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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Microsoft's Lack of Customer Service

     Microsoft's customer service is worse than a used car dealership. I recently inherited a fairly new laptop from a relative, but there was an issue with Windows 10 on startup, so I took it to the local Best Buy and had a technician look at it. He advised me that he was unable to fix it because he couldn't get past Microsoft's security and that I should contact them direct, but the phone number he gave me turned out not to be Microsoft, but the laptop's manufacturer. No problem, I thought; I will just Google Microsoft for a phone number, and thus began a journey into Hades.
     One of the first places that popped up was not a Microsoft site at all, but a site designed to look like it was and they advertised they specialized in “Microsoft problems.”   Of course, this is not a Microsoft problem, but you have to be careful.
     Unable to locate a phone number for technical service, I called the number listed for Microsoft's corporate office in a nearby large city. The guy answering the phone could barely speak English and after I explained my problem and asked for a phone number I could call for technical assistance, he began asking for personal information which I refused to give, explaining all I wanted is a phone number. He got snotty and I hung up. 
     The next step was to call a Microsoft store. Again, the person answering the phone could barely speak English and could not understand my problem...hung up on him, too. 
     A third call to a different number connected me with another person for whom English was a second language and he was totally unable to comprehend the nature of the issue with the laptop. When I kept telling the guy that he was trying to address an issue that was not part of the problem, he got belligerent and kept interrupting me, prompting another hang up on my part. 
     A fourth call resulted in someone who spoke fairly decent English and listened politely and asked a few questions before having me try a couple of fixes which didn't work. At that point he told me he did not know how to fix the problem and his advice was to “take it some place and have Windows 10 reinstalled.” For a fee, of course. 
     When I first got my new laptop it was very frustrating being repeatedly nagged with upgrade prompts to get the free Windows 10 which had just come out and I had to fix my laptop so that it would not automatically upgrade. Apparently, at some point Microsoft finally ended the “Get Windows 10” nag. 
     In Microsoft’s 2016 State of Global Customer Service Report, 44 per cent of the 5,000 respondents across Brazil, Germany, Japan, the UK and the United States said they had customer service issues with Microsoft. 
     Almost one-third complained about not being able to talk to a live person. Twenty-eight percent complained that representatives were unable to resolve issues because they didn't know how. Three-fourths of the respondents used a search engine to try and find the answer to their customer service question and one-fourth complained about the difficulty and/or inability to find information they were searching for online. Having to repeat or provide personal information to the agent was also a problem for many. 
     I would add that speaking to someone outside the United States who can barely speak English and who is poorly trained in customer service are problems.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

How Butterflies Fly

     How can a butterfly, weighing no more than a feather, fly into the wind and how can they control where they are going given their jerky, erratic flight paths? 
     First of all, no matter if it's a butterfly or a bird, if wind speed exceeds maximum flight speed, then it can't fly. Different species of butterflies fly at different speeds and the range is about 3 miles per hour to a lightning fast 23 miles per hour. Most small butterflies must therefore avoid high winds. 
     Butterflies have big wings and slow wing beats (about 10 per second) compared with about 200 in honey bees and, believe it or not, their wings are more than twice as effective as a bird’s. 
     Recent research indicates they control their jerky, erratic flight by keeping their body perpendicular to the ground and time that with a rotation of their body that is timed with each flap of their wings. A good example of what happens when a butterfly flaps it wings can be visualized by imagining running a spoon through coffee with creamer added. Swirls appear around a low pressure center. Their wings swirl the air above their wings making a low pressure vortex. Thus the vortex sucks the butterfly upward and allows the wings to snap back into position with less resistance. Once the upstroke has been completed, butterflies then preform a quick change of angle, just enough to add even more lift. It's this excessive lift combined with the angle of their body that causes the jerky motion associated with their fight. 
     They have huge wings for their bodies, wings that are way bigger than many other insects of the same weight and their wings are so massive they can fly even with half their wing cut off. Because the wings are so big, it is easy for them to maneuver. Their wings are similar to a ship's rudder; the bigger a ship's rudder, the faster it can turn. 
     Butterflies use their wings to make those erratic fluttering pattern which is unique to butterflies. These erratic movements have a purpose; it makes their movements hard for predators to predict. 
     Monarch butterflies can navigate their way for a distance of some 3000 miles each fall from Canada to Mexico and back in the spring. How do they do it? 
     Birds are known for their long-range migration but not insects, Also, a bird's migration route is a round-trip which they may make many times in their lifetime, but for the Monarch, it is a trip they make only once. 
     A team of scientists at the University of Massachusetts Medical School explored their brains and eye tissues and discovered that it is the ultraviolet band of light that is crucial to their orientation and gived them their sense of direction. The input from UV light detection in the eye and a biological clock in their brain guides them to their destination at the appointed time.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Icescream Screen Recorder

     The following screen recorder is even better and easier to use the than the one that was recommended in a previous post. It's called Icecream Screen Recorder
     It is a free tool that enables you to capture any area of your screen either as a screenshot or a video file. The intuitive and easy-to-use software offers a complete suite of tools and options for professional screen capture with audio. With their screen recording software you can record webinars, games and Skype videos in HD, and much more in a quick and hassle-free way. 
     There is also a Pro version available for $29.95. Besides its simplicity, it records any audio extremely well. Highly recommended!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Tracking Ships At Sea

      In addition to tracking aircraft, it is also possible to track ships at sea at Vessel Finder. Founded as a vessel tracking service provider in 2011, VesselFinder Ltd. displays real-time data on the positions and movements of over 100,000 vessels every day, utilizing a large network of receivers all over the world. 

To name a few key features: 
* Updated positions of over 100,000 vessels every day 
* Port calls and master data Detailed voyage history of each vessel 
* Photo Gallery with over 100,000 ship and port photos 
* Mobile applications for Android, iPhone, iPad and Windows phone 
* Latest news in the world maritime industry 
* Historical AIS Data services including customized vessel movements reports, video simulation of ship movements, traffic density analyses and more 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Aircraft Radar and Aviation Weather on Your Computer


     The website FlightAware, with locations in Houston, Texas and Singapore, is the world's largest flight tracking data company and provides over 10,000 aircraft operators and service companies as well as over 12,000,000 passengers with global flight tracking solutions. FlightAware gets data from air traffic control systems in over 55 countries. FlightAware provides live flight data, airport delays, fuel prices, airline operational tools, weather maps, flight planning, flight routes, oceanic tracks, and navigation charts, as well as aviation news and photos. 
     These are fun sites to visit if, for example, you want information about that plane flying overhead. Just go to the site, zoom in on your location, and click on the plane's icon. You will get information on the company, the call sign, the plane's origin and destination, altitude and air speed. Another good site is Plane Finder.
     Aviation Weather is a US government site located near the Kansas City International Airport that allows you to access just about anything you want to know about weather conditions pertaining to aviation. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Caffeine Withdrawal

     The FDA reports that more than 80 percent of American adults drink coffee daily. Regular ingestion of caffeine alters your brain’s chemical makeup, leading to fatigue, headaches and nausea if you quit. 
     It all happens within 24 hours. It's not bad at first, but you begin to feel mentally foggy and lack alertness. Then fatigue sets in even if you haven’t done anything strenuous and you you begin to get irritable. 
     Caffeine is chemically addictive and now the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has included caffeine withdrawal as a mental disorder for the first time.
     Soon after you consume caffeine it’s absorbed through the small intestine and because it's water and fat soluble it penetrates the brain. Structurally, caffeine closely resembles a molecule that’s naturally present in our brain, so much so that caffeine actually fits into our brain cells’ receptors for adenosine.  Adenosine produced over time locks into these receptors and produces a feeling of tiredness, but caffeine blocks off the adenosine. The result is that caffeine produces a sense of alertness and energy for a few hours. Also, a natural stimulant, dopamine, works more effectively when the receptors are blocked. In addition, surplus adenosine causes the adrenal glands to secrete adrenaline. 
     Technically, caffeine isn’t a stimulant, but a substance that stimulates the body's natural stimulants. Caffeine's effects last for anywhere from four to six hours, depending on the person’s age, size and other factors. 
     People who ingest caffeine on a regular basis experience changes in the brain’s chemistry and physical characteristics over time. For one, the brain cells grow more adenosine receptors in an attempt to maintain neutralize the constant doses of caffeine. This explains why coffee drinkers build up a tolerance and it takes more caffeine to achieve the desired effect. 
     It also explains why suddenly giving up caffeine entirely triggers withdrawal effects. Your brain is used to functioning with an artificially inflated number of adenosine receptors that depend on regular doses of caffeine. Without it the altered brain chemistry causes all sorts of physical symptoms. To get off caffeine you to suffer through about 7-12 days of symptoms without ingesting any caffeine. During that period, your brain decreases the number of adenosine receptors and they will return to normal. Further reading...What Caffeine Actually Does To Your Brain

Monday, April 3, 2017

Nose Adjusters

     Some people have a great deal of anxiety about their noses and it's especially true these days because famous bodies are used to sell just about everything. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 15.6 million cosmetic procedures were performed in 2014. 
     The shape of the nose is imbued with assumptions about one’s character and as a result, methods of improving its appearance have been employed for over two thousand years! One of the first recorded “nose jobs” was performed in India in the sixth century B.C. when a flap of skin from the patient’s cheek was used to make a new nose. However, it wasn’t until a syphilis epidemic in Europe in the late 16th century that cosmetic nasal surgery became popular. One of the symptoms of advanced syphilis is that people's noses fall off. One of the most popular procedures involved taking skin from the patient’s arm and grafting it to their face in an effort to make a new nose.
    Physiognomy, which experienced a revival in the 19th century, claimed that the shape of the nose could tell you about a person’s moral character: a straight nose signified refinement, while a hawk nose signified a cunning moral character. 
     By late 19th century plastic surgery began to gain popularity in America and people whose noses, or other features, didn't conform to the ideals of beauty could find a doctor, or facial artiste, if you will, who would sculpt their face. Procedures included making eyes, lips, and noses look better. 
     But, for those born with a nose that they didn't like, back in the 1920s you could purchase the Anita Nose Adjuster which promised to reshape one’s nose without surgery. This gadget was advertised that with it you could adjust your ill-shaped nose into a perfect specimen, all in the privacy of your home in just a few weeks. 
    The contraption eliminated the need for costly and painful surgery; it worked painlessly while you slept. Ads warned against inferior imitations and advised that you should use the Anita because it was the original and only one that was recommended by physicians for broken and misshapen noses. 
     The Anita was self-adjustable and didn't have any screws or metal parts, but was made of porous material that was firm, but comfortable. They offered a free book which also included a form to fill out for your size. When the form was returned, you would be sent your nose adjuster and you didn't have to pay for it until it arrived. The idea was simple. The thing reshaped both flesh and cartilage while you slept or were working. I assume that meant while you worked around the house; it's hard to imagine showing up at the office wearing the thing! 
the Bihana
     Now, you might think that people back in those days were naive and nobody would fall for such a thing today, but you would be wrong! 
     For $38 you can buy the Bihana Nose Adjuster Clip. Wear it while you sleep and it claims to slim and decrease the width of a nose.  But wait!  That's not all!   It repairs upward-facing nostril holes. 
     It doesn't take any batteries and it's comfortable. Simply clip it on to you nose and it puts pressure on the skin around the bone in your nose which over time will reshape it. 
     These things seem quite popular with teenagers in Japan...just Google nose adjusters!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Jacques Pepin

     Jacques Pepin is an internationally recognized French chef, television personality, and author working in the United States. Since the late 1980s, he has appeared on French and American television and written an array of cookbooks that have become best sellers. He has received numerous international awards, including an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Boston University in 2011. 
     Pepin was born in 1935 in Bourg-en-Bresse, near Lyon in France and after World War II his parents owned the restaurant, Le Pélican, where he worked and developed his love for food.  In 1956 to 1958, during his military service, Pepin was the personal chef to three French heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle. In 1959 Pepin moved to the United States to work at the restaurant Le Pavillon. Soon after his arrival a noted food editor at the New York Times, introduced Pepin to Helen McCully, who took him under her wing who in turn introduced him to Julia Child which initiated their long friendship and collaboration. In 1999, Pepin co-starred in the PBS series Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home with Julia Child. The program was awarded a Daytime Emmy in 2001. 
     In 1961 Pepin was hired to work alongside fellow Frenchman Pierre Franey to develop food lines for his chain of Howard Johnson's restaurants. During that time Pepin was attending Columbia University. Pépin received his B.A. degree from Columbia University's School of General Studies in 1970 and his M.A. in French literature from the Columbia Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1972. 
     Pepin has starred in numerous television shows and authored numerous cook books. He launched a televised cooking show in an acclaimed 1997 PBS series, The Complete Pepin. Relaunched on PBS ten years after its initial run, the series included a new introduction by Pepin where he stressed that now more than ever the secret to being a successful chef and not a mere line cook lies in knowing and using the proper technique. In 2015, his television series Jacques Pepin Heart & Soul began airing. 
     Pepin serves as dean of Special Programs at The International Culinary Center, founded as the French Culinary Institute, in New York City. He is an active contributor to the Gastronomy department at Boston University, where he teaches an online class on the cuisine and culture of France at Boston University's history department. Pepin also writes a quarterly column for Food & Wine and offers an amateur class each semester based on varied culinary topics. Pepin experienced a minor stroke in March 2015 at his Connecticut home, but was promptly treated at an area hospital and was expected to eventually make a full recovery. 
     Reality TV cooking shows like Top Chef, Chopped and Hell's Kitchen draw millions of fans, but Pepin isn't one of them. These competitions leave him distraught. According to Pepin, cooking is about being together, about love and sharing and the confrontation experienced on these programs is not how you learn to cook or how you understand food. Alice Waters of the organic eatery Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California also complained that these shows are teaching the kind of fast food values of our country, when in fact cooking really is something that can be very meditative and cooking is not about one-upping others.
     Pepin doesn't like Gordon Ramsey's Hell’s Kitchen because it humiliates hard working cooks and the program is anything but real. According to Pepin, a real, well-run professional kitchen has dignity and order.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Streetcars of Mansfield, Ohio

     Mansfield is a city in and the county seat of Richland County, Ohio and the city is located midway between Columbus and Cleveland via Interstate 71. 
     Geographically, it is part of Northeast Ohio and North-central Ohio regions in the western foothills of the Allegheny Plateau. Elevations vary greatly in the Allegheny Plateau, relief may only reach one hundred feet or less. In the unglaciated Allegheny Plateau in southeastern Ohio and westernmost West Virginia, relief is typically in the range of two hundred to four hundred feet. Absolute highest elevations in this area are often in the range of 900 to 1,500 feet, but be the Allegheny Front elevations may reach well over 4,000 feet.


     In 2010 the greater Mansfield population was 124,475 residents. Its official nickname is "The Fun Center of Ohio". But, it is also known as "Carousel Capital of Ohio," "Danger City," and "the Racing Capital of Ohio". 
     It was founded in 1808 on a fork of the Mohican River in a hilly region surrounded by fertile farmlands, and became a manufacturing center owing to its location with numerous railroad lines. After the decline of heavy manufacturing, the city's industry has since diversified into a service economy, including retailing, education, and healthcare sectors.
     The era of streetcars and trolleys is closely related to the history of Mansfield. The city had one of the first electric trolley systems in the US, but more importantly, manufactured the electrical mechanisms that made it possible for streetcars to run all over the country. 
     Before streetcars Mansfield had a public transportation system that relied on horse-drawn buses. The electrical rails had their beginning in Mansfield in 1887. The tracks for the electric transportation system were laid during the summer of 1887. The lines spanned 4.5 miles of city blocks, but getting things to run correctly resulted in a number of false starts. The day finally arrived on August 6, 1887, when Mansfield became the 4th city in America to successfully begin using electric trolleys. Those first cars were originally for use as horse-drawn vehicles with 15 horsepower electric motors installed. 
     This new technology wasn't without its detractors though. First, there was the fear that the streetcars would terrify horses, but that fear proved unfounded when the horses largely ignored them. 
     It seems funny today, but there was also the fear that pocket watch carrying passengers would have their watches lose time because of the electrified rails underfoot and overhead wires which would magnetize the watches. Experiments using finely tuned watches were conducted just to make sure it didn't happen. 
     The streetcars also gave new life to a major manufacturing business in Mansfield, the Ohio Brass Company which originally was a foundry that made brass harness fittings for various horse drawn vehicles. With advent of street cars Ohio Brass retooled and began manufacturing components for the electric streetcars. 
     In 1937 the last streetcar made a run carrying a few dignitaries and old time riders. The next day public transportation transferred to the city bus system. Ohio Brass exists to this day as a Hubbell Power Systems and is the market leader in polymer insulators and arresters used on transmission and distribution lines and lightning protection.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Railroad Brakemen

     The early brakemen held one of the most dangerous occupations in railroading, being required to walk atop moving cars and manually apply brakes. 
     In the early days of railroading the railroading journals were full of odes dedicated to brakemen. The job of the freight train brakeman was not glamorous and it was dangerous. Before the use of airbrakes in the late 1800s, trains were stopped through the application of brakes on each of the train’s cars. Even after airbrakes came into use, the brakeman still had to be ready to climb on top of the cars and manually set the brakes either when the airbrakes failed or when a section of cars had to be cut from the train. 
     Sometimes there were three brakemen; front middle and rear. In the interest of safety, if there was a middle brakeman he would ride on top of the cars in order to be ready to manually apply the brakes if needed. Middle brakemen were used on long freight trains as well as on local freight lines where freight cars had to be cut loose or added on a regular basis. 
     To apply the brakes, the brakeman had to turn a large wheel located on top each freight car of the train. Every brakeman carried a brake club to help give them leverage in turning the wheel. This meant that they would have to run along the top of the cars and leap from one to another in order to apply or release the brakes on each car. 
     Generally, the rear brakeman, or flagman as he was also known, would advance from the end of the train and the head brakeman or the conductor would advance from the engine to apply the brakes on each car. On a moving train, especially in bad weather, this could be extremely dangerous. The brakeman could easily fall to his death between the cars. This could be even more dangerous at night and in bad weather. Running across car roofs could be slippery with rain or ice and snow. Add rocking cars and brakeman could be thrown to his death even in good weather. 
     In parts of the country where there were railroad tunnels, the tunnels themselves could pose lethal hazard. Besides the possibility of falling rocks, thick black coal smoke and steam from the engine would linger in the tunnel. F the train had to stop in the tunnel for any reason, a stay inside the tunnel would expose them to toxic fumes. 
     Before the advent of an enclosed cabin for the brakemen, they would ride on metal ladders on the sides or ends of the rail cars. Even after the brakemen’s cabin arrived on the scene in the 1880’s, the cabins were open to the elements so that the brakemen could hear the braking signals from the train’s whistle. Exposure was also bad for engineers and firemen who rode on an open platform at the rear of the smoke and steam spewing engine.
     Besides the responsibilities of the brakes, the brakeman also was responsible for coupling and uncoupling the train’s cars. In the days of link and pin coupling, switching cars was dangerous because the brakeman had to stand between two cars. The risk of being crushed or having arms or fingers cut off while lining up pins was always present. 
     Even after automatic signals came into use, when a train had to stop it was the brakeman's job to display a flag or lantern at night some distance generally two miles back (!), from the end of the train. In foul weather it was a dangerous and unhealthy job.
     Throwing switches was also the brakeman's job. This often required running ahead of the train to throw the switch. At the rear of the train, the rear brakeman would have to jump off the train, close the switch and then run back to the train and jump on board. Running alongside the tracks and over the rock ballast then climbing aboard a moving train had hazards of its own. 
     The brakemen was often require to perform a risky and dangerous procedure called the “flying switch” where cars were uncoupled and allowed to roll onto a siding. This required split-second timing by both the engineer and the brakeman. Needless to say, getting killed was a very real possibility. If you were a brakemen, buying life insurance was almost impossible. At some point unions set up insurance plans for their members. 
 
tell-tale
    Tell-tales. These were cantilevered poles with dangling ropes, chains, or some other material hanging over the track to warn brakemen on top of a car of an approaching low clearance such as a tunnel or bridge. Once he was smacked by the tell-tale he would have only seconds to drop to the roof or risk being crushed or decapitated. Getting smacked by a tell-tale while traveling at a high speed could be dangerous in itself.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Running Fits in Cats

     If you have a cat you've probably experienced them lying quietly then suddenly tearing around the room. What causes a cat to all of a sudden start acting like a crazed lunatic?
     Sometimes it's just bottled-up energy. Cats spend lots of time sleeping, but it may be they are just burning up energy. Or, it could be other animals either inside or outside the house. It may be they saw a bird, squirrel or another cat outside and because they are territorial they don't cotton to strangers tromping around on their territory. And, if they can't get outside to chase off the intruder, they can get very frustrated. 
     Or, Heaven forbid, they are reacting to the scent of prey like a mouse in the house. Fleas are another possibility. That sharp little pain that comes with every bite will drive them nuts.
     If none of the above seem to apply it’s never a good idea to talk to a cat doctor because there is a bizarre disorder known as Hyperesthesia syndrome. This condition is a mysterious one, but it can cause a cat to act like it's going crazy. 
     One sign of this disease is that it can cause the skin along the cat's spine to ripple or roll. Other behaviors the cat can manifest are excessive grooming, licking, biting or scratching itself, racing around the house or chasing her tail. Not much is known about the condition. 
     The clinical signs occur in brief bursts of odd behavior lasting perhaps only a minute or two at most. Signs are after waking up from dozing the cat tail starts twitching, its eyes are wide open, pupils dilated and it begins scratching itself like crazy with its back paws. Then cat abruptly stops, stretches out and goes back to sleep. Instead of scratching some cats will obsessively lick or bite at their flank, back or tail. Many of these cats will follow up the scratching or grooming behavior with a frantic run. 
     Other signs may include salivation, alarming vocalization, and uncontrolled urination. Although no one knows what prompts this behavior, some vets believe it's a general obsessive-compulsive group of conditions. Others believe it is a seizure disorder. In any case, the reason remains unknown. 
     Some of the behavioral manifestations associated with hyperesthesia resemble disorders affecting the nervous system, skin, and muscles. Painful spinal problems that can cause similar signs include arthritis, pinched nerves or slipped disks. Skin disorders include flea or food allergies, fungal infections and mite infestations. Categorically ruling out the presence of such disorders will require a variety of diagnostic steps, including a general physical and neurologic examination, blood chemistry and urine analyses, x-rays and perhaps magnetic resonance imaging. 
     Other measures may be needed as well. For example, to determine if muscle disease is present, a muscle biopsy must be done. 
     Recommended treatment for hyperesthesia syndrome is likely to include a behavioral component aimed at reducing any anxiety that the animal might be experiencing. Regularly scheduled feeding times and play periods may help keep an insecure cat be and well exercised. And any type of activity that may irritate or overstimulate the cat, such as scratching its back, must certainly be avoided. A veterinarian may prescribe medications to relax the cat or give it an analgesic. 
     Generally, Hyperesthesia is a relatively mild condition and there are no known cases where a cat has ever died from it. Once it has established itself, it doesn’t progress very much and the prognosis is pretty good as long as the scratching doesn’t result in a serious infection.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Lasik Eye Surgery

     Until contact lenses were popularized in the 1950s, eyeglasses had been the only practical way to correct refractive vision errors. Nowadays refractive surgery, the term used to describe surgical procedures that correct common vision problems (nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism and presbyopia), to reduce a person's dependence on prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses has become very popular. 
     To see clearly, the cornea and the lens must bend light rays so they focus on the retina which converts the light rays into impulses that are sent to the brain, where they are recognized as images. If the light rays don’t focus on the retina, the image is blurry. Glasses, contact lenses, and refractive surgery try to reduce these errors by making light rays focus on the retina. Refractive errors are caused by an imperfectly shaped eyeball, cornea, or lens — or in the case of presbyopia, a lens that can't change shape enough to focus on close objects — and are of these basic types: 

1) Myopia (nearsightedness) where only nearby objects are clear or distinct 
2) Hyperopia (farsightedness) where only objects far away are clear or distinct 
3) Astigmatism is when images are blurred, regardless of whether they are near or far 
4) Presbyopia is a condition that typically develops between ages 40 and 50 and makes it more difficult to see very close. It can be corrected with bifocals or reading glasses, but usually can't be corrected by LASIK or some other refractive surgery. 

     During the 1980s Radial Keratotomy (RK) was used in the United States. It involved cutting spoke-like incisions to flatten the eye's surface mainly to correct nearsightedness, but results, especially long-term, created problems for some individuals. The main problems were glare, regression, fluctuating vision and other side effects such as night vision problems were common in patients who had RK for higher prescription strengths, while such side effects were less frequent in patients with lower prescriptions. RK is now virtually obsolete.
     Currently, a laser procedure called LASIK is the most popular refractive surgery performed in the United States. But there are other types of refractive surgery — including other laser procedures and intraocular lens procedures — that might be an even better choice. 
     In LASIK and similar procedures, a laser reshapes the curvature of the cornea to alter the way light rays enter the eye. Over the past 25 years, surgical techniques, tools, and procedures for vision correction have evolved rapidly. 
     In a LASIK procedure, a laser is used to reshape the cornea to improve the way your eye focuses light rays onto the retina and it sounds like the perfect solution if one wants to eliminate the need for glasses or contact lenses. However, before singing up for the surgery there are a few things to think about. 

1) The surgery is on a very delicate part of the eye and once performed, it cannot be reversed.
2) As with any surgery, there are risks and possible complications. 
3) LASIK may not give you perfect vision. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) reports that nine out of 10 patients achieve somewhere between 20/20 and 20/40 vision, but 20/40 vision may not be sharp enough for certain work or leisure activities. Even 20/20 does not always mean perfect vision. After cataract surgery about a year ago my vision is technically 20/20. I can read the 20/20 line on the eye chart, but it is fuzzy. 
4) Even with LASIK to correct your distance vision, you are likely to need reading glasses in your mid-40s. LASIK surgery cannot correct or prevent presbyopia, the age-related loss of focusing power for seeing near objects. 
5) If you are nearsighted and don't need reading glasses, having LASIK may mean you will need reading glasses earlier than if you had not had the surgery. 
6) The benefits of the LASIK procedure may diminish over time. More than 10 percent of LASIK patients in the U.S. require a second surgery to restore vision correction. This is more likely for people who were more nearsighted or farsighted, or had higher astigmatism before LASIK. 
7) Most insurance plans don’t cover the surgery.  

LASIK isn’t for everyone 
1) It's not recommended for those under 18 because the vision of people younger than 18 still is changing. 
2) Pregnant or nursing. These may change the measured refraction of the eye. 
3) You can't be on certain prescription drugs, like Accutane or oral prednisone. 
4) Your eyes must be healthy and your prescription stable. 
5) General health should be good. LASIK may not be recommended for patients with diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, glaucoma, herpes infections of the eye, cataracts, disorders of the cornea, and retinal disease. 
6) A history of dry eye from wearing contact lenses, taking certain medications, or some other reason could impact LASIK. You should be screened for dry eye before you have LASIK or other refractive surgery. 

     One very important consideration is that LASIK surgery corrects one eye for distance vision and the other eye for near vision.  During the five weeks between cataract surgeries on my eyes last year, I had this problem and it was certainly annoying.  But, I was informed by someone who had LASIK surgery that eventually your eyes (or brain) adjusts and you don't notice it.  If you can adjust to this situation, fine.  In this case the two eyes no longer work together which causes lower quality vision and a decrease in depth perception. These effects are most noticeable in low lighting conditions or when performing tasks requiring very sharp vision. As a result, the need to wear glasses or contact lenses for distance or near vision when performing visually demanding tasks, such as driving at night, operating dangerous equipment, or performing occupational tasks requiring very sharp, close vision my still be necessary. 

Risks and Complications 
1) Blindness and irreversible eye damage. In rare cases, errors during surgery or complications after surgery may cause irreversible damage to the eye, including permanent blindness. 
2) Vision loss. Even with glasses or contacts it is possible you may not see as well after the surgery as you did with glasses or contacts before the surgery. Or, you may still need glasses or contacts. 
3) Severe night vision problems, particularly glare, halos, and/or double vision that can seriously affect nighttime vision. 
4) Decrease in sharpness. Objects may appear fuzzy or grayish. Even with good vision on the vision chart, you may not see as well in situations of low contrast like at night or in fog after treatment compared to before. 
5) Severe dry eye syndrome. Your eye may not be able to produce enough tears to keep it moist and comfortable. Dry eye not only causes discomfort, but can reduce visual quality due to intermittent blurring and other visual symptoms. This condition may be permanent.
6) Post-surgery infections are always a possibility. 

What to Expect Before, During, and After Surgery Before 
     You’ll need a complete eye examination by your surgeon. LASIK is an outpatient surgical procedure. The only anesthetic is an eye drop that numbs the surface of the eye. The surgery takes 10 to 15 minutes for each eye. Sometimes, both eyes are done during the same procedure; but sometimes, surgeons wait to see the result on one eye before doing surgery on the other. 
     During surgery the eye is moistened and suction ring is positioned to keep the eye from moving and the cornea in the correct position. A hinged flap of thin corneal tissue off the outer layer of the eyeball is sliced and lifted out of the way and laser reshapes the underlying corneal tissue, and the surgeon replaces the flap, which quickly adheres to the eyeball. There are no stitches and healing is relatively fast.
     Just my opinion...vision is too precious to take any unnecessary risks, no matter how small, just to avoid wearing glasses. 

Watch on YOUTUBE
LASIK surgery horror stories 
LASIK surgery falling out of favor 
LASIK surgery stories, good and bad

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Rogue Waves

     A rogue wave is large, unexpected, and dangerous. Rogue, freak, or killer waves have been part of marine folklore for centuries, but have only been accepted as a real phenomenon by scientists over the past few decades. 
     Rogues, called extreme storm waves by scientists, are those waves which are greater than twice the size of surrounding waves, are very unpredictable, and often come unexpectedly from directions other than prevailing wind and waves. Most reports of extreme storm waves say they look like walls of water and they are often steep-sided with unusually deep troughs.
     Exactly how and when rogue waves form is unknown, but there are several known causes: 
Constructive interference. The waves often form because swells, while traveling across the ocean, do so at different speeds and directions. As these swells pass through one another, their crests, troughs, and lengths sometimes coincide and reinforce each other which can form unusually large, towering waves that quickly disappear. If the swells are traveling in the same direction, these mountainous waves may last for several minutes before subsiding. 
Focusing of wave energy. When waves formed by a storm develop in a water current against the normal wave direction, it results in a shortening of the wave frequency. This can cause the waves to join together, forming very big waves. The currents where these are sometimes seen are the Gulf Stream and Agulhas current. Extreme waves developed in this fashion tend to be longer lived. 
Wave terminology

     Off the coast of Georgia, early on Saturday, April 16, 2005, a giant, seven-story wave appeared out of nowhere and crashed into the bow of a cruise ship, sent deck chairs flying, smashed windows, raced as high as the 10th deck, flooded 62 cabins, injured 4 passengers and sowed widespread fear and panic. On passenger claimed the "ship was like a cork in a bathtub.” 
     Over the decades oceanographers were skeptical and doubted their existence and tended to lump them together with sightings of mermaids and sea monsters. But, as is sometimes the case, the "experts" were wrong. Scientists are now finding that rogue waves are far more common and destructive than once imagined. 
     In the past twenty years, freak waves are suspected of sinking dozens of big ships and taking hundreds of lives. It is now estimated that at any given moment 10 rogue waves are developing in the world's oceans. 
     In size and reach these waves are quite different from earthquake-induced tsunamis, which form low, almost invisible mounds at sea before gaining height while crashing ashore. Rogue waves seldom, if ever, hit land because they cannot get into shallow water. 
     By one definition, rogue waves rise to heights of at least 82 feet, about the height of an eight-story building. Scientists have calculated their theoretical maximum at 198 feet, but so far they have documented nothing that big. Large rogues seem to average around 100 feet.
     Most waves, big and small alike, form when the wind blows across open water and the wind’s force, duration and sweep determine the size of the swells. Waves of about 6 feet are common, though ones up to 30 or even 50 feet are considered unexceptional; frightening if you have ever seen one. As waves gain energy from the wind, they become steeper and the crests can break into whitecaps. The trough preceding a rogue wave can be quite deep, called a “hole in the sea.” For a ship, it is a roller coaster plunge that can be disastrous. 
     In 1933 in the North Pacific, the Navy oiler Ramapo encountered a huge wave with an estimated its height at 112 feet. In 1966, the Italian cruise ship Michelangelo was steaming toward New York when a giant wave tore a hole in its superstructure, smashed heavy glass 80 feet above the waterline, and killed a crewman and two passengers. In 1978, the München, a German barge carrier, sank in the Atlantic. Surviving bits of twisted wreckage suggested the cause was a rogue wave. Even with these eyewitness accounts many oceanographers were skeptical; people tend to embellish, they said. Another factor causing doubt was the fact that bobbing ships don't make good reference points for trying to determine the size of a wave. 
     Scientific models predicted that giant waves were statistical improbabilities that would happen only once every 10,000 years or so. Then on New Year’s Day in 1995, when an oil platform in the North Sea, which had a laser designed to measure wave height was hit with a rogue wave that was 84 feet high. In February 2000, a British oceanographic research vessel caught in a gale west of Scotland measured waves up to 95 feet, making them largest waves ever recorded by scientific instruments. These two incidents convinced scientists that rogue waves were real. 
     It was found that rogue waves regularly form in regions where there are powerful currents: the Agulhas off South Africa, the Kuroshio off Japan, and the Gulf Stream off the eastern United States; the Gulf Stream also flows through the Bermuda Triangle, famous for the disappearance of large numbers of ships.
     One way that rogue waves apparently form is when the strong currents meet winds and waves moving in the opposite direction with the result that due to a concentration of forces, rogue waves form. For example, when a small, fast wave catches up with a large, slow wave, the energy of both can combine to create a single, high-intensity mutant wave. 
     There is one area in particular where big oil tankers coming from the Middle East ride the Agulhas current around South Africa. There, the westward-flowing current meets prevailing easterly winds, at times disastrously. Three or four tankers a year there get badly damaged in the area. In September 2004 when Hurricane Ivan swept through the Gulf of Mexico it passed directly over six wave-tide gauges that the Naval Research Laboratory had placed about 50 miles east of the Mississippi Delta and the waves measured more than 90 feet from trough to crest. Even the best physical protections may fail under assault by tons of roiling water, so the best precaution is to learn how to avoid rogue waves in the first place, but there prediction is still not possible. 
     In addition to wind-current interactions, is the amplification that occurs when different storms come together. Sometimes the waves cancel each other out, but sometimes they get much larger. Another cause is choppy seas where several waves moving in different directions merge. In that case scientists claim a giant wave would normally last for no more than a few seconds or minutes. However, some are suspected of lasting for hours and traveling long distances. 

Get information, facts, and pictures about Waves at Encyclopedia.com.
Watch a rogue wave hit a US Navy ship on Youtube.
US Naval officer Dan Butterfield relates what happened in 1961 when his submarine encountered a rogue wave.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Insane Salaries

    In the September 2014 Census Bureau report the median household income in America across all jobs was $51,939. We all know about the insane salaries the professional athletes make, but the salaries of TV games show hosts is equally insane! 
     Wheel of Fortune's host, Pat Sajak, rakes in $12 million a year and hostess Vanna White pulls down $8 million for flipping over the letters. Alex Trebek, host of Jeopardy makes $10 million. Family Feud host Steve Harvey makes $12 million and Howie Mandel of Deal, No Deal gets paid $14 million and he won't even shake a contestants hand because they are covered with filthy, disgusting germs that could make Howie sick. Lovable Drew Carey makes $8.5 million for hosting The Price is Right. 
     On the popular Dancing With the Stars, judges are rumored to make $1.2 million per season. Head judge Len Goodman's net worth is reported to be $12 million. As for the other judges, Carrie Ann Inaba has a net worth of $8 million, Bruno Tonioli net worth is $10 million. Julianne Hough's net worth is $7 million. The show's host, Tom Bergeron gets $150,000 per episode and his net worth is placed at $16 Million. Bergeron bought a $1.9 million house in Calabasas, California in 2004. He also owns a home in Greenwich, CT. 
     The dance pros were said to make around $5,000 per week back in 2009. What is known that dancer Derek Hough is worth $4 million. Maksim Chmerkovskiy is worth $3 million and brother Val Chmerkovskiy, half that. Mark Ballas is worth $2 million and in 2015 he bought a house...a $2.5 million five bedroom fixer upper. Tony Dovolani is worth $2 million and Peta Murgatroyd is poor as a church mouse with a net worth at a paltry $400,000. Sharna Burgess has been a little more successful; her net worth is $750,000. 
     American Idol’s Ryan Seacrest pulls in $55 million a year. Although strictly speaking it's not a game show the world's highest paid TV show host is Dr. Phil ...$88 million a year.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Free e-book and audio-book downloads

     Gizmo's Freeware has a listing of free eBooks and audiobooks in the format of the ebooks, Kindle, ePub and Online Reading. There are well over a million free e-books and audio-books at the sites listed within these pages. As far as the publisher knows all of the websites listed offer only content that they are legally entitled to offer for downloads and are malware free.

e-book genres: Arts, Crafts and Hobbies-Biography, Autobiography and Memoir-Business-Children's-Comics-Computer and Internet-Cooking, Food and Wine-Health, Fitness and Medicine-History-Horror, Ghost and Gothic-Humor, Comedy and Satire-Math-Mystery, Detective, Thriller and Crime (Fiction)-Philosophy Religion and Spirituality-Romance-Science Fiction and Fantasy-Teen and Young Adult-Textbooks-Travel-Western Fiction 

Audiobooks genre: Arts, Crafts and Hobbies-Video Instruction-Biography, Autobiography and Memoir-Business-Children's Motion Comics-Computer and Internet-Cooking, Food and Wine-Health,-Fitness and Medicine-History-Horror, Ghost and Gothic-Comedy-Humor and Satire-Audio and Video-Math Books and Courses-Mystery, Detective, Thriller and Crime (Fiction)-Philosophy and Courses-Religion and Spirituality-Romance-Science Fiction and Fantasy-Teen & Young Adult-Audio & Video Courses-Travel-Western Fiction

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Equator

     The Equator is the most famous imaginary thing on earth. It's nothing but an imaginary line equal distance from the North and South Pole, that divides the Earth into the northern and southern hemisphere. 
     Twice a year, during the spring and autumn equinoxes, the sun passes directly over the Equator, but equatorial regions often have little seasonal variation. Many equatorial locations have only wet and dry seasons. Oddly, humid weather means that equatorial regions are not the hottest in the world even though they are among the closest to the sun. The water in the equatorial air cools it slightly. 
     Not all equatorial regions are hot and humid. Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, is only 205 miles from the Equator, but its elevation creates a climate with cool, dry weather and even glaciers. The Andes are another region lacking the hot, humid climate. The mountain range includes a desert with almost no rain as well as some of the tallest peaks on Earth. 
     The highest point on the equator is the south slopes of Volcán Cayambe in Ecuador at 15387 feet and it has a permanent snow cap. 
     According to journal of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology if you live at or near the equator, you are at higher risk of getting asthma and other breathing related allergies because people living near the equator have a high risk of ultraviolet –B exposure from sun rays.  This exposure can effect their immune system making them prone to allergies. 
     Only twenty percent of the world's population lives below the equator. There are more countries in northern hemisphere than southern hemisphere, but what really gives the north the edge are the highly populated countries like China, India, and USA. Only two out of the top ten populated countries lie south of the Equator: Brazil and Indonesia. 
     Alert, in the Qikiqtaaluk Region, Nunavut, Canada is the northernmost permanently inhabited place in the world, 508 miles from the North Pole. Its permanent population was reported as zero in the 2011 census, but military and scientific personnel on rotation live there. Alert has what is called a nautical polar night—where 24 hours are in effect completely dark with only a marginal astronomical twilight—which occurs from November 19 to January 22. Days and nights are 12 hours each at the equator...no long or short days and nights. 
     Twilight is shorter at the Equator because at low latitudes, the sun sets perpendicular to the horizon, while at higher latitudes, the sun can set at a more oblique angle, allowing it to remain close to the horizon after sunset for a longer period of time. 
     The Earth bulges outward at the Equator because of the planet's rotation and its tendency is to stay in a straight line while moving. This creates a gravitational field with more pull on the poles than in the middle. It is due to this bulge that a person standing at the Equator is further from the majority of Earth's mass than a person standing at either of the poles. The result is you will weigh about a half percent less at the Equator. 
     The slightly weaker gravitational pull and momentum of the spinning Earth makes equatorial regions ideal places for space launches. It takes less rocket fuel to launch in lower gravity and the spinning Earth is already giving the satellite a push 1,038 miles per hour.
     The rotational speed at the Arctic Circle is slower than the spin at the Tropic of Cancer, because the circumference of the Arctic Circle is much smaller and a point doesn't have to travel as far to complete a revolution. The spin at the Tropic of Cancer is much slower than the spin at the Equator. Near the poles, the Earth's rotational speed, or spin, is near zero. At the Equator, the spin is about 1,038 miles per hour. 
     The distance around the Earth at the Equator, its circumference, is 24,901 miles. The Earth's diameter at the Equator is about 7,926 miles, but at the poles, the diameter is about 7,900 miles. The equatorial bulge means that people standing at sea level near the poles are closer to the center of the Earth than people standing at sea level near the Equator. The equatorial bulge affects the ocean, making sea levels slightly higher in equatorial regions than near the poles.
Marker in Quito
     Although the equator runs through hundreds of places, one country that takes particular pride in its unique geographical location is Ecuador. In fact, the official name of Ecuador - the Republic of Ecuador literally translates to "Republic of the Equator".  Its capital city of Quito, lies right on the Equator.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

How Infomercials Convince You to Buy

     Infomercials seem harmless, but they are carefully constructed to grab attention and separate people from their money. Call right now! Operators are standing by to take your order. Call in the next 10 minutes and we’ll double your order! Not available in stores, and limited quantities apply! are familiar attention grabbers. 
     Back in the old days television stations signed off the air late in the evening and resumed early the morning, but in 1984 the FCC deregulated broadcast television which allowed stations to remain in the air 24 hours a day. Because not too many people were watching in the late night and wee hours of the morning stations offered those time slots dirt cheap and giving tremendous growth opportunities for the infomercial business. 
     Today, the infomercial market is a multi-billion dollar industry and even though most people view them negatively, they are still an enormous money maker and manufacturers are willing to take advantage of their customers by misleading advertising, poor quality products, high shipping and handling fees and poor customer service. What they want is your credit card number
     Infomercials are formatted in one of two ways: 
1- They look like talk shows where an actor portrays the host and interviews one or more so called experts. 
2- The pitchman demonstrate the product. 
     What makes them so successful? Huge profits! For example, if you pay $19.95 for for some piece of junk, it probably ony costs $4-$5 (or less) to produce it. Add grossly inflated shipping and handling fees and they make even more money. By the way, what, exactly, is a handling fee?! 
     Many informercials claim their item is not sold in stores, but go to the local drug store and they have a whole shelf full of the junk. That's because infomercials often act as a launch pad for manufacturers that don’t have the resources to move directly into the retail market. Even if the product is not successful, infomercials cost about ten percent of traditional advertising campaigns, so even if the product fails, infomercials are still cheaper.
     Informercials sell hope. They make you feel good and make you believe that their product really can help you do whatever it is supposed to do. Maybe it really will get bugs off the grill of my car or help me see better at night.  Maybe it really will get rid of pimples when nothing else has worked. 
     Why is almost everything priced $19.95? Because marketers have learned that this price is the sweet spot. Most people are willing to gamble $20 on a product, but $30 is too high and $10 sounds like it's cheaply constructed. Surprise...products rarely perform as well as advertised and the manner in which they’re sold could be considered somewhat dishonest. 
     A few have been masters of infomercials. Kevin Trudeau and Don Lapre come to mind. Kevin Mark Trudeau (born February 6, 1963) is an author, entrepreneur, pool enthusiast, and convicted fraudster whose ubiquitous infomercials promoting unsubstantiated health, diet, and financial remedies earned him a fortune and a prison sentence. 
     In the early 1990s, Trudeau, who it turned out is a crooked as a dog's hind leg, was convicted of larceny and credit card fraud. In 1998, the Federal Trade Commission accused him of grossly misrepresenting the contents of his book, The Weight-Loss Cure "They" Don't Want You to Know About. In a 2004 settlement, he agreed to pay a $500,000 fine and cease marketing all products except his books, which are protected under the First Amendment.
     But, guess what? Being a fraudster, in 2011 he was fined $37.6 million for violating the 2004 settlement and ordered to post a $2 million bond before engaging in any future infomercial advertising. In 2013, facing further prosecution for violations of the 2011 agreement and non-payment of the $37-million judgment, Trudeau filed for bankruptcy protection. His claims of insolvency were challenged by FTC lawyers who maintained that he was hiding money in shell companies and cited examples of continued lavish spending, such as $359 for a haircut. In November 2013, Trudeau was convicted of criminal contempt and is currently serving a 10-year sentence in a Federal Prison. 
     Don Lapre (May 19, 1964 – October 2, 2011) was an multi-level marketing and infomercial salesman.  His work involved product packages such as "The Greatest Vitamin in the World" and "Making Money Secrets".  Lapre was criticized as selling questionable business plans that often did not work for his clients. 
     In June 2011, Lapre was charged with 41 counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and promotional money laundering related to his Internet businesses. He was arrested on June 24, 2011, for failing to appear in court to face these charges. 
    On June 27, 2011, Lapre was arrested in Tempe, Arizona, at a Life Time Fitness center, where he had reportedly lived for two days, with serious self-inflicted knife wounds to his groin.  The wounds led au
thorities to believe Lapre had attempted suicide while at the Lifetime Fitness by attempting to sever the femoral artery in his legs. 
     Lapre died, 47 years too late, in custody from an apparent suicide on October 2, 2011, while in jail awaiting his trial, which was scheduled to begin on October 4, 2011. Lapre died from severe blood loss after cutting his throat with a razor blade. The autopsy report stated that Lapre died of massive blood loss and had wrapped himself in sheets to conceal any blood loss from prison officials. 

10 Scummy Informercials
Complaints, reviews, scams, lawsuits and frauds reported for Infomercial Rip-offs
Snuggies

Monday, February 27, 2017

A Squirrel Acting Squirrely

     I observed a squirrel behaving oddly in the neighbor's back yard yesterday. It was not running, but hopping, jumping and rolling. Then it climbed the fence and chased a robin in our yard, dug in the ground, rolled and hopped some more before departing into the woods.
     Sometimes baby squirrels fall out of their nest and/or become orphaned. When that happens they can become stunned and act odd, or, if they are orphans, they usually have no fear of humans and often close their eyes and emit a noise like "squee, squee, squee" as if calling for its mother. But, it's too early for babies and this was a full-sized squirrel. 
     Rabies maybe? Small mammals such as squirrels, rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, chipmunks, rabbits, and hares are almost never found to be infected with rabies and have not been known to cause rabies among humans in the United States. So, even though squirrels are not infected as frequently as other mammals, such as raccoons, skunks, and wild canines, it is possible. 
     There are many physical signs that could indicate a squirrel has rabies. Overt aggressiveness, slow movement, and apparent confusion are all symptoms of the virus. Rabid animals also produce excessive amounts of saliva, which makes them drool more than usual and leads to the assumption that animals with rabies foam at the mouth. However, since many common diseases and parasites linked to squirrels cause the same symptoms, you cannot always be sure whether an animal is rabid. Still, any slow-moving squirrel exhibiting aggressive behavior should be assumed to have some kind of infection and regarded with caution. This one was anything but slow moving.  One can probably rule out rabies as the reason for its squirrely behavior. 
     Other possible causes seem unlikely this time of year. Infestation by bot fly larvae can cause squirrels to act odd, but I don't think they live around here. 
     Distemper comes to mind. Distemper is a disease that affects a wide range of wild and domestic carnivores. It is often referred to as either canine or feline distemper, and these two illnesses are frequently confused. They are, however, caused by two completely different viral agents. Symptoms in dogs include coughing, vomiting, and diarrhea. Eye discharge, anorexia, and disturbances of the central nervous system may appear as well. Symptoms in wild carnivores include abnormal behavior and lack of fear, often resembling behavior seen in animals with rabies. Purulent conjunctivitis and nasal discharge may be evident as well. Some affected wild animals exhibit signs of neurological disturbances, diarrhea, vomiting, weakness, and labored breathing. 
     Squirrels, as well as chipmunks, are rodents, just like mice and rats. They all belong to the order Rodentia. A conspicuous feature uniting squirrels with rats and mice is their teeth. In the front of all rodent mouths there are four chisel-like gnawing-teeth called incisors, two above and two below. Immediately behind the incisors there's a space, and then flattish back teeth that are used for grinding. The vast majority of rodents also have four toes on each front foot, and five on each hind foot...who knew that?! 
     The biggest dangers to squirrels as hawks snakes, domestic house cats and in towns, cars. I even saw one that had been electrocuted when it got onto a transformer at the top of a telephone pole in front of our house. Hunters are a danger, too. Squirrels with biscuits and gravy are a popular meal with some people. You can find over 60 recipes for squirrel HERE.
     One reason squirrels come to the ground is to bury and retrieve food. In the fall you can often see them digging small holes in the ground called caches into which they deposit food, especially nuts and acorns. On warm days throughout the winter, when food is scarce, they then dig them up, but many are never retrieved and develop into trees. Thus one important job the squirrel does in the ecosystem is to plant trees. 
     An interesting online book detailing the life of a squirrel can be found HERE.