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Saturday, December 31, 2016


     Despite the disputed health risks of excessive bacon grease consumption, it remains popular. Bacon is prepared from pork and usually cured using large quantities of salt, either in a brine or in a dry packing; the result is fresh bacon (also known as green bacon). Fresh bacon may then be further dried for weeks or months in cold air, or it may be boiled or smoked. Fresh and dried bacon is typically cooked before eating, often by frying. Boiled bacon is ready to eat, as is some smoked bacon, but may be cooked further before eating.
     Meat from other animals such as beef, lamb, chicken, goat, or turkey may also prepared to resemble bacon, and may even be referred to as "bacon". It is common in areas with significant Jewish and Muslim populations, both of which prohibit the consumption of pigs. The USDA defines bacon as "the cured belly of a swine carcass"; other cuts and characteristics must be separately qualified (e.g., "smoked pork loin bacon"). For safety, bacon may be treated to prevent trichinosis, a parasitic roundworm which can be destroyed by heating, freezing, drying, or smoking. 
     Bacon’s history dates back thousands of years to 1500 B.C. when the Chinese were curing pork bellies with salt, creating an early form of bacon, although pigs were domesticated in China in 4900 B.C. and were also being raised in Europe by 1500 B.C. 
     Speculation exists that the Romans and Greeks. The Romans and Greeks, who may have learned bacon production and curing through conquests in the Middle East, improved pig breeding and spread pork production throughout their empire. The Ancient Romans also had an early version of bacon, called petaso, which was a shoulder of pig boiled with dried figs, browned, and served with wine. Throughout the Medieval Times, bacon and bacon fat were very important ingredients used by Anglo-Saxon peasants for cooking. It wasn't until the 1600s that “bacon” was used to refer exclusively to the salted and smoked belly that we know today as bacon. In Yorkshire and Tamworth, there were breeds of pigs that were specifically grown for making bacon. 
     Pigs arrived in North America when Christopher Columbus brought 8 pigs to Cuba and de Soto brought 13 pigs to Tampa Bay in 1539. Native Americans became fond of the taste of pork, resulting in attacks on the de Soto expedition. By the time of de Soto’s death three years later, his pig herd had grown to 700 head; those that escaped became wild pigs (and the ancestors of today’s feral pigs or razorbacks). An influx of pigs from England came during the 1600s. 
     During World War Two bacon played an important role during the time of rationing because it was a reasonably priced meat for families to consume on a regular basis. People returned the bacon grease left from cooking bacon to their butcher, who then donated the bacon fat to the war effort where it was used as, among other things foe making incendiary devices and explosives. 


     Bacon can vary depending on where they are cut from and where they come from. The slices, also called rashers, differ depending on the primal cut. Modern pigs yield about 15 pounds of bacon per hog. 
     The most common slice and form of bacon in the US is streaky bacon, also called side bacon, which is cut from the pork belly. Long layers of fat run parallel to the rind and have thin streaks of meat. The Italian version is called Pancetta, which can either be smoked or unsmoked and has a strong flavor. After curing, it is rolled up into cylinders. 
     Back bacon, also called Irish bacon, Rashers, or Canadian Bacon is cut from the loin in the middle of the back of the pig. It's similar to ham, meaty, and has less fat compared to the other cuts of bacon. It is the most common variety of bacon consumed in the United Kingdom. 
     Middle bacon is cut form the side of the pork and has average fat content with a flavor that is the middle of streaky bacon and back bacon. 
     Cottage bacon is cut from the shoulder of the pork, thin, meaty, and lean and usually oval shaped. After the shoulder is cured, it is sliced into oval pieces and the flat pieces are usually fried or baked. 
     Jowl bacon comes from the cheeks of the pork, which are cured and smoked. 
     Collar bacon is cut form the back of the neck of the pig near the head. 
     Hock bacon is located on the ankle joint between the foot and the ham; gammon is cut form the hind leg. 
     Slab bacon is cut form the belly, the sides, and the fatback. It has a medium to high portion of fat. 
     Picnic bacon includes the shoulder beneath the blade of the pig which is lean but tough.
     American-style bacon is cut from the belly of the pig and is cured in salt and then smoked. It has a streaky texture and ranges from very lean to very fatty depending on the selection. It is cut in a variety of thicknesses: thin, regular, thick, and extra thick. Before it is sliced the rind is taken off. 
     Gypsy bacon is a Hungarian specialty where a slab is roasted and seasoned with paprika. It is usually cut into thin slices and then served on rye bread. 
     Bacon fat liquefies and becomes bacon dripping when it is heated. After cooling it firms into lard if from uncured meat, or rendered bacon fat if from cured meat. Bacon fat is flavorful and is used for various cooking purposes. Traditionally, bacon grease is saved in British and southern US cuisine and used as a base for cooking everything from gravy to cornbread to salad dressing. Bacon fat, is often used on roasted fowl and game birds that have little fat themselves to add flavor.

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Amazing Baby Wipe

     Baby wipes are wet wipes used to cleanse the sensitive skin of infants. They are saturated with solutions of gentle cleansing ingredients and come in a dispensing box. 
     The origin of baby wipes most likely came in the mid-1950s and of the first companies to produce these was a company called Nice-Pak. They made napkin sized paper cloth saturated with a scented skin cleanser. Rockline Industries of Sheboygan, Wisconsin went on to be the first to innovate the first baby wipe refill pack and pop-up packs which have become common in the marketplace. The first real baby wipe products appeared on the market in 1990 and were larger companies like Kimberly-Clark who produced Huggies and Procter & Gamble's Pampers. As the technology to produce wipes matured and became more affordable, smaller brands began to appear and the 1990s, most super stores like Kmart and Wal-Mart had their own private label brand of wipes made by other manufacturers. 
     After this period there was a boom in the industry and many local brands started appearing. Since the mid-2000s in some cases manufacturers have labeled some baby wipes and their cousins wet wipes as flushable. Don't do it! They will clog internal plumbing, septic systems, and public sewer systems because they cling together which causes the growth of obstructions in sewers known as fatbergs. In addition, some brands of wipes contain alcohol, which can kill the bacteria and enzymes responsible for breaking down solid waste in septic tanks. Ask any plumber! 
     These things are valuable to have around even if you don't have a baby. Military personnel use them for getting sand out of everything and waterproof face paint off, washing blood off and aboard Navy ships when there are water restrictions (no showers) they are a good way to cleanup a bit. 
     These wipes do a fantastic job of removing stains on clothing, upholstery (especially useful on microfiber) or carpeting. I have seen them work where carpet and upholstery cleaners have failed.  

Other uses: 
1) Makeup removal and removing hair dye stains 
2) Wiping down the inside of your car 
3) Freshening up and cooling down on hot summer days. Put some in a baggie and put it in the cooler for use on day trips, or just put some in the refrigeratorfor home use. 
4) Hemorrhoid wipes. Get the ones with aloe and pour a bottle of witch hazel into the container. Much cheaper than the specialty wipes. 
5) Wipe down the leaves of houseplants. 
6) Pen, pencil, crayon and paint remover! From most surfaces, including skin. 
7) Getting bird poop off a car and windshield 
8) If your armpits sweat and you have deodorant marks on your clothing, baby wipes will remove them. 
9) Clean your pet: feet, ears and dingleberries around their butt. 
10) Remove stray hairs from pets. Give shaggy pets a rubdown. 
11) Static causing your hair to fly? Just wipe it down. 
12) Wiping down restaurant tables, high chairs, shopping carts, changing tables and toilet seats in public places. 
13) Shine your leather shoes 
14) Got a lot of envelopes to seal and don't have the self-sticking kind? Moisten envelope glue with a wipe. 
15) Clean tablets, touchscreen phone and PC monitors. They are soft and don’t damage the screens, and get all the sticky fingerprints off. 
16) Dusting

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Cessna 152

Cessna 152
     I loved to fly this little airplane! The Cessna 152 was a two-seat, fixed tricycle gear, general aviation airplane, used primarily for flight training and personal use. First delivered in 1977, the 152 was a modernization of the old Cessna 150 design. It was intended to compete with the new Beechcraft Skipper and Piper Tomahawk, both of which were introduced the same year. 
     I also flew Piper Tomahawks, but didn't like them so well as the 152. They were cooler looking, but their spin properties made me a little antsy flying them. Some people would disagree with me on that though. 
Piper Tomahawk

     According to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Air Safety Foundation the Piper Tomahawk had a one-third lower accident rate per flying hour than the Cessna 150/152. But the Tomahawk had a higher rate of fatal spin accidents per flying hour. The NTSB estimated that the Tomahawk's stall/spin accident rate was three to five times that of the Cessna 150/152. 
     As with the 150, the great majority of 152s were built at the Cessna factory in Wichita, Kansas. Production of the 152 was ended in 1985 when Cessna ended production of all of their light aircraft. 

I Learned About Flying From That: 18,300 Feet in a Cessna 150. One pilot experiences the dangers of flying too high.

Golden Age of Radio

     Before television, during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s when radio was the dominant entertainment medium, families gathered to listen to the radio in the evening; that was the Golden Age of Radio. 
     It began when radio broadcasting started the early 1920s and lasted until the 1950s, when televisions slowly replaced the radio. According to a 1947 survey, 82 out of 100 Americans listened to the radio: plays, mystery, adventure and detective serials, soap operas, quiz shows, variety hours, talent shows, situation comedies, children's shows, live musical concerts and play by play sports broadcasts. In addition, news: headlines, remote reporting, sidewalk interviews, panel discussions, weather reports, farm reports were also broadcast.
     Several radio networks, which began declining in the 1960s, aired programs nationwide in the United States. The major networks were: National Broadcasting Company (NBC) Red Network a development by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) Mutual Broadcasting System, developed from four different stations. Unlike the other networks, it did not own stations. American Broadcasting Company (ABC), developed from an anti-monopoly sell-off of the NBC Blue Network division in 1945 Mutual and NBC both closed down their radio operations in the 1980s, while ABC lasted until 2007 and CBS still operates its network as of 2016. 
     The earliest radio programs of the 1920s usually didn't have sponsors because radio stations were a service designed to sell radio receivers. By the late 1920s, radio had saturated the market, necessitating a change and the sponsorship of programs was born.
     Classical music programs included The Voice of Firestone, New York Philharmonic, the Bell Telephone Hour, the Metropolitan Opera and the celebrated Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra, which had been created especially for him. 
     Country music also enjoyed popularity and programs such as the National Barn Dance, the Grand Ole Opry (originally called the WSM Barn Dance), the Red Foley Show and the Ozark Jubilee were prominent. 
     Radio attracted top comedy acts: Abbott and Costello, Fred Allen, Jack Benny, Victor Borge, Fanny Brice, Billie Burke, Bob Burns, Judy Canova, Eddie Cantor, Jimmy Durante, Phil Harris, Bob Hope, Groucho Marx, Jean Shepherd, Red Skelton and Ed Wynn. Situational comedies also gained popularity, such as Amos 'n' Andy, Burns and Allen, Easy Aces, Ethel and Albert, Fibber McGee and Molly, The Goldbergs, The Great Gildersleeve, The Halls of Ivy, Meet Corliss Archer, Meet Millie, Our Miss Brooks, Lum and Abner, Herb Shriner and Minnie Pearl. 
     Other shows were adapted from comic strips: Blondie, Dick Tracy, Gasoline Alley, The Gumps, Li'l Abner, Little Orphan Annie, Popeye the Sailor, Red Ryder, Reg'lar Fellers, Terry and the Pirates and Tillie the Toiler. The first soap opera, Clara, Lu, and Em was introduced in 1930 on Chicago's WGN. 
     When daytime serials began in the early 1930s, they became known as soap operas because many were sponsored by soap products and detergents. Late afternoon adventure serials included: Bobby Benson and the B-Bar-B Riders, The Cisco Kid, Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy, Captain Midnight, and The Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters. Badges, rings, decoding devices and other radio premiums offered on these adventure shows were often allied with a sponsor's product, requiring the young listeners to mail in a box top from a breakfast cereal or other proof of purchase. 
     In the beginning programs were almost exclusively broadcast live, as the national networks prohibited the airing of recorded programs until the late 1940s because of the inferior sound quality of phonograph discs, the only practical recording medium. As a result, prime-time shows would be performed twice, once for each coast. However, "reference recordings" were made of many programs as they were being broadcast, for review by the sponsor and for the network's own archival purposes. With the development of high-fidelity magnetic wire and tape recording in the years following World War II, the networks became more open to airing recorded programs and the prerecording of shows became more common. 
     The OTR.Network Library has hundreds of old radio programs you can listen to HERE. You will need to have the free RealPlayer software installed which you can download HERE. One word of caution...the programs asks if you want to install Google Chrome as your default browser, so make sure you uncheck the box!!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Fun Eye Facts

1- The average blink lasts for about 1/10th of a second. 
2- Eyes heal quickly. With proper care, it only takes about 48 hours for the eye to repair a corneal scratch. 
3- Vision is such an important part of life that it requires about half of the brain. 
4- Newborns don’t produce tears. They make crying sounds, but the tears don’t start flowing until they are about 4-13 weeks old. 
5- Doctors cannot transplant an eyeball. The optic nerve that connects the eye to the brain is too sensitive to reconstruct. More than 1 million nerve fibers connect each eye to the brain.
6- The cells in your eye come in different shapes. Rod-shaped cells allow you to see shapes, and cone-shaped cells allow you to see color. 
7- You blink about 12 times every minute. 
8- Your eyes are about 1 inch across and weigh about 0.25 ounce. 
9- Even if no one in the past few generations of your family had blue or green eyes, these recessive traits can still appear in later generations. 
10- Each of your eyes has a small blind spot in the back of the retina where the optic nerve attaches. You don’t notice the hole in your vision because your eyes work together to fill in each other’s blind spot. 
11- Out of all the muscles in your body, the muscles that control your eyes are the most active. 
12- Your eyes start to develop two weeks after you are conceived. Your eyeballs stay the same size from birth to death, while your nose and ears continue to grow. Newborn babies can see clearly up to 15 inches away. 
 13- The entire length of all the eyelashes shed by a human in their life is over 98 feet with each eye lash having a life span of about 5 months. 
14- Corneas are the only tissues that don’t have blood. 
15- Humans and dogs are the only species known to seek visual cues from another individual’s eyes, and dogs only do this when interacting with humans. 
16- A fingerprint has 40 unique characteristics, but an iris has 256, a reason retina scans are increasingly being used for security purposes. 
17- People who are blind can see their dreams if they weren’t born blind. 
18- 80 percent of what we learn is through our eyes 
19- Eyes are the second most complex organ after the brain. 
20- Your eyes can get sunburned. Severely sunburned eyes, known as photokeratitis, is a result of prolonged exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays and can cause a burning sensation and blurred vision. These damaging UV rays do not just come directly from the sun, but also from the reflection of these rays from water and sand.
21- Your retinas actually perceive the outside world as upside-down – your brain flips the image for you. 
22- In addition to being upside-down, images arrive at your retina split in half and distorted. 23- Your retinas cannot detect the color red. Your retinas have red, green and blue color receptors, the “red” receptor only detects yellow-green, and the “green” receptor detects blue-green. Your brain combines these signals and turns them into red. 
24- Your peripheral vision is very low-resolution and is almost in black-and-white. You don’t realize it because your eyes move to fill in the peripheral detail before you notice the difference. 
25- 20/20 vision doesn’t equal perfect vision. It just means you can see 20 feet in front of you as well as the average person can. 
26- If you’re shortsighted, your eyeball is longer than normal. If you’re farsighted, it’s shorter than average. 
27- Your eye is constantly making tiny jerking movements called “microsaccades” to stop objects from fading from your vision. 
28- Your eye can distinguish between 50,000 shades of gray. 

     Dust, water vapor and pollution in the air will rarely let you see more than 12 miles, even on a clear day. Due to the curvature of the Earth at sea level, the horizon is only about 3 miles away, but if the Earth were flat you could perceive bright lights hundreds of miles distant. 
     On a dark night, you could even see a candle flame flickering up to 30 miles away. How far the human eye can see depends on how many particles of light, or photons, a distant object emits. The farthest object visible with the naked eye is the Andromeda galaxy, located 2.6 million light-years from Earth. The galaxy's 1 trillion stars collectively emit enough light for a few thousand photons to hit each square centimeter of Earth every second. So, on a dark night it can be detected with the naked eye. 
     Under ideal conditions the brightness of a candle flame, and the way a glowing object dims according to the square of the distance away from it, vision scientists conclude that one could make out the faint glimmer of a candle flame up to 30 miles away. 
     But how far away can we perceive that an object is more than just a twinkle of light? Human-scale objects are resolvable as extended objects from a distance of just under 2 miles. For example, at that distance, we would just be able to make out two distinct headlights on a car. 
     The best vision possible with human eyes is 20/8 vision, meaning a person can see things as well from 20 feet away as most people can see at a distance of only 8 feet. Normal vision is 20/20 which means that a given person can resolve the same objects that other people can at a distance of 20 feet. As a comparison, eagles have 20/4 or 20/5 vision, meaning that at 20 feet away, they see objects as well as a person would at a distance of only 4 or 5 feet.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Brady's Leap and a Narrow Escape

     Captain Samuel Brady (1756–1795) was a frontier scout, notorious Indian fighter, and the subject of many legends in the history of western Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio. He is best known for jumping across a gorge over the Cuyahoga River to escape pursuing Indians in what is present day Kent, Ohio. The location is known as Brady's Leap. 
     Brady was born in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. His father was a a surveyor and in April, 1760 at the time of the war against the French and the Indians received his a commission with the colonial troops. He was killed in on April 11, 1779 in an Indian attack. 
     The French and Indian War was a colonial war fought between the British, French and their Indian allies. The British territory was on the Atlantic Coast and the French territory was in present-day Canada, mostly in Quebec. Both the British and the French made conflicting territorial claims principally in present-day Michigan, western Pennsylvania and Ohio. 

     Britain declared war on France on May 15, 1756. The War between Britain and France was fought on both sides of the Atlantic. In Europe, it was called the Seven Years' War. Indians fought for both armies. The French and Indian War ended on February 10, 1763 with the Treaty of Paris in which France lost of all its North American territory east of the Mississippi and most of Canada. 
     However, the Indian threat on the Pennsylvania frontier did not end with the end of the French and Indian War. In 1763, Pontiac's War began pretty much where the French and Indian War left off. Ottawa Chief Pontiac persuaded the Indian tribes, which had been the French allies, to unite to continue battling the British. 
     Samuel Brady was commissioned as a Captain on July 19, 1763 in the Second Battalion of the Pennsylvania Regiments and actively fought against the Indian forces that were attacking and killing many frontier families in Bedford and Cumberland Counties, Pennsylvania.
     The Indian Chief Pontiac captured many frontier forts and settlements in what is now Michigan and Ohio and besieged Fort Pitt (now Pittsburgh), Fort Ligionier and Fort Bedford in Pennsylvania. A force was organized to lift these sieges, which it did. In the fall of 1764 an army of colonial militia and regular British troops from Fort Pitt moved into the Ohio Country and forced the Shawnees, Senecas and Delawares to make peace. Captain Brady participated in this expedition. 
     In 1780 the general charged with defense of the area received a letter at Fort Pitt from General Washington instructing him to select a suitable officer to lead a patrol in the Ohio country to spy out the strength of British and Indians assembled there.
     Captain Brady was, as we used to say in the military, "volunteered." Brady set out on his mission with a four men and four Chickasaw guides and when they arrived west of the Cuyahoga River they finally got a good look at the enemy strength.
     Now, Brady was not a tall man, but he was an extremely powerful man, broad, big boned and muscular, a loner and self-reliant. He also hated Indians; he was arrested three times in Western Pennsylvania for killing them. In all three arrests there was no doubt that he was guilty, but in every case he was allowed to escape. According to the story, his hatred of Indians stemmed from the time as a boy growing up in his uncle’s cabin, he returned from hunting to find the cabin burning and his uncle’s family slain. People said that Brady promised himself a lifetime of seeking revenge. 
     Some of his battles with the Indians were so impressive that there are several battlegrounds named for him: Brady’s Run and Brady’s Hill near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Brady's Island Fremont, Ohio, Brady’s Island and Brady's Lake near Akron, Ohio.
     Brady and his men found the Indians without being detected and set up an ambush for the following morning along a trail coming out from the Indian camp. They achieved complete surprise and killed at least ten warriors, wounding several others. About 50 warriors then took off after them.  On the run, Brady turned and fired a second volley which killed several more pursuers. 
     In those days the preferred method of escape was for the group to separate and when he separated, Brady accidentally ran into an entirely separate Wyandot hunting party as he was crossing a river and was captured and transported to the Wyandor camp where they roughed him up and tied him to a stake. They decided Brady would run the gauntlet in the morning and then be executed. In running the gauntlet, the guilty party was forced to run between two rows and be beaten with sticks. 
     As his hands were being untied in preparation for running the gauntlet, Brady threw and elbow in to the face of the warrior, grabbed a baby from the arms of a woman standing next to him and threw it into the fire then took of running for his life as he raced toward the American border which was the Cuyahoga River. 
     Running by day, and by night, Brady ran over 100 miles. He often found the going rough and the Indians close and at one point he turned back west in the night, hoping the Indians would go on past him, but they were straggled out in such depth behind him that he was in even more danger. He avoided them by hiding and waiting for night. 
     Finally, stopping after dark, he fell asleep and did not wake until he heard human voices and he began running again, but the Wyandots had him hemmed in. While hiding and with the Wyandots approaching, Brady broke out of his cover and headed for the river. When he reached the gorge, with the desperate action of a cornered animal, he made the jump. No Indians followed. 
     The leap was not level. In the jump from the high bank across to the lower east bank Brady dropped some. and landed on a shelf of rock about five feet below the top of the embankment, grabbed some bushes and began scrambled up the bank. Several Indians recovered from amazement and fired their rifles. One shot hit Brady in the right thigh, but he managed to make it to the top of the bank and drop out of their sight. 
    His bleeding thigh wound left a trail of blood, but when the Wyandots found it, the blood and footprints stopped at a tree which had fallen into the water. They combed the woods for the rest of the day, but couldn't find him. Brady had been hiding in the water where the top of the tree was floating in the river and eventually made it to safety. 
     How long was the leap? Two men later checked out his story and were of the impression that it was a few inches less than 25 feet. Later a surveyor measured the leap at 22 feet. The place came to be named Brady’s Leap and there are skeptics today, when viewing the spot, who believe there was absolutely no way he could have made the jump across the Cuyahoga River. But, it must be remembered that in Brady’s day the river was not as wide as it is today because of erosion.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


     Snowflakes are either a single ice crystal or an aggregation of ice crystals which fall as snow. Each flake forms around a dust particle in supersaturated air masses by attracting supercooled water droplets in the clouds which freeze and adhere in crystal form. 
     The complex shapes form as the flake moves through differing temperature and humidity zones in the atmosphere and as a result individual snowflakes differ in detail from one another, but may be categorized in eight broad classifications and at least 80 individual variants. 
     When snowflakes land and accumulate, they undergo a change due to changes in temperature and form into a snowpack. 
     Once a droplet has frozen, it grows in the supersaturated air. Supersaturated air is where air is saturated with respect to ice when the temperature is below the freezing point. The droplet then grows by water molecules in the air vapor are deposited on the ice crystal surface. 
     The individual ice crystals are usually hexagonal and although the ice is clear, scattering of light by the crystal facets mean that the crystals often appear white in color due to diffuse reflection of the whole spectrum of light by the small ice particles. 
     The shape of the snowflake is determined by the temperature and humidity at which it is formed. The most common snow particles are irregular in shape, but near-perfect one are more common in pictures because they are more visually appealing. It is unlikely that any two snowflakes are alike due to the estimated 10 quintillion water molecules which make up a typical snowflake which grow at different rates and in different patterns depending on the changing temperature and humidity within the atmosphere that the snowflake falls through on its way to the ground. 
     Snowflakes are initially symmetrical and six arms, or dendrites, then grow independently, and each side of each arm grows independently. As a result, most snowflakes are not completely symmetric. Studies suggest less than 0.1 percent of snowflakes exhibit the ideal six-fold symmetric shape. 
     The shape of a snowflake is determined primarily by the temperature and humidity at which it is formed: Freezing air down to 27 °F promotes thin, flat crystals. In colder air down to 18 °F, the crystals form as needles, hollow columns, prisms or needles. In air as cold as −8 °F, shapes become plate-like again, often with branched or dendritic features. At temperatures below −8 °F, the crystals becomes plate-like or columnar, depending on the degree of saturation. Forms below the saturation line trend more towards solid and compact while those formed in supersaturated air trend more towards lacy, delicate and ornate. Many more complex growth patterns are also sometimes observed. 

An excellent online resource for complete information on snowflakes and ice crystals is Snow Crystals
How to take photos of snowflakes 
Guide to snowflakes from Cal Tech University is also a wealth of information and probably the most complete site on flakes.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Killing Snakes

     How do you do it? A lot of people like them, but many find them repulsive. Even so, when you see one in the garden, at least around here, they aren't poisonous, so just leaving them alone is the best thing to do. 
     When people do kill snakes it's usually with a garden tool. Trying to catch them, even non-poisonous ones, can be dangerous though because they will bite. A snake will never strike for no reason and when they do it's usually because they were provoked or surprised. Only a few venomous bites occur in the U.S. every year and it's usually when people are attempting to kill or get rid of them. 
     Before you kill the snake make sure it's not venomous! See the article How can you tell if snake is poisonous HERE.  Venomous snakes are scary when they're alive, but they can also be deadly after they are dead because snakes are well known for retaining reflexes after death. Not only snakes, but other cold-blooded vertebrae share this ability and there are actually reports of people being bitten by the severed heads of snakes. 
     In venomous snakes like cobras and rattlesnakes, biting is one of the reflexes that can be activated in the brain even hours after it's dead. The bite reflex is strong in venomous snakes because they bite for a different reason than other animals. Some animals, like tigers, kill their prey by sinking its teeth into its victim and holding on, but snakes usually deliver a single, extremely quick bite and then move away until it dies. Snakes are quick; rattlesnakes have been known to inject venom in less than two-tenths of a second.  You can see just how quick on THIS Youtube video.
     Even if a snake's head has been chopped off, the bite reflex can be triggered hours after it's dead because the nerves have not stopped functioning. Here's another thing to keep in mind.  Some snakes, rattlers in particular, control how much venom they inject, but if the animal is dead, there is no control and the bite will likely contain the maximum amount of venom.  Also, the bodies of snakes have been known to continue rising off the ground as if to strike even after they've been beheaded.
     How can that be?! These movements are fueled by electrically charged particles which remain in the nerve cells of a snake for several hours after it dies. When the nerve of a newly dead snake is stimulated, the channels in the nerve will open up, allowing the particles to pass through and creating an electrical impulse that enables the muscles to bite in a reflexive action. 
     What if a snake gets into your house?   It happened to my neighbor lady. Her dryer is in the basement and the vent to the outside is only a couple inches off the ground. It had a wire screen covering the opening, but when it fell off, a snake crawled in and ended up in the dryer. Quite a shock to the poor old lady when see went to throw in a load of laundry! 
     Before you try to kill a snake inside your home, you should be aware that most snake bites occur when people are trying to kill or capture a snake. Trying to bludgeon it to death or pick it up puts you within striking distance of an animal that will defend itself. Even whacking it with something long, like a rake or a hoe, can be dangerous because snakes are fast and some can strike a pretty fair distance. 
     And, here's a tip from a snake expert. Chances are if you succeeded in killing the snake with the first blow, it wasn't poisonous. Most poisonous snakes are tough and incredibly fast and will dodge the first few strikes of a shovel or hoe. After that, it will be frightened and riled up, making it even more dangerous. 
     If a snake gets in the house the snake expert said the best thing to do is shoo it out with a broom or use a snake trap. Speaking from experience I can tell you that it is impossible to shoo a snake in the direction you want it to go and even a common garter snake is fast!  
     As for the trap advice...by the time you locate a store that carries snake traps and get there to buy one and then return home...well, good luck finding the snake! And, remember, by that time, the thing could be lurking anywhere. Who wants to go to sleep at night knowing they have a snake hiding out somewhere in the house? Forget about trying to poison one! When snakes eat, they catch their food live and eat it which means they won't eat poisoned bait. 
     As for the lady with the snake in her dryer...she asked me to remove it, but being a snake-hater, I wasn't going to touch it! The solution? I told her to go next door and get my other neighbor lady. She finds them in her flowers all the time and just picks them up and throws them in the woods behind the house. 

Snakes aren't the only critters that are dangerous even after they're dead!  Read this article:  6 Terrifying Creatures That Keep Going After They're Dead

Weather Bug and National Weather Service

Current downtown view of my city

This is a great site where you can get all kinds of weather information from anywhere...even some that's more interesting than useful. For example, where I live, in the last 30 minutes the nearest lightening strike was 1547.9 miles away. Get forecasts, maps, alerts, life, news and live camera views.  Visit

For those that live in the U.S. you can't beat the National Weather Service site.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Calendars for Download

If you need a calendar for just about any application then visit Calendarpedia. Lots of Calendars - Yearly, monthly and weekly calendars, printable calendar templates for Excel/PDF/Word, bank/federal holidays and more...

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Boo on the U.S. Navy leadership!

Hospital Corpsman Third Class
     Or should I say lack of leadership? After more than 200 years, the Navy has made a fundamental change in how it will address its enlisted sailors. The Navy is eliminating the rating system it adopted from the U.K. Royal Navy and stop referring to sailors by their job titles and adopt a job classification in line with the Army, Marine Corps and the Air Force.
     On September 29, 2016 the historic rating system will be scuttled. No longer will a sailor be addressed as Boatswain Mate or Electrician. Personnel will be addressed only by pay grade. All entry level personnel (E-1 to E-3) will be referred to as Seaman regardless of their work assignment. Petty Officers (E-4 to E-6) will be addressed as Petty Officer Third Class, Second Class or First Class. Chief Petty Officers (E-7 thru E-9) will be addressed as Chief Petty Officer, Senior Chief Petty Officer and Master Chief Petty Officer.  Specialty ratings will be replaced by a Navy Occupational Specialty Code. 
     When I enlisted in the Navy out of high school, after boot camp I attended Hospital Corps school and was then sent to the Marine Corps.  We were designated FMF Corpsmen.  FMF being Fleet Marine Force.  We wore Marine uniforms, but instead of Marine stripes, we wore Navy insignias. In the Marine Corps it didn't matter much because all Corpsmen were simply called "Doc." Technically though I was a Hospital Corpsman Third Class, the equivalent of a Marine Corporal. Today it's simply Petty Officer Third Class. 
     The change was made because the Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, has pushed the Department of the Navy to create gender-neutral titles for rankings. Mabus doesn't want people being called Corpsman, Yeoman or Damage Controlman, etc. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson said the question is, “do [the ratings] capture that inclusivity with the respect to diversity.” Whatever that means. 
     The belief is that as a result of the change, a sailor’s skills and primary job will be cataloged in their personnel record via a Navy Occupational Specialty code similar to the Military Occupational Specialty, used by the Army and Marines, and the Air Force Specialty Codes system. 
     The Navy tried to justify the change by saying it would allow more flexibility in the enlisted promotion and job assignments and it would allow sailors to hold more than one job designation, which will give them a broader range of professional experience and expertise opportunities. Sailors would be able to move between occupational specialties within the fields. 
     The Navy’s enlisted classification system was difficult to understand, but knowing what job a sailor performed was important. The ratings system became more complicated because of technology and some became obsolete, sometimes in the span of only a few years. In addition to clarifying jobs for the public, the change is supposed to ease the transition to into civilian life. It seems to me the Navy should be more interested in retaining personnel than trying to make it easier for civilians to understand exactly what a person's job was in the Navy. 
     Most sailors are proud of their rates, whether it was Airman, Fireman, Boatswains Mate, Torpedoman, Gunners Mate, etc. The Navy has made this change against the wishes of the vast majority of enlisted personnel. I understand the military is not run by majority rules, but most enlisted personnel are opposed to the break in the more than 200 year old tradition and think Mabus and Richardson are are dead wrong and stupid for trying to be politically correct and making the Navy rating system easy for civilians to understand. 
     As mentioned, pride in one's rating, which the new system has eliminated, has, from what I have been reading, created a huge morale problem among Navy enlisted personnel.  But, some things never change...you can't argue with an Admiral. 

Game Shows

     The most popular games shows in the U.S. are Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, The Price is Right and Family Feud. Who hasn't watched one of these shows and fantasized about winning a lot of money, a car and a trip to Disney World? But, like reality TV, things aren't always what they seem. 
     Home audiences see each episode on a different day, but they are shot in the same day. To give the illusion that it's a different day, the host changes his suit and tie and returning contestants change their clothes. 
     Even winning a million dollars, which most contestants will never do, is not the financial windfall it may appear.  Even that much is not enough to allow you to quit your job...there's taxes and you will still need health insurance and all that. Also, the show may substitute cash for some of the prizes people win and they don't immediately pay you any money you won; it usually takes between 90 and 150 days to receive prizes because the prize department needs to verify that you are who you say you are when you go on the show...you'd think they would do that first.
     They also make sure contestants have paid taxes on their prizes. For example, out of state contestants have to pay state taxes before accepting any prize. They aren't going to send anybody prize money and hope they pay taxes to the state in which the money was won! 
     The game show isn't the only one paying out prize money. Often the sponsor will actually cut the runners-up a check for the standard second- and third-place prize. For those that win non-cash prizes, the prize supplier has to be informed that a contestant has won the prize and informed that they have a specified amount of time to send the prize. 
     Trips aren't always worth as much as the show says they're worth. Winners are taxed on whatever they win and the amount of taxes partly depends on the value of the prizes they win. In the case of trip prizes the value announced may be different from what the player is actually taxed on, because the value announced on the show reflects the price of the trip during the sponsoring hotel's peak season. Also, trip winners can't always go when they want to because the show must honor blackout dates. A contestant's contract states that winners of trips have up to 365 days following their air date to redeem their prize, so the value of the trip can fluctuate depending on when the trip is taken and if the person actually goes on the trip, the contestant is only taxed on what they would have paid during the offseason. 
     Non-cash prizes are considered income, but the official retail value, as stated by the game show, might be significantly higher than the actual going rate. The gap between retail and real value can be especially harmful for winners who accept a prize with the intent to resell it.
     For winners, taxes are a big issue because they will owe federal and state income taxes on their total winnings and maybe more. If the prize is big enough a contestant could be bumped up into a higher tax bracket. As for state taxes, contestants will be taxed in both the state where the prize was won and then claim the taxes paid as a credit in their home state. If your home state has a lower tax rate, you won't get back the difference. For example, in my home state a $5,000 prize might pay 10.55 percent to California, but I would only get credit for 3 percent in my home state. Winners can decline to accept a prize they don't want so there's no income to report, and no tax bill owed.
     Prize winners are often fooled, thinking the money they won is the money that's going in their pocket. Also, even if a winner has enough left to purchase a big ticket item, they often fail to consider whether or not they can afford to own it. There's always taxes, insurance and upkeep. 
     Of course, game shows don't want just anybody. They want people who fit a certain type or have a unique background.  If you're boring, don't speak well or are really ugly, you won't get on.
     If one actually gets on the show, it will be an exhausting nightmare. Long waits because they can cram up to six 40-minute show tapings per day plus time for breaks and a few hours for makeup, practice games and a briefing of the rules. Contestants can spend up to 10 hours sequestered with other contestants while waiting for their taping. There will be escorts for bathroom trips and network compliance officers to make sure contestants don't talk to audience members or anyone else. The tough restrictions hew to Federal Communications Commission regulations designed to prevent cheating, plus they don't want people wandering around the studio.
     The notoriety can lead to bad things, too. Being in a spotlight gives crazy people a chance to go online and find you. That can mean hate mail, being a fraud target for scammers and being a target for identity theft. Big winners are also targeted for investment pitchmen and family members who expect them to share winnings. 
     Then there is the possibility you will be going up against professional game show contestants. Some people actually have appeared on several different game shows. Their experience gives them an edge because they're comfortable with the audition process and confidant in their performance and many regulars even meet up to test their skills. Sometimes producers recognize contestants from a memorable appearance on another show, but that does not always disqualify them. 
     Mental and physical nimbleness can be a factor, too. For example, on Jeopardy contestants have to be able to nail the timing of the buzzer which lets them ring in as the last syllable of the last word in the question is read. It's a challenge to listen to the question, think of the answer and press the buzzer all at the same time. 
     It's also important for prospective contestants to follow the rules. For example, on Wheel of Fortune they are instructed "just say, 'M,' not 'I'd like an 'M,' please." Don't do it and you won't get on the show. 
     Game shows start out with a paper test, but a lot of people who pass it aren't so hot on camera! Some people get terrified, others get distracted by all the action around them like lights, cameras and staff running around. They also want people that look really happy, have a lot of energy and being dressed in the right clothing is important, too. 
     Jeopardy contestants are told ahead of time that runners-up will get prizes instead of whatever cash they win. The reason, most people want money, not a crappy prize, so knowing that instead of getting cash, you'll get a year's supply of hotdogs encourages people to go for broke on final jeopardy and bet it all. 
     One contestant who placed second on Jeopardy turned down a vacation because taxes amounted to 40 percent of the trip's value. For example, if a $5,000 free trip to the Caribbean is going to cost you $2,000, you may not want it.   She ended up with a photo of her and Alex Trebek...at least the picture came with a frame. Another runner up didn't get cash...he got a trip to New York, a year's supply of Rice-A-Roni and a carpet cleaner.  How much Rice-A-Roni can you eat in a year?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Sgt. Presley...Elvis in the Army

     Elvis Presley entered the United States Army at Memphis, Tennessee, on March 24, 1958, and then spent three days at the Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, Reception Station. He left active duty at Fort Dix, New Jersey, on March 5, 1960, and received his discharge from the Army Reserve on March 23, 1964. 
     During his active military career Elvis served as a member of two different armor battalions. Between March 28 and September 17, 1958, he belonged to Company A, 2d Medium Tank Battalion, 37th Armor, stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. During this assignment he completed basic and advanced military training. 
     His overseas service took place in Germany from October 1, 1958, until March 2, 1960, as a member of the 1st Medium Tank Battalion, 32d Armor. For the first five days of that period he belonged to Company D of the battalion, and thereafter to the battalion's Headquarters Company at Friedberg. 
     Before entering the U.S. Army, Presley had caused national outrage with his sexually charged performances and rock and roll music. Many parents, religious leaders, and teachers groups saw his draft, removing him from public view, as a positive thing. Despite being offered the chance to enlist in Special Services to entertain the troops and live in priority housing, Presley decided to serve as a regular soldier which earned him the respect of many of his fellow soldiers and people back home who had previously viewed him in a negative light. 
     During his service not long before he was to be stationed in Germany, his mother died of a heart attack brought on by acute hepatitis and cirrhosis. At age 24, when he was stationed in West Germany, he met his future wife Priscilla Beaulieu and became dependent on stimulants and barbiturates. His addiction eventually led to his divorce, and ultimately his death at age 42 in 1977. 
     In January 1956, Presley turned twenty-one and was eligible to be drafted. Colonel Tom Parker, Presley's manager, led Elvis to believe that it was possible to avoid the draft completely. But, unknown to Presley, Parker had no intentions of allowing him to avoid the draft. The wily Colonel Parker believed the negative publicity about Presley could be negated by his serving in the Army. 
     Parker explained to Presley that getting drafted was a great opportunity. When Presley was told that he would have to serve as a regular soldier he was furious; how could his manager, the man who had claimed to be able to do anything, not be able to find a way out of the draft? Parker promised Presley that if he worked hard, kept his nose clean, and served as a regular GI for two years, he would return "a bigger star" than when he left. So, on January 4, 1957, Presley attended Kennedy Veterans Hospital in Memphis for a pre-induction Army physical. 
     On January 8, Presley's twenty-second birthday, he was declared 1-A by the Memphis Draft Board; physically fit and likely to be drafted some time in the next eight months. It was on December 16 that it was officially announced that Presley would be receiving his draft notice. While fans around the country were upset about the news, parents and teachers groups were ecstatic. Presley had been, in their opinion, a menace to society. 
     The Navy offered to create a special Elvis Presley Company made up of men from Memphis and Presley's closest friends. They also offered him the chance to perform in Las Vegas, and have his own private quarters. The Army offered Presley the chance to tour the world and visit Army bases to boost morale among soldiers and encourage other young men to enlist. Presley politely told both parties that he would consider their offers. The Pentagon had also been in touch to offer Presley the opportunity to join Special Services, entertaining the troops without having to actually train as a regular soldier; among many soldiers and veterans it is known as "the celebrity wimp-out". After discussing each possibility with Colonel Parker, Elvis decided to serve as a regular soldier. In Parker's words, "Taking any of these deals will make millions of Americans angry". 
     Elvis was originally scheduled to be inducted on January 20, 1958. However, due to commitments at Paramount and the filming schedule of his latest film, King Creole, he personally wrote to the Memphis Draft Board to request a deferment, explaining that Paramount had already spent up to $350,000 on pre-production of the film, and that many jobs were dependent on him being able to complete filming, which was due to begin on January 13. They granted him an extension until the middle of March. When news of the extension broke, angry letters were sent to the Memphis Draft Board complaining about the "special treatment" that Presley was receiving. According to the head of the draft board Elvis would have gotten the extension anyway. 
     Elvis reported for induction on March 24, 1958, was given a physical and assigned Army serial number 53310761, before being sworn in and made leader of his group. Parker, with the permission of the Army, had arranged for news crews from around the world to be on hand to report his induction. After all the hoopla Elvis and his fellow recruits were bussed to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. After four days at Fort Chaffee he was transferred Fort Hood in Texas where he was assigned to Company A of the Third Armored Division's 1st Medium Tank Battalion and completed basic training by June. 
     Elvis claimed he enjoyed the being a tanker, but in letters to a friend described his homesickness and insisted that he hated the training. His real fear was that his career was over and one of his instructors recalled Elvis breaking down in tears during many of his phone calls home. 
     He was given a short break to record new material for RCA Victor in June then returned to Fort Hood to finish his tank training. He was living off post, in his own house, with his mother, father, grandmother, and friend Lamar Fike. Having his family close by cheered him up although he still spoke to friends about his fears for his career. Parker, who was often a visitor to Presley's home, would attempt to reassure him and informed him that he had arranged for enough material and merchandise to be available to keep Elvis's name before the public during his two years in the Army, but Elvis remained unconvinced. 
     In early August, while in Texas with Elvis, his mother, Gladys had recently increased her alcohol intake to cope with her son's fame and Army commitments; she had also begun using diet pills to attempt to lose weight and this, coupled with a bad diet, had led to the deterioration of her liver. One afternoon, after a heated argument with her husband Vernon, she collapsed from exhaustion. Elvis arranged for her and Vernon to return to Memphis on August 8, but the next day her condition worsened so rapidly that she was rushed to a hospital. On August 11, Elvis requested emergency leave to visit his mother. His request was initially turned down so Elvis threatened to go AWOL, As a result he was granted leave on August 12. The officer who initially denied his emergency leave was later disciplined for his actions. On August 14, Gladys died from cirrhosis. The official cause of death was listed as heart attack, but the Presleys refused an autopsy to verify it. Presley and Vernon were both devastated by her death. Her funeral was held on August 15, and Presley collapsed several times before, during, and after the service. His mother had always been the most important person in his life, and now he felt as though everything he had worked for had been for nothing. Presley's leave was extended by five days on August 18, and when he finally left to return to Fort Hood he left instructions that nothing in his mother's room was to be altered.
     After training at Fort Hood, Presley was assigned to the 3rd Armored Division in Friedberg, West Germany. He left Fort Hood on September 19, for Brooklyn Army Terminal in New York where he and his division would ship out to West Germany on September 22. After a short press conference arranged by Parker, which also involved Presley walking up and down the plank of the USS General George M. Randall eight times for cameras, the ship set sail and Presley would spend the rest of his service overseas. 
     During the crossing Presley became a friend of a fellow soldier named Charlie Hodge who had enjoyed some success as an entertainer himself before being drafted and they, at Hodge's urging, put together a show for the troops. Elvis only agreed to play piano in the background because Colonel Parker had drilled into him that there would be no public performances of any kind during his service. and Elvis became such close friends that after they were discharged, Hodge went to work for Elvis. 
     On October 1 the General George M. Randall arrived in West Germany and Elvis was offered the chance to join Special Services, but he politely refused and was assigned to drive the commanding officer of Company D, Captain Russell. Russell didn't like the attention surrounding Elvis and he was transferred to driving duties for Reconnaissance Platoon Sergeant Ira Jones of Company C. 
     After he arrived in West Germany, Elvis was allowed to live off post and his family moved into Hilberts Park Hotel in Bad Nauheim, but within three weeks they moved to the more elegant Hotel Grunewald. 
     In the meantime Colonel Parker had acquired deals with RCA and 20th Century-Fox to make sure Elvis's return to public life would go as smoothly as possible. RCA agreed to release an album of his press conference the day he left for West Germany titled Elvis Sails, the album would pay Presley $0.22 per sale in royalties, guaranteed up to at least 100,000 copies. 20th Century-Fox had agreed upon a $200,000 fee for one Presley film, with options on a second for $250,000 and a 50/50 split on profits. Paramount had also signed deals to produce a number of new Presley films after his discharge. News outlets regularly reported stories, mostly released by Parker, about plans for Elvis's return to entertainment. Stories of wild parties in Presley's hotel room were also making it into the papers regularly, and Parker was forced to hold a press conference to dispel these rumors. 
     For Elvis, being in West Germany was not a happy time. He would often write home to friends and family about how homesick he was, how desperately he missed his mother, and of how his fears about his career after he was discharged. 
     Elvis was introduced to amphetamines by a sergeant while on maneuvers and he became a firm believer in them because they gave him energy, strength and weight loss. Elvis was such a strong believer in their benefits that he helped introduce many of his friends in the outfit to join him in indulging. It was also in the Army that Elvis was introduced to karate, which he studied seriously. 
     His fellow soldiers attested to Elvis's wish to be seen as an able, ordinary soldier, despite his fame, and to his generosity while in the service. He donated his Army pay to charity, purchased TV sets for the post, and bought an extra set of fatigues for everyone in his outfit.
     In early 1959, after complaints from other guests about the behavior of Elvis and his friends, the group left the Grunewald Hotel and moved to a five bedroom house nearby and fans would congregate outside the house to see Elvis as he came and went to work and a sign was put up stating that autographs would be signed between 7.30 and 8.00pm. 
     Although Colonel Parker had forbidden him from performing while in the Army, pressure from RCA for him to record led to Parker sending a microphone and a tape recorder to West Germany with a letter stating that recording of gospel songs with just a piano for accompaniment would be good enough. Elvis used the recorder to mess around with friends and family, singing mainly gospel and current hits, but none of the recordings were sent back for release by RCA. Decades later these recordings would be released officially on titles such as Private Presley and Home Recordings. 
     In June, with 15 days leave , Elvis and his friends traveled to Munich followed by over a week of partying in Paris where, on several occasions, Elvis would invite the whole chorus line of girls from The 4 O'Clock club back to his hotel. 
     In the meantime Elvis's father was getting close to a woman named Dee Stanley, the wife of an Army sergeant.  She was an Elvis fan and had invited him to dinner, but he was not interested in dinner with what he considered an old woman, so sent his father instead. Most biographers state that Dee was already in the process of divorcing her husband when she met Vernon, but some others claim that Vernon had gotten to know both of them together, and was even asked by Bill to help him save his marriage. In any case, when Elvis heard of the relationship he flew into a rage, believing his father had no business in a relationship with another woman so soon after his mother's death. Close friends of Elvis claim that Dee's husband received a payoff for his signature on the divorce papers. Dee and Vernon would eventually marry in 1960, with her children becoming stepbrothers to Presley. Elvis never liked Dee, but he became very close to her young children and welcomed them to his home. In later years they would be employed as bodyguards and drivers. Dee died on September 28, 2013. 
     On September 13 an airman who had met Elvis a couple of months earlier introduced him to 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu during a party and Elvis took an instant liking to her. They were practically inseparable during the rest of his time in West Germany and would eventually marry after a seven-and-a-half-years. 
     On January 20, 1960, Elvis was promoted to sergeant. On March 2, with Priscilla in attendance, Elvis left Germany and flew home. On March 3 his plane arrived at McGuire Air Force Base near Fort Dix, New Jersey at 7:42 am. Nancy Sinatra, RCA representatives, and Parker were there to welcome him home, as well as a huge crowd of fans. Two days later, on March 5, Presley was officially discharged from active duty. He was awarded the Army Good Conduct Medal. He also qualified as an expert marksman with several weapons.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Confirmation Bias

     In psychology and cognitive science, confirmation bias (or confirmatory bias) is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions, leading to statistical errors. Confirmation bias is a phenomenon where decision makers have been shown to actively seek out and assign more weight to evidence that confirms their hypothesis, and ignore or under-weigh evidence that could disprove their hypothesis. 
     Bias occurs from the direct influence of desire on beliefs. When people would like a certain idea or concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true. They are motivated by wishful thinking. This leads the individual to stop gathering information when the evidence gathered so far confirms the views or prejudices one would like to be true. 
     According to a University of Iowa study last year once people reach a conclusion, they aren’t likely to change their minds, even when new information shows their initial belief is likely wrong and clinging to that belief costs real money. The study was to help in the understanding financial markets. In the study student traders bought and sold real-money contracts to predict the four-week opening box office receipts for a new movie. The research showed that even as the key first weekend box office receipts were reported, prices stayed remarkably stable as traders ignored new value-relevant information and continued to rely on their initial estimates. 
     Once we have formed a view, we believe information that confirms our view and ignore, or reject, information that casts doubt on it. Confirmation bias suggests that we don’t perceive circumstances objectively. We pick out those bits of data that make us feel good because they confirm our prejudices. 
     Confirmation bias can also be found in anxious individuals, who view the world as dangerous. For example, a person with low self-esteem is highly sensitive to being ignored by other people, and they constantly monitor for signs that people might not like them.
     Wishful thinking is a form of self-deception where confirmation bias is at play. It is the formation of beliefs and making decisions according to what might be pleasing instead of by examining evidence, thinking rationally, or what is shown by reality. Wishful thinking is used to resolve conflicts between belief and desire. 
     Studies have shown that subjects will predict positive outcomes to be more likely than negative outcomes. However, research suggests that under certain circumstances, such as when threat increases, a reverse phenomenon occurs. Some psychologists believe that positive thinking is able to positively influence behavior and so bring about better results. This is called "Pygmalion effect". 
     Self-deception can be like a drug that numbs people from the harsh reality, but in some cases self-deception is good for us. For example, for dealing with certain illnesses having positive thinking may actually be beneficial because there is some evidence that believing that you will recover help reduce the level of stress hormones, giving the immune system and modern medicine a better chance to do their work. 
     In sum, people are prone to believe what they want to believe. Seeking to confirm our beliefs comes naturally, while it feels strong and counter-intuitive to look for evidence that contradicts our beliefs. This explains why some opinions survive and spread. 
     It's conformation bias that explains a lot that we saw during the recent U.S. presidential elections. People tend to seek positive information that paints their candidate in a good light while looking for information that casts the opposing candidate in a negative light. By not seeking out objective facts and by interpreting information in a way that only supports their beliefs and remembering details that uphold these beliefs, people often miss important information that might have otherwise influenced their decision on which candidate to support. 
     It also explains a lot of "-ist" comments we see, especially these days on social media...racist, sexist, etc. and why some people are so willing to believe and post "news stories" that are unsubstantiated or outright fake.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Killed By Their Own Inventions

     Franz Reichelt (1879 – February 4, 1912) was an Austrian-born, French tailor, inventor and parachuting pioneer, now referred to as the Flying Tailor. Reichelt had become fixated on developing a suit for aviators that would convert into a parachute and allow them to survive a fall should they be forced to bail out. Initial experiments conducted with dummies dropped from the fifth floor of his apartment building had been successful, but he was unable to replicate those early successes with any of his subsequent designs. He believed the tests weren't being conducted from a high enough platform so petitioned the Parisian Prefecture of Police for permission to conduct a test from the Eiffel Tower. He was finally granted permission in early 1912, but when he arrived at the tower on February 4, despite attempts by friends and spectators to dissuade him, he was determined to make the jump himself rather than use dummies. When he jumped his parachute failed to deploy and he was killed.  
     Horace Lawson Hunley (June 20, 1823 in Sumner County, Tennessee – October 15, 1863 off Charleston, South Carolina) was a Confederate marine engineer during the American Civil War. He developed early hand-powered submarines, the most famous of which was posthumously named for him, H. L. Hunley. Hunley served in the Louisiana State Legislature and practiced law in New Orleans. In 1861, after the start of the Civil War, Hunley joined James R. McClintock and Baxter Watson in building the submarine Pioneer. In order to prevent her capture, the boat was scuttled when New Orleans fell to Union forces in early 1862. After an unsuccessful attempt at building another submarine with McClintock and Watson, which ended in the vessel's sinking in Mobile Bay, Alabama, Hunley funded a third submarine on his own. Five men from the first crew of H. L. Hunley died during early tests when the boat was accidentally swamped by the wake of a passing ship through its open hatches; four managed to escape. A second crew was recruited in Charleston. On October 15, 1863, though he was not part of the crew, Hunley decided to take command during a routine exercise. The vessel again sank, and this time all eight crew members were killed, including Hunley. The vessel was later raised and used again in the first successful sinking of an enemy vessel (the USS Housatonic in 1864) by a submarine in naval history, but the submarine soon sank too. Hunley was buried with full military honors at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina, on November 8, 1863.
     Thomas Andrews was an Irish shipbuilder who designed the Titanic. Andrews was a passenger on the ship’s maiden voyage and was one of the passengers who perished. 
     Karel Soucek (April 19, 1947 – January 20, 1985) was a professional stuntman from Hamilton, Ontario Canada who went over Niagara Falls in a barrel in 1984. He prepared for his stunt by researching previous attempts, by sending unmanned barrels over the falls to test the currents, and by dropping his barrel off the Niagara Escarpment in Hamilton to test its shock absorbing ability. Soucek's custom-made barrel was nine feet long and five feet in diameter and on July 2, 1984, the barrel was rolled into the Niagara River 1000 feet above the cataract of Niagara Falls with Soucek inside. In seconds, the barrel was swept over the falls a Soucek emerged bleeding but safe. He was fined $500 for performing the stunt without a license. He had also spent $15,000 on materials and labor and $30,000 to film the stunt, but quickly earned back all his costs from sales and interviews. Soucek decided to build a museum at Niagara Falls, Ontario in which to display his stunting paraphernalia. He convinced a corporation to finance a barrel drop of 180 feet from the top of the Houston Astrodome into a tank of water to pay for his project. On January 19, 1985, as Soucek was enclosed in his barrel which was released prematurely and began spinning as it fell. Instead of landing in the center of the tank of water, the barrel hit the rim. Soucek was severely injured but still alive when he was cut from the barrel. But, he died while the Astrodome stunt show was still going on. Famed stuntman Evel Knievel had tried to persuade Soucek not to go through with the stunt, calling it "the most dangerous I've ever seen"
     Max Valier (February 9, 1895 – May 17, 1930) was an Austrian rocket pioneer who helped found the German Spaceflight Society that would bring together many people that would later make spaceflight a reality. His rockets used liquid fuel which he believed could be used for both space and land vehicles. Less than a month after testing the first rocket car, one of the engines exploded, killing him on the spot. 
     Marie Curie (7 November 1867 – 4 July 1934) made extensive contributions and discoveries in the fields of radioactivity and radiation. But she exposed herself to lethal amounts of radiation. She was believed to carry radioactive materials in her pocket resulting in her death of aplastic anemia, a degradation of the bone marrow. 
     William Bullock (1813 – April 12, 1867) was an American inventor whose 1863 improvements to the rotary printing press helped revolutionize the printing industry due to its great speed and efficiency. In a bizarre accident on April 3, 1867 he was making adjustments to one of his new presses that was being installed for the Philadelphia Public Ledger newspaper. Bullock tried to kick a driving belt onto a pulley. His leg was crushed when it became caught in the machine. After a few days, he developed gangrene and on April 12, 1867, he died during an operation to amputate the leg. 
     Otto Lilienthal (23 May 1848 – 10 August 1896) was a German pioneer of aviation who became known as the Glider King because he was the first person to make well-documented, repeated, successful gliding flights. Newspapers and magazines published photographs of Lilienthal gliding, favorably influencing public and scientific opinion about the possibility of flying machines becoming practical. On August 9, 1896, his glider stalled and he was unable to regain control. Falling from about 50 ft, he broke his neck and died the next day. 
     Aurel Vlaicu (November 19, 1882 – September 13, 1913) was a Romanian engineer, inventor, airplane builder and pilot. While attempting to be the first to fly across the Carpathian Mountains in his old Vlaicu II the plane crashed and Vlaicu was killed. To this day the cause of the crash is unknown. Claims of sabotage were dismissed by the two men following him in an automobile who were also mong the first to inspect the wreckage. The most plausible cause was that the airplane stalled while landing with the engine off which was a common practice at the time.