Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Money to Burn? - Literally

"Gotta use your brain, it's the most important part of your equipment."
~Kevin Andrews and Warren Miller, Extreme Skiing
Here's an odd story about keeping warm. A 66-year-old man was snowshoeing on Mt. Rainier in Washington state when he slipped down a slope and became separated from his group. During the two freezing days it took to find him and rescue him, he kept warm by running in palace and burning things. He had a package of fire starters for he began by burning all the leaves he could find. When those ran out he burned his socks. Then he started burning his cash. Just the small bills, $1s and $5s - nothing crazy like $20s. It worked and he's fine now.

Bottom Line

The story reports that Mr Kim has been "snowshoeing for a decade, was well equipped for a day trip but didn't have overnight gear."  When hiking or snowshoeing in wilderness, always pack overnight gear. You never know when an accident or weather will trap you outside.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Staying warm when the heat is out

Winter is not a season, it's an occupation.
~Sinclair Lewis

Here are some ideas for staying warm when your house/apt. heat is not working:

Dress warmly! Wear a hat and socks indoors and even in bed! Dress in many layers from head to fingers to toes. Put on a winter coat or make your own by stuffing your clothing with crumbled up newspapers, paper towels or other insulating materials.

Snuggle and share body heat with family and pets.

Heat rises so stay upstairs.
Plug any air gaps around windows and doors.

Close doors to unused rooms. This will reduce drafts and retain what little heat your bodies give off.

Cover floors with a carpet or blanket.

Vigorous exercise warms the body and moves heat to fingers and toes.

When sitting still wrap yourself in a blanket or thick bathrobe.

Bottom Line

Know your limits to avoid frost bite and hypothermia! Sometimes the best thing to do is leave a cold house and find a shelter with heat.

Most fireplaces do a poor job of heating a room. NEVER leave a fire unattended or burning while you sleep and do not dispose of fireplace ashes near your house. Space heaters and candles are a fire risk when used near flammable items. Gas powered heaters are also a carbon monoxide risk when there is no ventilation.

NEVER use a power generator indoors.
While TV news emphasizes tornados, hurricanes and earthquakes, the real killers in nature are heat and cold. Globally there are more deaths from extreme cold than from extreme storms. Freezing to death is very real, especially for senior citizens and infants. Freezing cold can also inspire desperate measures to stay warm which lead to death by house fire or carbon monoxide poisoning.

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Friday, January 27, 2012

When is it too cold to stay home?

How low can you go?

- lyrics to "Limbo Rock"
I was asked yesterday, "If a house is without heat, at what temperature does it become unsafe to stay?" Or to put it another way, "At what temperature should one evacuate a home?"

I've searched the Internet and found nothing useful so I'm hoping that some reader can provide an answer. One site said that temperatures below 70 F can be dangerous (to the elderly perhaps???) if no protection is taken (like a sweater?). That seems way too extreme. At my home in winter, I'm lucky if I can convince the wife to set the thermostat up to 63 F. It's often 60 by day and 55 at night. For me 63 F is tolerable with layered clothing but below that my fingers become chilled.

When we lost power with the Halloween Nor'Easter we put on coats and hats and did OK for awhile as the temperature fell over several days. At 40 F we were becoming concerned but then the power was restored.

A site on wind chill said that -20 F was "dangerous". It may be true that even brief exposure to -20 F is dangerous but what about prolonged exposure? Someplace else warned about 30 F and below.  At that temperature you must to take active precautions to prevent your extremities from freezing with frostbite but it is survivable. When I attended an igloo making class the instructor warned against overheating the inside of the igloo. If the temperature got above 32 F the igloo would melt from the inside-out. So igloo dwellers must cope with the 30-32 F range.

Bottom Line

There might not be one simple answer. Temperature tolerance does depend on age and health and body fat. Still it would be nice to know how low is safe?

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

How To Plan A Vegetable Garden

"My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant's point of view."
~H. Fred Dale
My luck with gardens is very poor. Our havest last year was two or three plum tomatoes.

So instead I'll let another site do all the talking today and encourage all to check out How to Plan a Vegetable Garden at RootSimple.com.

Bottom Line

Gardening takes practice and planning. Begin now.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Top 25 Worst Passwords

"To err is human, to really foul things up requires a computer."
~Bill Vaughan, 1969
Web site Internet Crime Complaint Center's (IC3) and other sites have published a list of the worst passwords. A study was done on a list of millions of stolen passwords posted on-line by hackers and here are the top 25 passwords found in the list.

1. password
2. 123456
3. 12345678
4. qwerty
5. abc123
6. monkey
7. 1234567
8. letmein
9. trustno1
10. dragon
11. baseball
12. 111111
13. iloveyou
14. master
15. sunshine
16. ashley
17. bailey
18. passw0rd
19. shadow
20. 123123
21. 654321
22. superman
23. qazwsx
24. michael
25. football
Bottom Line

If you use any of these passwords, change it now. Here's some advice on creating a good password:

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Crazy food or Fun food?

“Some people ask the secret of our long marriage. We take time to go to a restaurant two times a week. A little candlelight, dinner, soft music and dancing. She goes Tuesdays, I go Fridays.”
-Henry Youngman
Attempts by restaurants to server healthy or diet food usually fails because when people go out to eat, they want a meal that entertains and tastes great. Why buy something simple, boring or with no taste? And yet, do restaurants go too far? Are they to blame when they create a meal that gives you a day or more worth of calories on one plate?

Men's Health is one of many groups that watches what's being served and warns of extremes and offers alternative with their Eat This, Not That books and articles. In a recent story they identify the Craziest Food Creations that were added to the NOT THAT list. But hey, I'm willing to live dangerously and try some of the following:

1. KFC Double Down (A bacon and cheese sandwich where the bread is replaced with two fried chicken breasts)
2. Burger King Meat Beast Whopper (how do you make a whopper even bigger? Add bacon and pepperoni)
3. White Castle Surf & Turf Sliders with Cheese (a cheese burger with a fish patty added. Photo above.)
4. Denny's Fried Cheese Melt (how can you improve a cheese sandwich? By inserting fried cheese sticks along with the melted cheese of course!)
5. IHOP New York Cheesecake Pancakes  (A cheesecake mixed inside a pancake? Crazy! I've got to try it.)
6. Applebee's Quesadilla Burger (With meat to fill a quesadilla, this is one big burger!)
7. Claim Jumper Widow Maker Burger (never heard of Claim Jumper but the Widow Maker contains enough fat to frighten the strongest of hearts - bacon, onion rings, avocado, mayonnaise, and a double serving of cheese)
8. Friendly's Grilled Cheese BurgerMelt  (Can't decide between a hamburger and a cheese sandwich? Have both. This burger uses two cheese sandwiches to replace the buns.)
9. Applebee's Provolone Stuffed Meatballs with Fettuccine (like cheese-stuffed crust pizza? How about meatballs stuffed with cheese?)
10. Burger King New York Pizza Burger  (looks like the burger is the size of a small pizza)

Bottom Line

Crazy? Tasty? Fun or Abomination? You decide.

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Binge drinking is bigger problem than previously thought

“It takes only one drink to get me drunk. The trouble is, I can't remember if it's the thirteenth or the fourteenth.”
-George Burns
Anyone who has attended college has most likely observed (or even participated in) binge drinking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines binge drinking as consuming at least four drinks for women (five+ for men) on one occasion. More than 38 million U.S. adults binge drink an average of four times a month and frequently they don't stop at the 4-5 drink threshold. The binge average is now eight drinks according to a new Vital Signs report.  And it's not just the young adults (ages 18–34). There are drinkers age 65 and older who binge on average five to six times a month.

The CDC reports binge drinking is more common among household incomes of $75,000 or more, but households earning less than $25,000 drink more in one sitting (eight to nine drinks). Adult binge drinking is most common in the Midwest, New England, the District of Columbia, Alaska and Hawaii, the report said. However, binge drinkers consume more drinks in the southern part of the Mountain states (Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah), the Midwest, and some states where binge drinking is less common – including Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina.

Binge drinkers put themselves and others at risk for many health and social problems, including car crashes, other unintentional injuries, violence, liver disease, certain cancers, heart disease, sexually transmitted diseases, and both unintended and alcohol–exposed pregnancies.

Drinking too much causes more than 80,000 deaths in the United States each year, making it the third leading preventable cause of death. Over half of these deaths result from injuries that disproportionately involve young people.

“Binge drinking by adults has a huge public health impact, and influences the drinking behavior of underage youth by the example it sets,” said Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrator Pamela S. Hyde. “We need to reduce binge drinking by adults to prevent the immediate and long–term effects it has on the health of adults and youth.”

Bottom Line

For more information about binge drinking and how to prevent this dangerous behavior, visit the CDC’s Alcohol and Public Health website at http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/index.htm. Members of the public who are concerned about their own or someone else's binge drinking can call 1–800–662–HELP to receive assistance from the national Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service.

For state–specific estimates of alcohol–related deaths and years of potential life lost by condition, visit the Alcohol–Related Disease Impact system at https://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/ardi/HomePage.aspx.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday Quotes

Despair is most often the offspring of ill-preparedness.
- Don Williams Jr

Good luck happens when preparedness meets opportunity.
- Bret Harte

In fair weather prepare for foul.
- Thomas Fuller

By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.
- Ben Franklin

It's difficult to understand the lack of preparedness and the ineffective response to something that had been anticipated for years.
- Susan Collins (US Senator)

It usually takes me two or three days to prepare an impromptu speech.
― Mark Twain

Today I tried to search the web for the best preparedness quotes. Sadly I did not find many. Many sites repeat the exact same quotes from religious leaders or war generals. If you have a favorite quote, please add it in the comments below.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Kitchen Fires

“Fire is never a gentle master”
One of the most common causes of home fires is cooking in the kitchen. Perhaps you forget something on the stove or overheat grease/oil which alights in flame. Grease fires are extremely dangerous because the grease is easily splashed, burns very hot and can quickly spread to cabinets or other areas of the kitchen.

Here's some tips on dealing with stove top fires from SurvivalBlog.com.
  • NEVER throw flour on a fire. Flour dust is combustible and the flour "cloud" you create can "flash".
  • Sugar is also flammable - don't toss onto a flame. 
  • NEVER pour or throw water onto flaming oil (600 to 800 F). The water will "explode" into steam (212 F) and spray the flaming oil.
  • USE baking soda [not baking powder] or salt in quantity to smother a flame.
  • Most professional chefs keep a pan lid or wet towel near the stove to cover a pan fire. But beware, if the flames are tall you may burn your arms and hands trying to put the lid on the pan.
  • NEVER move a flaming pan away from the stove. The contents could splash out or flare over your hand causing you to drop it.
  • NEVER pour flaming oil down the sink. It will damage most modern plumbing.
  • NEVER use a turkey fryer indoors
Bottom Line

Know how to put a small fire. But also know when to run.
"Unless the fire is small and you have an extinguishing method on hand CALL FOR HELP FIRST! Evacuate, then fight the fire." - survivalblog
Kitchen fire extinguishers won't last long and won't put out a fire bigger than your stove top. Fire spreads quickly so if you at first you don't succeed, DON'T try again. Get out.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

When to toss Leftovers?

"Leftovers make you feel good twice. First, when you put it away, you feel thrifty and intelligent: ‘I’m saving food!’ Then a month later when blue hair is growing out of the ham, and you throw it away, you feel really intelligent: ‘I’m saving my life!’"
– George Carlin
Question: "When do I throw out leftovers"?

TasteOfHome.com has a simple answer, "If in doubt - throw it out". 

Don't rely on taste or smell or looks. Food may contain an unhealthy level of bacteria yet give no clue after several days.

A more detailed answer is, "it is best to eat leftovers within 2 days. Some items may still be safe after 3-5 days."

Raw foods from potentially dirty environments have a higher risk of contamination. These include fresh poultry & fish & other seafood (shrimp, scallops, squid, and shucked clams, mussels, and oysters). Don't keep these items in a fridge for more than a day (two at most).  Fresh (raw) ground meat and chopped meat (stew chunks) are equally at risk with more surface area exposed for bacteria growth.

Cooked foods will usually keep for 3 days (5 at most).

There are some foods that are are designed/created for a slightly longer shelf life:
hard cheese: 3 to 4 weeks
soft cheese: 1 week
yogurt: 1 - 2 weeks

Advice for Storing Leftovers

Begin with a clean container with an airtight seal. For items still hot, use shallow containers or divide the food into smaller portions so the center of the leftover can cool quickly. Some experts suggest waiting until steam has stopped rising from food before putting it into the refrigerator so that you don’t heat up your refrigerator. But don't wait too long.
"If food has been left out for longer than 2 hours, don’t put it back in the refrigerator, and don’t keep it for later. It’s not safe to eat." - TasteOfHome
"If food is left at room temperature for more than two hours, (one hour in hot weather) bacteria can grow to harmful levels, making it unsafe to eat." - European Food Information Council
Other experts discourage cooling leftovers on the kitchen counter but instead recommend putting warm leftovers quickly in the fridge. Bacteria are like Golilocks and love warm food (not too cold and not too hot) and grow quickly at a temperature that's "just right". My mother is a stickler when it comes to food safety. My wife & I were surprised when she took the hot bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken we had purchased for a picnic, transfered it to tupperware, and then put that in a cooler with ice, because it would take us a few hours to reach the picnic site.

The quote at top comes from a George Carlin routine called Ice Box Man which I recommend.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What is food Poisoning?

"Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died."
-Bombeck, Erma
Despite the name, food poisoning does not mean that someone has slipped hemlock or arsenic into your meal. Food poisoning usually means that you ate something containing an infectious agent like a virus, bacteria or parasite. But it can also mean poisoning in the real sense if you consumed a toxic agent like a poisonous mushroom or pesticide.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there are more than 250 known diseases that are caused by "bad" food. In the United States each year 1 in 6 people (48 million) become sick from a food-borne illnesses resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.

Common symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, fever and chills that occur within 30 minutes to 48 hours after consuming a contaminated food or drink. Most food poisoning is not serious and will run its course in 24-48 hours.

When to Seek Medical Care

Contact your doctor if
  • You have a sick child under age 3
  • You cannot keep any liquids down
  • You cannot keep down prescribed & necessary medicine because of vomiting
  • You are pregnant
  • Symptoms last for more than two days
  • You have a low-grade fever
  • Symptoms begin after recent foreign travel
  • There is an outbreak where others who ate the same thing are also sick
  • You have a weakened immune system (HIV/AIDS, cancer/chemotherapy, etc)
Go to the nearest emergency room if:
  • The sick person passes out, becomes dizzy & lightheaded, or has problems with vision.
  • You have a fever higher than 101 F (38.3 C) along with the abdominal symptoms
  • You have sharp or cramping abdomen pains do not go away after 10-15 minutes (might be appendicitis which can be deadly)
  • Your stomach or abdomen swells
  • Your skin and/or eyes turn yellow (possible liver failure?)
  • You are vomiting blood or having bloody bowel movements
  • You stop urinating, have decreased urination, or have urine that is dark in color
  • You have problem breathing, speaking, or swallowing.
  • One or more joints swell or a rash breaks out
Bottom Line

No food is every germ free so illness is not caused by consuming a single bacteria but rather from eating something with a concentration of infectious agent too numerous for the body to defeat quickly. When you buy deli meat or cook a meal, the food is safe. But as the leftovers sit in the fridge the few bacteria multiply, slowly to sure, but surely. If the leftover is completely reheated to 160 F or so the new bacteria are killed. But if you eat a week-old item cold, like cold cuts in a sandwich, then your stomach may be in for a rude shock.

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Monday, January 16, 2012

When you really gotta go

“You do live longer with bran, but you spend the last fifteen years on the toilet”
-Alan King
I was surprised when I looked-up "Diarrhea" on WebMd and it described it as, "very common and usually not serious. Many people will have diarrhea once or twice each year." That may be true in America but in developing nations diarrhea has been the #1 cause of deaths in infants due to dehydration. Today campaigns to educate mothers about Oral Re-hydration Solution (a mixture of salts, sugar, and water) has knocked diarrhea down to the #2 slot for infant mortality with pneumonia as the current top killer.

I was also surprised by the once or twice a year claim. But then I suffer from irritable bowel syndrome which the article does mention as an exception. I learned that many things can cause diarrhea like chewing gum. Gum?!
"dietetic candy" or "chewing gum" diarrhea, in which a sugar substitute, such as sorbitol, is not absorbed by the body but draws water from the body into the bowel
Other causes include:
  • "Stomach flu": a virus that infects the gut, usually lasts for two days
  • Infection by bacteria (food poisoning)
  • Infections by other organisms
  • Eating foods that upset the digestive system
  • Allergies to certain foods
  • Medications
  • Radiation therapy
  • Diseases of the intestines
  • Malabsorption
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Some cancers
  • Laxative abuse
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Digestive tract surgery
  • Diabetes
  • Competitive running
  • Following constipation, especially for people who have irritable bowel syndrome [I'll vouch for that]

For a mild case, just let it run its course. Or use over-the-counter medicines like Pepto-Bismol, Imodium A-D, and Kaopectate. Follow the instructions on the package.

In addition, drink at least six 8-ounce glasses of fluid per day like fruit juice without pulp, broth, or soda (without caffeine), chicken broth (without the fat), tea with honey, and sports drinks.

Instead of drinking liquids with your meals, drink liquids between meals. Drink small amounts of fluids frequently.

Bottom Line
"Contact your doctor if you have prolonged diarrhea or a fever that lasts more than 24 hours. Also see your doctor promptly if vomiting prevents you from drinking liquids to replace lost fluids." - WebMD

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Friday, January 13, 2012

Strategic Shopping: The best months to buy foods

"We used to build civilizations. Now we build shopping malls."
~Bill Bryson
The SurvivalistBlog.net has an excellent article entitled Strategic Shopping: A Month-by-Month Analysis by M.D. Creekmore.  Here's a summary of the best months for certain food specials and deals:


  • After Christmas Sales (wrapping paper, tape, bows, winter clothes)
  • National Oatmeal Month
  • National Beef Month
  • National Meat Month
  • National Tea Month
  • National Soup Month
  • Super Bowl (excellent prices on chips, salsa, soda and snacks)


  • National Canned Food Month
  • National Hot Breakfast Month (pancake mix & maple syrup)
  • National Snack Food Month
  • National Cherry Month
  • National Potato Lover’s Month
  • Sweet Potato Month
  • Celebration of Chocolate Month
  • Valentines Day Sales (candy)
  • Chinese New Year (soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, noodles, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts)


  • St. Patrick’s Day (corned beef & cabbage)
  • National Red Cross Month (CPR class & first aid items)
  • National Noodle Month
  • National Frozen Food Month
  • National Peanut Month
  • National Peanut Butter Lover’s Month
  • National Celery Month
  • National Flour Month
  • Spring Cleaning (cleaning products)


  • After Easter Sales (candy & ham)
  • Daylight Savings Time (batteries, smoke detectors, and carbon monoxide monitors)


  • Memorial Day Sales (condiments, picnic items, chips, soda)
  • National Barbecue Month
  • National Hamburger Month
  • National Salsa Month
  • National Strawberry Month
  • National Salad Month


  • National Dairy Month (butter)
  • National Iced Tea Month
  • National Seafood Month
  • Adopt-a-Cat Month (buy one cat, get one free? :-)  (cat food)


  • Fourth of July (picnic/party items)
  • National Hot Dog Month
  • National Baked Bean Month
  • National July Belongs to Blueberries Month


  • Back to School Sales
  • National Peach Month
  • National Coffee Month
"Summer items begin to go on clearance. Keep an eye out for charcoal, lighter fluid, paper plates and plastic utensils, sunscreen and insect repellent."


  • Labor Day (last of the picnic/BBQ sales)
  • National Chicken Month
  • National Honey Month
  • National Better Breakfast Month
  • National Mushroom Month
  • National Rice Month
  • National Preparedness Month
  • Summer Clearance Sales (clothes)


  • Halloween
  • National Apple Month
  • National Tomato Month
  • National Pasta Month
  • National Dessert Month
  • National Seafood Month
  • National Pork Month
  • National Eat Country Ham Month
  • National Chili Month
  • Adopt-a-Dog Month (dog food)


  • Thanksgiving Sales ( Baking goods such as butter, sugar, flour, chocolate chips, etc.)
"The week of Thanksgiving is the best sales week of the year."
Expect cooling weather sales on canned soups, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate.


  • Christmas Sales (hams)
Bottom Line

A food storage is not just a wise precaution for preparedness, it can also save you money if you buy and stockpile items when prices are low and use them later in the year.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

When will House Prices Return to Normal?

“Home is where you can say anything you please, because nobody pays any attention to you anyway”
- Joe Moore
In 2008 a sharp drop in home prices ($9 trillion lost) resulted in a near total collapse of the financial markets. If you're lucky any stocks you owned may have recovered back to 2008 levels. If you're a home owner you may be wondering, when will my house price recover and start going up again?

If the Case-Shiller Index by Yale economist Robert Shiller is correct, the answer is not good. House prices ballooned by 87% starting in 1997 and the pricing decline won't cease until homes return to 1997 values (adjusted for inflation).

Steve Barry at Ritholtz.com/blog created a chart illustrating Shiller's housing price index from 1890 and updated it to Jan 2011 (adjusted for inflation). The index is for home resales, not new sales.

As you can see from the chart, the current "boom" still has some deflating to do.

Bottom Line

I've been thinking that this was a good time to buy and a bad time to sell a house. But if the prediction of the chart above is accurate, then house prices will fall even further and stay flat until the next boom. So do you sell now or wait? Tough call. The chart above is missing a few things that push prices upwards:
"One should also adjust home prices for size — homes square footage shot up tremendously from 1995 to 2007, for Inflation (we had a huge inflationary surge from 2001-07, as the dollar collapsed 41%) and for Quality (high end materials and appliances migrated from the most expensive homes through to the top 30%."

If you use this chart, please credit Steve Barry and his website Ritholtz.com/blog

See also http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/04/12/home-sweet-home-still/ for a PEW report on prices and public perception.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

How do I check my Tire Tread for Wear?

“The best way to keep children at home is to make the home a pleasant atmosphere and let the air out of the tires.”
- Dorothy Parker
During the winter it's especially important that your car's tires have a good grip on the road. I've already experienced black ice and curves slick with pouring rain this season. Are my tires in good shape? How can I tell?

 Coin Test
Use the coins in your pocket for a quick tread check.
  • Place a penny upside down in a tire groove with Lincoln facing you. If the tread reaches the top of Lincoln's head then you have 2/32" or more of tread.
  • Turn the penny around and upside down again. If the tread reaches the top of the Lincoln Memorial, then you have 6/32" of tread.
If you are between 2/32 and 6/32 inches, try this test...
  • Place a quarter upside down with Washington facing you. If the tread reaches the top of Washington's head then you have 4/32" or more of tread.
Be sure to check both inner, outer and middle grooves of each tire, because tires can wear differently on each side, due to improper wheel alignment or low inflation.

Wear Bar Test

Tires sold in North America are required to have "wear bars" which run across the tire from the outside shoulder to the inside. When the tread is worn down to the "wear bar" then it's time to get new tires.

Bottom Line

New tires typically begin with 8/32 to 12/32 of tread depth (deeper for snow tires).

According to most states' laws, tires are legally worn out when they have worn down to 2/32" of remaining tread depth (i.e. top of Lincoln's head).

If wet roads are a problem, consider replacing your tires with 4/32" of remaining tread depth (i.e. top of Washington's head). New tires aren't cheap but cost less than an accident.

If snow is a problem, put on new tires or snow tires when the tread depth falls before 6/32". But don't toss the old tires away. You could put the old tires back on in the spring and wear them down to 4/32 or more when the snow is gone.


To prolong the life of your tires' tread, make sure your tires are properly inflated at all times. Over or under-inflated tires can put extra wear on the rubber, decreasing your car's fuel efficiency and even making it more hazardous to drive during bad weather. Consult your car's instruction manual or driver-side door panel for advice on the right air-pressure levels for your tires 

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Is Your Smoke Alarm Working?

Smoke Alarm Dead Zone
If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you got a problem. Everything else is inconvenience.
~Robert Fulghum, author of "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten"
Last month two stories caught my eye regarding house fires at Christmas time.

The first took place in Montclair, NJ on Dec 21. A family of five heard fire crackling around 5pm and had 45 seconds to escape before the living room was engulfed in flame. Officials think it was the Christmas tree that ignited. All family members and the family's dog made it out without injury, although the family's jet black cat is missing. The house is a complete loss.

The other story had a sadder ending. A Christmas morning fire in a $1.7 million house in Stamford, CT killed the parents and children of the owner. The children's mother climbed out a window onto scaffolding and then a flat roof. She screamed for her children and told firefighters which bedrooms they were in. The fireman tried twice to enter the third floor of the house but the flames and heat were too intense. The mother's parents were staying for the holiday and also died in the fire. Officials think the cause was old fireplace embers that had been discarded near a first-floor entryway.

Last year, old embers discarded outside also caused a fire in a friend's house. The wife was at home when she heard someone knocking furiously at her door. She was afraid to answer it, thinking it some crazed person, but instead it was a passing driver who saw the house was on fire and wanted to warn anyone inside.

Bottom Line

Make sure you have working Smoke Alarms. Some sites recommend a monthly test and replacing the batteries twice a year when you set the clocks forward and back.

Also be sure to place them properly. Smoke rises so a detector placed low on a wall will alarm much too late. I also learned just last week that there is a space called the "dead zone" that you must avoid placing smoke alarms. The dead zone is everything within 4"-6" of the line where the wall and ceiling meet. (see image above) Air flow is restricted (dead air) along this edge and smoke won't reach the alarm quickly.

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Monday, January 9, 2012

Resolve to get your Mammogram

I have to admit, like so many women, I always knew there was a chance. But like so many women, I never thought it would be me. I never thought I'd hear those devastating words: 'You have breast cancer.'
-Debbie Wasserman Schultz
I have two friends that have been diagnosed with breast cancer in the past month or two. Both were caught early and the prognosis is excellent. I decided to do some research on the topic and was surprised to learn that the American Cancer Society (ACS) is a bit skeptical about BSE (Breast Self Exams).
"Breast cancers that are found because they can be felt tend to be larger and are more likely to have already spread beyond the breast. In contrast, breast cancers found during screening exams are more likely to be small and still confined to the breast."
Here are the ACS recommendations:
  • Women age 40 and older should have a screening mammogram every year and should continue to do so for as long as they are in good health.
  • Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam (CBE) as part of a periodic (regular) health exam by a health professional, at least every 3 years. After age 40, women should have a breast exam by a health professional every year.
  • Breast self exam (BSE) is an option for women starting in their 20s.  ... Doing BSE regularly is one way for women to know how their breasts normally look and feel and to notice any changes. The goal, with or without BSE, is to report any breast changes to a doctor or nurse right away.
  • Women at high risk (greater than 20% lifetime risk) should get an MRI and a mammogram every year. Women at moderately increased risk (15% to 20% lifetime risk) should talk with their doctors about the benefits and limitations of adding MRI screening to their yearly mammogram. Yearly MRI screening is not recommended for women whose lifetime risk of breast cancer is less than 15%.

    High risk includes
    • Have a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
    • Have a first-degree relative (parent, brother, sister, or child) with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation
    • A family history with high risk
The ACS seems of two minds on Breast Self Exam technique. It notes that sometimes, women are so concerned about "doing it right" that they become stressed over the technique. And yet the ACS also recommends that women who choose to do BSE should have their BSE technique reviewed during their physical exam by a health professional. So ask your doctor about the right way to do it but don't get stressed out over it.

The ACS addresses concerns over mammogram radiation.
To put dose into perspective, if a woman with breast cancer is treated with radiation, she will receive around 5,000 rads. If she had yearly mammograms beginning at age 40 and continuing until she was 90, she will have received 20 to 40 rads [total].
How much is 20-40 rads? It's equivalent to eating a banana (.0036 rads) or two every month from age 40 to 90.

Bottom Line

Read the entire article at http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/detailedguide/breast-cancer-detection
It might save your life.

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Friday, January 6, 2012

Do a Good Deed - get a ticket

"The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we ALL believe that we are above average drivers."
- Dave Barry

Today I was asked to help our local Boy Scout troop with their merit badge for emergency preparedness. One requirement on the list was about training and safety for traffic and crowd control. This made me shake my head.

As WEVR (Westchester Emergency Volunteer Responders) my wife & I had a training class on traffic control. The policeman who taught the class urged us NEVER to direct traffic. We were not authorized and if asked to direct traffic, would not be immune from lawsuits for any traffic accident we caused!

Police are serious about their authority when it comes to directing traffic. Last September a major traffic light went out in Pasadena, CA at Fair Oaks and Huntington avenues. Traffic was backed up for more than a mile and it took more than 30 minutes to get through the busy intersection. At this point Alan Ehrlich acted like a good Boy Scout, put on a bright orange shirt he had in the car, grabbed a couple of orange safety flags, and began directing traffic. [I wonder what his day job is?]

Ehrlich cleared up the mess in 10 minutes. Five minutes later the South Pasadena police showed up and gave Ehrlich a ticket ($193) for "pedestrian on roadway" and ordered him to stop. Did the police take over at that point? No. The police told him that they are not required under California law to regulate the traffic and they left the scene trusting instead upon temporary stop signs to control traffic.

Police and the city of South Pasadena say they currently have no plans to change their procedures. Ehrlich disagrees, “We have limited resources . . . we need to prioritize them. One of the major intersections out at rush hour in our city should be a priority.”

Bottom Line

Are stop signs enough at a major intersection when the lights go out? I'd say not, but California has other ideas.

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Treating Frostbite

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
-White Christmas by Irving Berlin
While we may have wished for a White Christmas, too much exposure to cold and snow can be dangerous. Your body is 60% water and the water in your skin can freeze to ice. This is called frostbite.

Think about water in a ice cube tray. When it freezes, the ice cubes are larger than the water poured in. (The expansion of ice is why ice floats in water.) When ice crystals form in skin or muscle cells the ice expansion and sharp icy prongs bursts the cells and kills them. If the damage is small, it may be painful, but recoverable. However extensive freezing and cell death may result in gangrene and the loss of fingers, toes, ears, nose, etc.

Frostbite usually develops below -12°C (10°F), but may occur at a temperatures near freezing (0°C/32°F) when high winds and/or dampness chills the body faster than your blood can keep it warm. Hands, feet, noses, and ears are the most likely body parts to be affected.

Avoid frostbite by staying out of extreme cold. If you must go out (or become lost, stranded in extreme cold) cover all extremities - winter boots for the feet, gloves for the hands, a hat or earmuffs for the the ears and a mask or scarf for the face. Mittens are more effective than gloves for warming your hands since the fingers can share body heat instead of isolated on their own. Avoid caffeinated beverages (like coffee) as they constrict blood vessels and prevent warming of your extremities. Alcohol should also be avoided since it reduces shivering, which is one way of keeping warm. Cigarette smokers may be at higer risk with reduced blood flow to hands and feet.

Wiggle your fingers and toes frequently to increase blood flow to these areas. Keep your feet and hands dry. If you begin to loose feeling in your fingers and toes, or they begin to tingle, or feel painful, go inside and warm up.

Signs and symptoms of frostbite include:

• A "pins and needles" sensation, followed by numbness
• Hard, pale, cold skin

Different Degrees of Frostbite
  • First degree: ice crystals forming on top of your skin
  • Second degree: your skin begins to feel warm, even though it is not yet defrosted.
  • Third degree: your skin turns red, pale, or white.
  • Fourth degree: pain lasts for more than a few hours, and you may see dark blue or black areas under the skin. See a doctor immediately if these symptoms arise. Gangrene is a real threat.
Bottom Line

If your skin is blue or gray, very swollen, blistered, or feels hard and numb even under the surface, go to a hospital immediately.  Otherwise get indoors or to a warm shelter ASAP. Take off any constricting jewelry (flesh may expand and rings are sometimes cut off a swollen finger). Take off wet clothing. Never rub or massage frostbitten skin, but do use your armpits or the body heat of a warm companion.

If possible, immerse the affected area of your body in warm -- NOT HOT -- water, or apply warm cloths to affected areas of your ears, nose, or cheeks for 20-30 minutes. Try to move the area of your body that is affected as little as possible to decrease doing additional damage.

You should not use hot water or a heating pad, heat lamp, hair dryer, or the heat from a stove, fireplace, or radiator to warm yourself. This because your frostbitten area may be numb and you won't be able to feel if you're overdoing the heat and burning yourself.

As you warm up your frostbitten skin will become red and swollen, and you'll feel like it's on fire. You may develop blisters. Don't break the blisters. It could cause scarring.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Things that are Worth the Money

“Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one.”
-Benjamin Franklin
Typical financial advice tells you how NOT to spend money. But I like the list at wisebread.com of 11 Things That Are Worth the Money.
  1. Insurance - spend a little to avoid having to pay a lot
  2. Culture - I'm all for culture, my wife & I love museums and visited one just a few days ago. But it's also easy to overspend here. We don't do Broadway Plays - I'd love to but the cost is ridiculous. We also save money by renting CDs instead of going to movie theaters.
  3. Doctor Visits - your health is worth spending a co-pay for
  4. Education - maybe. There is much talk of a "higher-education bubble" where the cost of college now exceeds the benefits. Education is great - but look for cheaper ways to get a college degree.
  5. A Haircut - it is important to look nice, people do judge by looks. Just don't overspend at post hair salons.
  6. Health - buy healthy food and do what is necessary to get some exercise
  7. Home Maintenance & Repair  - a home is the most expensive thing you own - treat it well.
  8. A Sharp Interview Outfit - see #5
  9. Well-Made Shoes - Not sure if the list is thinking of dress shoes for looking good, like #5 and #8, or well-made shoes that won't hurt your feet.
  10. Travel - Don't go into debt but travel is a great form of education. And fun too.
  11. Visiting Family & Friends - "maintaining those relationships is something you can't afford to not do"
Bottom Line

What items do you think are worth the money?

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Is your car ready for Winter?

I had to stop driving my car for a while...
the tires got dizzy.
- Steven Wright
Winter is a bad time for cars. Once I skidded into snow on the shoulder of a road and could not get my car free. A policeman stopped to watch but said he was not allowed to help push the car. (He could call a tow truck for me if I wanted.) Fortunately I was across the street from a Fire department and the firemen were willing to push the car free.

If I were not so lucky that day, I could have been stuck in my car for hours. Perhaps I was just driving to the corner grocery and didn't bother to wear a coat for so short a trip. It happens and that's a very cold mistake to make. Recently a trained professional in Alaska nearly died from exposure in his car. He drove off in a huff to escape wife/in-laws for a bit; he did not wear a coat or pack any supplies. His car slid off the road some 30 miles north of town and it was 3 days before he was found. He survied on frozen beer and ran the car just an hour or so a day to keep from freezing but not run out of gas.

In case you are stranded, keep a kit of emergency supplies in your car. This kit should include:

  • Jumper cables
  • Flashlights and extra batteries
  • First aid kit and necessary medications in case you are away from home for a prolonged time
  • Food items containing protein such as nuts and energy bars; canned fruit and a portable can opener
  • Water for each person and pet in your car
  • AM/FM radio to listen to traffic reports and emergency messages
  • Cat litter or sand for better tire traction
  • Shovel
  • Ice scraper
  • Warm clothes, gloves, hat, sturdy boots, jacket and an extra change of clothes
  • Blankets or sleeping bags
Also consider:
  • A fully-charged cell phone and phone charger
  • Flares or reflective triangle
  • Baby formula and diapers if you have a small child
Bottom Line

Be prepared for an emergency by keeping your gas tank full and if you find yourself stranded, be safe and stay in your car, put on your flashers, call for help and wait until it arrives.

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Monday, January 2, 2012

Things hidden underground

Police Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
[a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]
Croupier: Your winnings, sir.
Captain Renault: [sotto voce] Oh, thank you very much.
There has been much to-do made over the Keystone XL Pipeline project from Canada down to Texas. Even the President has opposed it. But a graphic shows this is much ado about nothing. Closing the barn door after the horse has fled. Etc.

Here's a chart of EXISTING pipelines

Bottom Line

The Canadian pipeline is nothing new. So why all the debate over it? What's the real reason for the opposition?

I also want to mention that it is important to know what lies underground at your house. Utility companies warn, call us before you dig. It's way too easy now-a-days to cut through a buried power line or cable.

A co-worker has lost her home due to a hidden surprise. An electrician sank a new grounding rod for an upgrade to her home's electrical system. Problem was, unbeknownst to anyone, the rod cut through the pipe leading from the underground oil tank to the home's furnace. The tank was refilled a few days later and all that oil leaked into the soil under the house. After much wrangling with lawyers and insurance companies, the insurer for the electrician agreed to dig up and rebuild the kitchen over the spill. The kitchen was demolished but further environmental testing showed the oil had spread far under the foundation - the entire house would have to be demolished. At this stage the insurer is negotiating to buy the house and write it off as a complete loss instead of rebuilding.

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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Welcome 2012

The Old Year has gone.  Let the dead past bury its own dead.  The New Year has taken possession of the clock of time.  All hail the duties and possibilities of the coming twelve months! 
~Edward Payson Powell

For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
~T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"