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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Useless Medical Tests

     Guess what I discovered recently when, after a change in health insurance carriers, I reestablished connection with my previous physician? It seems like when you reach a certain age doctors want to run every test they can think of even if symptoms are not present. I suppose this can be a life saver in some circumstances and physicians also need to cover themselves in case they miss something...we live in a society of people who like to sue and doctor's malpractice insurance is through the roof as it is. 
     Still, some of the stuff they order seems like overkill. A friend related to me the other day that he had gone to the doctor for a relatively minor complaint and the doctor ordered a “nuclear stress test” and a “renal scan” to rule out any heart conditions. The guy figured that because he's pushing 60 maybe it wasn't such a bad idea. Everything was negative, but the tests cost several thousand dollars and his share of the bill was $3,200. As it turns out, wasted money he really could not afford. 
     A study of more than a million Medicare patients suggested that a huge proportion had received care that was simply a waste. The researchers called it “low-value care.” But, really, it was no-value care. They studied how often people received one of twenty-six tests or treatments that scientific and professional organizations have consistently determined to have no benefit or to be outright harmful. Read more.
     Pain specialists order costly tests for illegal drugs such as cocaine and angel dust, which few seniors ever use. In a proactive effort to help stem healthcare spending, nine medical specialty organizations have published their top 5 lists of tests, treatments, or services that are unnecessary or at least should include a thorough conversation between patients and their doctors regarding the benefits and risks of before undertaking the procedure. Read more.

When to say “No” to your doctor. Forbes article 
Why Doctors Won't Do Less, Even When More Is Wasteful and Useless. CBS News article 
Seniors Beware of Useless Tests…in Certain States. Doctors in states popular with seniors have a tendency to order unnecessary medical tests, according to The New York Times. Read article.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Amazing Lakes of the World

     Despite being covered by water, only a tiny fraction -- 0.008 percent -- of Earth's freshwater is contained in rivers and lakes. Yet there is astonishing variety among the lakes the of the world. From pink lakes in Australia and Kenya, to lakes filled with harmless jellyfish, lakes provide strange environments for different species of animals and plants. The lakes listed HERE are some of the most spectacular and unusual that the world has to offer. 

List of Lakes by Volume and a List of Lakes by Area 

Of special interest to me are the Great Lakes because I live in very close proximity to Lake Erie. 

The Great Lakes: Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, Ontario. 
The St. Lawrence River 
Niagara Falls.  In the summer of 1969, engineers stopped the flow of water to the American and Bridal Veil Falls. This site shows the dry Falls.

Yahoo Gallery Widget

     With this Widget you can get widgets without even opening your browser. The Yahoo Gallery Widget allows you to search for widgets or browse the newest widgets by category. i.e. you can add small standalone applications that can offer an endless variety of features, content, and system functionality. Twenty-two default widgets are included such as a weather forecaster, a Yahoo Mail manager, a Wi-Fi signal checker, a calendar, and an iTunes remote. You can add stuff like larm clocks, calculators, stock quotes and on and on. Could be very handy for some people...could also lead to useless clutter! Download from C-net

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Buzzword Generators




While on the subject of buzzwords, here are some sites worth a visit if you need to sound impressive for any reason.

Business Buzzword Generator - Our visibility center is focused on new ways to recontextualize the consumer space through viral deployments of enterprise. 

Or, you can generate meaningless, empty phrases that make it look like you know what you are talking about by simply click on the button and a random piece of business jargon will appear in the box at Plain English Campaign - We need to cascade memos about our facilitating monitored alignment.

Maybe you want to Be an Art Critic - With regard to the issue of content, the disjunctive perturbation of the spatial relationships spatially undermines the exploration of montage elements.

Tired of racking your brain trying to come up with an artist's statement extolling the unique virtues of your latest art work? Try THIS. Example...The mind creates, the body reproduces. In the material space, art objects are reproductions of the creations of the mind - a mind that uses the body as a parallax to materialize ideas, patterns, and emotions.

Don't know what to Blog about? Let Hubspot help. Examples...
  • How to Solve the Biggest Problems With Chess 
  • 14 Common Misconceptions About Tartajubow 
  • 20 Myths About chess
Link Bait Generator pretty cool, too!
  • Why You Should Forget Everything You Learned About Chess 
  • 10 Ways Chess Can Suck the Life Out of You 
  • 11 Ways Investing in Chess Can Make You a Millionaire
Need an Acronym Finder? Just type in any letters. For example, FART 
  • Fathers Against Radical Teenagers 
  • Fast Action Response Team 
  • Farmers Against Ridiculous Taxes 
  • Fire Alarm Response Team
If you want to post memes on Facebook here is a very nice site to generate them...Meme Generator:

Want to preach a sermon? You can try this site...Sermon Ideas and compose a sermon just by selecting a topic, the exposition, the main points, and finally the closing. Here is an abridged sermon I generated on the subject of “accounting.” 

The evil of out past comes back to haunt us. The phrase, when the chickens come home to roost is a colloquialism that refers to the tendency of chickens on a farm to roam freely. In the day, they are often seen under the house or pecking long distances from the coop. However, when the sun begins to set, without fail, chickens will always come back home to perch themselves on the roosts. Even in the church, the chickens have come home to roost. 

There are many who are looking at the results many years of neglect and spiritual decay.  Some have chosen to live outside of God’s will and are presently enjoying themselves, feasting on the best that this life has to offer, but the handwriting is on the wall.  There is a warning to those who practice evil deeds, there is promise to those who do good. We are encouraged to do as much good as we can for as many as we can as long as we can.

How To Sound Like a Profound Thinker

     Beauty requires exploration.
     As you dream, you will enter into infinite wonder that transcends understanding. 
     The secret of the universe gives rise to a symphony of self-knowledge. 
     This life is nothing short of an ennobling oasis of self-aware faith. 

    

    A Canadian study from the University of Waterloo suggests that people guilty of posting quotes like those above on Facebook are probably not very smart. The research, titled On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bull****, asserts that there is a correlation between low intelligence and being easily impressed by what looks like a profound statement. 
     The study was conducted by Gordon Pennycock whose research is focused on dual-process theories of reasoning and decision-making. In the study they found some people are receptive to these nonsensical statements. 
     Approximately 300 subjects were presented the various statements that included such random statements and they were asked to rate their profoundness on a scale of one to five. The participants were asked to classify each quote as “profound,” “bullshit” or “mundane.” Cognitive ability and personality tests were also administered to the subjects. 
     The researchers found that individuals who were unable to discern a fake statement and rated them as profound were less intelligent and unlikely to engage in reflective thinking. They were also more vulnerable to ontological confusions (ontology refers to the subject of existence) and conspiracy theories and more likely to hold certain religious or paranormal beliefs. Such people usually found random computer generated “New Age poppycock” such as the above introductory statements to be quite profound. 
     You know the type...you see a lot of them on Facebook. They run across fake stories or images on the Internet and post them on Facebook. More often than not, what they don't realize is that many times these images have been circulating on the Internet for years. These are Facebook’s memes...images videos, texts, etc. that are copied and spread by users.
     Many of these are simply urban legends, made-up stories or quotations of doubtful origin. Many of them are political in nature and are usually totally false. These political images, quotes and news stories are often nothing more than distorted or made up “facts” and they spread quickly because Facebook users’ friends are generally made up of people similar to themselves and so such posts confirm and strengthen their friends' beliefs. People simply do not check out the facts.  See my posts about fake news sites HERE and HERE.
     I saw one post of President and Mrs. Obama supposedly “disrespecting” the American flag by holding their left hand over their heart. It took about two minutes to find the original photo on Google. The Facebook photo was clearly mirrored and touched up. 
     These are the folks that will be impressed when you quote stuff from the sites maintained by Seb Pearce or Deepak Chopra. On their sites quotes are generated from a list of common buzzwords randomly stuck together in a sentence to create statements with no actual meanings.  All you do is click a button and, apparently according to research, it'll impress a lot of people and make you sound like a philosopher. On the other hand,if they are critical thinkers, you will sound like an idiot.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Free 3D Human Modeling Program

Here is a nice little open source program for making 3D human figures. Nothing fancy but these characters can be modeled in minutes and can then be used with many other modeling and rendering programs to incorporate realistic human figures into computer generated images and animations. Download from site, Makehuman.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Best Freeware Sites

The best freeware programs can be as good as or better than their commercial counterparts but finding them can be challenging. For example, I'd never pay for Microsoft Office when LibreOffice is just as good and it's completely free. And, this morning I opened an old AutoCAD drawing of our house using the free DraftSight program and honestly, I could tell little difference! That's not to say I'd use DraftSight in a business environment, but for drafting in a home use setting, it's truly an outstanding program.

Major Geeks 
This site offers freeware and shareware programs in the following categories: Android, Anti-Malware, Anti-Virus, Appearance, Back Up, Browsers, CD\DVD\Blu-Ray,Drive Utilities, Drivers, Graphics, Internet Tools, Multimedia, Networking, Office Tools, PC Games, System Tools, Macintosh etc. The site also offers miscellaneous information about programs, software and repair. 
     It can be somewhat difficult to navigate though. That said there is ONE WARNING!! There are a number of “Click here” places and sometimes it is difficult to tell EXACTLY what you are clicking on to download and it can result in downloading something you don't want.
     You MUST be VERY CAREFUL to make sure you are clicking on the correct link! Be especially alert for links that are advertisements that will take you to a different site that will "fix" your computer. Instead of “fix” you should substitute “infect.” DO NOT click on ANY advertisement or link that claims it will fix your registry or scan your computer. If you want your computer to be scanned online go to a commercial antivirus company website like Bit Defender or Norton or whatever one you like that sells their software in retail stores. Of course, when it come to clicking on ads, the best advice is just don't do it.

AlternativeTo 
They offer software for your computer, mobile phone or tablet. Categories are Windows, Mac, Linux, Wb/Cloud, iPhone, tvOS, Android, Windows Phone, Self-Hosted, Chrome, Firefox and more.


Gizmo's Freeware 
This is a non-commercial community website staffed entirely by volunteers. The site contains no downloads, just advice and useful guidance to help you select the best freeware product for your needs. If you do find something useful there is a link directly to the site.

FileHippo 
This site offers only the best downloads that have been tested for malware, adware and viruses and there are no added bundles, installers or toolbars. Categories: Browsers, Anti-Malware, System Tuning, Security, Photo/Image, Desktop, Drivers, CD/DVD and more.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Bible Study Apps

     Xiphos (formerly known as GnomeSword) is a Bible study tool written for Linux, UNIX, and Windows...that is a feature rich program for reading, study, and research using modules from The SWORD Project and elsewhere. It is open-source software, and available free-of-charge to all. 
     Another good program is The Word which consists of the main program (engine), and a list of add-on modules like Bibles, in different languages, commentaries, dictionaries, books, maps, fonts, different translation files, etc. 

    If you are Jewish then The Jewish Week has an article titled What Are The Top Jewish Apps? HERE that are available. Rabbi Miller also has an article titled New Tanach App for Android Has All the Bells and Whistles that is worth checking out.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

SketchUp

     SketchUp (formerly known as Google SketchUp) is a program that lets you do all types of 3D drawings. Imagine that you’ve bought a house and need to furnish it.  With this program you can see it in virtual form and three dimensions, change the furniture, the style, whatever you want until it reflects your personal style. 
     SketchUp comes with a 3D Gallery that lets you search for models and share yours.  These are any type of model that you can imagine: furniture, houses, cars and more. 
     SketchUp features include: 
* Easy to use 
* You can find out what part of the model is hit by the sun 
* Experiment with colors and textures 
* See the mock-ups 

    If you like decoration and drawing, you’ll have a great time with SketchUp. This program is simply great. 
    Its available in both free and commercial versions. Sketchup Make is the free version for home, personal, and educational use. Download direct from their site HERE.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Who Is Calling Me?

     Are phone scummers and assorted other low-life types calling you? The site Who Calls Me can often give you an idea of who it is that keeps calling. This is a user supplied database of phone numbers of telemarketers, non-profit organizations, charities, political surveyors, SCAM artists, and other companies that don't leave messages, disconnect once you answer, and simply interrupt your day. If you received a strange call, unwanted messages, or just came across a number you don't recognize and want more information about, most likely you are not the only one. Search for this phone number to see the reports of others. If there are no reports yet, leave your comment to start a conversation. 
     Fortunately our answering machine allows us to block calls, but there are so many of these that there must be 15-20 numbers in its database. A while back I accidentally answered one and some low life wanted to speak to a family member, but would not say why. I kept her busy for a minute while I looked up another phone number and advised her that the person she was seeking could better be reached at this new number. She said she was changing it in their database. The number I gave her was for the local FBI. 
     You can report them to the State Attorney General's office, but don't expect them to do anything.  Like most government agencies they are utterly worthless.  The Privacy Rights Clearing House has some interesting information on these kinds of calls.
     One interesting thing is those calls where the phone rings and there is no one on the line. What is happening? Random digit dialing devices are able to dial all possible phone number combinations, even unlisted numbers, and dial them much more rapidly than any person can. Some telemarketers use "predictive dialing" technology to call potential victims who are not on the National Do Not Call Registry. A computer dials many phone numbers in a short period of time. When an individual answers, the computer seeks a sales representative who is not occupied and connects the call. If all employees are handling other calls, the consumer hears dead silence. These are "abandoned calls." In most cases, these calls are from telemarketers.  As for the Do Not Call Registry, many telemarketers, generally criminals anyway, just ignore it.  The FTC has a Consumer Alert on "robocalls" HERE and HERE.
     If you are receiving a lot of abandoned calls you can call your local phone company. My phone company allows me to hang up on the caller then dial *57 and an attempt will be made to trace the call. There are restrictions on what calls can be traced and what the phone company will do. There is also a $10 fee for every call that is successfully traced. You could spend a fortune on this service and all for nothing. 
     My cell phone carrier, Verizon, is probably typical of what is and is NOT an unlawful call. Unwanted Calls are usually not against the law and typically include: Fax calls, Hang-up calls, Computer calls, Solicitation calls, Robocalls, Telemarketing calls, Debt collection calls, Obscene or Harassing Calls.
     Short version...except for the one being called nobody is really interested in stopping these calls.  After all, the scammers have to use the phone company's services to make the calls, so why would they want to put them out of business?  Your best defense is a good answering machine that allows you to to block the numbers.

Check out my post on Phone Scams 
C-net article - Screen unwanted calls without one-at-a-time blocking
Answering Machines with Call Blockers

Monday, January 11, 2016

Is the Cure Worse Than the Disease?

     Unless you're from the United States or New Zealand you won't understand this post. Only these two countries allow pharmaceutical companies to advertise their medications directly to consumers via television and magazine ads, etc. 
     I am always amused, or is it concerned, about ads appearing on television for prescription medications where we are told, “Ask your doctor if (insert medication) is right for you.” Personally, I have always let the doctor decide if a product is right for me. One doctor told me he never prescribes any new medicine for at least a year after it comes out because he wants to be sure it works and there are no hidden problems with it. Guess he does not totally trust the drug companies.
    What concerns me is the ads for most of these medications usually have a mind-numbing list of side effects. Of course, during studies if even one person reports fire shooting out of their nostrils a side effect it has to be reported, but often this list of side effects sounds worse than the disease. 
     We keep seeing more and more of these ads. The amount of money spent by drug companies on advertising more than tripled between 1997 and 2005 since restrictions governing drug ads were relaxed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Wonder why the FDA did that?! 
     It has worked out well for the drug companies. Spending on prescription drugs has grown faster than any other type of health-care spending in the United States. Of course, doctors cooperate. It's money for them. In many cases if a doctor won't give a patient what they want the patient simply takes their business elsewhere. And, hospitals, physician groups, etc. measure a doctor's value by how much money they bring in. The truth is you could be a crappy doctor, but if you keep the money coming in, nobody cares. 
     Naturally, when a doctor prescribes a medication, you want to be able to make an informed decision and understand the specific risks and benefits and advertising certainly helps. The problem is these ads are designed to tout the medicine's benefits in a vague, general and emotionally driven way and the risks are downplayed. These ads prompt patients to ask their doctor for what they, the patient, thinks might be best. The ads are often misleading as to what the benefit of the drug is. When a patient comes in asking for something they saw on television, and many doctors will probably go along with the requests rather than argue with their patients. 
     Remember a drug called Vioxx? It was a pain medication that was heavily marketed but later pulled when it became apparent the drug increased the risk of heart attack in some people. They never showed that little side effect in the ads. What you see in these ads are people being happy and doing all kinds of fun stuff they couldn't do before taking the advertised drug. 
     Anyway, what grabbed by attention last night was the ad for Chantix, a drug to help people quit smoking. But, it could have been any number of other drugs. The ad shows a guy who tells us that he really loves being a non-smoker. Of course who can blame him? But, I had to wonder, did he dodge a bullet when it comes to the side effects?
     Common side effects of this medication include puking and nausea which may persist for several months, sleep disturbances, irritability, stomach pain, indigestion, constipation, a lot of farting, headaches, weakness, tiredness, unusual dreams, insomnia, dry mouth and/or a crappy taste in your mouth. In some patients it caused psychiatric symptoms such as behavioral changes, agitation and a depressed mood. Oh, by the way, some patients experienced suicidal behavior. Almost makes you think smoking would be safer.
     And, despite all the risk factors, the big question is, does it work? Well, according to a 2008 FDA video clip, the probability is in the neighborhood of 1 in 11 of being able to quit for one year if Chantix is used all by itself. 
     Even with this product success will require education, counseling and support. To be fair though, if accompanied by weekly counseling and support sessions, the chances do improve to 1 in 5 or even 1 in 4. Obviously, the counseling sessions have a LOT to do with the success rate. 
     The makers of Chantix put the success rate at a 44 percent chance after 12 weeks, but you know what? What happened was, in 12 weeks about 4 out of 10 people tested managed to go without a cigarette, but 12 weeks also just happened to be the length of their clinical trials and treatment period. 
     The truth is, this product substitutes a drug which satisfies the desire for nicotine for the nicotine itself. Also, the FDA website has a lot of information on this drug including the warning that Chantix can change the way people react to alcohol. Some patients experienced decreased tolerance to alcohol, including increased drunkenness, unusual or aggressive behavior, or they had no memory of things that happened. Also, there have been accounts of seizures in patients though these have been rare. 
     Here's a link to an interesting ad from back in the days before Claritin became an over the counter medicine. At the time, the ad could not even specify what condition the drug treated.
     Like I said, this post just happens to be mainly about Chantix, but it could have been about any product on Vaughn's Summaries - Drug manufacturers seek to minimize and trivialize the adverse side effects of the drugs they produce. To present a balanced picture, this page HIGHLIGHTS these adverse side effects. In each case, THE OFFICIAL INFORMATION IS "QUOTED VERBATIM" (fair use) from the drug companies' websites and TV commercials.

Six ways to tell if a viral story is a hoax

Visit The Conversation for complete details.

Reverse image search – this is one of the simplest verification tools that will often turn up photos posted with the current story are actually years old. Or, as in the case of a recent Facebook photo I saw of President and Mrs. Obama purporting to show them “saluting” the flag with their left hand, the image was simply reversed and a few touchups made. It took me less than one minute to find the original photo that had clearly been doctored in the Facebook post.

YouTube DataViewer - When watching the latest viral video on YouTube, it’s important to be on the look-out for “scrapes”: a scrape is an old video, which has been downloaded from YouTube and re-uploaded. Amnesty International has a simple but incredibly useful tool called YouTube DataViewer that will extract the clip’s upload time and all associated thumbnail images. 

Jeffrey’s Exif Viewer - Photos, videos and audio taken with digital cameras and smartphones contain Exchangeable Image File (EXIF) information: this is vital metadata about the make of the camera used, and the date, time and location the media was created. This information can be very useful if you’re suspicious of the creator’s account of the content’s origins.

FotoForensics - a tool that uses error level analysis (ELA) to identify parts of an image that may have been modified or “photoshopped”. 

WolframAlpha - is a “computational knowledge engine”, which allows you to check weather conditions in at a specific time and place. You can check to see if the actual weather matches the date and time a photo was supposed to have been taken. 

Google Maps Street View - identifying the location of a suspicious photo or video is a crucial part of the verification process...identify whether there are any reference points to compare, check whether distinctive landmarks match up and see if the landscape is the same.

Related: How Not to Publish Baloney 5 Easy Ways to Spot a B.S. News StoryBusiness Insider

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

More on Fake News

“Most Internet stories are not accurate.” Abraham Lincoln   


Fake News Watch – Fake/hoax news websites, satire websites, clickbait websites. After watching all of the hoax, fake, satire and click bait websites proliferate the internet, we thought is was time to start tracking and make a place for people to identify these sites more easily. We do not debunk each and every post. We do a few to help others be able to discern truth from fiction for themselves. Below are a few tips on identifying satire/hoax websites…

Urban Legends - The Internet is rife with it, especially news satire, or fake news, consisting of fictionalized accounts of current events presented in mock-journalistic style to lampoon politicians, celebrities, and social mores… 

Antiviral - Facebook is a big and maddening place. Antiviral wants to make it better. To that end, we're putting together a comprehensive guide to the new, bad, weird, and bullshit "news sites" that are appearing on your feed. 

Where anti-Obama fanatics get their ‘facts’… 

Televangelists - Facebook is filled with Biblically illiterate sheep posting, liking and sharing material pumped out, not by preachers, but by chief executive officers of religious 501c3 corporations who are dangerous spiritual criminals, feel-good non-preachers and con artists posing as men (and women) of God. 

Pimp Preacher Scams… 

Prophets And Pastors Of Profit - Many Christians, even though with innocent intentions, are very gullible, naive, and even childish in the fact that they have no discernment about wolves in sheep's clothing. All too often, seekers of God are falling prey to celebrity personalities, and they swoon over famous name preachers for no other reason than these individuals have a lofty title such as "senior pastor", "prophet", "prophetess", "evangelist", "reverend", "doctor", "bishop", or some other clergy name...

Monday, January 4, 2016

Complaint Form

Feel free to download this form from Dropbox and use as needed:



Subliminal

     Can advertisers really control people's behavior through subliminal messages? What a subliminal message really is: they are stimuli that lie below our threshold of conscious awareness. That means you can't perceive a subliminal message even if you’re looking for it.  These messages are not to be confused with supraliminal messages which are messages that we see and hear, but don’t consciously notice.    
     An example of a supraliminal message was demonstrated in a 1999 which showed that in a liquor store when German music was played, German wine was the top seller. But, when French music was played, French wines were the top seller. 

Subliminal messages are different and there are three types: 
1. Subvisual messages – cues that are flashed so quickly that they are not perceived.  
2. Subaudible messages – low volume audio messages are inserted into a louder audio source like music. 
3. Backmasking – an audio message that is recorded backwards. The claim is that subliminal messages have appeared in advertising, movies, and music. 

     The claim is that subliminal messages have appeared in advertising, movies, and music. But, often that is not the case because some people see meaning in anything if they’re looking hard for it and often, the message are really supraliminal. 
     The whole concept of subliminal advertising originated with a guy named James Vicary back in the 1950s when he made a claim that concession sales in movie theaters could be increased by flashing “Eat Popcorn” and “Drink Coke” on the screen during the movie. His claim was, as he later admitted, a hoax. 
     Movie editors like Disney have been criticized for putting subliminal messages in movies and in 1990 the band Judas Priest was accused of putting backward messages of “do it” in a song which allegedly caused the suicide of two teenagers. A judge found no evidence to support the claim. 
     But, do they really work? Researchers once agreed that subliminal messages were mostly ineffective. However, in recent years research has shown that subliminal messages can influence our thoughts and behavior. According to such research, subliminal messages in advertising can influence our purchasing behavior, but there are limitations. For subliminal messages to really work people must already want whatever the message suggests. For example, researchers found that subliminal messages on thirst only work on people who were already thirsty. If they weren't the messages didn't work. So, subliminal messages can’t make you do anything, but they can help direct you decision if the message already appeals to you. 
     There are also claims that subliminal audio messages are helpful in self-help programs aimed at people who want to lose weight, stop smoking, be a better salesman, etc. Research shows that these subliminal messages are effective, but only because of the placebo effect. As noted above, they work to some extent because the person already wants to lose weight or stop smoking. 
     Short version...subliminal messages can’t make you do something you do not already want to do. 

Seven Sneaky Subliminal Messages Hidden in Ads 
Subliminal Messages - a pdf paper on the subject 
The impact of subliminal priming and brand choice – a pdf paper from Science Direct 
Subliminal Advertising – from Psychologist World 
Subliminal Perception