Friday, March 30, 2012

Oh shit! Eat more Fiber?

One of the remedies frequently recommended for constipation is "eat more fiber". This always seems odd to me. If my stool is too hard, why would I want to eat something fibrous and non-digestible that adds yet more bulk to my waste?

The theory is that more bulk helps to push "food" through the colon more quickly as the body. The longer food stays in the colon, the more water is pulled out of it, and the harder it gets. Foods with little fiber, like white bread, form a squishy lump that resist the muscular contractions of the colon - imagine trying to squeeze jello through a tube.

Many years ago our large German Shepard ate some flour that I used to coat chicken. A few days later he started to bulk up - his stomach was expanding. A Vet determined that the dog's intestine was blocked by a lump of dough. He opened the dog up, messaged his gut, the lump became unstuck, and everything started to flow again. Afterwards the dog was fine but our checkbook sure took a hit.

Bottom Line

From WebMD,
"The average American gets about 11 grams of fiber daily, much less than we need, according to the American Dietetic Association. Women should aim for 21 to 25 grams of fiber daily. Men should aim for 30 to 38 grams of fiber daily. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends eating at least nine servings (four 1/2 cups) of fiber-filled fruits and vegetables each day, including apples, oranges, broccoli, berries, pears, peas, figs, carrots, and beans. Some people get stomach cramps and gas when they increase their intake of fiber. Change your diet gradually and increase fluids to reduce these discomforts." recommends:
  • Fruits: pears, apples, berries, oranges, tangerines
  • Vegetables: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, squash, potatoes
  • Legumes: beans, lentils, peas
  • Grains: whole-wheat breads, brown rice, bran, oatmeal
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, walnuts

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Low Carbs & Constipation

My wife & I are following a low carb diet (again) and both of us are experiencing constipation. I had not realized this is a common side effect of low carb diets.

Where are some recommendations found online:

Drink more water. 8-10 glasses a day.

Eat five servings of low-carb vegetables daily -- broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, brussels sprouts, red bell pepper, onions, mushrooms, zucchini and lettuce -- for the fiber

Eat smaller portions at meals.

Exercise -- walking is good for the bowels

Drink barley juice or wheat grass, these contain chlorophyll, a natural laxative.

Try a natural fiber supplement like wheat bran, oat bran, psyllium husks and ground flaxseed.  Start with a small dose, 1 tsp, and increase gradually as needed to a max of 2 tbsp. per meal. Always drink at least 8 oz. of water at the same time. If taking medications consult your doctor as fiber supplements may affect the release of your medications.

If that does not work, try a fiber supplement -- such as Metameucil or FiberCon.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012


It's getting near the time that taxes are due. I just submitted mine with e-Filing and wanted to give a shout out to Connecticut. As a resident of NY but working in CT I get to pleasure of filing two state taxes. However all the tax softwares charge extra for a second state and I spend enough on the "Delux" version to get a single state.

Fortunately CT has an amazingly easy to use system online that let me file my CT taxes in about 15 minutes with just a few numbers from my Federal Tax return. And it's free!

I love good technology.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

You ate what?

CDC research shows outbreaks linked to imported foods increasing.

Foodborne diseases from imported food appeared to rise in 2009 and 2010, and nearly half of the implicated foods were imported from areas not previously associated with outbreaks.

During the five-year period of 2005-2110, 39 outbreaks and 2,348 illnesses were linked to imported food from 15 countries. 17 of the outbreaks occurred in 2009 and 2010 alone. Overall, fish (17) were the most common source, followed by spices (6) such fresh or dried peppers. Nearly half of the problem foods came from Asia.

As much as 85 percent of the seafood eaten in the United States is imported, and depending on the time of the year, up to 60 percent of fresh produce is imported.

Bottom Line

“As our food supply becomes more global, people are eating foods from all over the world, potentially exposing them to germs from all corners of the world, too,” says the CDC. 

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Online Education: Coursera

I've written before about online education sites like Khan Academy and MIT online. While very good, most sites present recorded lectures for you to watch (or not watch) at any time. Presently I'm using a site that offers instruction in a more "real-time" fashion.

It's called Coursera and is offering free classes from professors at University of Michgan, Stanford, and U. of California, Berkeley. You enroll (along with about 100,000 other students) and get a certificate if you pass the class (no college credit - sorry). Classes last 6 to 10 weeks with new videos each week. Typically there's about two-weeks time to watch the 3 hours of new lectures and take an online test or programming assignment. There are online forums where you can post comments, ask questions, get into debates, catch every error made by the professor, and argue if a quiz question was graded right or wrong. There are also online "study groups" which I've not used.

Several classes are into their 2nd week now so it's not too late to join. Most are computer based but not your common programming class but rather
  • Natural Language Process (how does google do searches?)
  • Game Theory (multi-player scenarios)
  • Probabilistic Graphic Models (too strange to explain)
  • Cryptography (what makes a good encryption or breaks one?)
  • Design and Analysis of Algorithms  (what's the fastest search method?)

Bottom Line

Check them out. And if you don't care about the cert, just watch for fun and check out the discussions. But time is limited. I'm not sure what will happen to the course material when the classes end.

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Will using expired drugs kill you?

Earlier this month, Cecil at addressed the question, "Will using expired drugs kill you?" The answer was mostly no.
We have to tread carefully here, ... A few drugs don’t age well — for example, nitroglycerin and insulin. But they’re the exception. Most drugs retain their potency for years after they supposedly expire.
In 1978 the FDA started requiring drug companies to place expiration dates on drugs. But no testing was done. Many picked a one year expiration in the hopes that you would throw away old medicine and buy it again.

No everyone liked this. The Pentagon had $1 billion of stockpiled drugs that it didn’t feel like throwing out so it asked for FDA testing in the mid-80's in a program called Shelf Life Extension. The results?

* one year AFTER expiration, every drug tested was still OK
* 88 percent of the drugs were safe and effective five years after expired

Bottom Line

The Consumer Reports recommends throwing out any drug more than a year past its expiration date. So expiration plus one year with a few exceptions:

* epinephrine, used to treat cardiac arrest, steadily loses its potency over time
* Liquid drugs and suspensions are less stable than solids
* Medications custom-made by your local pharmacy are likely to have a short shelf life
* nitroglycerin
* insulin

If you have not used up a medicine before one year past expiration, did you really need it?

P.S. Please don't dump old medicine in a toilet. Did you know that some public drinking water tests positive for common medications?

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

What a Crock!

We've owned a crock pot for decades, never using it, gathering dust on our shelf of unused appliances. Then my wife saw a good deal on a pork roast for "pulled pork" and bought it. We've never done that either so she asked a friend who gave us a pulled pork recipe which required a crock pot. We followed instructions and waited, and waited. After several hours the meat still looked raw. We waited more hours - and finally the meat was cooked and did pull apart easily with a fork. We added a sauce that was wonderful and my wife is eager to try it again.

This got me to wondering, is a crock pot safe? How can meat be raw for hours in a warm environment and not develop food poisoning? The answer is in the temperature.

The low or warm setting is 71–74 °C [160–165 °F] and the high is usually 175–200 °F. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, bacteria in food is killed at a temperature of 165°F. Beef/pork should be cooked to an internal temperature of 170° as high as 190°F in poultry. With a crock pot you are cooking right on the edge of safety, just high enough to kill bacteria but not enough to burn food. Be sure to follow cooking directions, for instance cooking poultry on low would not be safe.

I saw a comment online that opening the lid of a crock pot lowers the temperature and that you should add 20 minutes cooking each time you lift the lid.

Bottom Line

Have fun with crock pots but follow instructions. It's not a bad idea to test the internal temperature of meat to make sure it's in the safe zone.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Leadership Skills from Captain Kirk

As a long-time Star Trek fan, one of my favorite stops during a mid-west vacation last year was at the Future Birthplace of James T. Kirk in Riverside, Iowa. I love the time-travel irony - Future Birthplace indeed.

It's funny how often Star Trek pops up. The first space shuttle (experimental only alas) was called Enterprise.

At the Armstrong Air & Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio you can take your photo alongside lifesize images of all the Star Trek captains (pictured above). 

In college a roommate wrote a paper comparing McCoy, Spock and  Kirk to the Id, Ego and Super Ego respectively.

Natuarally a blog entitled Five Leadership Lessons From James T. Kirk, in Forbes magazine no less, caught my attention:

1. Never Stop Learning
Kirk’s reputation at the Academy was that of a “walking stack of books”. (Before the reboot in the recent movie which made him more of a rebel.) He defeated a Gorn in personal combat becuase he recalled how to make gun powder and a primitive gun in an age of phasers. He out-thought the "unwinnable" Kobayashi Maru test and beat it.

2. Have Advisors With Different Worldviews
The original Star Trek had a dynamic with Kirk, Spock and McCoy that was never again matched. Three very different worldviews working together, not always peacefully.

3. Be Part of the Away Team
It was never very realistic that Kirk led the Away Teams into danger alongside the red shirts. But it was fun and is often a sign of great leadership when the leader rallies the men from the front lines. The next generation was more typical with Picard on the ship and Riker (his #1) leading the Away Teams.

4. Play Poker, Not Chess
Life is more like poker with bluffs then the rigid rules of chess. Kirk was a master of the bluff and outthinking his opponent.

5. Blow up the Enterpirse?
Kirk's first love of his life was the Enterprise. But in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock he destroys it in order to defeat the Klingons and take their ship. Good leaders are driven by passion but that passion can lead to a dead-end if blindly followed, never changing. Great leaders know when to curb their passion, setting aside past successes that have reached their peak, and begin something new.

Bottom Line

Just like James T Kirk,
"we need to keep exploring and learning. We need to ensure that we encourage creativity and innovation by listening to the advice of people with vastly different opinions. We need to occasionally get down in the trenches with the members of our teams so we understand their needs and earn their trust and loyalty. We need to understand the psychology of our competitors and also learn to radically change course when circumstances dictate. By following these lessons, we can lead our organizations into places where none have gone before."
- Alex Knapp

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Important Age Milestones when Retiring

The Money column at USNews has identified several critical ages on the road to retirement. Personally I'd love to retire early but it will be many years before I can touch my 401-K without penalty and private health insurance is terribly expensive.
  • 59½. Earliest age for withdrawals from tax-deferred retirement accounts like 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and IRAs without a penalty.
  • 62. Earliest age to collect Social Security benefits. But you may want to wait. If you collect at 62 you'll only get 75% of what the government will pay if you wait until 66 or 67 (for people born after 1943).
  • 65. Eligible for Medicare benefits. If you don't have employer insurance then pay attention to the seven-month window (three months before 65 up to four months after your birthday) to sign up. If you miss this window, you may wind up paying higher Medicare premiums for the rest of your life.
  • 66. Your full retirement age (FRA) for Social Security benefits if born between 1943 and 1954, 67. Your Full Retirement Age if born in 1960 or later.
  • 70. The oldest age at which your Social Security benefits increase if you defer collecting. After your FRA benefits rise by about 8% a year each year until you turn 70.
  • 70½. If retired, you MUST begin taking money from your tax-deferred retirement accounts.
  • 85. This one was new to me. It's a standard age of payments of "longevity annuities" purchased 20 or even 30 years earlier. Insurance companies sell these for for people who are worried about running out of money in their final years. If you die before the payoff age or 80 or 85, then you and your heirs get nothing. If you live to the payoff age, you get a monthly check for the rest of your life.
Bottom Line

Keep these age dates in mind. They are very important to a successful retirement.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Survival Skills has published some excellent web pages on "The Survival Skills Everyone Should Know".

"Be a Grown up Boy Scout" includes Wilderness skills for
  • Know your priorities
  • Learn Basic First Aid
  • Build a Shelter and Fire
  • How to Find Water and Feed Yourself
  • Basic Hygiene
  • What to do when Lost
"MacGyver, Survivalist, or Stockpiler" covers Urban survival skills

And "Survival books to keep on your bookshelf in case of the apocalypse"

Bottom Line

Under Urban Skills three kinds of Preppers are recognized:
  • The Stockpiler: someone with a wide assortment of supplies but very little knowledge of how to actually do anything.
  • The MacGyver: someone who can jury rig anything with duct tape, a pencil, and a pack of chewing gum.
  • The Survivalist: someone who can find dinner in an old stump and keep warm using a roll of toilet paper and a rusty coffee can.
Which type are you?

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Friday, March 16, 2012

Preparedness List

Recently my wife & I were asked what was the minimal that one should have at home to be "prepared"? We created the following list for a 3-day emergency keeping the supplies as inexpensive as possible:

Safety Supplies
  • Smoke Alarm  
  • Carbon Monoxide Detector  
  • First Aid Kit  
  • 3-day supply of medicines  
  • Winter gear: coats, hats, mittens, scarves  
  • Warm blankets or quilts  (for warmth without power)
  • Means to keep cool in summer without power (Battery powered fans? Soak in water?)  
Basic Supplies
  • 3 gallons of stored water per family member  
  • 1 week of food that does not require power to cook  (1 week because most people underestimate how much they eat)
  • Manual Can Opener  
  • Matches  
  • Bottle of unscented bleach  (for purifying water)
  • 3 days of sanitary supplies: toilet paper, feminine products, soap, tooth paste, etc  
  • Heavy duty garbage bags  (toilet, trash, rain coat, many uses)
  • Flashlight & Batteries (1 per person)  
  • Emergency cash (small bills)  
  • Copies of legal & financial documents outside the home  
Repair Supplies
  • Basic tools: hammer, nails, screw drivers  
  • 1 roll Duct Tape  
  • Tarp for home roof damage or
  • heavy plastic for broken apartment window  
  • Wrench for turning off water & natural gas  
Emergency communications
  • Access to phone or internet  
  • Battery power radio or hand cranked radio  
  • Emergency contact person (outside the state)  
  • List of emergency phone numbers & emails   
  • ICE (In Case of Emergency) phone # on all cell phones  
Home evacuation
  • Emergency family rendezvous location(s)  
  • Local map with evacuation routes marked (or GPS)  
  • One or more "safe sites" to evacuate to?  
  • Emergency-kit for family car  
  • Comfortable pair walking shoes  
Special Needs (where applicable)
  • 3-days of infant supplies: diapers, formula, etc   
  • 3-days of pet food & pet medicines   
  • An older pair of eye glasses as emergency backup   
Bottom Line
Is there anything you would add to this list?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Five Stages of Society Collapsing

David Meyer has written a thought provoking article entitled, Society’s Five Stages of Economic Collapse.

Stage 1: Decay Begins
Life is good for most people and people begin to believe that they are entitled to the good life, that living well is a right instead of something you achieve and earn on your own.
"Redistribution of Wealth Policies are implemented and quietly woven into the fabric of society. Unchecked and under the guise of fairness and equality, these policies slowly decrease productivity and increase dependency on government entitlement and welfare programs."
Stage 2: Slippery Slope Downwards
The economy slides ever downwards with more unemployment, more people receiving government assistance, and more government spending. The price of precious metals rise to new heights and inflation exceeds 10%.
Stage 3: Even Worse
The government implements price controls and shortages on essential goods become widespread. Foreclosed houses sit vacant and middle class neighborhoods begin to look like slums.
"Inflation increases even more and unemployment exceeds 25%. Banks and businesses fail at ever increasing rates. Nobody seems to have any money. Many are now homeless. Labor unions instigate strikes, civil unrest, and large scale riots. Government services are interrupted and unreliable. Local and national infrastructure is in decay. Violent gangs begin to appear and assert themselves. The government begins confiscation of firearms from law abiding citizens. Violence is everywhere. Cities and urban areas become very dangerous places to live."
Stage 4: Power Grab
"Society falls into chaos. The control of urban areas shifts when violent gangs takeover control of the streets and urban neighborhoods. The government issues restrictive measures in an attempt to control the economy. Everything is in short supply and heavily rationed. Food and gasoline is very expensive and there are very long lines to get them when they are available."
Stage 5: Loss of Liberty
The government implements martial law. Maintaining more than a 30 day supply of food is considered hoarding food and is illegal. Everyone becomes dependent on the government.

Bottom Line

Where do you think America is today? Stage 1 or stage 2? Meyer's thinks that recovery is possible even from stage 3 but it's not easy (think of Greece today)
"Things can still be reversed even at this stage if the right person at the top really believes in the basic fundamental concepts of Freedom, Independence, Liberty, and Individual Rights and is not afraid to do what is necessary to reverse the current trend. He will be vilified and hated because of his attitude toward personal responsibility, cutting entitlements, and ending welfare programs. Of course, if the right person were in power and did what needed to be done, none of this would have happened in the first place."

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Happy Pi Day

I would have sworn I'd written about this holiday in the past, but I did not find it while searching.

March 14 (03/14) is Pi Day, in honor of the amazing number pi = 3.1459....

Pi is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, or in other words a circle is about 3 times around in length as it is across. But not exactly three and that little difference is very important.

In ancient Greece all the cool mathematicians did geometry and tried to accomplish everything with just a straight edge and compass. One goal that had them stumped was creating a square with the same area as a given circle. Since the area of a circle is pi * radius squared, a square with equal area would have sides of length = radius r  * square root (pi).  Today we know that pi and sqrt(pi) are impossible to construct manually.

For 2000 years after the Greeks, pi was only known to 10 decimals. The first major European contribution since Archimedes was made by the German mathematician Ludolph van Ceulen (1540–1610), who used a geometric method to give an estimate of π that is correct to 35 decimal digits. He was so proud of the calculation, which required the greater part of his life, that he had the digits engraved into his tombstone. (wikipedia)

In 1882 Ferdinand von Lindemann proved that pi is transcendental. This means its decimals never repeat, that it cannot be exactly expressed by any fraction and that it can never be created with a finite number of steps from integers or fractions. This is one reason we always refer to it by name or symbol because it can never be written down exactly using numbers like 3 or 3.1 or 3.1.4.

Bottom Line

Enjoy some pie on pi day!

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A wood burning car?

With rising gas prices ($6 in Florida tourist areas) the following story was too good to pass up. Pascal Prokop of Switzerland converted his Volvo to burn wood for fuel and got an operating permit from the Swiss technical inspection authority.

Bottom Line

There are alternatives to fuel (and not just electric which costs money to charge up). The owner of a local restaurant runs his car on used cooking oil. He says the car always smells like french fries.

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Monday, March 12, 2012


The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are once again partnering for National Flood Safety Awareness Week, March 12 -16.  This is a time for individuals, families, businesses and communities to understand their risk for flooding and take precautions to protect their families and homes in the event of flooding. 

"Floods can happen at any time, anywhere across the United States, which means we all need to be prepared now," said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.  "There are simple steps everyone can take to prepare for flooding, such as developing a family emergency plan, having an emergency supply kit and protecting your home or business from flooding by obtaining a flood insurance policy."

Floods are one of the most common hazards in the United States, however not all floods are alike. Floods typically occur when too much rain falls or snow melts too quickly. While some floods develop slowly, flash floods develop suddenly.  Hurricanes can bring flooding to areas far inland from where they first hit the coast, as we witnessed last year from the devastating impacts of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. And chunks of ice from a thawing river can block its normal flow and force water out of its banks.  

Yet there are simple steps citizens can take today to reduce their risk to all types of floods.  Flood Safety Awareness Week is an excellent time for individuals and communities to understand their flood risk and implement precautions to mitigate the threat to life and property.

"Flooding is the leading cause of severe weather-related deaths in the U.S., and this is especially tragic since many are preventable.  Of the nearly 100 flood-related fatalities each year, most occur as people attempt to drive on flooded roads.  In many cases, the water is either too deep or moving too fast for drivers to maintain control of their vehicle, and in extreme cases the roadway may be washed away entirely," said Jack Hayes, director, NOAA's National Weather Service, which produces an array of flood outlooks and forecasts, including watches and life-saving warnings. "Remember, if confronted with a water-covered road follow National Weather Service advice: Turn Around, Don't Drown."

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Friday, March 9, 2012

Daylight Savings Time this Weekend!

This weekend, Saturday night/Sunday morning at 2 am is Daylight Savings Time when we "Spring forward" and set the clocks ahead by one hour. Daylight Savings Time is also a great time to replace the batteries in your smoke alarms and refresh the contents of Go-Kits.

Bottom Line

My wife & I were checking out our smoke alarms last weekend. A cake had spilled in the oven, onto the heating elements, and the kitchen became slightly smoky. But no alarm sounded. So we put in a new battery and tested the alarm - no sound. We tested the battery - it was still good.  We tried the battery in another smoke alarm - no sound. At this point we were quite puzzled. What was going on? Then my wife figured it out - just pressing the test button was not enough, we had to press and hold the test button to trigger the alarm. Ah! Mystery solved.

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Avalance Airbag

Here's something new to me, an avalanche airbag. In February three skiers died in an avalanche near Stevens Pass in Washington state. A fourth skier survived and some credit the "avalanche airbag backpack" she was wearing. One website describes their product as,
"In the event of an avalanche, the air stored in the high-pressure cylinder is released by simply pulling the handle. A combination of compressed air and a Venturi effect inflates the airbag in just 3 seconds.
Once the airbag has been inflated it protects the victim from shocks while simultaneously pulling them to the surface thanks to the inverse segregation phenomenon."
The inverse segregation phenomenon means that, all other aspects being equal, large objects tend to move upwards during mixing. Consider a can of mixed nuts, during shaking a peanut can fall into a small space created underneath while a large brazil nut cannot; so the large nuts "float" to the top over time.

Airbag makers are claiming this also applies during the mixing of snow and rocks during an avalanche but I fail to see how the airbag makes a person that much larger. I find it more believable that the airbag lowers your total density making you more likely to "float" upwards (but that's not called "inverse segregation").

Bottom Line

If you enjoy off trail mountain hiking and skiing consider an airbag backpack. But be warned they are not cheap. Costs have recently come down to $600 to $1,000.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Why Me Make Mistakes

I'm listening to Why We Make Mistakes - By Joseph T. Hallinan during my daily commute and cannot shake the feeling that I've heard it already. Perhaps the déjà vu comes from hearing the same stories in other books like Blink and Freakonomics. Perhaps not.

The author cites many reasons that people make mistakes:

1. Memory bias - we color the past to favor ourselves
- we remember successes and good grades over failures and F's. We take credit for the successes and find blame to excuse the failures.
- we forget that we've changed our mind and think we've always been in favor of our current beliefs

2. Vision bias
- we are quick to classify. If we see a "construction worker" or person of another race our brain is happy and we look no further for additional details. When we see someone "like us" we look deeper for more identifying details.
- we see less than we think. When remembering a person it may be their hair or facial expression or mannerism that we recall. Rarely details of eyes, nose, mouth, ears, etc.
- we quickly tire when looking for rare events - when looking for something that is infrequent, like cancer in a mammogram, after hundreds of images of nothing, we miss the one case it does occur because we've become trained NOT to see it.

3. Hindsight bias
- After an accident, the correct action to have taken is "obvious". How could the person have missed the obvious?  It's only obvious after the fact.

4. Multi-tasking
- we multi-task poorly, despite what we think. Modern cars with too many displays and sensors become overwhelming.

5. The Danger of Snap judgements
- Our first answer to a test question is not always right. If you have a nagging feeling to change it, do so. The subconscious is more likely to be right than the gut instinct.
- People find the "perfect hiding place" with a snap judgement and then forget where it was.
- People quickly create a password and then forget it

Bottom Line

The author's main point is that we cannot avoid being "human". Rather than blaming mistakes on "human error" find the reason why humans are prone to this error and do something about it.

For example, anesthesiologists used to use machines from two manufacturers. In one the dosage was increased by turning a dial clockwise, in the other, counter-clockwise. Naturally mistakes were made when an anesthesiologist forget which machine type they were using. Patients died until a standard was set so all machines worked the same way.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Do you wash your hands correctly?

Recently my wife & I enjoyed soup sampling at ChowdaFest at a middle school in Westport, CT. In the restroom of this public school I saw sign on how to wash your hands, aimed no doubt for the young students. What struck me about the sign was the length of time to wash, sing the Alphabet song twice, it suggested. That means about 20 seconds of hand washing. This is longer than advice I gave a few years ago, sing the Happy Birthday song twice, for about 10 to 15 seconds of washing.

Today we accept hand washing as good hygiene, but this was not always the case. Before germs were discovered and defeated, bad air or demons were blamed for illness. We know better now and yet we still get hand washing wrong.

Here's the right way to wash according to the Mayo Clinic.

  • Wet your hands with running water.
  • Apply soap.
  • Lather well.
  • Rub your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds.
  • Remember to scrub all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers and under your fingernails.
  • Rinse well.
  • Dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel or air dryer.
  • If possible, use your towel to turn off the faucet [and open the bathroom door]
Bottom Line

Always wash your hands after:
  • Preparing food, especially raw meat
  • Using the toilet or changing a diaper
  • Touching an animal, animal toys, leashes, or animal waste
  • Blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing into your hands
  • Treating wounds or caring for a sick or injured person
  • Handling garbage, household/garden chemicals, or anything really dirty like soiled shoes
Update: was watching the Tonight Show and guest Tim Allen mentioned handwashing and the Happy Birthday song. Jay responded, with yes, about 21 seconds?

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Monday, March 5, 2012

Two months without food?

It's been awhile since I've written about the Rule of 3's in this blog:

An average person may die after
Three minutes without air
Three hours without shelter (in extreme heat/cold)
Three days without water
Three weeks without food

Keep in mind that the rule is about the average person and average events. There are exceptions.

Some drowning victims have survived for 8 to 10 minutes with no brain damage in icy cold waters that send the body into instant shutdown with hypothermia. A similar thing happened to a man in Sweden who was trapped in his car for nearly two months before being discovered.

His doctor explained that besides eating snow, the man probably survived by going into a dormant-like state,
"A bit like a bear that hibernates. Humans can do that. He probably had a body temperature of around 31 degrees (Celsius) which the body adjusted to. Due to the low temperature, not much energy was used up." 
The car itself, covered in snow, acted as an igloo, so the man did not freeze to death.

Bottom Line

While researching this blog I saw references to a Rule of 4s
Four minutes without air
Four hours without shelter (in extreme heat or cold)
Four days without water
Four weeks without food

This might be more accurate for people in excellent health and fitness but I'll stick with the Rule of 3's for the average Joe.

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Friday, March 2, 2012

"No Tags" Vanity Plate

The Consumerist relates the story of a Washington DC resident who for 25 years has owned vanity plates on his car that read "NO TAGS". It was all good fun until he started receiving thousands of tickets for other cars. When an officer writes a ticket for a car with no licence plate, he/she may write "No tags" and the computer was matching this to the car with vanity plate "No tags". Every few months the car owner takes time off from work to go to the courthouse to get the tickets dismissed.

"It was funny at the time, but now it’s gone to the point, hey, I'm losing too much time off of this," the car owner said.

When asked why he doesn't get a different license plate, he said, "’Are you going to buy me new tags?’  They say, ‘No.’   I say, ‘There's no need for me to buy tags I already have.’ If you pay for it, I'll change them. If not, fix the computer."

Bottom Line

Stubbornness has its own cost.

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Nor any drop to drink

If you followed the advice from earlier this week, you'll have stored one gallon of water per person per day for at least 3 days. But what if you didn't and disaster has struck? If water supplies run low, never ration water. Drink the amount you need (1 or 2 quarts) and try to find more for tomorrow. You can minimize the amount of water your body needs by reducing activity and staying cool.

Municipal tap water can become contaminated during floods, power outages, etc. When in doubt follow these two steps: 1. Clarify the water with a filter or fine cloth. 2. Disinfect the water by boiling or adding 2 drops of unscented bleach per liter/quart of water. Wait 30 minutes for bleach to kill bacteria. Never drink water contaminated with toxic chemicals or heavy metals.

Do you know the location of your incoming water valve? You’ll need to shut it off to stop contaminated water from entering your home if you hear reports of broken water or sewage lines. To use the clean water in your pipes, let air into the plumbing by turning on the faucet in your house at the highest level. A small amount of water will trickle out. Then obtain water from the lowest faucet in the house.

Did you know your hot water tank holds 30-60 gallons of water? When desperate for water, turn off the water heater to prevent it from operating empty and let it cool before draining to prevent scalding. Open the drain valve at the bottom tank, discard the first few gallons if they contain rust or sediment. Add 5-7 drops of chlorine bleach per gallon of water, stir, and wait 30 minutes before use.

As a last resort, use the water in the reservoir tank of your toilet (not the toilet bowl!). Be sure to boil it or apply bleach. A more appealing source of water is the liquid in canned fruits & vegetables. Swimming pool/hot tub/water bed water may be used as "gray water' for washing but not drinking due to chemicals they contain.
Bottom Line

Wouldn't you rather have stored bottle water at home rather than some of the desperate choices above?

Today's title comes from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

As Idle as a painted ship, upon a painted ocean.
Water, water, every where, And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink.

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