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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

LibreOffice...latest version

     LibreOffice is a free and open source office suite developed by The Document Foundation. It was forked from OpenOffice.org in 2010, which was an open-sourced version of the earlier StarOffice. I have been using this program now for a couple of years and so far don't have a single complaint. 
     LibreOffice takes the place of Microsoft Office which will set you back well over $100. The LibreOffice suite comprises programs for word processing, spreadsheets, slideshows, drawings, databases, and composing mathematical formula. It is available in 110 languages. AND...it's compatible with any document created in Office. For example, you can save and/or load in any of the following word documents in these formats: .odt, .ott, .fodt, .uot, .docx, .xml, .doc, .dot, .xml, .html, .rtf, .txt, .docx. If you need help it is very well documented. 
     LibreOffice uses the international ISO/IEC standard OpenDocument file format as its native format to save documents for all of its applications, but perhaps more importantly, it supports all major competing office suite applications (proprietary and open source). LibreOffice is also compatible with other major office suites, including Microsoft Office.
     LibreOffice is available for a variety of computing platforms including Microsoft Windows, OS X (10.8 or newer), and Linux (including a LibreOffice Viewer for Android. If you're a math person, it has an application designed for creating and editing mathematical formulas. These formulas can be incorporated into other documents in the LibreOffice suite, such as those created by Writer or Calc, by embedding the formulas into the document. The database program is similar to Microsoft Access. 
     A wide assortment of templates are available for download, too. Take a look at the list of what's available: Accounting, Agenda, Arts,Book, Brochure/Pamphlet, Budget, Business, Calendar, Card, Resume, CD/DVD, Certificate, Checkbook, Christmas, Computer, Conferences, E-book, Education, Academia, Elementary/Secondary School, Envelope, Fax, Genealogy, Grocery, Invoice, Labels, Letter, Magazine, Media, Medical, Memo, Music, Newsletter, Notes, Paper, Presentation, Recipe, Science, Sports, Timeline, Timesheet, Trades, To Do List and Writer. 

The Fascinating Donkey

     Donkeys are among the most fascinating members of the horse-like family. We usually think of donkeys as pack animals or being ridden, but they also make gentle, loving pets, especially for children and the elderly. They are also used as stable companions for horses, and when pastured with sheep and goats donkeys will protect them from attack by dogs and coyotes...guard donkeys! 
     Like zebras and mules, donkeys are different from horses. You'd pretty much have to be familiar with horses to notice a lot of donkey characteristics, but one thing you can's mist is donkeys have big ears. Donkeys come in a variety of sizes from the Miniature Mediterranean (under 36 inches) to the Mammoth Jackstock (14 hands and up). The rare French Poitou donkey ( there are fewer than 200 purebred left in the world today) is characterized by it’s huge head and ears, and very thick, shaggy, curled black coat, can stand 14 to 15 hands high. (There are.) The types of donkeys Donkeys are classified by their size: 36.01-48", Standard; 48.01" to 54 (jennets) or 56 (jacks), Large Standard; and 54/56" and over, Mammoth Stock. They often live for 25 or more years. 
     Donkeys can be used just like horses with a saddle and in harness, but donkeys are more laid back and self-preserving in nature than horses and this can sometimes cause problems and it explains why they are often perceived as being stubborn. They try not to do anything that they perceive as being dangerous or unpleasant to themselves. Thus, sometimes they refuse to do as directed by humans. 
     It is this 'looking out for Number 1' attitude that makes donkeys great guard animals -- a donkey gelding or jennet can watch over an entire herd of cattle, sheep or goats because of their natural aversion to predators. Their large ears give them an acute sense of hearing and they can bite and kick with both their front and back legs and that, along with their keen sense of danger and self-preservation makes them excellent guard animals. Dogs and donkeys don't usually mix well, so they are especially useful in when it comes to discouraging attacks by animals like wolves. Because of their natural dislike of canines they have to be trained to leave the house or farm dog alone.  

All About Donkeys   
Fun Donkey Facts

The Invisible Gorilla Blog

     This Blog hasn't been updated since 2012 which is too bad because it's got some interesting articles:
  • How experts recall chess positions 
  • New guide to writing and revising 
  • Ghost busters parapsychology, and the first study of inattentional blindness 
  • Think video games make you smarter? Not so fast… 
  • Harry Potter and the Illusion of Potential 
….and more.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Design Fixation

     Any time we are faced with a situation requiring a solution we want to go with the first thing that comes to mind and often it's hard to get past that first thought or impression and consider other options or solutions. Our first idea may not be the best one, but we fixate on it. 
     This phenomenon is called design fixation, or being being set in our ways, or it could be the result of tunnel vision. And one I often heard in the business world, we've always done it this way. The result is we are blind to alternatives. 
     One of the biggest factors in design fixation is the desire to copy old ways because they have worked in the past or because we are familiar with the techniques involved. As a result we can easily ignore better solutions or, possibly, nuances that make this particular situation different. Once we get fixated on an idea that we think is best our main concern is proving that it is, indeed, the best solution. 
     One big problem in the business world is that time is money and so anything that takes research and development or delays production is unacceptable. Another reason is that mistakes happen and/or things don't work out as expected and when that happens somebody has to take the blame. Nobody wants to have a finger pointed at them and be told it's their fault. The simple solution then is to not take risks, you won’ and be creative. 
     I've had customers who have insisted that faulty or inferior designs be produced simply because it was their idea and they wanted what they wanted...no arguments. Sometimes no amount of convincing worked. 
    Sometimes, you don't know how bad your idea is until you put it into practice! Again, if it fails we're back to the same old problem...time and money was wasted and guess who gets the blame. No need to risk that, we think. 
     Some interesting papers on this phenomenon can be found on the Design Society webpage HERE

A Step Beyond to Overcome Design Fixation – an MIT paper 
11 Ways to Think Outside the Box – an informative article from Life Hack 
On the other hand….One of the most popular, enduring and misguided cliches of the last few years has been to “think outside the box.” A Forbes Magazine article.
Doing things “The Old Fashioned Way” No Longer Works

6 Reasons People Won't Change
How To Handle That Person Who Won’t Change
Ten Keys to Handling Unreasonable & Difficult People
Don't Try to Reason with Unreasonable People

QGIS - a Free Mapping Program

     QGIS is a free open-source and user friendly desktop geographic information system application that provides data viewing, editing, and analysis.  As a free software application under the GNU GPL, it can be freely modified to perform different or more specialized tasks. 
     What it does is, it allows users to create maps with many layers using different map projections. Maps can be assembled in different formats and for different uses. QGIS allows maps to be composed of raster or vector layers. 
     The program has a lot of documentation in English but some documents, such as the user guide, are also available in other languages.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


     Cenote Angelita or Little Angel is a hidden underwater river in in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and is one of the most amazing places on earth.  There appears to be rivers flowing under the water. The rivers are actually an illusion due to a phenomenon called a halocline where waters with different levels of salinity form into layers because of a variation in density. 
     Cenote Angelita is comprised of fresh water until about 29 meters when it switches to a 1-meter layer of hydrogen sulfide, after which the entire cave bottom is filled with saltwater from 30 to 60 meters deep. So what appears as a river is actually a dense layer of saltwater resting at the bottom of a cave. 
     Cenote (pronounced, say-no-tay) is a natural sinkhole resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath.  Especially associated with the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, cenotes were sometimes used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings. 

     Cenote water is often very clear, as the water comes from rain water filtering slowly through the ground, and therefore contains very little suspended particulate matter. The groundwater flow rate within a cenote may be very slow.  In many cases, cenotes are areas where sections of cave roof have collapsed revealing an underlying cave system, and the water flow rates may be much faster: up to 10 kilometers (6 mi) per day. 
     Cenotes around the world attract cave divers who have documented extensive flooded cave systems through them, some of which have been explored for lengths of 100 km (62 mi) or more. Cenotes are formed by dissolution of rock and the resulting subsurface void, which may or may not be linked to an active cave system, and the subsequent structural collapse. Rock that falls into the water below is slowly removed by further dissolution, creating space for more collapse blocks. The rate of collapse increases during periods when the water table is below the ceiling of the void, since the rock ceiling is no longer buoyantly supported by the water in the void. 
     The Yucatán Peninsula contains a vast coastal aquifer system, which is typically density-stratified. The infiltrating rainwater floats on top of higher-density saline water. intruding from the coastal margins. The whole system is one that is land-locked but connected to an ocean. 
     Where a cenote, or the flooded cave to which it is an opening, provides deep enough access into the aquifer, the interface between the fresh and saline water may be reached. The density interface between the fresh and saline waters is a halocline, which means a sharp change in salt concentration over a small change in depth. Mixing of the fresh and saline water results in a blurry swirling effect caused by refraction between the different densities of fresh and saline waters. 
     In the Yucatán Peninsula the cenote depth is 10 to 20 m (33 to 66 ft) below the water table at the coast, and 50 to 100 m (160 to 330 ft) below the water table in the middle of the peninsula, with saline water underlying the whole of the peninsula.
     In 2001–2002 expeditions in the Yucatan discovered three human skeletons; one of them was carbon-dated to be 13,600 years old. In March 2008, a dive team members of the Proyecto Espeleológico de Tulum and Global Underwater Explorers dive team, at a depth of 57 m (187 ft) located the remains of a mastodon as well as at 43 m (141 ft) a human skull that might be the oldest evidence of early man in the region. 
     The Yucatán Peninsula has almost no rivers and only a few lakes, and those are often marshy. The mny cenotes are the only perennial source of potable water and have long been the principal sources of water in much of the Yucatán Peninsula. 
     Major Maya settlements required access to adequate water supplies, and therefore cities were built around these natural wells. Some cenotes also played an important role in Maya rites. Believing that these pools were gateways to the afterlife, the Maya sometimes threw valuable items into them. The discovery of golden sacrificial artifacts in some cenotes led to the archaeological exploration of most cenotes in the first part of the 20th century. An American diplomat began dredging the Sacred Cenote there in 1904. He discovered human skeletons and sacrificial objects confirming a local legend, the Cult of the Cenote, involving human sacrifice to the rain god Chaac by ritual casting of victims and objects into the cenote. 
    More information as well as some eerie photos can be seen at the following sites.

Cenote Angelita 
Caves and Sink Holes 
Go Cave Diving With Steve Bogaerts

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Greatest Toy...Ever!

     Once upon a time a fellow named Alfred C. Gilbert, an Olympic gold medalist in the pole vault, patented and sold the Erector Set by his company, The Mysto Manufacturing Company of New Haven, Connecticut in 1913. 
     In 1911 Gilbert was riding a train when he saw a section of track was being electrified and steel girders were erected to carry the power lines and that's what inspired him to invent the toy. Gilbert was also a magician and manufactured magic tricks and sets through his Mysto Manufacturing Company. 
     In 1916, the company was reorganized as the A.C. Gilbert Company. The Erector sets were loaded with pulleys, gears, strips of metal of every description with holes, nuts and bolts and they came with a windup or electric motor. You could build anything you could imagine! Trucks, steam shovels, Ferris wheels or all kinds of Rube Goldberg contraptions...the possibilities were endless. The great thing was, after you built something, you could take it apart and build something else. Gilbert marketed his product as a rival to Meccano, but they got the last laugh; they eventually bought the Erector line and the toy is still being marketed.
     The first Erector set was called "The Erector / Structural Steel and Electro-Mechanical Builder" and was touted as being “Educational, Instructive and Amusing". In 1914, the name was changed to "The Mysto Erector, The Toy That Resembles Structural Steel". After reorganization in 1916, the set was renamed "Gilbert Erector, The Toy Like Structural Steel". In 1924 the toy was overhauled and included over 70 parts. Through 1932 it was sold in wood boxes then from 1933 through 1962 they were sold in steel boxes. If you were really lucky, as I was one Christmas, you got TWO sets!! 
     Gilbert died in 1961 and the company went into decline and the toy was redesigned using plastic parts, but they were no longer competitive with the realistic scale plastic models coming onto the market. The A.C. Gilbert Company filed bankruptcy in 1967. The Gabriel company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania bought the "Erector" name and continued to market the redesigned system. Sales were slow and in the 1980s the trademark "Erector" was acquired by Ideal Toys and then Tyco Toys. "Meccano" (of France) has owned the "Erector" brand since the year 2000. The present day sets by Meccano don't seem as good as the old Erector Sets though because all I could find were sets to make models of one specific item.
     Walmart sells Meccano sets and I see the electric crane set costs $200 which seems pricey for a kid's toy. The present day sets by Meccano don't seem as good as the old Erector Sets though because all I could find were sets to make models of one specific item. I am not sure of the price in the mid-1950s, but in the 1940s Erector sets cost $3-12. That translates to about $40-160 in today's currency. These days it appears that if it's not some kind of electronic gadget with a lot of buttons you can push and can be used while in a sitting position, kids aren't interested. Check out Girders and Gears.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

e-cigarettes and Popcorn Lung

     I saw a scare headline on the Internet the other day that screamed e-cigarettes cause popcorn lung.  What was NOT made evident though was that not all do...many, but not all. For people that use e-cigarettes, extreme care must be used when purchasing these products. 
    Bronchiolitis obliterans (aka popcorn lung) is a serious and irreversible condition in which the tiny air sacs in the lungs become scarred. Popcorn lung begins with a cough, wheezing and shortness of breath and usually progresses slowly, but severe symptoms can develop without warning. Other symptoms include fever, weight loss, and night sweats. 
      In 2004, The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported several cases of bronchiolitis obliterans in workers at a microwave popcorn plant in Missouri in 2000. After investigation by the National Institute of Occupation Safety and Health, it was discovered that a flavoring agent, diacetyl, was used to give the popcorn a buttery taste and that inhalation of this flavoring likely contributed to the development of the illness. The disease that results often is associated with cough and shortness of breath, similar to that seen in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This condition is irreversible.
     Industrial workers at risk for the disease include nylon-flock workers, workers who spray prints onto textiles, battery workers and workers at plants that use or manufacture flavorings. 
     Microwave popcorn is not the only thing that contains chemical flavorings using diacetyl. A study published in 2015 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives showed that harmful chemicals associated with popcorn lung are present in many types of flavored e-cigarettes, particularly those with flavors like fruit and candy. Of the 51 flavored e-cigarettes tested diacetyl was found in 39 samples. 
     As a result of a lawsuit in 2007 a heavy consumer of microwaved popcorn was diagnosed with popcorn lung that resulted from smelling the stuff after he consumed microwave popcorn for a decade. The result was he was awarded over 7 million dollars by the jury. Because of that, several corporations removed diacetyl from their products. However, many e-cigarettes, often touted as safer than tobacco cigarettes, may still contain diacetyl.  
     Most of the health concerns about e-cigarettes have focused on nicotine, but there is still a lot of unknown factors. For example, they contain other cancer-causing chemicals such as formaldehyde.  In the e-vapor industry there are more than 500 different brands and that does not include stores that make their own in-house liquids. These vendors are not regulated or monitored for quality control. Until FDA e-cigarette regulations go into effect, anyone can make e-liquid. All you have to do is get a business license, buy liquid nicotine, propylene glycol and flavoring. Then you buy small plastic bottles and labels and just like that, you have a liquid for e-cigarettes that you can sell in your store...all totally unregulated. While there are many e-liquid brands that do not use diacetyl, who knows what other hazards may be discovered as more evidence is uncovered?

New Report Warns of the Dangers of E-Cigarettes 
American Lung Association - e-cigarettes and Lung Health 
The Hidden Dangers of e-cigarettes
What's the Harm in Vapor?

Friday, December 11, 2015

My Turbo PC

     I received a pop-up for this product the other day so decided to investigate it. What I discovered leads me to believe installing it on my laptop may not be a good idea. My Turbo PC is a download product that is supposed to eliminate viruses, spyware and optimize, clean & repair your Windows PC which they claim will help your computer run smoothly. They also offer tech support at a rate of $199 per hour. The simple truth is there is no way this product can repair a computer in any way that any other antivirus software can.
     Further, there have been complaints about them to the Better Business Bureau that they have ignored. As a result the BBB has not accredited them.
     Customers have contacted the company by e-mail, but the e-mails have gone unanswered. There have been issues with obtaining the license key. 3 1/2 hour online waits for tech support have been reported. One customer complained that they were charged $10 for "support" without advance notification nor were they given the $10 discount that is advertised on their website.
     One complaint states that the consumer ordered the program to clean up and speed up her computer and downloaded the program, but it did not work. She e-mailed the company and the company told her the program takes 15 days to take effect. She waited the 15 days and found that the program was not effective. She contacted the business again, who told her to wait 15 days. She finally became frustrated and indicated she was going to contact BBB. No response.
     If you want to clean up your computer CC Cleaner is free and it is endorsed by PC World. CC Cleaner clears out temporary files, cleans the Windows Registry, erases browser histories, etc. CCleaner also intelligently scans for cookies you want to keep, like Google and Yahoo. While it is free you can purchase a priority-support license for $25. Only one warning...it includes the option to install Google Chrome and make it your default browser so you have to uncheck two boxes if you don't want this to happen.
     For anti-virus, my personal choice is Webroot which is the anti-virus of choice of Best Buy. Also, if you need tech support, Best Buy's Geek Squad has, in my experience, been a good deal. Once when I picked up a virus and a few times when I have had some minor technical problems that I didn't know how to deal with I found their online tech support to be very efficient.
     For free anti-virus, the best I have found has been AVG. It's what I use on an old and rarely used desktop that serves mostly as a "backup" computer.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Fun Ride on the Chetco River Bar

This looks like more fun than an amusement park ride! 


     Chetco Bay is one of the more safer bays on the Oregon's southern Pacific coast. The Chetco Bar is the area where the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean meet with the shallower waters near the mouth of the river. Most accidents and deaths that occur on coastal bars are from capsizing.
    The Bar may be closed to recreational boats when conditions are hazardous. Failure to comply with the closure may result in voyage termination, and civil and/or criminal penalties. The regulations are enforced by Coast Guard boarding teams. 
    Boats are more likely to capsize when crossing the bar from the ocean because the seas are on the stern and the boater may have less control over the vessel. There are roughly four tides each day in the Pacific Northwest and tidal currents may gain tremendous velocity making it extremely dangerous to get caught on the bar during strong ebb current. Even on days that are relatively calm, fast moving ebb can create bar conditions that are too rough for small craft. The Coast Guard regulates the boat traffic and failing to comply with posted bar restrictions may result in a maximum civil penalty of $25,000.00.

Friday, December 4, 2015


     Did you know it's illegal to own pet hamsters in Hawaii? The reason: the climate is similar to hamsters' natural desert habitat and agricultural and environmental officials have expressed concern that released or escaped hamsters could establish wild colonies and damage crops and native plants and animals.
      Hamsters make great pets, but their small size and reputation as a “starter pet” may encourage impulse acquisitions as pets for children. Even as an adult, these little guys are fun pets and being cute little buggers, they can be purchased on impulse. That's how I got Howard many years ago...I paid $0.50 for him at the flea market and ended up spending $50 buying him a cage to live in plus other accessories. It was money well spent though because he was a lot of fun. One thing...owning them is not like owning other pets.. hamsters don't live long...2.5 to 3 years, with slight variations among species.
      Remember though that hamsters are nocturnal and if you're a light sleeper, they can make a lot of noise at night! Parents often get hamsters for children who naturally want to play with them during the day, but that's not always such a good idea....hamsters suddenly from a sound sleep may bite. They are small, too, which means they have to be handled carefully and that is something that may be difficult for a child. They (hamsters, not kids) may also be startled by sudden movements and loud noises and that, and rough handling, can also cause them to bite.
      Younger children are also at greater risk for diseases that are can be passed from animals to humans because of their undeveloped immune systems. Kids under 5 are particularly vulnerable to the effects of salmonella, a type of intestinal bacteria that hamsters can carry. Although rare, hamsters have been known to carry a virus that can make young children sick. They can also cause illness in pregnant women! Hamsters can carry salmonella and it is possible for a pregnant woman to pass it on an unborn child.
      You also have to be very careful if you have more than one hamster because some are solitary and territorial and they will fight and inflict serious injuries to each other if not kept separate. A female who gives birth may kill and eat her babies if disturbed, so trying your hand at breeding them is not recommended. On the other hand, dwarf hamsters can live together if they are introduced to each other properly. But, why bother...one is enough.
     When you get a hamster it also requires the purchase of a bunch of other stuff: a cage, bedding, an exercise wheel, food dish, water bottle, food, treats and toys. Now you see why I ended up spending fifty bucks for a fifty cent hamster!
     Hamsters can entertain themselves (and you) provided they are supplied with toys and bedding that allows them to run, climb and burrow. I got Howard an exercise ball. It was a big, hollow plastic ball that I would put him in and let him run around on the floor. Be aware that hamsters are also escape artists! Howard figured out how to escape from his cage and he eventually figured out that if he wedged the ball up against something he could stretch out and twist his body in such a way that he could pop it open!  I found a roll of electrical tape was essential to tape up things like the ball at the joint, the cage latches and tube joints to keep him from escaping.
      When you bring one home it's stressful to them, so having their cage set up is important. If possible, the same type of food, bedding, and nesting materials they are used to should be used. Also, be careful of bedding material! Cedar and pine shavings are not appropriate and can cause health problems...use paper products.  One time I got the stupid idea that styrofoam might make good bedding material.  I put some in the blender to grind it up...a very bad idea.  You have no idea how much static electricity forms when you put that stuff in a blender; it would not make good bedding material anyway!
     Also, don't devil the little critter for a few days! It's recommended that you cover the cage with a light cloth for the first day or two to allow them to get acclimated. Also, don't handle them during that time, but do make sure they have fresh food and water.
      Make sure to clean their cage on a regular basis! If I didn't clean Howard's cage every few days he would attempt to do it himself by piling all the soiled bedding material up at one end of the cage, or sometimes he'd actually pack one of the cage tubes with the soiled bedding.
      Feeding is important but overfeeding can be a problem because they can get fat. About one tablespoon of pellets or seed mix once a day, supplemented by treats, is enough. One thing I quickly discovered about Howard was that he'd eat just about anything...cauliflower, apples, raisins, peppers and even onions. Another favorite treat that he went nuts over was...crickets. I'd catch one, throw it in the cage then watch him chase it down. It was enjoyable for him, fun for me, but the crickets probably didn't like it.
      Plastic feeding bowls aren't recommended...they can scratch and harbor bacteria. Be sure to place it away from their toilet area. Yes, they will only use one area for bathroom purposes. Can you blame them?
      There are several cage options, but I liked the plastic ones with lots of tubes and turrets for crawling, running and playing. The one I had allowed the addition of tubes and it eventually got quite large. They have to be kept in in a draft-free areas and you have to make sure they are never exposed to freezing temps which can kill them. If you're comfortable in the area, they should be OK, too. At the same time I had Howard, I also had Sweetpea, the cat, so it was important to make sure he didn't become prey even though I never witnessed any desire on Sweetpea's part to chase him down. But then Old 'Pea was well fed and lazy.
      Whatever happened to Howard? When he got old I think his vision went and he was very sluggish. I went away for the weekend and when I got back home I knew Howard had passed as soon as I walked in the house. The smell gave it away. Also, he was swollen up the size of a grapefruit and had a green sheen to him...pretty disgusting.   

Cat Pee Problems

If you are a cat owner, you owe it to your cat to read this article. How to prevent urinary crystal and stone formation. Also, see Cat Urine Problems

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Reverse Mortgages

Trust us!
     If you live in the US you have no doubt seen spokesmen Henry Winkler and Robert Wagner hawking reverse mortgages. 
     And then there was the sleazy ad with former presidential candidate, the late Fred Thompson, trying to get old people to take out an absolutely free government-backed reverse mortgage. Good old Fred wouldn't have lied would he? Let's see...the company Fred represented, American Advisors Group, was sued by the Illinois Attorney General back in 2010 for using unfair and deceptive marketing practices to solicit seniors for reverse mortgages. According to the Attorney General they used extremely misleading language in their advertising, sometimes even disguising their loans as government benefits that borrowers didn't have to repay! The ads were so slick that many consumers actually thought they were getting in on a government program that offered free money and didn't even know these offers were for a reverse mortgage. Hint: look for the government to do a lot TO you, but little or nothing FOR you and you won't go far wrong. 
     A reverse mortgage is a type of home loan that lets you convert a portion of the equity in your home into cash. Your equity can be paid out monthly for a fixed period of time until you die, or as a lump sum, or you can access it on an as-needed basis via a line of credit.
      Basically, the idea is people over 62 can tap into equity on their house and get a long-term loan to pay for stuff and then just leave their children to sell off the homes at higher prices after they die. Assuming, of course, things work as planned and the house is worth more than the loan. 
     If you die or the home isn't the primary residence for more than 12 months, the loan comes due, which means either you or the estate has the option to repay the loan or put the home up for sale to settle it. 
     So, if the owner goes to a nursing home or moves in with children, or whatever, they will suddenly find they have to pay off the loan. Then, too, if one is not careful with their spending or runs into a major expense, they could run out of cash and possibly lose their home. They still owe taxes and insurance. 
     Reverse mortgages aren't all bad though. IF one doesn't plan to move, can afford the cost of maintaining a home and has enough equity, or if going to a nursing home is not a real possibility, it is possible to free up some cash.
     They are a bad idea if the home owner can't maintain the costs (property taxes, homeowners insurance, etc.) or wants to leave their home to someone. 
     In the end, you ultimately give up your home when the loan comes due. There has to be equity in the home of around 40 percent. There isn't a credit score requirement, but the FHA does require a review of credit and income to ensure the borrower can afford to maintain the property. If there's an existing mortgage, there must be enough equity to pay it off.  Here are some disadvantages: 
  •  Interest Accumulates: There are no monthly payments so the amount owed on the loan keeps growing. However, the amount owed will never exceed the value of the house. 
  • Loan Amount may be small: The actual loan amount is determined by a calculation using the appraised value, amount of money owed, borrower's age and current interest rates. 
  • Loans Are Complicated: Taking out one requires a lot of homework.
The main advantage: They eliminate mortgage payments and/or allow access to home equity while still owning and living in the home. 

US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development: Home Equity Conversion Mortgages for Seniors - Reverse mortgages are increasing in popularity with seniors who have equity in their homes and want to supplement their income. The only reverse mortgage insured by the U.S. Federal Government is called a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage or HECM, and is only available through an FHA approved lender.  Visit site.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Smoking Harms Your Vision

      Everybody knows smoking is the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States and it harms nearly every organ in your body, including your eyes. Heart disease and cancer aren't the only adverse effects of smoking, so is sight-threatening vision and eye problems which are less well-known.
      Cataracts (clouding of the eye's natural lens) are a leading cause of blindness in the world and more than 50 percent of Americans will have a cataract or have had cataract surgery by age 80. Smokers significantly increase their risk of developing a cataract compared with non-smokers. In fact, studies show that people who smoke double their chance of forming cataracts; the more you smoke, the greater the risk.
      Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects the center of the retina, which is responsible for sharp, central vision needed for everyday tasks such as reading and driving. It causes "blind spots" and often severely impairs central vision. AMD is the leading cause of permanent vision loss among Americans age 65 and older.
      Studies show smokers can have a three-fold increase in the risk of developing AMD compared with people who have never smoked. And female smokers over age 80 are 5.5 times more likely to develop AMD than non-smokers of the same age. Fortunately, quitting smoking at any age, even later in life, can significantly reduce your risk of developing AMD.
      Uveitis (inflammation of the eye's middle layer, or uvea) is a serious eye disease that can result in complete vision loss because it harms vital structures of the eye, including the iris and retina, and can lead to complications such as cataract, glaucoma and retinal detachment.
Evidence shows smokers are more likely than non-smokers to have uveitis, and smoking appears linked to the development of uveitis. One study found smoking was associated with a 2.2 times greater than normal risk of having the condition.
      Diabetic retinopathy damages the blood vessels of the retina and can result in vision loss. Smoking may double the risk of developing diabetes.
      Dry eye syndrome is insufficient tears on the eye's surface and results in eye redness, itchiness, a "foreign body" sensation and even watery eyes.
     Tobacco smoke worsens dry eye, even among second-hand smokers, particularly for contact lens wearers. People who smoke are nearly twice as likely to have dry eyes.
     Women who smoke during pregnancy transmit dangerous toxins to the placenta, potentially harming the unborn child. 
     Smoking while pregnant increases the chance of many fetal and infant eye disorders, among other serious health problems.  It can include crossed eyes and underdevelopment of the optic nerve, which is a leading cause of blindness in children. Also, women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to give birth prematurely; all babies born prematurely are at greater risk of eye problems than full-term babies. Vision problems of premature babies include retinopathy of prematurity, a potentially blinding disease. 

Cigarette smoking is a well-known risk factor for a wide-range of diseases. Now, scientists have evidence that smoking may also increase the risk of age-related cataract, the leading cause of blindness and vision loss in the world. Read more…

Smoking cessation has been associated with a steady decrease in risk for cataracts, but even 2 decades after quitting, that risk is still higher than in those who have never smoked, according to a new study. Read article…  

Smoking has been directly linked to two of the leading causes of vision loss, cataracts and macular degeneration. In fact, researchers believe smoking also causes or contributes to a number of other eye health problems. Read article…

Monday, November 30, 2015

Collectors Weekly – Great Fun!

On this site you can explore the world of antiques, vintage, memorabilia, and collecting.

      For example, if you were committed to a psychiatric institution, unsure if you'd ever return to the life you knew before, what would you take with you? Find out HERE.

Did the CIA's Experiments With Psychedelic Drugs Unwittingly Create the Grateful Dead?
The Unfiltered History of Rolling Papers, Plus Tommy Chong's Big Fat Jamaican Vacation

Want to know about antique and vintage signs? Want you know about old records and recording artists?  Want links to a gallery of cigarette magazine advertising from the 1940s and 50s, photos of antique porcelain prewar signs (enamel), read an impressive collection of over 7,000 ads printed in U.S. and Canada, mid-century automotive advertising illustrations, view a gallery of early 20th Century American package designs or an extensive collection of 20th century vintage advertising?

If none of that interests you, you can check out postcards, toys, games, dolls, movies, guitars, instruments, hats, pins, watches, radios, and on and on goes the list. A must visit when you need some information about the old days or just want to browse.

Mega-Vitamin Dangers

      Megavitamin therapy is the use of large doses of vitamins, often many times greater than the recommended dietary allowance in the attempt to prevent or treat diseases. Megavitamin therapy is typically used in alternative medicine by practitioners who call their approach "orthomolecular medicine", but also used in mainstream medicine for "exceedingly rare" genetic conditions that respond to megadoses of vitamins. 
     Nutrients may be useful in preventing and treating some illnesses, but the conclusions of medical research are that the broad claims of disease treatment by advocates of megavitamin therapy are unsubstantiated by the available evidence. It is generally accepted that doses of any vitamin greatly in excess of nutritional requirements, will result either in toxicity or in the excess simply being metabolized - evidence in favor of vitamin supplementation supports only doses in the normal range. Critics have described some aspects of orthomolecular medicine as food fadism or even quackery. Research on nutrient supplementation in general suggests that some nutritional supplements might be beneficial, and that others might be harmful.
     That's MEGAVITAMIN therapy, but what about claims that optimum doses that should be used in both prevention and treatment should range from very small to very large, depending on what is being treated. The same is true for ANY medication...larger doses aren't always better! One thing that IS known is that vitamins may have effects which appears to be unrelated to their properties as vitamins. For example, see this report from the National Cancer Institute on Vitamin C.
      Also worth reading is a report from a University of California, Berkeley biochemist that high doses of some vitamins could play a big role in the treatment of disease and perhaps slow the effects of aging.
     There are the toxic side effects of megadose vitamin therapy, usually self-prescribed regimens taken by individuals and sometimes they wind up sick. It's estimated that only about 7 percent of the estimated 40 million Americans who regularly take vitamins do so under the guidance of a physician.
     Toxic effects of megadoses have been discovered for most vitamins, including some, like vitamins A and C. Even some of the water-soluble B vitamins, commonly thought to be nontoxic in any amount because they are rapidly cleared from the body, are now known to cause devastating effects in megadose quantities.
     Further, in some patients who are under drug treatment for an illness, taking megadoses of vitamins can interfere with their treatment. By the way, megadoses a re defined as 10 or more times the recommended daily amount.
     The problem is that many times some nutritionists speak of hidden vitamin deficiencies that could cause a wide range of common symptoms and for chronic or incurable problems, they make extravagant promises. People with arthritis, diabetes, heart disease or cancer are, because of their condition, are often easy targets of such claims. As a result, it is always best to avoid megadoses unless prescribed by a physician. It's also a good idea to tell your physician if asked about medications about any supplements you are taking.
     Although excessive amounts of water soluable vitamins quickly leave the body they can sometimes cause adverse effects. For example, Niacin megadoses are associated with side effects that include flushing of the face, neck and chest, abnormal heart rhythms, itching, headache, cramps, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, abnormally low blood pressure, fast heart beat, and elevated blood sugar. In large doses niacin can cause dry skin and abnormal skin pigmentation, aggravate peptic ulcers and damage the liver.
     Large doses of Vitamin B6 have been known to produce severe neurological problems including numbness, difficulty walking, sharp pains and loss of normal reflexes. Fortunately, the symptoms usually disappear after megadoses were stopped, but in some cases complete recovery took more than a year. Vitamin B6 can also interfere with therapy for Parkinson's disease and people who take as little as 200 milligrams a day may become dependent on the vitamin, with deficiency symptoms resulting if it is withdrawn too abruptly.
     If Vitamin C in megadoses are abruptly stopped, scurvy can result because the body has become dependent on the high dose and large amounts of Vitamin C can interfere with lab tests for blood glucose and make a person appear to be diabetic. It can also interfere with uric acid and cholesterol tests. A megadose of Vitamin C is defined as 1,500 milligrams a day for 10 weeks and it could cause anemia.
     Vitamins A, D, E and K are stored in the body in fatty tissue and can accumulate to toxic levels if excessive doses are taken on a regular basis. Vitamin A has resulted in a number of vitamin poisoning cases.
     Beta-carotene can give people an orange or yellow skin color, but it can be confused with jaundice and has been reported to cause loss of menstrual periods.
     Vitamin D in megadose quantities can cause toxic effects such as abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, excessive urination and thirst, dangerously elevated calcium in the blood, calcium deposits in soft tissues, bone pain, weakness, mental confusion, cataracts and kidney failure and these symptoms can continue for a year or more after the megadoses are stopped.
     Vitamin E is recommended in megadoses for everything from alleviating breast discomfort to warding off the ravages of old age and preventing cancer. Side effects could cause fatigue, nausea and blurred vision, but the most serious possibility is the destruction of vitamin K and enhancement of the effects of anticoagulant medications, which could result in hemorrhage. Patients taking anticoagulants should not take vitamin E supplements.
     Another problem with taking megadoses is the accumulated ''inactive'' ingredients: fillers, flavors and coloring agents.  By Federal law, all vitamin and mineral formulas that contain 50 percent or more of the United States Recommended Daily Allowance for any nutrient must list all ingredients on the package label. However, some manufacturers, knowing that the Food and Drug Administration has more than it can handle in dealing with safety issues, ignore the law.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Scientifics Direct

This interesting mail-order site sells unique science related items. 

They offer items related to: Alternative Energy, Anatomy, Astronomy, Chemistry, Geology, Magnetism, Microscopes, Optics & Lasers, Physics & Electricity, Project Components, Robotics, Science Fun & Discovery, Science Kits, Weather.  Visit site     

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion

     The heavy-lift helicopter of the Marine Corps can carry a 26,000-pound Light Armored Vehicle, 16 tons of cargo 50 miles and back, or enough combat-loaded Marines to lead an assault or humanitarian operation; but perhaps what's most amazing about the largest military helicopter in the U.S. is what it achieves despite its size. Though powerful enough to lift every aircraft in the Marine inventory except the KC-130, the CH-53E Super Stallion is compact enough to deploy on amphibious assault ships, and has the armament, speed and agility to qualify as much more than a heavy lifter.
     The Super Stallion is the largest and heaviest helicopter in the United States military. It was developed from the CH-53 Sea Stallion, mainly by adding a third engine, adding a seventh blade to the main rotor and canting the tail rotor 20 degrees. It was built by Sikorsky Aircraft for the United States Marine Corps.
     The Super Stallion is used to transport personnel and equipment, lift heavy loads and conduct minesweeping missions. The Air Force version, equipped with sophisticated electronic countermeasures systems, is used for long-range delivery and resupply of special operations forces and combat rescue missions.
     The helicopter is capable of lifting 16 tons (14.5 metric tons) at sea level, transporting the load 50 nautical miles (57.5 miles) and returning. A typical load would be a 16,000 pound (7264 kilogram) M198 howitzer or a 26,000 pound (11,804 kilogram) Light Armored Vehicle. The aircraft also can retrieve downed aircraft. The 53E is equipped with a refueling probe and can be refueled in flight giving the helicopter indefinite range.
     The helicopter seats 37 passengers in its normal configuration and has provisions to carry 55 passengers with centerline seats installed. With the dual point hook systems, it can carry external loads at increased airspeeds due to the stability achieved with the dual point system.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Politics and the Rape of General Porter

     While looking for material on hot air ballooning during the Civi War I came across the interesting story of General Fitz John Porter.

      Porter (August 31, 1822 – May 21, 1901) was a career Army officer who served during with the Union during the Civil War and is best known for his performance at the Second Battle of Bull Run (aka Second Manassas to Southerners) and his subsequent court martial. 
     His career was ruined by his political rivals when they called for his court marshal and after the war it took him 25 years to restore his reputation and get restored. Major General Fitz John Porter was found guilty of disobeying a lawful order and misconduct in front of the enemy and removed from command.
      Porter came from a family of famous naval officers, including his cousin, David Farragut, the first United States admiral. He graduated from West Point in 1845, eighth in his class, and served with great distinction as an artillery officer in the Mexican War. After the war, Porter served in various posts, including a stint as an instructor of artillery at West Point, where he became good friends with both George B. McClellan and post adjutant Robert E. Lee.

      As tensions increased in 1860, Porter traveled to locations in the South in order to prepare for the upcoming conflict, including Charleston, South Carolina, where he advised Major Robert Anderson be placed in charge of the defenses at Fort Sumter. When war broke out, he served as a staff officer, but when his old friend McClellan was asked to take charge of the Army of the Potomac he was transferred to command a division at McMlelland's request. McClellan trusted old friends more than the other corps commanders and wanted subordinates he considered loyal. He relied, in particular, on Porter, who often acted as his surrogate on the battlefield during McClellan's frequent absences. One such instance, the Battle of Malvern Hill, especially cemented Porter's reputation as a superb commander on the battlefield.

      After McClellan was relieved of command Porter's corps was reassigned to Major General John Pope. Porter intensely disliked Pope both personally and professionally. 
     Porter sent a number of telegrams to Major General Ambrose Burnside complaining about Pope's poor leadership and handling of the army and Burnside, who also had a low opinion of Pope, forwarded the letters to McClellan, General-in-Chief Henry Halleck, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and President Abraham Lincoln. Halleck, Stanton, and Lincoln were upset because Pope was there man when they dumped the uncooperative McClellan. Lincoln was especially displeased because Pope was a personal friend.
      On August 27, part of the Army of Northern Virginia under Stonewall Jackson seized Pope's supply depot at Manassas Junction. Pope became panicked and sent a flurry of orders including a confused telegram to Porter ordering him to join Pope by morning.

      Porter consulted with his commanders about the feasibility of marching that evening, but they were against it even though Pope wanted to move. Finally, they were able to convince Porter that it was too dark and they were unsure of the location of the Confederate forces. As a result the orders to move out in the dark at 1:00am were disregarded.

      The next morning Pope got into battle with the Confederates under General Stonewall Jackson. Pope and General Irwin McDowell's troops joined forces and repulsed an attack by the Confederate cavalry division under Major General J.E.B. Stuart. Porter and McDowell then received another confusing order from Pope. In short, the order was unclear about what Porter and McDowell were supposed to do. Pope did not explicitly direct them to attack and he concluded the order with "If any considerable advantages are to be gained from departing from this order it will not be strictly carried out." The result was confusion on the part of everybody involved and it resulted in Porter's court martial.

      At the court martial the prosecution obtained testimony from officers under Pope that sought to clear their own names after the disaster of Manassas. For example, McDowell was answering his own court of inquiry regarding his actions at Manassas that led to his banishment from the army. It didn't help that during the trial, Pope supplied his own maps that substantiated his version of the story.

      The defense argued that Pope was incompetent and that Porter's actions had saved the army from an even greater defeat. General Ambrose Burnside even left his command to testify on behalf of Porter. In addition, it was testified that the majority of the Union Army agreed with Porter about Pope's poor leadership. The defense also pictured Porter as having been wronged by a petty, incompetent former commander who happened to be friends with the President.

      Porter was found guilty and ordered dismissed from the army and he was forever disqualified from holding any office of trust or profit under the Government of the United States.

      Porter immediately set about attempting to overturn the conviction. He set about surveying and mapping the battleground to develop a map of every tree, bush and hill in the vicinity of his corps. Then he recorded the testimony of anyone he could get to cooperate in order to record exact positions during the battle. With the help of his friends, especially the increasingly powerful McClellan, he began petitioning famous figures to write letters on his behalf. They used their influence to try to get state and local lawmakers to pass resolutions condemning the government for dismissing Porter.

      He also tried to draw attention to the make-up of the court. They were Republicans,as was the President, and had fixed a court to rule against him in order to protect its own interests. The government refused to re-investigate and officers who spoke out in support of Porter were punished.

The newspapers were also controlled by Republicans and they said that Porter was a traitor who had escaped the punishment he had deserved. The New York Times even wrote that he ought to have been executed.

      When the war ended, Porter wrote to both Lee and General Longstreet asking for their assistance. Both Lee and Longstreet replied, Longstreet in great detail, and Porter used the evidence to garner supporters to send petitions to President Andrew Johnson asking for a new trial. He also had supporters in Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and George H. Thomas. President Johnson had no power to hold a new trial and, despite his support for Porter, he was unwilling to revisit the decision. Finally, in 1878, President Rutherford B. Hayes commissioned a board to investigate.

On March 19, 1879, the commission issued a report recommending that the court martial be set aside and Porter be restored. The report found Porter guilty of no wrongdoing and credited him with saving the Union Army from an even greater defeat.

      No matter though. Political opposition still prevented Porter from obtaining reinstatement because of Republican presidents. Finally in May of 1863, a bill passed Congress to restore Porter to his regular army rank of Colonel but with no back pay. Two days later, vindicated, Porter retired from the army, but he would not receive an official pardon until Grover Cleveland took office in 1885.

      About his balloon trip...one early April morning in 1862 General Porter hopped into a balloon basket and took off. The retaining cable snapped and the observation flight, at the mercy of the wind, floated over the Confederate lines. Porter, not knowing where he might end up reckoned to be captured when he finally came down. Fortunately for Porter, the wind shifted and the balloon was blown back toward the Union lines and he pulled the valve and descended to the ground.