Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Could you lose your house over a water bill?

The Consumerist tells a chilling story about tax liens.
"Say you fall behind on your property taxes, or choose to make your car payment instead of the water bill. It doesn't take much for some municipalities to file a tax lien against a homeowner, often a debt of only a few hundred dollars [...] Those liens are often sold to companies that tack on substantial interest rates starting in the 18% range, and upwards of 50%. These lien buyers also charge huge fees to redeem the liens and avoid foreclosure. [...] redemption penalties in Georgia, Iowa, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Texas all exceed 20%."
"There is the Baltimore woman whose $362 water bill was sold off to a lien buyer. Interest and fees caused the amount to balloon up to $3,600. She couldn't pay and lost her house.
An 81-year-old woman in Rhode Island owed $474 on her sewer bill. The tax lien buyer snatched up her lien for $836 and then made a huge profit by selling her house for $85,000."
"The consequences of homeowners not understanding their rights or the process of a tax lien sale is devastating for individuals, families, and communities."

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Monday, July 30, 2012

A problem with California Universities?

Check out this youTube presentation/animation about CA schools: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5jNK0IKdfg&feature=youtu.be

Here's a summary:

Nationally, in the past 5 years, college costs (tuition, fees, room & board) have increased by 28%. That is way above inflation but it gets worse. In California for the same five years, costs have increased by 63%.

It used to be that a college education was worth the cost. You would get a higher paying job and more than earn back the cost. But today 53% of young adults aged 18-24 are living with their parents and many are either unemployed or underemployed.

Also alarming is the increasing time to graduation. In only six CA schools did a majority of the students graduate in 4 years.  In 13 of 23 schools, half the students had failed to graduate in 6 years! Is this because the standards are higher? No, quite the opposite. Few schools have any requirements for economics or government and students leave quite ignorant about our country's history, its government, and what federal programs cost. Instead they study Spider Man, Mad Men, and the History of Middle Earth. They leave school weak in math, weak in science, with no language skills. Did they learn critical thinking? Not likely. Many classes teach to liberal biases and dissenting thought is squashed.

The University administrators who created this mess are well compensated with Presidents earning $400,000 and all senior admin at 100,000 and above. At many schools the number of administrators now out number the teachers.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Extreme Weather Preparation

Here's some extreme weather advice from USA.gov.

Summertime can bring a range of weather challenges and potential dangers. Some of these threats can occur with little warning, so do what you can to prepare by assembling an emergency kit and forming a plan of action. Find out what you should do if faced with the following weather dangers:

Lightning: In the U.S., lightning kills more people each year than tornadoes and hurricanes. If you can hear thunder, you are within striking distance and should seek shelter in an enclosed building or vehicle. While indoors, don't use a corded phone, a computer or other electrical appliances; and avoid contact with plumbing (don't shower, wash hands, do laundry, etc.). Learn more about lightning safety and get tips on what to do if you're outdoors during a thunderstorm.

Floods: If you have time, move essential items to an upper floor. Do not touch electrical equipment if you are wet or standing in water. Do not walk through moving water that is six inches or higher. If floodwaters rise around your car, abandon the car and move to higher ground. Learn more about what to do before, during, and after a flood.

Hurricanes: If you can't evacuate, get inside and secure external and internal doors. Stay away from windows and doors and take refuge in a small interior room, closet, or hallway on the lowest level. Learn more about what to do before, during, and after a hurricane.

Tornadoes: Storm cellars and basements are the safest locations, but if they aren't available, go to an interior room, closet, or hallway on the lowest level. Stay away from windows, doors, outside walls, and corners. If you are in a trailer or mobile home, go to a sturdy, nearby building. Learn more about what to do before, during, and after a tornado.

Extreme Heat: Stay indoors as much as possible. Consider spending the hottest part of the day in an air-conditioned public building, such as a library or shopping mall. Never leave children or pets alone in vehicles. Learn more about what to do in extreme heat.

Wildfires: If your home is threatened by a wildfire, you must evacuate. If you have time, bring an emergency kit that includes copies of important documents. Learn more about what to do before, during, and after a wildfire.

Earthquakes: If you are indoors, stay away from windows, doors, and outside walls and get under a sturdy table or desk. If you are outside, keep away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires. If you're in a moving vehicle, safely stop the vehicle in an open area and stay inside. Learn more about what to do before, during, and after an earthquake.

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Lightning Strikes!

According to the National Weather Service, lightning is the MOST UNDERRATED weather hazard.

Here are some lightning do's and don'ts...

Where to Go
The safest location during a thunderstorm is inside a large enclosed structure with plumbing and electrical wiring. These include shopping centers, schools, office buildings, and private residences.
If lightning strikes the building, the plumbing and wiring will conduct the electricity more efficiently than a human body. If no buildings are available, then an enclosed metal vehicle such as an automobile, van, or school bus makes a decent alternative.

Where NOT to Go
Buildings with exposed openings are NOT SAFE. These include beach shacks, metal sheds, picnic shelters/pavilions, carports, and baseball dugouts. Porches are dangerous as well.
Convertible vehicles offer no safety from lightning, even if the top is "up". Other vehicles which are NOT SAFE during lightning storms are those which have open cabs, such as golf carts, tractors, and construction equipment.

What To Do
Once inside a sturdy building, stay away from electrical appliances and plumbing fixtures. As an added safety measure, stay in an interior room.
If you are inside a vehicle, roll the windows up, and avoid contact with any conducting paths leading to the outside of the vehicle (e.g. radios, CB's, ignition, etc.).

What NOT to Do
Lightning can travel great distances through power lines, especially in rural areas. Do not use electrical appliances, ESPECIALLY corded telephones unless it is an emergency (cordless and cell phones are safe to use).
Computers are also dangerous as they usually are connected to both phone and electrical cords. Do not take a shower or bath or use a hot tub during a lighning storm.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Comsumer Psychology

Here are a few more items from the Atlantic's The 11 Ways That Consumers Are Hopeless at Math.

You can be influenced (we do what we're told):
When a restaurant highlights an item with a photo or outlined in a box or printed in bold, you can bet that the item is good for the restaurant's profit line. It may be a fine item but be aware of the subtle influence and make up your own mind.

It's not Fair!
There's a classic experiment that demonstrated that people are not the rational actors that Economists thought they were. Person A is shown $10. He/She must decide how much to share with person B in a take-it-or-leave-it deal. If Person B nixes the deal, no one gets any money; A and B get nothing unless B is pleased with the deal.
Under a rational model B should agree to any amount greater than zero. A free penny is still a free penny and B is ahead. But that is not what happened. Instead most B's voted with their feelings and vetoed the deal if they felt it was not a fair split like 50-50.

Our minds do funny things when it comes to fair value.

In another experiment a person was told, you have a ticket for a play worth $20 and a $20 bill in your pocket. When you arrive at the play you find the ticket is missing. Do you buy another ticket?  Many people said no. I guess they felt they had paid once and refused to pay again or didn't want to throw good money after bad? 
In a second experiments the subjects are told they have two $20's. When they arrive at a play they want to see, they find one of the 20's is missing. Would they still spend the remaining $20 to buy a ticket? Most people said yes. They felt that the missing $20 had nothing to do with the decision to buy a ticket or not. There was no correlation. And yet, financially the two test cases are exactly the same. An item worth $20 was lost.

The Atlantic tells this story,
[Economist Dan] Ariely pretended he was giving a poetry recital. He told one group of students that the tickets cost money and another group that they would be paid to attend. Then he revealed to both groups that the recital was free. The first group was anxious to attend, believing they were getting something of value for free. The second group mostly declined, believing they were being forced to volunteer for the same event without compensation.
It's all a matter of perception.

Item's with 9's sell better. We may think $19.99 is a silly price but our mind locks onto the first digit '1' and we know in our gut that '1' is less than the '2' in $20.00.
"In the number 9, the bargain-hunter/discount-gatherer corner of our brain spots a pluckable deal."
Rebates and Warranties are money makers for business
"The first buys the illusion of wealth ("I'm being paid money to spend money!"). The second buys peace of mind ("Now I can own this thing forever without worrying about it!"). Both are basically tricks."
Business is counting on you to forget to submit the rebate form or to forget to follow-up if the rebate never arrives. As for Warranties, they are rarely collected upon so it's just extra money for the company for doing nothing.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Consumer Math - Price Extremes

For the first half of the 20th century, Economists assumed that buyers were rational, i.e. that they would also do that made the most sense mathematically. But experiments showed that buyers are very irrational by influenced by things we are often not even aware of. TheAtlantic.com gives some examples in The 11 Ways That Consumers Are Hopeless at Math.

Anchor Bias

Most of us have no idea what a fair price is for a home so instead we have to build a mental model of price comparisons and determine if the price is reasonable. Salespersons take advantage of this by showing the highest priced items first. Suppose you want a pool table. The salesperson will first show you a $10,000 model with amazing features. Oh, that's way too much. Next a $5000 table that's on sale. Uh, still too high. How about this $3000 model for bargain hunters? You take it because it seems like such a deal in comparison and you're beginning to look cheap. In reality there are many fine pool tables for under $3000 but the salesperson has distorted your mental price model artificially high. Odds are that $10,000 pool table will never sell but it's used to distort your perception of a fair price range.

Some menus take advantage of price anchors by listing early and prominently a steak or lobster at a high cost. So anything you order seems a bargain in comparison.

The book Priceless give a real example, Williams-Sonoma doubled sales of a $279 bread maker by adding a $429 bread maker next to their $279 model. Nothing had changed in the old model but now it looked like a bargain in comparison.

Price Extremes & Goldilocks

Given a range of prices and product choices which do we pick? Most will shun the highest priced thinking it must be overpriced and shun the lowest priced because it must be somehow inferior to allow for the super low price. So we pick a price in the middle of the range that's not too high or too low but just right regardless of the actual merits of the products themselves.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Consumer Math - Unit Cost

The Atlantic has a great article titled The 11 Ways That Consumers Are Hopeless at Math which will be the basis of my blogs this week.

Would you rather get a 33% discount off the price or 33% more product (more coffee, more cereal, etc)?

It turns out these are not the same. When you compare two products it's not enough just to say, product A is cheaper than B. What if B contains twice as much as A but only costs 50% more? Then B is the bargain. The trick to comparing different sizes of the same product is to use UNIT COST, that is dollars per quantity where quantity is some common unit of measurement like cups or pounds.
UNIT COST =  $cost / quantity
Now lets return to the original question. Which is better: a 33% discount or 33% more product?
The 33% discount reduces the top part of unit cost by 1/3 and new unit cost is 2/3 of the old.
The 33% more product  increases the bottom part of unit cost by 1 1/3,  or an increase of 4/3 in the denominator. We invert that number to find the new unit cost is 3/4.   And since fractions are difficult to compare let's convert everything back to percentages:
33% discount means a new unit cost 64% of the old
33% more product means a new unit cost that is 75% of the old
Discount wins!
"This is your brain on shopping, and it's not very smart" - The Atlantic

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Friday, July 20, 2012

What to Do If There's a Mountain Lion in Your Office

A few weeks ago mountain lion found its way to an office courtyard in Santa Monica, California. Residents panicked and the animal was killed after attempts to tranquilize it failed. Business Week and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks offers the following advice should you encounter a mountain lion in the work place.
  • Don’t approach it, don’t run, don’t crouch.
  • Instead, try to appear larger.
  • If under attack, fight back with bear pepper spray, rocks, sticks, caps, jackets, garden tools, a firearm, or whatever you have at hand.
  • Close a door between you and the animal
  • Don’t try to be a mountain lion whisperer, "People think they can walk up to an animal and gently deal with it. You can’t."
  • Don’t throw anything at it
  • Just get away from it

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Agincourt Gambit

Here is a delightful cartoon from xkcd for chess players that also appreciate history.

During the height of the Middle Ages the star of the battle field was the mounted Knight. With a long lance he could strike infantrymen before they got within sword range and then quickly move on. But the tide was turned at Agincourt where common English longbowmen (pawns) devastated the French noble cavalry (knights). They shot the horses with arrows!

From Wikipedia,
The French cavalry ...  charged the longbowmen, but it was a disaster, with the French knights unable to outflank the longbowmen (because of the encroaching woodland) and unable to charge through the forest of sharpened stakes that protected the archers. [Horses] armoured only on the head, [became] dangerously out of control when struck in the back or flank from the high-elevation long range shots used as the charge started. [The] wounded and panicking horses galloped through the advancing infantry, scattering them and trampling them down in their headlong flight from the battlefield.
For Shakespeare fans, this battle was portrayed in Henry V where King Henry gives a famous St. Crispin's Day speech to rally the troops
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered,
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother;

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

More Derecho lessons...

As described yesterday, at the end of June the Eastern states were hit by a rare summer storm of strong, sustained winds blowing from the West. It produced hurricane force winds that gusted as high as 91 miles per hour in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Trees fell everywhere and the damage was massive. Here's some comments from a reader of SurvivalBlog.com
We here in West Virginia are used to disasters such as floods but the mountains tend to shield us from tornados and high winds are rare. Within an hour span[,] power was knocked out to 50 of the 55 counties in the state. The towers of major transmission lines were twisted wrecks.   [...]
· Gasoline was gone within 24 hours. Lines were just like the 1970s fuel embargo.
· Ice became the chief commodity and was in short supply or no supply.
· Water was out for most people at least for the first two days.
· Most big box stores and gas stations were up on generator power by day three.
· A new shipment of 250 generators was sold in a few hours. [...] 
 With all traffic lights out it was hectic but for the most part people were safe and courteous.  [...]  
The local radio station stepped up to the plate and suspended normal programming and went live 24 hours on generator with news and call-ins giving information. The unpreparedness of some of the call-ins was instructive. On the second day several were screaming for FEMA to arrive.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Dude, where's my electricty?

On June 29, the Atlantic coast was hit by a rare "derecho", a powerful wind storm that blows in from the Midwest and out to the Atlantic Ocean.  The storm and following heat wave without power has killed at least 23 people; some died when trees fell on their homes and cars, and heat stroke killed others.

In the U.S. we take electricity for granted and assume any outage will be brief. But five days after the deadly storms, there were still 1 million homes and businesses in a swath from Indiana to Virginia that remained without power. In Virginia alone emergency crews worked around the clock to deal with 60,000 outages.

Long duration outages like this occur after wind or snow storms bring down hundreds of thousands of trees on power lines.  With 3000 workers in Virgina and West Virginia combined, each person may have 40 lines to locate the break and fix.
"This was not a storm where tree limbs just fell on our wires," [Pepco spokesman Clay Anderson] says. "This was a storm where large mature trees were uprooted and lifted and just thrown into our poles — snapping our poles in half and wrapping our high-voltage wires around homes, businesses and cars."
You might say, bring in outside help, but that's exactly the problem with large regional storms. Your neighboring states are in just as bad shape and have no one to spare. So you have to ask for help from far away that will take a day or two to arrive.

Bottom Line:

Be prepared with a week of food and water and light. 72-hours is just not enough.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Better Road Trips

  1. Plan the trip together - let the kids contribute ideas & make last minute suggestions based on road signs or GPS recommendations
  2. Make plenty of stops - stop and smell the roses along the way. Aim for a ratio of 40 minutes sightseeing for every 60 minutes of driving.
  3. Check out  Roadside America for quirky things to visit like the Jolly Green Giant statue or the Future Birthplace of James T Kirk of Star Trek.
  4. Stop for factory tours - pretzel makers, chocolate, cheese, etc. Made in the U.S.A.
  5. Avoid fast food - seek out local eateries and sample regional specialties like fried mac & cheese
  6. Take nature breaks - not just a potty stop but get out of the car and toss a Frisbee around.
  7. Make the car ride entertaining with music, games, and family talks

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Friday, July 13, 2012

A laptop in a storm

Instapundit has an interesting discussion about recharging your laptop or smart phone after a power blackout. Is is OK to use outlets at McDonalds, etc? But what really caught me eye was a comment by Johan Bakker who installs home generators:
there are still serious issues with generators and UPS [Universal Power Supply] units. Except for the largest and most-sophisticated generators, these two devices do not play well together... UPS makers have set very-narrow boundaries on the frequency input that their devices will tolerate before calling a fault. ... UPS makers use the disruption in frequency as a warning that utility power is going out [and switch to battery backup]
Most home generators cannot keep the power frequency stable to ± 0.5 Hz as required by UPS (and circuit breakers?). Bakker recommends inverters instead
for low-level charging needs, like phones and laptops, the best solution is a 12V auto battery and a miniature inverter. The battery can be charged in so many different ways (from a car, from a charger running off a generator, from a lawnmower, from a solar panel, the possible ways are endless) and even a small lead-acid battery (like a lawn-tractor battery) has more-than-enough capacity to charge many cell-phones and laptops before requiring a fresh charge.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Birthday Paradox

Discounting leap-year there are 365 days in a year. If you gather 57 people at random, what are the odds that two of them share a birthday? Doesn't seem very likely since there are 7 times more days in the year than the 57 people so lots of space in the calendar to be unique. And yet the answer is surprising....

The odds are 99% that two people in 57 will share a birthday. This is known as the birthday paradox.

For just 23 people the odds are still 50% of a common birthday.

How can this be?

The math works like this...

Let's calculate what must happen for every birthday to be unique.

Person 1 declares his day. It can be any day and he'll be unique so far.  365/365 = 1
Person 2 declares a day different than person one. He/She has the option of 364 days so the odds are 1 * 354/365 = 99.7 % of no match.
Person 3 has the pick of 353 days.
Person 4 has 352 days available
and so on.

With 23 people the odds of all unique birthdays is
365/356 * 364/356 * 363/356 * 362/356 * ... * 343/356 = 49.2%

The opposite of this, 100% - 49.2% = 50.8%, is the odds of a shared birthday amongst 23 people.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Lessons From The Colorado Wildfires

SurvivalBlog.com has printed several stories from people affected by the Colorado forrest fires last month. For example, here's a great personal account that I'll summarize, http://www.survivalblog.com/2012/06/letter-re-lessons-from-the-colorado-wildfires.html
My house is (was?) within about five miles of the starting point of the fire.  ... I got my pile of "definitely going with me" stuff by the garage door on Saturday night.  ...  
Lesson #1 - partly organized isn't ready for full-scale, fast evac. To do that, I'd have needed duplicate things already packed and ready to go. For example, duplicate toiletries so you have the set you use and the set that's ready to go. ...
I was away from home last evening as the fire raged on. On my way home, ...  It was a traffic fiasco.  ... the police blockades and gawkers stopped by the side of the road made it much more difficult than anticipated.  ...
Lesson #2: During a large scale evacuation, expect traffic to be a mess no matter which direction you're [going].  ...
Lesson #3: Since some things can't easily (or affordably) be duplicated, make sure they can be evacuated quickly.  [like computers]
Now I had to figure out one of my biggest challenges - surprisingly so: How to move both packed cars with cats and dog and the most valuable things in my life in them!  ...
Lesson #4: Having one person and two cars and no backup doesn't work all that well in evac mode. ...
Lesson #5: The process of evacuation is a process of "letting go". Specifically saying, "I can live without that." Knowing in a very black and white way, that you may literally NEVER SEE IT AGAIN.   
... as I drove to the retreat, I heard the mandatory evacuation notice for my area on the radio. I still had to hope the police would let me back in to get the other car.
Lesson #6: The media is both good and bad in this situation. The bad: mostly, they repeat the same information over and over - obtained from the press briefings at 8 am and 4 pm. Not very helpful. 
Lesson #[7]: The last lesson came when I started getting ready for bed and this morning. I hadn't brought everything I really wanted! For example, I forgot to get my razor from the shower into my toiletries bag. And a pair of shorts for sleeping in. Oh, and I snagged a fingernail in moving stuff and didn't bring my fingernail clippers. I know, all small stuff, but it's a bummer to not have it when putting aside extras would have been so easy.
And now I get wait and wonder if I'll ever move back into my house. And even the television news can't tell me that...

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

New First Aid Smartphone app

Last month the American Red Cross launched its official first aid app, putting free and simple lifesaving information right in the hands of smart phone users.  It gives instant access to information on how to handle the most common first aid situations, and includes videos and interactive quizzes. Users who take quizzes can earn badges they can share with friends through social media to show off their lifesaving knowledge.

“The American Red Cross First Aid app is a free and easy way to get lifesaving first aid instruction and disaster preparedness information anytime, anywhere,” said Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council chair Dr. David Markenson. “Everyone should load this onto their smart phone as an important first step in learning what to do for medical emergencies and in creating a family preparedness plan.”

App features include:
  • Simple step-by-step instructions for everyday first aid scenarios;
  • Prioritized steps to take during an emergency, with 9-1-1 call button;
  • Sharable badges to be unlocked through interactive quizzes;
  • Videos and animations to make learning first aid fun and easy;
  • Safety and preparedness tips for a range of conditions including severe winter weather, hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes;
  • Preloaded content that gives instant access to all safety information at any time.
Find the app in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store for Android by searching for American Red Cross

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Monday, July 9, 2012

What if your bank failed to deposit your paycheck?

One piece of emergency prep advice that is often overlooked is to have some emergency cash at home. The typical reason given is that major storms will knock out power so ATMs won't work for several days when you might need cash to buy supplies or pay repairmen.

And now a recent event in England gives another reason...

Many people live from paycheck to paycheck with no reserves or savings. In June NatWest Bank had a computer glitch that failed to update customers’ balances overnight on a pay-day. Customers using ATMs or online found that their paycheck was not there! What did the bank do?  It apologized and promised to fix the problem “as soon as possible” (Wow what service!) It also said "no customers would be left permanently out of pocket" (huh, does this mean instant loans?) and kept 1000 branch offices open until 7pm just in case you had a day job.

Customers were not amused.

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Friday, July 6, 2012


We've had a compost pile for many years but I'm not sure we're doing it right. I don't turn it and I never see it "hot". Still it generates good looking soil - but with a twist. Since the mix does not reach 120-150 F, it doesn't kill the seeds of weeds or vegetables tossed in.  When I used compost on an onion garden we got a lovely crop of tomato plants instead.

Here's some advice from composting websites...

Composting requires four ingredients:

I. Green Materials for Nitrogen
Grass clippings, Fruit & vegetable scraps and trimmings, Coffee grounds
Used tea bags, Cow, horse, or poultry manure

II. Brown Materials for Carbon
Dry brown leaves, Shredded newspaper, Wood chips, Sawdust

III. Water
You want the pile damp like a sponge, but not soaking wet.

IV. Air
About 30% of the total initial volume of your compost pile should be air space.

http://eartheasy.com/grow_compost.html This site has a nice list of what to compost and how. It discourages banana peelings because the skin might contain pesticides. Add grass and sawdust in thin layers to avoid clumping. Use pine needles in moderation because they are very acidic.

All sites agree on the following:

Do not compost meats or fats or pet droppings
Don't compost diseased plants

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Was the 20th century abnormally normal?

FuturePundit makes an interesting observation that the 20th century may have been abnormally quiet in regard to mega-disasters. It's the best documented century in human history with photos, movies, radio, TV, blogs, etc and when we think of "history" our window is often the past 100 years. But go back another 100 years to the 19th century.

The first half of the 19th century was still in the grip of the Little Ice Age, a period of unusual cold lasting 500 years from 1350 to 1850. When we think of snowy Victorian Christmas with ice skaters on frozen rivers, that was the influence of the Little Ice Age.

In 1811 there was an 8.1-8.2 earthquake on the New Madrid fault in middle America which caused the Mississippi River to temporarily flow backwards and permanently changed its course. A repeat of this today would be devastating.

In 1884 New York City had a 5.5 quake and is due for a repeat. Los Angeles and Tokyo are also past due for major quakes like the 1875 SoCal quake of magnitude 7.9.

How about a big bang like Mount Tambora in Indonesia in 1815? The eruption further cooled the planet so that snow fell in New England and the Canadian Maritime provinces in June. It caused the biggest famine of the 19th century.

In 1859 there was a massive solar eruption that caused intense magnetic fields on Earth. An equivalent today could fry our electronics and power grid.

The 1900s were extremely tame in comparison.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy 4th!


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A real no-where man?

From a letter to the London Times, June 17, 1978:

Some years ago I was bringing a Destroyer home from the Far East and was required to report my position twice a day.

One evening, I saw that we would be passing close to where the Greenwich Meridian cuts the Equator so arranged to arrive there dead on midnight. Once there I altered course to due North and stopped engines so my position signal read:

At 00:00 my position Latitude 00°00′N, Longitude 00°00′E. Course 000°. Speed 0.

I had considered saying I was Nowhere but thought (probably correctly) that Their Lordships would not be amused.

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Monday, July 2, 2012

How long is a couple of days?

A recent cartoon at http://xkcd.com/ reminded me of a trip to Canada to visit my sister.

The boarder guard asked how long I would be staying.

A couple of days I said.

When are you retuning?


Wait a minute, he challenged, that's four days from now and you just said a couple of days.

Yes, I said, a couple of days for me includes 2 or 3 or 4. I'm not strict about it always meaning 2.

Bottom Line

Imagine being stopped at the boarder for incorrectly using the word "couple".

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