Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Seven Wonders of the World

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
–St. Augustine
It's nice to know that some things never change. People like to travel and tourism goes back to ancient times. There were tour-guide books as early as 400 BC but instead of the 1000 Places to See Before you Die, ancient Greece recommended the Seven Wonders of the World:
Later lists in the Middle Ages replaced the Ishtar Gate with the Lighthouse of Alexandria. That's a shame really because the Ishtar Gate (pictured above) is the only item on this list I've seen. The Ishtar Gate was reconstructed in the 1930s at the Pergamon Museum in East Berlin out of material excavated at Babylon. I highly recommend the Pergamon Museum; my wife & I both loved it. I had no idea that the Ishtar Gate was so famous (my wife says, duh, the plaque said it was a 7 Wonder). I was more impressed by the Pergamon Altar which the musuem is named after.

This original 7 Wonders List has spawned many imitators over the centuries like the 7 Engineering Wonders, the 7 Wonders of the Underwater World, 7 Wonders of the Industrial World, and so on. Since most of the places in the original list are destroyed, sites compete to be listed as one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World
Other sites sometimes included on such lists:
Of these I've seen two, an advantage of having lived in Naples, Italy for nearly three years as a teenager, namely the Colosseum in Rome and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Bottom Line

The reason I wanted to discuss this is that there is a new list of Seven Natural Wonders of the World announced by New7Wonders. This group used a combination of public voting (ala American Idol style via phone and Internet)and an expert panel led by the former head of UNESCO to select the winners which were announced on October 11. National Geographic provided photos of each wonder.
  1. Iguazú Falls on the border of Brazil and Argentina
  2. the Amazon Rain Forest
  3. Halong Bay, near Hanoi, Vietnam
  4. Jeju Island, South Korea
  5. Komodo National Park, Indonesia
  6. Puerto Princesa Underground River, Philippines
  7. Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa
Now this list and any list should be taken with a grain of salt. There are accusations that the New7Wonders is just a marketing scam (which they deny).

I'm must more impressed by the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites:

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

15 Career Advice Sites

“The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.”
-Donald Kendall (Living Large on a Small Budget) recommends these 15 Career Advice Sites:

    Getting Started - learning the basics
  1. Job Search at
  2. Managing Your Career at Businessweek
  3. Brazen Careerist

    Salary Comparision Sites
  5. Glassdoor
  6. Payscale
  7. Indeed

    Social Networking
  8. Facebook
  9. LinkedIn
  10. Your College Alumni Network

    Career Advice
  11. LifeHacker
  12. The Blog of Tim Ferriss, Experiments in Lifestyle Design
  13. NYT: The Corner Office
  14. WorkAwesome
  15. I will Teach You To Be Rich
Bottom Line

Don't sit around waiting for the old jobs to come back. With computers making it ever easier to do more with fewer people, many old jobs are gone for good. Check out the sites above and create your dream job.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Do you know where your family is?

Observe always that everything is the result of change, and get used to thinking that there is nothing Nature loves so well as to change existing forms and make new ones of them.
- Marcus Aurelius, emperor of Rome (121-180 AD)

Here's some preparedness advice from FEMA at
Your family may not be together when a disaster strikes so it is important to plan in advance: how you will get to a safe place; how you will contact one another; how you will get back together; and what you will do in different situations. Read more about Family Communication during an emergency. has made it simple for you to make a family emergency plan. Download the Family Emergency Plan and fill out the sections before printing it or emailing it to your family and friends.

You should also inquire about emergency plans at places where your family spends time: work, daycare and school, faith organizations, sports events and commuting. If no plans exist, consider volunteering to help create one. Talk to community leaders, your colleagues, neighbors and members of faith or civic organizations about how you can work together in the event of an emergency. You will be better prepared to safely reunite your family and loved ones during an emergency if you think ahead and communicate with others in advance.
Bottom Line

Identify a contact such as a friend or relative who lives out-of-state for household members to notify after an emergency. Local phone lines can become overloaded so it may be easier to make a long-distance phone call than to call across town. An out-of-town contact may be in a better position to communicate among separated family members.

Be sure every member of your family knows the phone number and has a cell phone, coins or a prepaid phone card to call the emergency contact.

If you have a cell phone, program that person(s) as "ICE" (In Case of Emergency) in your phone. If you are in an accident, emergency personnel will often check your ICE listings in order to get a hold of someone you know. Make sure to tell your family and friends that you’ve listed them as emergency contacts.

Teach family members how to use text messaging. Text messages can often get around network disruptions when a phone call might not be able to get through.

Subscribe to alert services. Many communities now have systems that will send instant text alerts or e-mails to let you know about bad weather, road closings, local emergencies, etc.

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Friday, November 25, 2011

What's a first cousin twice removed?

Cousins are those rare people who ask how we are and then wait to hear the answer.
- Ed Cunningham
Knowing your family history can help you to remember all those relatives that you met yesterday with Thanksgiving dinner. Doing genealogy online is another way to discover distant relatives.

I recently received over 20 pages of family data on relatives of my grandmother's mother, a Sanderson. The individuals listed are my 2nd and 3rd cousins many times removed.

What is a 'removed' cousin? Let's start with siblings. A person is your brother or sister if you share the same parents. (For this blog I'll ignore half-X relations where just a single relative is shared.) A person is your cousin if you have a pair of common grandparents. Your second cousin if the nearest shared relative is a great-grandparent. Third cousins if a shared 2*great grandparent and so on.

But what if the two people comparing family trees are not of the same "generation"? The 'removed' tag indicates how many generations the separation is. My cousin's children are called my cousins once removed. My cousin is also a grandparent so her grandkids are my 1st cousins twice removed.  My parent's cousins are also my cousins but once removed.

Bottom Line

How many cousins once removed do you have?

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving Day!

Thanksgiving in the United States, much like in Canada, was observed on various dates throughout history. The dates of Thanksgiving in the era of the Founding Fathers until the time of Lincoln had been decided by each state on various dates. The first Thanksgiving celebrated on the same date by all states was in 1863 by presidential proclamation by Abraham Lincoln for the final Thursday in November.

It was not until December 26, 1941, that the official date changed to the fourth Thursday in November -this time by federal legislation with the support of President Franklin D. Roosevelt
- Wikipedia

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Why You're Not Losing Weight

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.
-Abraham Lincoln (healthy living for women) suggests 10 Reasons You're Not Losing Weight.  See the article for the full story and recommended lifestyle changes.
  1. Not enough muscle
    Muscles burn calories all day long.
  2. Your parents were fat
    Your body shape will very likely look like your parents'. If your parents are overweight, you'll have to be super diligent to avoid the same fate.
  3. You're older
    A slower metabolism is common with aging. Look at a young child and how they simply cannot stay still; they are constantly fidgeting. Whereas adults will sit for hours in front of a PC or TV. Get up and move about more frequently (and rebuild those flabby muscles).
  4. Evolution
    In cultures where starvation was common, bodies became very efficient at saving every calorie eaten. Normal eating packs on weight and dieting just kicks in the starvation protection mode.
  5. Drugs
    Some common drugs for high blood pressure, depression, etc have a side effect of making you hungry or stimulating fat storage. Talk to your doctor to see if this is the case and what options you have.
  6. Underestimating portion sizes
    Meal sizes have grown to giant proportions. Keep in mind that a serving of meat (3 oz) is the size of a deck of cards and a mere 1/2 cup is a serving size of pasta.
  7. Eating while distracted
    It's way too easy to chow down while on the PC or watching TV and empty an entire bag of chips or popcorn, etc. Give food your full attention while eating so your stomach and brain have time to catch up.
  8. Your diet is too restrictive
    You will get cravings and a diet must factor this in. A slice of pizza, ice cream, a doughnut, etc. You can't have these every day but a diet should allow for a personal favorite now and then.
  9. Splurging
    You have a great diet plan BUT you'll make a exception for a birthday party, or a night out at a restaurant, or some other event. One splurge meal can cancel out a week of dieting.
  10. Overestimating Exercise
    Exercise burns amazingly few calories. A 30-minute power walk might burn 200 calories of which you regain 100 with one can of soda.
Bottom Line

To paraphrase the quote at top, you can fool your body some of the time but not all of the time. Diets may work short term but a body will adjust to lower food intake and burn less calories making a diet less effective over time. And the period immediately after a diet is dangerous because the body has been trained during the diet to efficiently use every calorie so a return to normal food levels is like a feast with lots of opportunity for fat storage to restore what the body knows was lost.

Long term weight manangement requires lifestyle changes. Not famines or gimmicks.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Alien Eel?

Dallas: [looks at a pen being dissolved by alien's blood] I haven't seen anything like that except, uh, molecular acid.
Brett: It must be using it for blood.
Parker: It's got a wonderful defense mechanism. You don't dare kill it.
-from the movie Alien
If you saw the movie Alien (and then Aliens, 2, 3, etc) you may remember that the monster had a double set of jaws. Inside her mouth of very sharp teeth there was a second mouth with yet more teeth. What an amazing imagination of the monster designer! Or was it imagination?

The moray eel has a second set of jaws in its throat that can launch forwards, like the movie Alien. It bites prey with the first set, and then pulls them in with the second set.

(Image from a clever site called Nature Wants to Eat You which features the jaws of many odd creatures.)

Researchers had to use high speed photography to capture these internal jaws in action. These natural forceps dart forward faster than a blink to seize the flesh of their prey and pull it down the gullet. Just like the movie. And yet the eel jaws are a recent discovery so the monster designer deserves credit for imagining something long before it was discovered in real life.

Bottom Line
Truth is stranger than fiction! (or at least as strange)

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Healthy Diet Tricks

An optimist is a person who starts a new diet on Thanksgiving Day.
- Irv Kupcinet
The solution to losing weight is simple in theory - just eat less. But that's not so easy in real life. The body does not want to diet and hunger pangs can drive anyone to "breaking" their diet. How can you diet and not feel hungry all the time? Women's Health magazine recommends these Healthy Appetite Supressant Tricks.

1. Eat Protein at Breakfast
Many studies show that breakfast is essential to healthy weight. You think you're being clever by skipping breakfast but the body will overcompensate by wanting to eat extra food throughout the day to make up the loss. A good breakfast should include at least one ounce of lean protein like Canadian bacon, egg whites, or low-fat yogurt. Protein keeps you fuller than other nutrients and takes your body more time to digest and absorb leaving you feeling fuller longer.

2. Eat Potatoes
Many diets portray potatoes as carb-heavy villains but a plain, medium-size spud is just 100 calories. (It's the butter, sour cream, frying oil, etc that packs on the weight. This recommendation does NOT apply to chips or french fries.) Potatoes contain appetite-slaying superpowers with a special type of starch that resists digestion. Because potatoes take a while to break down, they stay in your intestine longer, delaying the onset of hunger pangs.

3. A little Fat is good
Oleic acid, an unsaturated fat found in olive oil, nuts, and avocados, helps quash hunger. Just watch your portions; unsaturated fats should make up about 20 percent of your total calorie intake. Try snacking on two tablespoons of natural peanut butter, an ounce of nuts, or a quarter of an avocado.

4. Exercise
Exercise not only burns calories but also helps you eat less. 60 minutes of high-intensity cardio can reduce appetite for up to two hours afterward.

5. Grapefruit
Eating half a grapefruit can lower your postmeal levels of insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar and fat metabolism.

6. Chew Sugarless Gum
People who chewed gum for one hour in the morning consumed 67 fewer calories at lunch and didn't compensate by eating more later in the day.

7. Use your nose
One study claims that people who inhaled a peppermint scent every two hours ate 2,700 fewer calories per week than they normally did. Smelling food can trick your brain into thinking you've eaten. Personally I have my doubts - I've always associated smelling food with triggering hunger. What might work is using your nose while eating - get the max experience out of your food by using all your senses as you eat.

Bottom Line

The trick in dieting is NOT not eating but eating wisely. (and exercise)

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Can't think of a good insult thou droning elf-skinned malt-worm?

It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing
- Shakespeare's Macbeth
Have you ever needed a really great insult and nothing came to mind. Well worry no more. offers the following Shakespeare Insult Kit  

If I look at the bottom of the chart I might come up with, Thou yeasty toad-spotted varlot!

Bottom Line

While the chart above is very clever and funny, personally I don't recommend insults. They can wound very deeply and permanently scar a relationship with a friend or relative. When used with strangers you're flirting with violence and inviting a fight. (Unless that is, you use a Shakespearean insult, in which case you'll most likely leave your target very confused).

When the ancient Greeks studied the art of debate and rhetoric they gave a name to verbal attacks against an individual - "Ad hominem". A person might argue, Don't believe what X says because he's an idiot. It's a reputation attack which ignores the topic under debate and proves nothing. Calling a person an idiot, or stupid, or one of the Shakespearean insults above does not win anything - it just hurts.

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Please don't drive and text

"Coming home, I drove into the wrong house and collided with a tree I don't have."
- insurance claim
You've heard the warning, "Don't Drink and Drive". It's a common problem. Here are two stories on the topic:

No Amount Of Drunkenness Will Turn A Taco Into Your I.D.
A drunk driver passed out in his car in the drive-thru lane at a Taco Bell. While unconcious his foot was on the accelerator revving the engine and it caught fire! When the police arrived the driver handed them a taco when asked for his ID.

Study: Binge Boozing Costs Society $2 Per Drink
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published a study showing that each alcoholic drink ends up costing society $2 in extra medical expenses, locking up drunk drivers, and damage from accidents.

And yet drunk driving is not the only problem behind the wheel. Driving while tired is a big problem in today's society where most adults do not get enough sleep. A great-uncle of mine fell asleep while driving and drove off an overpass.

New problems for drivers include cell phones and texting. I read one story of a bus driver who sheared off the top of his bus on a low overpass. He had missed the height warning sigans while complaining on a cell phone.

Texting may be even worse than cell phones. The Blackberry outage last month gave researchers a chance to measure the impact. In the country of Dubai, while Blackberries were offline, traffic accidents fell 20% from their average rates. In the city of Abu Dhabi, accidents fell by 40% and there were no fatal accidents during the outage.

Bottom Line

Driving is serious business. We take it for granted but fast moving cars are deadly weapons and the driver must remain alert at all times. A single distraction is all it takes for an accident.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Preventing Foodborne Disease this Holiday Season

"Holidays are the best. I couldn't imagine being from a small family."
-Kim Kardashian
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one out of six Americans (48 million people) will get sick, 128,000 will be hospitalized, and 3,000 will die from foodborne diseases this year. (See A Fatal Cantaloupe?) So far in 2011 the CDC has investigated 65 outbreaks of food illness.

Evidence shows that preventing illness begins with the basics. Stay safe during this holiday season by following these safety tips:
  • Clean. Wash hands, cutting boards, utensils, and counter tops.
  • Separate. Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood separate from ready-to-eat foods.
  • Cook. Use a food thermometer to ensure that foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature: 145°F for whole meats (allowing the meat to rest for 3 minutes before carving or consuming), 160°F for ground meats, and 165°F for all poultry.
  • Chill. Keep your refrigerator below 40°F, and refrigerate food that will spoil.
  • Report suspected illness from food to your local health department.
  • Don't prepare food for others if you have diarrhea or have been vomiting.
  • Be especially careful when preparing food for children, pregnant women, those in poor health, and older adults.

Bottom Line

For more information see

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Is Layaway a good idea?

“The man who never has money enough to pay his debts has too much of something else.”
-James Lendall Basford
This year Sears, Kmart, Toys “R” Us, Babies “R” Us, TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, and Burlington Coat Factory are offering layaway plans. What exactly is layaway?

If you can not afford the full price for an item but don't want to see it sold out and unavailable closer to Christmas you pay the store part of the price and agree to pay in installments. There is an initial deposit based on a percentage of the purchase price (perhaps 10-20%) and a service fee (say $5-10) to administer the plan and keep the item in storage for you to pickup later. There are no interest payments but you don’t get to take the merchandise home until you’ve paid for it in full.

Most stores offer 30 to 90 days for you to make all payments. Some require payments every week or two to keep the item in storage. If you miss a payment the item might be put back on the shelf; some stores will give a refund of partial payments (minus cancellation fee) but others will only give you a gift card of money paid. Some stores will honor a sale price after an item has been put on layaway - others have limited time windows for honoring sale prices (eg 7-30 days).

Bottom Line

It's important to ask for and read the complete terms and conditions of a store's layaway plan before using layaway. You might be in for a nasty surprise if you change your mind or the item goes to 1/2 off two weeks later.

Unless the item is really expensive you're better off using a credit card than layaway. Consider the Rock n' Roll Elmo doll for $25 at Toys "R" Us. The layaway fee is $5. Say you have 90 days to pay in full. The $5 can be thought of as a loan with 20% interest for 90-days. (5/25 = 20%).  This is equivalent to an annual loan rate of 107% APR. By law credit cards are maxed at 30% APR. If you used a credit card for Elmo and paid it one year later, the interest would be 25 * .3 = $7.50 which is higher than $5 but you also had 4 times as long to pay it.

Better yet, don't buy a toy if you cannot afford it. An estimated 13.5 million Americans are carrying debt leftover from last Christmas. Go simple. Give a gift with love instead of a gift with batteries. Make something or give a gift of time like a free message or painting a room.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Free Online Education

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You're on your own.
And you know what you know. You are the guy who'll decide where to go.”
- Dr. Seuss
The blog, Marc and Angel Hack Life, Practical Tips for Production Living, list over 100 Internet sites that offer free classes, lectures, books, or research materials online.

 I've used a few of them

  • MIT OpenCourseWare – MIT OpenCourseWare is a free web-based publication of MIT course materials that reflects almost all the undergraduate and graduate subjects taught at MIT.

  • <amazing amount of subjects and I still learned something after 20 years in the computer science.>

  • Khan Academy – Over 1200 videos lessons covering everything from basic arithmetic and algebra to differential equations, physics, chemistry, and biology.

  • <aimed at High School and Undergraduate level>

  • The USGenWeb Project – Free genealogy and family history resources online.

  • One Minute Languages – Learn a new language via podcasts that are updated regularly.

  • TED – Motivational and educational lectures from noteworthy professionals around the world.

  • Project Gutenberg – More than 20,000 free books from the first producer of free e-books.

  • Weather Channel – You can learn about weather all over the world, but the Weather Channel also offers dynamic content based upon seasons and special conditions and a special multimedia and education section.

  • Bottom Line

    Many of our greatest men were self taught, Lincoln, Thoreau, DaVinci, Einstein, Newton. Many are considered genius but they became that way because they read and studied on their own time and of their own passion.

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    Friday, November 11, 2011

    The 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month

    In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.
    -José Narosky
    This year adds an extra 11 to the remembrance of Veterans Day on 11/11/11.

    It was at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 that the Germans signed the Armistice to end the Western Front of World War One. This event is celebrated in many allied countries as Veterans Day, Armistice Day (France), Poppy Day (South Africa), National Day (Poland), Day of Peace (Belgium) and Remembrance Day (British Commonwealth). While the war in Europe ended on this day, hostilities continued in the Russian Empire and in parts of the old Ottoman Empire. 

    President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed an Armistice Day the following year on November 11, 1919. However it was not until May 13, 1938 that congress made the 11th of November a legal holiday; "a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as 'Armistice Day'."

    In 1953 Al King, a shoe store owner in Emporia, Kansas, had the idea to expand Armistice Day to celebrate all veterans, not just those who served in World War I. With the help of Rep. Ed Rees, also from Emporia, a bill was passed by Congress and signed into law on May 26, 1954 by President Dwight Eisenhower. Congress amended this act on November 8, 1954, replacing "Armistice" with Veterans, and it has been known as Veterans Day ever since.

    In 1971 the holiday was moved to the fourth Monday of October in accordance with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. It was moved back to November 11 in 1978.

    In many parts of the world people take a two-minute moment of silence at 11:00 a.m. as a sign of respect for the roughly 20 million who died in the war. The Service of Remembrance in many Commonwealth countries generally includes the sounding of "Last Post," followed by the two minutes of silence, followed by the sounding of "Reveille" (or, more commonly, "The Rouse"), and finished by a recitation of the "Ode of Remembrance." The "Flowers of the Forest", "O Valiant Hearts", "I Vow to Thee, My Country" and "Jerusalem" are often played during the service. Services also include wreaths laid to honour the fallen, a blessing, and national anthems.

    The poppy's significance to Remembrance Day is a result of Canadian military physician John McCrae's poem In Flanders Fields. Poppies bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders in World War I, their red colour an appropriate symbol for the bloodshed of trench warfare. An American YMCA Overseas War Secretaries employee, Moina Michael, was inspired by McCrae's poem, and made an effort to have the poppy adopted as a national symbol of remembrance, and succeeded in having the National American Legion Conference adopt it two years later. Some people choose to wear white poppies, which emphasises a desire for peaceful alternatives to military action. The Royal Canadian Legion suggests that poppies be worn on the left lapel, or as close to the heart as possible.

    Bottom Line

    For grammarians, please note that while Veteran’s Day and Verterans’ Day are grammatically correct, the official spelling of the holiday in the US is Veterans Day with no apostrophe.

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    Thursday, November 10, 2011

    Hunger Squashing Snacks

    Diets, like clothes, should be tailored to you.
    - Joan Rivers
    What did you think of yesterday's blog on Healthy Appetite Suppression Tricks? Continuing the same topic, here are Hunger Squashing Snacks also from Women's Health magazine.

    1. Warm toasted nuts
    Combine pecans, almonds, peanuts, ^ cashews - with chili powder, black pepper, and a pinch of cayenne. Roast in a 400 degree F oven for 10 minutes.

    2. Ants on a Log
    A stick of celery with peanut butter and dotted with raisins.

    3. Edamame
    Boil a few cups of frozen edamame until tender. Drain and toss with a light coasting of sesame oil, red pepper flakes, and kosher salt.

    4. Homemade Trail mix
    Combine 1 cup almonds, walnuts, or cashews (or a 1 cup mix of all three) with 1/2 cup sunflower seeds and 1 1/2 cups dried fruit: raisins, apricots, apples, prunes, and/or banana chips.

    5. Hummus
    Spread hummus inside a pita and add sliced tomato, onion, and lettuce.

    6. Stuffed Peppers
    Stuff cherry peppers or bottled Peppadew peppers with soft goat cheese or mini balls of fresh mozzarella.

    7. Breadless Sandwich
    Top a slice of Swiss cheese with a slice of deli turkey and a spoonful of hummus or guacamole. Roll it up and eat.

    8. Cheese cubes
    Cut fresh mozzarella into 1/2-inch cubes. Skewer on toothpicks with pitted green olives and sundried tomatoes.

    9. Popcorn
    Pop a bag of popcorn. While it's still hot, add a half cup grated Parmesan and chopped fresh rosemary. No need to add salt, Parmesan is quite salty and adds a protein to the snack.

    10. Tuna
    Combine a can of tuna with your favorite salsa. Use Triscuits for scooping.
    (personal note - that sounds like a lot of tuna to me and be moderate with the Triscuits, they pack a few calories)

    11. Elvis Special
    Cover a slice of toasted wheat bread with peanut butter and banana slices. (Optional) Top with a drizzel of honey.

    Bottom Line

    A good snack will always include a protein so you fill fuller longer. Complex carbs are good too but watch out for sugars and processed carbs.

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    Wednesday, November 9, 2011

    Emergency Alert System Nationwide Test

    "This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. The broadcasters of your area in voluntary cooperation with the FCC and federal, state and local authorities have developed this system to keep you informed in the event of an emergency."
    This afternoon at 2pm (Eastern Standard Time) the Emergency Alert System, or EAS, will launch its first nationwide test. I'm sure you're familiar with the "this is only a test" that occurs periodically on TV and radio. The purpose of today's test is to assess the reliability and effectiveness of the system in alerting the entire public.

    Today's test will involve only "broadcast radio and television, cable television, satellite radio and television and wireline video services" that participate in the EAS.  The Emergency Alert System transmits emergency alerts and warnings to the American public at the national, Tribal, state and local levels. A typical alert of a weather threat or child abduction makes sense at local and state levels. It's hard to imagine a national alert short of war or significant terrorist attack or major disaster such as an mega-earthquake or tsunami.

    While local/state components of the EAS are tested on a weekly/monthly basis, there has never been an end-to-end nationwide test of the system. Only a complete, top-down test of the EAS can provide an appropriate diagnosis of the system's performance.

    Although the nationwide EAS test may resemble the periodic monthly EAS tests that most consumers are familiar with, there will be some differences. The audio message will say "this is a test", however due to limitations of the EAS, the video test message may not be the same and may not indicate "this is a test" for everyone. In some cases there may be no image at all. FEMA and the FCC are working with organizations representing the deaf and hard of hearing to prepare that community for the nationwide test.

    This test is being conducted on November 9 because this date is near the end of hurricane season and before the severe winter weather season begins. The 2 p.m. EST broadcast will minimize disruption during rush hours while ensuring that the test occurs during working hours across the country.

    Bottom Line

    The test will last approximately 30 seconds at 2pm EST, Nov 9, 2011.

    Updated Nov 10

    The test showed many areas with room for improvement. ABC News asks,
    National Emergency Alert Test: Total Failure?
    "Some people never saw an alert, others said the audio was distorted and there were even claims that Lady Gaga’s song “Paparazzi” was playing instead of the correct audio. On KABC-TV in Los Angeles, a screen flashed with the EAS graphic for several minutes, but there was no audio or information given.  ...
    On the television feeds at ABC News’ headquarters in New York City, CNN ran a preview graphic saying, “Soon: Emergency Test Alert,” but the actual test never ran. Both ESPN and Fox News teased that the test was coming up, but it never happened. On MTV, it was afternoon programming as usual."
    The FEMA administrator says, "I apologize for the disruptions that people went through. But we need to test things to find out what works and what doesn’t work.”

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    Tuesday, November 8, 2011

    Without power for over a week

    "That's the night the lights went out in Georgia"
    -lyrics in song of the same name
    The day before Halloween, a freak snowstorm dump inches of wet heavy snow on New York, New Jersery, and New England states. Because the trees still had leaves attached, hundreds of thousands of braches became too heavy and broke. Now this does not sound like a big deal, certainly not as flashy a disaster as a hurricane or earthquake, and yet the consequences have been extreme. The Halloween nor'easter knocked out power to over 3 million homes. Connecticut was hit especially hard and over 100,000 residents of Connecticut are without power a week after the storm and they are NOT happy about it.  See Tempers flare over 6 days of Conn. power outages written on Nov 4.
    “Angry residents left without heat as temperatures drop to near freezing overnight have been lashing out at Connecticut Light & Power: accosting repair crews, making profane criticisms online and suing. In Simsbury, a hard-hit suburban town of about 25,000 residents, National Guard troops deployed to clear debris have been providing security outside a utility office building.”
    Abusing the work crews is a VERY bad idea. Some of these repairmen have left their familes in mid-west states to work here around the clock.  (A loose wire at our house was fixed at 3:30 in the morning.)

    What went wrong? One reader of Instapundit, surmises,
    Not sure what goes wrong, but it sounds like greed in not wanting to hire enough workers, failure to pay out of state crews that came up to help with Irene, incompetence, and poor character.
    It's possible that Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P) underestimated the massive scope of the damage and was slow to mobilize outside help. Regional disasters like this are particuallarly hard to solve because you cannot just call in workmen from neighboring states. Instead those states are desparate for extra repairmen also and everyone is competing for workers from outside the disaster area. And this is a repeat from just months ago during "hurricane" Irene so "favors" used up, emergency funds spent, emergency workers burnt out.

    Bottom Line

    It's events like this that show why you must be able to take care of yourself and your family. Can you supply your own heat, light and food for two weeks? If not, why not?

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    Monday, November 7, 2011

    When to Call your Credit Card Company

    Remember that credit is money
    - Benjamin Franklin
    MSN Money suggests there are seven occasions when you should always call your credit card company.
    1. When a new card arrives - most cards require a phone call to activate a new card
    2. Unauthorized charge - if you see something on your credit card statement that does not make sense, call immediately. ALWAYS review your credit card statement line by line. You might have been enrolled in some monthly fee program by visiting a web site or responding to a text message on your phone. Or it could be fraud or identity theft. Years ago a restaurant changed the amount of the tip on my card to a higher value. That is illegal.
    3. Lost card - If you're not sure where your card is it's safer to have it canceled and a new card number assigned.
    4. Stolen card - call immediately to get the card canceled. File a police report and also notify the credit rating bureaus.
    5. Change of Address - don't make the mistake of letting your bank and card statements go to an old address and into someone else's hands.
    6. Missing credit card statement - if your monthly statement does not arrive on time, call. Someone can do a lot of damage if they steal your statement which contains card number, name, address, etc.
    7. Before a vacation or big purchase - companies monitor cards for unusual activity and may shut it down if they suspect fraud. We have a friend who now lives in Florida but rents out his prior home in New York. While visiting New York to make house repairs, his card company froze his account because of all the "unusual activity" in New York. Before I traveled to Canada this summer I called my credit card companies to warn them about my travel plans. (And to find out their money conversion fees.)
    Bottom Line

    Credit cards are great to have when used responsibly. Card rates are outrageous so this is not the best way to obtain a "loan" when you're short of cash. Never pay just the minimum suggested - pay more, pay it all if you can.

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    Friday, November 4, 2011

    Guy Fawkes Night

    Remember remember the fifth of November
    Gunpowder, treason and plot.
    I see no reason why gunpowder treason
    Should ever be forgot...
    The mask pictured here has become "an international symbol for rebellion and anonymity." An estimated 100,000 were sold last year. It's been spotted in Occupy protests from Oakland to Hong Kong and is the face of the Hacker group Anonymous.

    Most Americans associate the mask with the comic and movie, "V for Vendetta"  but its history is 400 years older than that. In 1605 conspirators in London plotted to kill King James (a Protestant) and his two sons as they attended Parliament. The conspirators planned to kidnap Jame's daughter, convert her to Catholicism, and put her on the throne. On 5 November 1605 Guy Fawkes, a member of the Gunpowder Plot, was discovered guarding dozens of barrels of gunpowder explosives in a basement beneath the House of Lords.

    Celebrating the fact that King James I had survived the attempt on his life,  Londoners lit bonfires, and months later the introduction of the Observance of 5th November Act enforced an annual public day of thanksgiving for the plot's failure. Gradually, Gunpowder Treason Day became Guy Fawkes Day with Guy Fawkes burned in effigy and people wearing "Guy Fawkes" masks.

    Bottom Line

    While Britons still remember the 5th of November, after 400 years Fawkes has changed from traitor to folk hero. As they say, "Guy Fawkes was the only man ever to enter Parliament with honest intentions."

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    Candle light?

    "The things I want to know are in books. My best friend is the man who'll get me a book I [haven't] read."
    — Abraham Lincoln

    During our power outage with the Halloween snowstorm, my wife & I were reminded of Lincoln reading by firelight. (See painting at right). We tried to read by candle light and found that very difficult to do.

    We have a collection of pillar candles made by pouring wax into a milk carton with wick. Also a collection of wide candles made inside mason jars. We chose these types for safety since candle use in emergencies is discouraged. You don't want open flame if there's a chance of a gas leak and candles have started many home fires. The American Red Cross, which deals with those house fires, is opposed to candles and does not recommend them for 72-hour kits.

    We use wide candles and glass jar candles to reduce the risk of tipping over. We have no large pet or kids so, fingers crossed, we think we're safe. And we take precautions like never burning a candle unattended.

    So back to the original point, our candles did not put out much light! There are two problems with wide candles.
    1. A depression is created down the center of the candle and the wick is hidden as it sinks into the cavity created.
    2. The wick can drown in too much wax in the cavity it makes.

    So my wife pulled out some taper candles - these are the tall skinny type - and wow the light was much brighter. To protect against tipping we put the taper candles in tall mason jars. It was not easy but reading was possible with a taper for each of us.

    Website offers this advice for getting more use of candles:
    • Try multi-wick candles. (We had one dual wick candle but it too suffered the wide candle problems mentioned above. Still they may be good for room lighting.)
    • Use Reflection - place candles near mirrors or light colored walls to bounce back more light
    • Light colored candles seem to emit brighter light than dark colored ones. (?)
    • Cold candles (refrigerated prior to use) burn slower. Take care to ensure that they do not become moist. (I've never tried this)
    • Air drafts cause candles to burn more quickly
    • WSAC and other sites recommend 1/4" length for the candle wick. Higher wicks cause smoking and flickering.
    • Try extinguishing the candle by pushing the wick into the liquid wax. When you restart it you'll burn wax instead of wick alone and the wick will last longer.
    Bottom Line

    Treat candles with respect. This is fire after all.

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    Thursday, November 3, 2011

    How to Avoid Fraud after a Storm

    “There is no recourse against hiring an unlicensed contractor. We're not saying anything about the good companies that come in to make a decent living, but unfortunately, there are the bad ones that try to come in and suck people's insurance checks and move on.”
    - Larry Johnson
    Last month FEMA published an alert about identify theft fraud after Tropical Storm Lee hit New York. Residents in Tioga County had encountered a potential fraudster canvassing neighborhoods claiming to be a “financial consultant” doing a survey for FEMA in a bid to obtain personal financial information.

    FEMA notes that
    Many legitimate persons -- insurance agents, FEMA Community Relations personnel, local inspectors and real contractors -- may have to visit a storm-damaged property. Survivors could, however, encounter people posing as inspectors, government officials or contractors in a bid to obtain personal information or collect payment for repair work. Your best strategy to protect yourself against fraud is to ask to see identification in all cases and to safeguard your personal financial information.
    Be suspicious of anyone who:
    • Has no proper identification (a shirt or jacket saying FEMA or some other org is NOT enough). Ask to see their photo laminated card.
    • Wants your personal financial information
    • Asks for cash to fill out a form or for an inspection.
    • Demands cash or full payment up front for home repairs. Won't provide a contract.
    • Is a contractor with no physical address on their card.
    • Urges you to borrow to pay for repairs, then steers you to a specific lender or tries to act as an intermediary between you and a lender.
    • Urges you to use a contractor they recommend
    • Asks you to sign something you have not had time to review.
    To avoid scams:
    • Question strangers and demand to see identification
    • Never give any personal financial information to an unfamiliar person
    • Never sign any document without first reading it fully. Ask for an explanation of any terms or conditions you do not understand
    • Do your own research before borrowing money for repairs. Compare quotes, repayment schedules and rates. If they differ significantly, ask why.
    Bottom Line

    For more information about avoiding charitable giving scams, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website at

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    Wednesday, November 2, 2011

    How long is food safe during a power outage?

    “I like these cold, gray winter days. Days like these let you savor a bad mood.”
    -Bill Watterson (author of Calvin & Hobbes)
    My wife & I recently spent several winter days without power due to the Oct 29 snow storm which dropped 4 inches of heavy wet snow on trees still covered with autumn leaves. This causes massive amounts of broken limbs, fallen trees, and power lines knocked down. The damage to power lines was greater than tropical storm Irene a few months back.

    When the power went out on Saturday we knew it would be gone for awhile - this was a major storm. So our first thought was the fridge. We discussed what to pull from the fridge (before opening it) and then quickly removed items we wanted to use and put them in an insulated cooler. The fridge and freezer were not opened again until power was restored. The cooler was placed outside in the snow to help keep it cold. If we had been more clever we might have emptied the fridge and put everything in the snow. This would have been great overnight but perhaps still unsafe during the heat of day. We also could have used dry ice in the fridge but no one was distributing it locally to us.

    The magic temperature with refrigerated food is 40°. The USDA says,
    "Always keep meat, poultry, fish, and eggs refrigerated at or below 40°F and frozen food at or below 0°F." ... "The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed."
    The USDA website has a table listing when foods are no longer safe. Discard any potentially hazardous food that has been above 41°F for four hours or more, reached a temperature of 45°F or higher for any length of time, or has an unusual color, odor, or texture.

    VERY IMPORTANT: More than 250 diseases can be caused by bacteria found in contaminated food. Many bacteria can grow above 40°F and not produce a funny smell or taste. Never taste food to determine if it’s safe.

    The following items can tolerate room temperatures for a few days and DO NOT need to be tossed out:
    • Butter or margarine
    • Hard and processed cheeses
    • Fresh uncut fruits and vegetables, Fruit juices
    • Dried fruits and coconut
    • Opened jars of vinegar-based salad dressings, jelly, relish, taco sauce, barbecue sauce, mustard, ketchup, olives and peanut butter
    • Fresh herbs and spices
    • Fruit pies, breads, rolls, and muffins. Cakes, except cream cheese frosted or cream-filled
    • Flour and nuts
    Fortunately the list above describes most of our fridge content.  We should toss our raw eggs and our yogurt. I always thought yogurt would last longer than regular milk but even yogurt has a short shelf life; see

    Bottom Line
    Perishable food such as meat, poultry, seafood, milk, and eggs that are not kept adequately refrigerated or frozen may cause illness if consumed, even when they are thoroughly cooked.

    For a list of foods and which are "safe" or not when warm, check out
    Another good site is

    See also my blog post:  Living without power

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    Tuesday, November 1, 2011

    Please don't burn down the Dormitory!

    I'm an ordinary guy
    Burning down the house
    -Talking Heads song
    When you sent your young son or daughter off to college this year, one of the last thing you'll want to hear is that they burned down the dormitory building. Most college students lack knowledge about fire safety and prevention (and may lack common sense in general). Students may think it's cool to burn candles or incense and it's also cool to get plastered drunk. These don't mix well. In more than 50% of adult fire fatalities, victims were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the fire. Alcohol impairs judgment and hampers evacuation efforts.

    The United States Fire Administration (USFA) offers these tips:

    Cooking is the leading cause of fire injuries on college campuses, closely followed by careless smoking and arson. Students are careless with ashes or fall asleep with a lit cigarette.

    Many factors contribute to the problem of dormitory housing fires.
    • Improper use of 911 notification systems delays emergency response.
    • Student apathy is prevalent. Many are unaware that fire is a risk or threat in the environment.
    • Evacuation efforts are hindered since fire alarms are often ignored.
    • Building evacuations are delayed due to lack of preparation and preplanning.
    • Vandalized and improperly maintained smoke alarms and fire alarm systems inhibit early detection of fires.
    • Misuse of cooking appliances (In my college days we evacuated for a fire caused by food forgotten on a stove downstairs.)
    • Overloaded electrical circuits and extension cords increase the risk of fires.

    Bottom Line Safety Precautions

    • Teach your kids how to properly notify the fire department using the 911 system.
    • If you can visit the college, inspect your child's room for fire hazards like overloaded electrical outlets.
    • Know the location of emergency exit doors and windows.
    • Urge your kids to take each alarm seriously and to participate in fire drills.
    • Teach safe cooking techniques. Don't encourage cooking in dorm rooms.

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