead of a single (temporary) job created. [Conservative agree that individuals must spend but argue that if we lower taxes then families will have more money to spend and we won't need the government to act as a middle man and redistributer of cash.]

Reich claims that the economy is better off when money is widely distributed. The one family with a new job can only eat and spend so much whereas 5 families with $20K handouts will spend more collectively and create a larger economic boost. From Reich's viewpoint the problem with the Super Rich is not that they earn too much but that they spend too little. If you earn $500 million a year you'd have $240,000 to spend EVERY hour of the working day to use it up (ignoring taxes). Conspicuous consumption and a fleet of servants is a good thing because it puts money back into the economy. If the vast sum of money is not spent, where does it go? In the good-old days the money might go to an endowment or matching fund for a college or hospital, or invested in a company. Or the money might have gone into a bank, giving the bank the funds to make loans to businesses and families so they can improve themselves. But now the cash goes into hedge funds or investment banking whose purpose it to make a great returns by gambling on "sure-bets"; investing in precious metals, foreign currencies, or stock in proven, successful companies. The money won't typically go to the risky new business.

How did we get into the current economic mess? A key point to Reich's book is that the middle class has not benefited from America's growth for the past 40 years. The money has been diverted to the upper 2% or less of families and does not flow back into the economy as described above. He compares it to a poker game where one player wins most of the chips and everyone else must bow out of the game. During the golden age of prosperity after the great depression, average income for families rose from $15,000 (in inflation adjusted dollars) to $40,000 by 1970. An almost 3-fold (300%) increase. So most families could afford to buy TVs and fridges, a car, etc. But since 1970 the household income has risen to only $45,000, a measly 12% increase over 40 years.  So there's no money for a better lifestyle. We are stuck at the same standard of living as our grandparents.

Is this because the American economy flat lined for 40 years? No. Real income for families in the top 75% and 90% brackets did increase by 60% or more.

The book also suggests that the reality for average families is worse than the graph shows. While household income was increased (slightly) Reich claims that Individual Income has declined and households have been forced to use "coping" methods. I've not been able to find support for a decline but I did find one table where individual average earnings for males has not improved since 1976. Real wages for women has improved and for many households the "increase" in earnings is due to having both parents working. Also both husbands and wives put in longer shifts, creating a species of family Reich calls DINS — “double income, no sex.”  According to some estimates, Americans sleep an average of one or two fewer hours per night than did their parents in the 1960s; in 2007 they spent a whopping $23.9 billion on sleep aids, from white-noise machines to medications.

The household situation is like the Red Queen in Alice Through the Looking Glass; one must run as fast as one can just to stay in the same place.

Bottom Line

Is there a solution? Reich favors stronger unions, taxing the rich, and other traditional Democratic ideas which I don't buy into. He also recommends government support for research and infrastructure which I do agree with. What's missing from his book is the Conservative idea that business must WANT to hire. When government regulations become extreme businesses won't expand and may even shut down and leave. I recall an account by a Surfboard maker who described how regulators in California drove him out of the state. Or a recent government raid on Gibson guitars (over the wood they use?) Or raids on bunny farmers. Reagan rightly realized that government must encourage business to grow and hire. And not with temporary stimulus handouts or tax credits. These are short-term fixes. And subsidizing the public with money to maintain demand will only last so long if there are no profits being made to flow back via taxes.

We need to find ways to hire more people in productive work. But how?

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